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Archive for December, 2014

I was reading the comments on a friend’s Facebook wall this week, and one of the commenters outlined the Obama Doctrine as (and I’m paraphrasing) “Cuddle up to our nations’s enemies, and screw over our nation’s friends.”  I thought it was a nice start, but I would elaborate a bit more, and phrase it this way:

Get cozy with the enemies of freedom.  Vilify those who stand up to those who commit real evils.  Attack longstanding institutions, beliefs, and concepts.  Oppose the existing order based on the notion that “change”, simply for the sake of change itself, is both good and desirable.  Never miss an opportunity to use the bully pulpit to lecture, even when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

5 sentences.  6 years of decline, destruction, and ruin, actively concealed by a campaign of gaslighting and deliberate misinformation, with the assistance of a fourth estate concerned first and foremost with making sure that it gets invited to all the right parties.  And of course, clichés, clichés, clichés.

Who can forget the images of Obama making kissy-face with one of Satan’s newest chew toys, Hugo Chavez?  Or shaking hands with Raul Castro a few years ago before his unilateral betrayal of every single soul killed or tortured by the Castro Brothers and their cohorts?  Or the images and apologetic rhetoric uttered in Turkey, and before the United Nations, in which he expressed regret for America’s crimes and evils to peoples and nations who never met a form of torture (REAL torture), rape, and savage, brutal murder of innocents that they liked.  Or when he stood before Tucson and bemoaned the death of civility, when much of his political career has been built on the political slander of those he deems to be his enemies.

As a head of state, he has barely been able to conceal his contempt for beleaguered counterparts, whether it was the legitimate leader of Honduras, who was fighting off an attempt by a predecessor to subvert the law and hang on to power, talking trash about the Israeli Prime Minister, and childishly committing every diplomatic and protocol snub possible, before taking the extraordinary action of shutting down US air travel to the country, or parading the Dalai Lama past the White House trash, and in front of press photographers.

As a leader, he has never failed to divide those he fancies himself leading.  From his infamous, and telling derision as a candidate of “those” people, bitterly clinging to their Bibles and guns, to attacking industries like coal, which have had the largely thankless job of keeping the lights on, the homes and apartments of their self-appointed betters warm in the winter and cool in the summer, their foods, beverages, and medicines refrigerated, and their security systems powered up, so that they could decide for the rest of us that the ability to do so relatively inexpensively is somehow unfair to the rest of the world, and irreparably harmful to the planet, and must therefore be made prohibitively expensive.  He didn’t hesitate to interfere with existing bankruptcy laws in the case of GM and Chrysler, and turn the body of secured transactions law on its ear, damaging the predictability and uniformity of existing law which makes the finance necessary to modern business possible.  He has never missed an opportunity to vilify the police, even when he didn’t have all the facts.   And no document, be it the Declaration of Independence, or passage of scripture has been safe from his selective and…unique…interpretations.

Law is not safe from his actions.  He has demonstrated over and over again a belief that “emergencies” are legitimate justification for unilateral action, such as his bypassing of bankruptcy law in the case of GM and Chrysler, leading to the involuntary and costly bailout by the public in the case of the former, and the quick sale and stiff arming of secured creditors in the latter.  He has repeatedly shown contempt for the notion of Separation of Powers, by unilaterally declaring Congress to be in recess, in order to appoint individuals who Congress would not confirm, by appointing agency heads who have repeatedly ignored and openly defied Congressional oversight and legal discovery promulgated by Congressional committees.   He has issued Executive Orders which exceed the power of the executive, and which directly encroach upon power and authority specifically enumerated to the legislative branch.  And he has deliberately set his Justice Department upon the states, in order to prevent the states from enforcing laws that his administration has deliberately decided not to enforce, by virtue of concepts such as “prosecutorial discretion” which have been so stretched and deformed in order to cover this application as to be unrecognizable, and to interfere with the exercise of power and authority specifically reserved to the states, be it taking action to preserve the shoreline from oil spills, to requiring state issued ID to vote, to denying state issued ID to foreigners who are not lawfully here in the country.

He has reversed long-standing policies because they are old, and because he deemed them to be “ineffective”, without any apparent, let alone due and sufficient regard to the underlying reasons for such policies.  No matter how many people the Castro regime has killed, no matter how much misery it has inflicted upon its people, and no matter the fact that its two biggest sponsors are now completely unable to prop it up any longer, the time has come to treat it as if it were a rational and responsible state actor, because the President says so.

