Solving US money woes in 140 characters equals #fail

Last week President Barack Obama held his first town hall on Twitter. A really great idea and I plunged in with this question:

 “#AskObama Indian Cntry’s unemployment rate is unacceptable. Cutting govt jobs will make this situation far worse. What steps to fix this?” @TrahantReports

 A Twitter town hall is a great idea. In theory. This first round revealed three huge problems.

 First, the president didn’t play the game. Twitter requires focus, honing and shaping ideas into 140 characters. This is not an easy thing to do, by its very nature it changes the conversation. Twitter captures raw essence, not routine answers. The president stuck with routine answers.

 Second, the town hall was impossible to participate in as a reader. The posts were flying by so fast that it was impossible to get any sense of the issues or the nation. It was better to read the threads later — after the event. One way to fix that problem would be to create multiple hashtags — or search cues — that create mini-conversation threads. So #AskObama would be followed by #Ndnissues … or something like that.

 Third, and this one really troubles me, a town hall of this sort makes it even more impossible for  smaller demographic groups to participate. The Twitter universe for Native Americans is tiny — not enough buzz to warrant attention. Again, in theory. But that needs to be fixed. Twitter (or any other social media) ought to be ideal for reaching constituent groups that are rarely heard from in general conversation. I love that this president has had tribal leaders’ forums, but I would also like to see Indian questions appear in a general forum such as the Twitter town hall.

 I have a good example of that. Many remember my question to President Bush about tribal sovereignty. But my second question, the one that’s not replayed on YouTube, was about the payroll tax. Too many politicians treat the payroll tax as if it doesn’t exist and it doesn’t contribute to the government. This is the federal tax that impacts Indian Country the most. In fact, it now generates 36 percent of the government’s revenues, more than double that of corporate taxes. Yet when the discussion about taxes pops up … it’s income or corporate taxes that must be cut; not the tax that matters to most of us.

 The payroll tax is particularly difficult for people who are self-employed (disclosure: that’s me). We get to pay double. Most people only pay half, their employer pays the other half. But if you work for yourself, well, write a check. Or two.

 I wanted to ask the president about government jobs because I don’t see how we avoid a second recession dive with so many layoffs ahead. Friday’s employment report put this trend into perspective, saying: “Employment in government continued to trend down over the month (-39,000). Federal employment declined by 14,000 in June. Employment in both state government and local government continued to trend down over the month and has been falling since the second half of 2008.”

 “Big” government has been getting smaller for nearly two years. And if Republican budget proposals are enacted, this trend will exacerbate. It is a fantasy to think that the private sector will replace these jobs any time soon.  Unfortunately with more government reductions ahead that “minus 39,000 jobs” might look like the good old days.

 I am a huge fan of Twitter. I’m there every day. But President Obama was right to answer town hall questions in long form rather than trying to tap out 140 character answers. This country’s problems are complicated. And too many — read this The House Republicans — favor simple, easy slogans, answers that might even fit on a line of Twitter. But every policy choice ahead has pluses and minuses. There is no easy way to fix our debt, balance our demographic challenges or anything else. What we need are thoughtful, messy, imperfect solutions that match the challenges of this particular era. Or as I might write on Twitter: Solving US money woes in 140 characters equals #fail.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.





From the White House blog:

The President answered a series of questions on jobs and the economy at the first-ever Twitter Town Hall at the White House. Check out the full video of the event, or just the jump links below to skip to the questions.

@whitehouse: in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo

@Conblog: @DrewHampshire: What mistakes have you made in handling this recession and what would you do differently? #askObama

@dwhite105: Higher ed. is necessary for a stronger economy, but for some middle class Americans it’s becoming too expensive. What can be done? #askobama

@_RenegadeNerd_: #AskObama Mr. President, will you issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling pursuant to section 4 of the 14th amendment?

@ensina: Immigrant entrepreneurs can build companies and create jobs for US workers. Will you support a startup visa program? #askobama

@awg9988: @KimQuillenTPWill you focus on promoting alternative energy industries in oil states like Louisiana and Texas? #townhall

@pmglynn: Mr. President, In several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this? #AskObama

@robinmarty: @Kara_McGuireHow will admin work to help underwater homeowners who aren’t behind in payments but are trapped in homes they can’t sell?

@johnboehner: After embarking on a record spending binge that’s left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs? #AskObama

@nealhannon: Small biz create jobs. What incentives are you willing to support to improve small biz growth? #AskObama

@craigoc34: @whitehouse@townhall My question is can you give companies a tax break if they hire a Honorable discharged Veteran?

@NickKristof: #AskObamaWas it a mistake to fail to get Republicans to commit to raise the debt ceiling, at the same time tax cuts were extended?

@almorrison88: #askobamaWhat changes to the tax system do you think are necessary to help solve the deficit problem and for the system to be fair?

@Shnaps: Is free-market an option? RT @whitehouse: Obama on homeowners underwater: Have made some progress, but+ needed, looking at options #askObama

@pedsnursemarcia: @AssignmentDesk1#AskObamaPublic Edu here in CA falling apart. Not grad enough skilled workers or smart citizens. Privitization looming?

@flynnbw: @WhiteHouseWe definitely need to get more vets into jobs. But when are we going to support the troops by cutting oil dependence? #AskObama

@ModeledBehavior: So will you raise taxes on the middle class at least to W Bush levels @askObama@townhall

@Ronargus: @whitehouse Now that the space shuttle is gone where does America stand in space exploration?

@BrianJMcKeon: @whitehouse Cut defense contracting. End war on drugs. Eliminate agribiz and big oil subsidies. Invest in public campaign financing.

@ElizaCait: @whitehouse Stop giving money to countries that waste it (Pakistan) Keep military (share the wealth between branches), don’t cut education.

@DannyJedski: @whitehouse we need to raise taxes – period.

@tammyvent: @whitehouse cut military spending and oil subsidies and keep education investments. #askobama

@MostlyModerate: @whitehouse Cut subsidies to industries which are no longer in crisis or are unsuccessful: Cotton Oil Corn subsidies for ethanol

@gsxr7501: @whitehouse I’d cut costs by cutting some welfare programs! People will never try harder when they are handed everything!

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