Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for October 2011

Banker Halloween costume scarier than any monster outfit

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When you’re in a room full of lawyers, as I was this week, you learn a couple of things. One, not all lawyers are bad or are up to no good. Two, this is a time where it’s better to be a lawyer than a banker.

Seriously, could you come up with a scarier costume for Halloween this year? The costume wouldn’t need much makeup or special clothing. Bankers these days are scary.

Now we aren’t talking the tellers that give you money, often for a fee. The tellers are the pawns in this twisted chess game. And we really aren’t talking about the people in the bank who help you with larger problems, telling us that the best savings rate requires a minimum deposit of $10,000 and we still might not get 1%.

Bankers. The ones who try and repossess our homes, even if we didn’t take out a loan with them. Bankers. Those who took the bailout money to fix their mistakes, and turned around and shafted us.

RELATED COVERAGE: Scotiabank offers money back on debit card, unlike Bank of America, but monthly fee is too steep for most consumers

Full disclosure: I dressed as a wolf/mortgage banker last year. The premise was that the wolf was complaining that its type of work was been farmed out to humans, and the cold, calculated approach of fear and terror was best left to a wolf. The basket (think Little Red Riding Hood) was filled with mortgages and foreclosure notices. While the costume was good enough to win an award, the premise might have been a little ahead of the curve.

Oh, being a mortgage banker was very hip in 2010. People were genuinely scared about the prospect of running into a mortgage banker.

For all the lawyer jokes, and there are many good ones, they don’t feel as sharp as they used to be. Comparing lawyers to sharks feels passé. Comparing bankers to sharks feels like an insult … to the sharks.

Between mortgages, student loan debt, credit card debt, bailout money, anemic savings rates, charging us $5 to use the same debit cards they pushed us to use in the first place — being a banker will be a scary costume for years to come.

This year, I’m not going to be a mortgage banker or any other kind of banker for Halloween. I don’t feel like I can crawl into a role so devious. I’m going to go with something less controversial … like a priest.


Occupy Main Street works as complement to Occupy Wall Street for food quality

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Those who want a better food supply have tied their bumper to the car that is Occupy Wall Street. And why not? The food supply is a corporate problem (and government problem).

But the problems with the food industry requires occupying a number of buildings and companies. So doing things close to home can also help spread the word about improving what we eat as food.

For more on this, check out this column from our sister blog,

Occupy Wall Street knows revolution history of Founding Fathers better than teabaggers and MSM

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Canadians say they don’t know their own history. Americans say they know their own history, but often get it wrong.

This is an overgeneralization, but that theme came out in the coverage earlier this week on our sister blog, And at least the American part continues to reign through on the impressions of Occupy Wall St. vs. the teabaggers.

The Tea Party had leaders, instant leaders, almost as if someone was pulling the financial and literal strings of the movement. Occupy Wall Street is a bunch of rag-taggers with no leaders.

Again, another overgeneralization, but this comes out in the MSM coverage of Occupy Wall Street.

Those involved with teabaggers and the teabaggers themselves tend to read history as a finished product and make assumptions based on their perception of that finished product. When you dig underneath the surface of history, and not even digging that far, no shovels required, you find that the true history of the American Revolution — once again — differs from the Tea Party beautification.

You get the impression that the teabaggers think Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry sprang up overnight and become mighty, legendary leaders. They don’t take into account the human reality of how the revolution came about.

The teabaggers had it easy. They had instant popular support, lots of money rolling in, prominent politicians on their side sucking up to them, and glowing media coverage that ignored the racism and misspelling that dominated their signs. Jefferson, Adams, et al. would have loved even 1/1000th of that support.

Despite the finished product, those who started the revolution weren’t popular, had to hide their activities so they wouldn’t be ratted out to the British. The cool thing in the early 1770s was to go with the flow and hope the British wouldn’t hassled them too much.

The paintings show well-dressed gentleman in powdered wigs planning the glorious revolution like they were ordering pizza. The reality was not quite like that.

Watching the media make fun of the hand gestures by Occupy Wall Street is funny to watch, when Paul Revere’s “one if by land, two if by sea” was the ultimate code because the revolution had to be secret back then. Do they really not see the irony?

