AndyO Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to start fixing our financial and political mess

I just read a great New York Times editorial by Thomas Friedman about the current financial and political mess in the United States. Here's the part that everyone should read about how to start repairing the damage (#4 highlighting added by me):

Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from Opensecrets.org calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.

We can't afford this any longer. We need to focus on four reforms that don't require new bureaucracies to implement. 1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can't risk another trillion-dollar bailout. 2) If your bank's deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can't do any proprietary trading with those deposits -- period. 3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another A.I.G. is building up enormous risk. 4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they're taking money from. The public needs to know.

Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty -- provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don't get it back -- and there is now a tidal wave of money resisting that -- we will have another crisis. And, if that happens, the cry for justice could turn ugly. Free advice to the financial services industry: Stick to being bulls. Stop being pigs.

Did You Hear the One About the Bankers? - NYTimes.com

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posted by AndyO @ 11:16 AM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Michael Moore stops by my work

Last month, Michael Moore stopped by Microsoft to talk about his book and share some of his thoughts on the current state of America and the world. I've read a lot of Moore's books and columns and seen most of his films. But in person, Moore came across as more patriotic than probably any speaker I've ever seen. He genuinely cares about America and is saddened by the direction things have gone for so many people.

If you've read the moving excerpt from Moore's new book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life, you know that he travels with a small security force of ex-Navy SEALs because people have tried to hurt him. The presence of this security team was immediately noticeable in the conference room at Microsoft, as three or four men constantly scanned the crowd.

When Moore walked in he was wearing dark glasses, a jacket over a black t-shirt, jeans, and his trademark baseball cap. I was surprised by how physically imposing he was, and was briefly reminded of the late John Candy (with whom he worked in his only fiction film, Canadian Bacon).

Michael Moore at Microsoft

Moore apologized for being late but said he had to stop at Men's Warehouse to get a jacket. He said he'd never been invited to speak at a corporation and he imagined we'd all be dressed up.

"But now I look out at you, and you're all dressed like Pearl Jam!" he said.

Moore was clearly uncomfortable at the beginning of his talk. He didn't seem to know what to expect from a Microsoft audience, or what he should do, but he soon found we interested in what he had to say.

Obama - The Invisible President

Moore talked about how it was a miracle that Obama got elected -- especially given that Obama's full name was on the ballot: "Barrack Hussein Obama." Moore told a story of going into the ballot box and getting emotional -- causing a tear to fall on his vote for Obama, which then caused the ink to run. He said he started blowing on the paper to try to dry it. His wife wondered what he was doing in the ballot box.

Moore said he was surprised that Obama won by over 10 million votes, especially given that he was African American -- and had that middle name. But this was no close election. Voters wanted change.

But then Obama started trying to work with the Republicans. At first, Moore thought this was admirable. But it became clear that the Republicans really wanted nothing to do with Obama.

They treated the president like he was invisible.

By the margin of victory for Obama's election, voters had been clear that they wanted change, but Obama continued to try to work with Republicans. And Republicans kept ignoring him.

Moore is disappointed in Obama's lack of leadership (as am I).

Asked if Moore would vote for Obama in the upcoming election, he said, "I'm not sure."

"Just 400 Americans -- 400 -- have more wealth than half of all Americans combined."

Moore talked about how everyone thought this quote from March 5, 2011, in Wisconsin was wrong. But then the media and organizations fact checked it, and it turns out he was right.

Moore said that history is a guide to what will happen if this inequality continues. There's only so much people will take before they revolt. Note that this comment was made just as the recent protests on Wall Street were starting -- before they had grown.

Becoming a character in the public eye

Moore talked about how so much of what is said about him isn't true. He said at first he thought some of this was funny, but then he said it started to become an out-of-body experience.

What I've found when I see a public figure in person is they're much different than the  person who's portrayed in the media. That character -- or persona -- who's created by media is made up of quotes that person didn't necessarily say -- and are many times taken out of context. It makes you realize how hard it is to maintain a public persona that's close to who you really are as a person.

Q&A

Some of the most interesting moments came during the Q&A with Moore. Here's a sample:

How would you fix the political system?

Get the money out of it (make it more like Canada's system), and include a primary and secondary choice for President. This way, you don't have to throw away your vote -- but can still make a statement.

How can Obama win a second term?

Put Wall Street bankers in jail. "America loves a perp-walk!"

Why he said, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."

Moore nicely corrected the questioner and said, "I didn't say that. Bill Maher said that. It's the reason he was fired from ABC."

The questioner wanted to spar with Moore, talking about how Al Qaeda was in Iraq and we were justified in our invasion. Moore was frustrated, but I was impressed with his respect for the person. Moore could have pounced on her just for having her facts wrong about the quote, but he said something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Meeting Michael

I stood in line to get my book signed by Moore. Again, the security was much more intense than what you usually see at an event like this. They wouldn't let anyone linger near Moore after they got their book signed.

When I finally walked up to get my book signed, Michael said, "What do you do at Microsoft?" And I told him. I thought it was interesting that he's the only person who's come through Microsoft signing books who's asked me this question, and he seemed interested.

I was also surprised at how tired Moore seemed during that brief conversation. It's as if giving the speech and taking questions had taken almost all his energy, which is understandable.

Final thoughts

Later, as I thought about Moore's speech I realized that democracy needs people like him -- people who are willing to call the B.S. when they see it. For Moore, his true test came when he criticized Bush during his Oscar acceptance speech. Then his life was turned upside down. People wanted to kill him for being unpatriotic. People tried to hurt him. But in the end, he was right about Bush sending us to war for "fictitious reasons."

I was in awe of Moore's courage to speak out against the Iraq War -- and to put everything he had into his next documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Very few of us are willing to hang everything on the line like this.

If you're a person who thinks Moore is a left-wing wacko, then I would challenge you to:

  • Read one of his books
  • Watch one of his documentaries

If you still think he's a wacko, that's fine, but at least you'll be making the decision for yourself -- and not through a media filter.

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posted by AndyO @ 11:34 PM   0 comments links to this post