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The Morning Grumpy – 7/2/12

2 Jul

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. By now, you’ve probably been sent this article about Buffalo in The Economist.

There is an eerie beauty to Buffalo’s waterfront. Long-abandoned buildings and unused grain elevators stand along Lake Erie’s shore. General Mills is one of the few companies that still use it—the smell of Cheerios, a breakfast cereal, permeates the air. But newer life is springing up, too. Things are changing for the second-biggest city in New York state

Generally, we love external praise and to have our hometown cited as an up-and-coming city. When it comes from an esteemed publication like The Economist, it is pretty solid validation that we’ve have made the right choice to live in Buffalo. Everyone loves affirmation, right? As an aside, if it’s such a great choice, why are we so concerned with convincing ourselves of it? I digress.

The article cites our bio-medical corridor, waterfront development and growing advanced manufacturing output. All of this is great. However, I was left with the weird feeling that I had read a similar article about Buffalo before. Maybe even in The Economist. Oh, yes, now I remember…it was in 2006 and Brian Castner wrote about how it helped convince him to move home.

“WHEN the wind blows right, everybody in downtown smells the Cheerios,” says Charles Rosenow, an economic-development official in Buffalo. Indeed, the scent is unmistakable even half a mile from the General Mills factory along the Buffalo river.

But better times may lie ahead. Buffalo officials brim with ideas, and some are being implemented. A 110m-gallon (416m-litre) ethanol plant scheduled to open next year will put four of the gigantic grain elevators back into use for corn storage. The original terminus of the Erie Canal is being rebuilt to attract tourists and shops; and private developers, tempted by cheap property prices, are pouring money into old buildings. There is talk of making Buffalo a biomedical technology hub, complementing the city’s enormous cancer-research centre, and of building a casino near the centre of town.

They even recycled a line about the smell of Cheerios wafting over downtown.

Stories like these are important as Buffalo continually tries to reinvent the mesofacts about itself. A story I linked to last week discussed the idea of rebranding Buffalo and how we need to redefine the long standing perceptions people hold of our city. The article in The Economist helps do that, but the article from 2006 is a reminder as to how slowly these fortunes turn and how hard it is to convert municipal stasis into progress. Especially when you have a crumb-hoarding, short-sighted, caretaker Mayor and an impotent and vision-less city council working on our behalf.  Progress is slow, but we’re in it for the long haul. Elect better people.

2. Every city needs a brand. This is another topic that Brian Castner and I have written about frequently.

“What leaders can do is spend some time thinking about what the Gestalt of all their good attributes are,” says Renn, who’s lived in Indianapolis and thinks the city has plenty of brand potential. “No one’s going to believe that Indianapolis is super-fashion-forward, and that’s fine. What are the unique values, history and culture that make up your brand? Because you have one, whether you know it or not. Every city’s got a story to tell.”

What is Buffalo’s brand?

3. President Obama could easily explain the healthcare individual mandate by using this video of Mitt Romney’s PowerPoint presentation on it to the Heritage Foundation in 2006.

4. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act was one of the primary precursors to the great recession.  What was Glass-Steagall? Let PBS Frontline define it and chart its demise.

Following the Great Crash of 1929, one of every five banks in America fails. Many people, especially politicians, see market speculation engaged in by banks during the 1920s as a cause of the crash.

In 1933, Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.) and Congressman Henry Steagall (D-Ala.) introduce the historic legislation that bears their name, seeking to limit the conflicts of interest created when commercial banks are permitted to underwrite stocks or bonds. In the early part of the century, individual investors were seriously hurt by banks whose overriding interest was promoting stocks of interest and benefit to the banks, rather than to individual investors. The new law bans commercial banks from underwriting securities, forcing banks to choose between being a simple lender or an underwriter (brokerage). The act also establishes the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), insuring bank deposits, and strengthens the Federal Reserve’s control over credit.

Naturally, banks did not like this regulation nor the limiting effect it had on their ability to leverage debt and expand balance sheets. For 50 years, banks chipped away at the act until a magical day in 1999 when Sen. Phil Gramm rammed the repeal of the bill through Congress with the support of the Clinton administration.

After 12 attempts in 25 years, Congress finally repeals Glass-Steagall, rewarding financial companies for more than 20 years and $300 million worth of lobbying efforts. Supporters hail the change as the long-overdue demise of a Depression-era relic.

Shortly after the repeal, nearly every notable governmental player involved in the repeal soon found work at a major financial institution.

5. The new Southern Aristocracy and how they have taken over American politics with their brutal strain of conservative values.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society).

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

The battle between these two segments of American society are at the core of our national politics, as they have been for decades. It’s just that the southerners are winning, for the first time.

In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is.

Deciding who wins the next round in this battle is at the heart of how we define ourselves as a nation.

Fact Of The Day: In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate

Quote Of The Day: “I am not sure what to make of my admittedly anecdotal observation that many of those who most ardently oppose the taking of embryonic life also seem to be more than usually enthusiastic about taking adult life.” -Richard Dawkins

Video Of The Day: This song reminds me of summers well spent. I was stationed at RAF Fairford in the summer of 1999 and this song was often played by the bartender at our favorite local pub. The pub had a beautiful patio with a view of the Cotswolds, pretty British ladies dancing to Chuck Berry and B-52s taking off all night long. Good times.

Song Of The Day: You want a summer song? Listen to this on a hot summer night while knocking back a porch beer or two with a few old friends.  I’m going to ask Rudy Watkins (the head brewer at Community Beer Works) to make a beer that tastes like this song sounds. “Tupelo Honey” – Van Morrison with Pee Wee Ellis.

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