So Occupy Wall Street should be proud that the MSM mocks them and praises the Tea Party as if they were distant cousins.

A few years back on “South Park,” Eric Cartman went back to 1776 and got into the room where the Founding Fathers were debating about whether to go to war with the British. The discussion wasn’t one-sided; disagreements flew around the room. Now you could mock this because South Park is a cartoon show and it’s South Park. However, their take on the moment, while npot historically correct, is closer to reality than anything the teabaggers come up with in their history knowledge.

If you ever needed to see biased media in motion, the contrast in coverage between the Tea Party teabaggers and the Occupy Wall Street people is the best of many examples in recent times. You really get the impression that if CNN, Fox, and to some extent, MSNBC were around in the last half of the 18th century, they wouldn’t be nearly as supportive of that Tea Party as they are of today’s Tea Party.

This contrast isn’t confined to the MSM. While “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” mocked the teabaggers, the show has embraced some of the MSM sentiment toward Occupy Wall Street. Even when the show agrees with the sentiment of what the protesters are doing, they focus way too much of the coverage on the extremes, more than even the MSM does.

True revolutions aren’t neat packages wrapped up in bows. They are messy and not always efficient. They overcome pressure from society and huge odds to try and make a difference. Those who Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere understand this. The MSM do not. The teabaggers don’t even know that they don’t know the history. Short of being transported back to 1776 via a cartoon show, they need to hit the books and learn something about revolution.

I-35W Minneapolis bridge proves that rebuilding infrastructure can help the economy

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Often in trying to fix an “unsexy” problem, something tragic has to happen before people realize the neglected need, and are determined to fix the previous unseen issue. For those of us who think the American infrastructure needs to be drastically updated, we thought the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis would be the beginning of that venture.

From the balcony beyond the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis, you can see the Mississippi River, the Stone Arch Bridge, and bits of pieces of the University of Minnesota campus. But I had not realized — until someone pointed it out — that you had a beautiful view of the new I-35W bridge.

The bridge looked very nice and very modern, especially when seen against the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted into a pedestrian bridge. But you could also see how far those people in cars fell into the Mississippi River. The bridge runs right near the Metrodome, home of the NFL Vikings, and back in 2007, the MLB Twins.

On that Saturday afternoon, plenty of cars traveled across that bridge to get to the Minnesota State Fair, to see friends, and to the Metrodome, which was hosting a Minnesota Vikings pre-season game with the Dallas Cowboys. This was the first game held since the Metrodome roof collapse last winter. The Metrodome infrastructure got improved because that was important.

Bridges were also damaged in Hurricane Irene, though without the damage that occurred that fateful August 1, 2007. In the I-35W bridge collapse, 13 people died and 145 more were injured.

But unlike the bridges damaged in the hurricane, the Minneapolis bridge had been suffering from being “structurally deficient.” Failure fell on several layers of responsibility.

That bridge collapse four years ago should have reminded us that in building the Great Society that repairs need to be made. And in tough economic times, extra jobs are certainly welcome.

However, infrastructure spending doesn’t jibe with the current Republican thinking. Do they not remember that Dwight Eisenhower gets credit for pushing through the Interstate Highway System? Build in Iraq, Afghanistan? Go for it, says the GOP, and hire our contractors. Build in the USA? Not unless it’s a fence with Mexico.

Beyond the tragedy of the I35-W bridge collapse in 2007 was the speed in which the new bridge was built, one year’s time. When you see the new bridge, that timetable is rather impressive.

The urgency that came with rebuilding that bridge should be copied and laid across this crumbling land of ours. That urgency should have also come from President Obama, though urgency isn’t one of his strong suits.

Rebuilding America’s infrastructure would not have completely solved the economic chaos of the last few years. But think about how many small businesses would have had more money because more consumers could spend in places. How 7% unemployment, a figure that would be too high in normal times, sounds a lot better than 9% employment.

We love to drive on roads and complain about road construction at the same time, but infrastructure isn’t just roads. Electrical grids, crumbling school roofs, energy efficiency conversions, high-speed rail and overall train track maintenance.

