Miami Beach Writer Michael Grunwald: "We Don't Educate Our People and Our Politics Suck"

It's the Fourth of July a time to think about the economic policy of the United States and our nation's position in the world. Or you could just get really drunk, eat a pack (or five) of hotdogs and watch fireworks blow up in the sky. Yeah, everybody is probably taking the latter option.

But the economy is still not great, and people are unsettled. Local and state political leaders continue to commit unforced errors that make our state look bipolar on the national stage. Supporters of President Barack Obama are frustrated that he can't pass popular measures like increasing the minimum wage and reforming the broken immigration system. Obama's opponents, in contrast, view him as a radical failure.

With this political reality, no wonder people just want to stare up into the sky cross-eyed with a copious amount of meat in their guts.

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But one Miami-based journalist and author wants you to understand that things could be worse -- much worse. And maybe, that's something to celebrate.

Michael Grunwald is a senior national correspondent for TIME and spends most of the year in his home in Miami Beach. He also authored a popular book about the 2009 stimulus act that pumped nearly $800 billion of a mixture of public funds and tax breaks into the economy as the private sector was retracting.

Now, nearly two years since the publication of The New New Deal , Grunwald is still strongly in support of the stimulus, also known as the Recovery Act, and thinks that it helped Florida and Miami both in the short and long term.

"My book didn't say that the stimulus was perfect or anything, but in general the main thrust of the story - that it was an economic life saver for the country - has been borne out," Grunwald said in a phone interview from Washington D.C. "The main thing was, and it sounds glib, was in preventing a depression in Florida and around the country, and that's not a small thing. Depressions really suck and they take decades to climb out of."

Grunwald is originally from New York and attended Harvard University. He met a "Florida girl" and eventually moved to South Florida. Grunwald said that his being in Miami has given him some freedoms that Washington-based journalists don't have.

"It's a company town and it's a really interesting company," Grunwald said of the prevalence of groupthink mentality in D.C. "It's not a partisan thing, it's more of a shallow thing. In Washington, people just aren't that interested in public policy, which is sort of weird."

While he has been attacked for being an Obama apologist, Grunwald says that no one has been able to refute any of his reporting on the success of the stimulus.

The process of writing the book, which included 400 separate interviews with experts and lawmakers, has also made Grunwald highly perceptive of stimulus-related projects that cross his daily life. For example, if you look on the rear of some Miami-Dade buses, you will see the Recovery Act logo. This gives Grunwald a laugh while he's cruising the streets of the 305.

"Nobody's written more about the fuckups in the stimulus than I have, but I do get a kick out of seeing all the far flung ways that it affects our lives," Grunwald said.

But while Grunwald is encouraged by the macroeconomic policies of the Obama administration, his view of state and local leaders is far less flattering.

"We have every natural advantage and we screw it up. It's bizarre that there are hardly any Fortune 500 companies in Florida. We have the sunshine, we have the low taxes but we don't educate our people and our politics suck," Grunwald said. "Every time somebody comes to Florida who wants to build something great, they usually get the runaround. They don't understand how the game is played here because it is still too much of a banana republic."

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