But one of the hardest pills to swallow has been the audacity of a dope who has never been able to resist commenting when the occasion and the office made it inappropriate to do so, and his silence when a real leader would have understood that the right comments were not just appropriate, but necessary.  Occasions which allowed him to comment on racial matters were occasions to hold forth, and lecture a nation that was less racially polarized at the start of his Presidency than during it, and to make it more so.  We all heard him say that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly when they had the audacity to ask someone breaking into a home to show ID and prove it was his own.  We all know that if he had a son, he would look like Treyvon Martin, and that the man who killed him wasn’t entitled to legal due process, and the presumption of innocence.  We all know that gentle giants like Mike Brown might commit criminal acts, but it was ok to speak in terms that seemed to justify the mayhem and destruction that followed the grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer who shot him.  But we also witnessed a man, who was already at the podium when he learned of the Ft. Hood massacre, and gave a bizarre shout out to a guest before grudgingly acknowledging the wanton and religiously motivated murders of service members by one of their own, who would have been removed from the service before the saturation and primacy of political correctness as a consideration for all actions taken.  We were baffled by the religiously motivated beheading of an Oklahoma worker by a jihadist coworker, and the President’s letter of encouragement to the murder’s mosque.  And we all watched and waited for DAYS for a response to an act of cyberterrorism against an American corporate subsidiary of Sony. The response, when it came, was classic Barack Obama. The usual platitudes about how mad it made him. (At least he spared us any discussion of how he “will not rest until…”. Maybe even HE realized that such a remark would have been way too much before hopping Air Force One for yet another incredibly generously subsidized two weeks + off at the taxpayers’ expense in Hawaii.) The dubious notion that his involvement in the decision-making would have been enlightened and meaningful. (“I wish they had spoken to me first.”) And of course, the blame for the wrong people, when his administration has demonstrated repeatedly that it considers the defense and upholding of American interests, and American considerations to be a distant second to the ability to subordinate them to others, especially those who would have their way not just at the expense of those interests and considerations, but to deliberately harm them.

From his “I’m outta here, suckers, thanks for the trip” Presser:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me address the second question first. Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

“I’m sympathetic, but I have neither their liabilities or responsibilities in this matter. In fact, I never had to worry about making a payroll, keeping the lights on and the doors open, or dealing with laws and regulations churned out with frightening regularity by people who may be thousands of miles away, and who labor under the mistaken belief that the rest of us have nothing better to do than spend their days making sure that they first comply with those laws and regulations. And I am delightfully unburdened by the likelihood that I will suffer any legal consequences for the theft of employees’ personal data, or the career consequences of taking actions which could compound the liability of this corporation in this matter. But I also have sufficiently lowered the average American’s expectation that the Norks will suffer any retaliation by our government. All of this makes me extraordinarily well-suited to pass judgement on Sony Pictures’ decisions in this matter.”

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector. Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place. When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks. We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too. Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors. All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

“If only we had more uniformity in the ever-changing and dynamic medium that is the internet. Then it would be much easier for all governments to monitor and access private and proprietary information, just to make sure that no one is going to do anything bad with it. And the best way to accomplish this is by sharing more control over this innovation that OUR country built with other nations, many of whom have an interest in using it to harm us, but that like totes won’t happen, because bad actors will always be prevented from being bad actors when there are laws against it. After all, just think about all the times that I let the law restrain me from doing what I wanted.”

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

“Unless, of course, someone makes a stupid, crappy little youtube video offensive to muslims and their beliefs, in which case we can publicly blame them for the shameful and unnecessary death of an ambassador, and the security detail that came to his aid while waiting for help I never sent. In that case, it’s perfectly ok for me and those who work for me to disparage and deride that expression of freedom of speech, because it made for a useful distraction from my negligence.”

So that’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about. Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks. Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

Because it makes perfect sense for business leaders to come to me, as if I have a clue what I’m talking about, and as if I have even a scintilla of interest in actually supporting businesses that haven’t paid the proper “respect” to campaign coffers or my associates and bundlers, or are part of the great “green energy” grift which I supported generously with taxpayer money for little or no return on that “investment”. I mean, let’s face it. There is only one story that is acceptable during my reign, and that is those that I am involved with, and that doesn’t cast me in a bad light. And threats that I clearly have no idea how to respond to must be answered with a “proportionate”, rather than an unquestionably decisive and overwhelming response, because the discretion necessary to determine what is “proportionate” allows me to maintain the illusion that I know what I’m doing. And just as soon as I figure out how to cyberattack a country where even electricity is as rare as food, or a contrary remark, I’ll make sure that I do so. Unless I have figured out that it is easier to find someone else to complain about.”

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues. We already have. We will continue to do so. But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this. They’re going to be costly. They’re going to be serious. We take them with the utmost seriousness. But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm. So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

“Only I get to fundamentally change how you live. And my weaknesses and shortcomings should never result in the loss of freedoms that I didn’t take from you through my own deliberate actions. When you stop driving, or using electricity, or heating your homes, or eating what you want and not tree bark and gruel, it will be because I have determined that it is good for you, not because some sawed-off little runt with a messiah complex is offended by your choices. Now get back out there before I have the IRS audit you cowards.”

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Sometimes, movies for me are as much about the memory of who I watched with as they are about the movies themselves, and no movie embodied this more than “A Christmas Story”.