Right now, interest rates are so low that the U.S. government can’t pass up the opportunity to improve its infrastructure. The United States has a stellar track record of rebuilding in the last 70 years. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other countries have seen the benefits of American rebuilding. Now is the time to see that American know-how and determination — another Marshall Plan? — right here in the good ol’ USA.

America needs to imagine what it can be to get out of its deep hole

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Anybody over a certain age sort of thinks that the best of times for our country are done. One thing that defined America for most of the last 225 years was that it was in love with the future. And I think a major shift, it’s now much more in love with its past, the way England was after the Second World War, the way France was after the Second World War, or the First World War. And that is where I think the Chinese, the Brazilians, the Indians – they’re in love with the future. I don’t think we feel quite that way now.

“For people of a certain age” is a useless phrase, unless you are of a certain age. Those of a certain age has noticed that something is off in our society. Okay, this means me, but I can’t be the only one.

The quote is from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who was interviewed for The World This Weekend on CBC radio, reflecting on a decade after the September 11 attacks.

As tempting as it would be to pinpoint the 9/11 attacks as a turning point, let’s go back to the Newt Revolution of 1994.

The Dems had just lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years. And the new(t) guard was coming into power. Whatever you might have thought about Democratic or Republican ideals, the country had a sense of trying to solve problems.

Ronald Reagan had spoken about Morning in America, but it always felt like his vision of “morning” wasn’t a new day forward but re-starting some ideal that was best reflected by 1950s housewives doing housework while wearing pearls. Never mind that the ideal never was real, even in the 1950s.

Dan Quayle understood this Reaganesque concept when he attacked Murphy Brown for being a single mother on TV. When the MSM and those on the left chastised Quayle for his obsession with a never-was era, quietly, the base of this new revolution cheered.

The United States spent the rest of the 1990s pedaling in place, despite the best efforts of President Bill Clinton. The distractions against Clinton were purely politically motivated, but they did fit in well with the trend of petty squabbles over fixing a number of leaks in the economic roof. The up and coming Fox “News” Channel helped CNN steer so far down a path, Ted Turner would have turned over in his grave if he were dead.

Looking back, the 1990s were the roaring time economically, not just of the last 20 years, but the last 30 years. The last 10 years have produced such a backslide that the struggle just to get back to 2000 levels looks gigantically daunting.

The United States is many things, but above all, Americans don’t think about the rest of the world, unless they have oil or war or Muslims. This didn’t really work well when America dominated in so many categories, but fails us miserably when we don’t dominate any more.

Americans are isolationist in our psyche, even as they wreck havoc all around the world.

Carter’s quote gives us historical context to other societies that also reflected on the past. Countries we know of by name, even if we can’t relate. And they didn’t suffer as badly as the United States has in the last 10 years.

Thomas Friedman co-wrote a book on where America has been and where it needs to go. On “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Monday, Friedman described the formula that brought success to the United States.

“Educating our people up to and beyond whatever the technology was so they can get the most of it, having the best infrastructure, having the best immigration policy that attracted energetic and talented immigrants, having the best rules for capital investing and preventing recklessness, and lastly having the most government funded research.”

So the United States is trying to find a way forward where its people want direction and its leaders lack vision. Even trying what got Americans to the point where people wanted to come here can’t get off the ground. Look at Friedman’s list: are we doing any of those things?

One sentiment that kept the middle class from post World War II through the 1970s was making sure our children would be better off than we were. Reagan reduced that to a selfish notion about whether we were better off than we were 4 years ago. And even when the answer was “no,” Reagan still won in 1984.

As much as liberals laugh at conservatives wanting everything to be like “Leave It to Beaver,” liberals wouldn’t mind the economic growth, strong unions, and middle-class standards of that era.

Even going backward to then go forward would be an improvement over where we are now. Casey Kasem always told us to “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Our feet are on the ground, stuck in cement, and we can’t even see the stars.

Until we can see that we have a future as a country, we’ll be stuck not in the past, but wandering aimlessly in the smog clouds of the present.