Its funny how we remember our parents, or how we think about them after they are gone. I don’t ever remember my father being terribly open about his feelings about the people he loved. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them; it was that he just seemed to take it for granted, and expected the rest of us to do the same. But those weren’t the only things that I recall about growing up with him. Phrases such as “No brain, no pain.” “Pain is nature’s way of saying don’t do that” and “No good deed goes unpunished were repeated so often in my home that they became automatic responses to certain circumstances and events…so much so that it became difficult to think of him in terms other than a gruff guy of few words and flinty sarcasm for the words that came. As a result, I remember hearing some of his friends speak at his funeral service, and wondering who it was they were talking about. But the single greatest character trait I recall was a real humbugism about Christmas. This would have made his love for “A Christmas Story” seem to be an anomaly unless you knew of his love of Jean Shepard stories.

When this movie was on, it was its own Christmas miracle, as my father would watch it, and laugh. Not chuckle. Not chortle. Not guffaw. LAUGH.

For years after his passing, I would watch the movie with him every year. Oh, I knew he wasn’t really there, but just the same, I felt that I could look over, and see him smiling and laughing, in what was for me, an unfamiliar attitude from him. And though I have sons of my own, I didn’t share this experience with them. It wasn’t something I could adequately describe, and I never wanted to feel compelled to do so. But each year, this echo of memory seemed to fade a bit more. Last year, I strained through the movie, to see Dad laughing, to hear him, and it was difficult. It wasn’t a good experience, and I was left feeling frustrated.

This year, when I sat down to watch the movie, I got nothing.
I let it play, and I listened. Darren McGavin was still the Old Man. Melinda Dillon is still Mom. But Dad wasn’t there. And I realized that even though I like Jean Shepard’s stories too, I watched it to spend time, as fleeting as it was, with the ghost of my Dad, and without him there, it is reduced to a story that I know too well, and that holds no new meaning to replace the one I’ve lost. As I watched the scene where Mom and the Old Man are sitting in the dark with a lit up Christmas Tree and the snow falling outside, I realized that this is how I want the memory of my Father and this movie to remain. A quiet moment with someone he held dear, saying nothing and everything in a setting where he could speak volumes without saying a word and still be perfectly understood.

I’m sad that I can no longer hear him when I watch this, and that no matter how hard I focus in my mind’s eye, I can’t see him just enjoy this story, and let his guard down completely. I still carry other memories. Other movies. Other experiences in which he chose to share something with us that wasn’t for everyone. But the lag in the echo grows longer with the years, and the echo grows quieter. I like to think that the silence in this movie is an indication that he is at peace, but I suspect that it has more to do with me finding peace with my memories of him, and the realization that I need to make such memories of my own with my sons. Maybe something to help them understand me when I am gone, as they so the same with their own kids. But in the interim, I’ll be looking for my own moment with my wife, in the dark before a lighted tree, with a steady snow falling outside.

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The Unforgiven

It is difficult to understand why some things end up having an influence on us, but they do. This album is just such an influence on me.

I still remember the summer of 1988. I was strolling through my local Tape World, looking for something interesting, when I came upon this album on cassette. I almost hate to admit that I picked this album up because of the impression that the cover made on me, but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. What made this even more shocking was the fact that the image seemed so incongruous with my musical preferences at the time. The really odd thing is that I really loved this album, right from the first listen.

I don’t know if I could have described this album at that time. Age and mileage might bring me to the place where I would probably describe it as “Cowboys and Indians Rock, with a punk attitude”. Like the others in the handful of albums I had in heavy rotation in my car, I came to memorize every word and every note. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

But then, time wore on. CDs replaced cassettes in cars I owned, and while I still have this cassette in the garage somewhere, I haven’t been able to listen to it in years. I was surfing the web one evening a few months ago, and came to the band’s website, where I found and mp3 of a recent track they recorded a year or so ago, and the announcement that the album would be re-released in December with the single version of “I Hear The Call” and the new track, “The Long Run Out” added. I couldn’t order it fast enough, especially when Amazon was offering delivery on the same day as the release if you ordered Prime. There was a problem with my order, but it was resolved, and my copy arrived today. I could hardly wait for my ride home, and the chance to hear it at 11 through my car’s sound system.

I was not disappointed.

It was like riding home with old friends. Only it sounded better than it did. If these tracks weren’t digitally recorded, then they are among the best analog recordings I have ever heard. Age has changed my perspective on some of the songs, most notably, “With My Boots On” was very different this time, since the last time I heard it, my father was still alive, but overall, I was smiling and enjoying all of the imagery that the lyrics paint.

But what I didn’t know was the back story. It would have made the best episode of “Behind the Music” ever. Apparently, the band brought a very different sound to LA in the mid 1980s than the glam metal that was dominating the sound of the city’s clubs and record labels, and before long, they were being managed by Motley Crue’s manager, had a top notch lawyer, promotion, and they set off a bidding war among the town’s record labels. They were everywhere, playing gigs with various music legends, and living the life of rock and roll excess. And then, they imploded. One album. And one reunion show. And it was done.

But I will always have the memories. You can’t go home again. But you can visit 17 years old, and remember what it was like to have more attitude than wisdom. And that’s a good thing.

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