Overtaken 2

Last night I spent the evening with a bunch of speed freaks, junkies, pillheads, and other addicts.Or at least they were at one time as many of them will tell you.  And no one was getting high. And the message was one of love and hope. It was the premiere of the movie Overtaken 2, a 28 minute film about how addicts have recovered and are recovering from their addiction.

It is both cautionary and hopeful. There is hope. There is a community of recovery. But that community is fragile, underfunded, and facing some very high hurdles. Recovery isn’t easy but there is a deep well of support and love and acceptance.

One of the subjects of both Overtaken and Overtaken 2 has been arrested over 130 times. She has been clean for several years and has built a loving family. Another was an MD in the Inland Empire who began to partake of his own prescriptions and was ready to end it all in the depths of despair. He has now been clean for over 25 years. Cheerleaders, athletes, just plain normal adults and kids, everyone is susceptible. 20% of our population is at risk of addiction. And in a culture of permissiveness, many become addicted.

Here in Orange County, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful places on earth the problem is hidden behind gated communities and the tinted windows of expensive cars and denial. One to two young people die here every week of overdoses. One drug court commissioner works on over 80 cases of juvenile and young adult drug arrests per day. There are both adult and juvenile drug courts at five different Orange County Justice Centers. These numbers don’t include the criminal court system. The people in Drug Court are the lucky ones.

The introduction to drugs in Southern California’s suburbs starts as early as 5th Grade, it seems. Pot is around for those who want it, and the subjects of Overtaken 2 are clear that this is where it started for them. Marijuana may not lead to hard drug usage in many, but in some it is the first step off a very high cliff.

The film is direct. It uses the voices of its subjects, all of them empathetic characters, to show that there is recovery and there is hope if one is willing to accept change and get back on the horse when they fall off. The film doesn’t preach. It doesn’t have to. The stories are powerful enough. And underneath is the message of faith and love and acceptance. In oneself, in ones friends, and in sobriety instead of addiction, and in speaking with so many of them afterwards, in God.

These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. Addiction is a terrible thing. It is the monster that takes over the soul. It is a beast that takes control and does evil things as any of these people will tell you. But it is separate from the individual and it is the soul of that individual that can and does survive as is so well depicted.

The production values are excellent despite a shoestring budget as are the sound and editing. Overtaken 2 is an excellent extension of the message of its predecessor and should be valued even more for its message of hope and love.

Overtaken is mandatory viewing in drug courts in 18 states. Overtaken 2 should be as well.

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Bridgegate versus Benghazi – A Story of a Press Corps worthy of Pravda

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The truth is, Pravda is more honest today, but I am referring to the Pravda of the bad old days of the Soviet Union, when it was the laughingstock of the country.

The media had created a maelstrom with the Bridgegate scandal. Editorial writers are weighing in all over the country on the fate of Governor Christie. And yet compared to the real scandals of the nation this sensationalism is an anthill. Our press is doing the equivalent of what Pravda and Izvestia did to Stalin’s enemies when he liquidated them.

Just this morning, the State Department confirmed that Sufian bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, was one of the planners’ of the attack in Benghazi and that Al Q’aeda was behind it. The president of Libya told us this on December 13, 2012 and the New York Times said so on the 11th based upon US government sources. On September 26th, 2012 The Daily Beast outlined the case emphatically.

So we have a Gitmo detainee who should obviously not have been released and confirmation of what the press initially published. We have a President who knowingly lied. We have a SecState who knowingly lied. We have a UN ambassador who is now the National Security Advisor who knowingly lied.

All of them blamed an obscure video. Hillary even filmed an apology to the Pakistani people for the video that was aired in the country, God knows why.

4 Americans died in a premeditated attack by terrorists.

Robert Gates account, it was “low level” White House staffers who were trying to give the orders to the military, which never came. Remember, the President claimed that he went up to the White House personal quarters at 5:30 after speaking with Panetta  and did not come down until the next morning. In the middle of a crisis. The victims of Benghazi fought for hours afterwards and help never came. The US Ambassador’s body was dragged through the streets.

Hillary then stood before Congress and shouted ” The fact is; we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” This was over one year after the attack when the facts had established without a doubt. Crickets.

The White House is still hiding witnesses and punishing those who testified before Congress. The FBI case, which was announced shortly after the attack was a farce.

All of these facts have been established. The trail of crumbs is clear. There has been great malfeasance at the very top of our government. But somehow, it’s all about a 4 day lane closure 24/7. 20 to 30 times the coverage of Benghazi and growing by the day.

Our press and media being in the tank has reached a new low. Joe Stalin would be proud.

The budget negotiations – We’ve seen this movie before

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We are about to enter week three of the shutdown in which despite the name 87% of the federal government is in operation as “indispensable’. Payments to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for close to half a billion dollars and to a supplier of mechanical bulls for $40,000 were made and the spectacle of World War II veterans in their late 80’s and 90’s being turned away at the World War Two Memorial made Fox News but few other networks.

The president has hunkered down at 1600 Pennsylvania to emerge occasionally to state the he will be happy to negotiate as long as Congress gives him 100% of what he has demanded.

This movie is getting old quickly, though. We have seen it before. In 2011, when there was a dire prediction of disaster, Bob Woodward was the fly on the wall as the President careened towards disaster.

Members of Congress from both sides described the President as arrogant and incompetent in “The Price of Politics”. As one political blog called it at the time, “The Price of Politics is a stark recollection of the collapse of cooperation in government during Barack Obama’s first — and potentially only — presidential term from the inside out.”

The president survived that debacle and was re-elected only to have his administration riven with scandal after scandal. I am sure there are many in the Administration deeply grateful that Fast & Furious, the IRS Scandal, the DoJ/AP Scandal, and the Benghazi Scandal have been driven off of the front pages.

The shut down is a Godsend to Obama. He can remain intransigent and claim to hold the high ground on Obamacare and demonize the Republicans and the Tea Party all the while staving off accountability for his ever-growing record of incompetence, extralegal activities, and malice.

Woodward was very instructive. The President’s arrogance was legend, whether it was one day after promising shortly after his election telling House Minority Whip Eric Cantor “Elections have consequences, and I won”  the day after pledging a bipartisan administration or as The New Republic describes:

“The most vivid scene takes place in February of 2009, as Congress is laboring to ward off an economic collapse. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker, is hunkered down in her office with Harry Reid, her Senate counterpart, to negotiate a stimulus bill that can pass both chambers. This is no easy task. The bill must be modest enough to survive a Republican filibuster, but ambitious enough to satisfy Pelosi’s liberal caucus. But, then, these are veteran legislators—born deal-makers at that. They get to work with all the seriousness you’d expect.

At which point the president calls in via speaker phone and starts droning on about “unity of action” and “unity of purpose” (Woodward’s paraphrasing). It’s the kind of blather that can wow a stadium full of college students but means nothing in the power corridors of Washington. Pelosi and Reid thank the president coldly, and yet he doesn’t take the hint. Finally, Pelosi reaches over and hits the mute button. “They could hear Obama, but now he couldn’t hear them,” Woodward writes. “The president continued speaking, his disembodied voice filling the room, and the two leaders got back to the hard numbers.”

Very harsh indeed. The President’s frosty relations with both sides of the aisle are well documented. And today it is doubtful we will have a Boswell like Woodward to document the process. After the publication of his book he was vilified and attacked by the President’s minions. I don’t think he has been allowed back in on this one.

The White House staff have repeatedly been described as an unruly, callow political machine akin to a herd of cats. And now that the “A” listers in the administration have left the building, the cats are a tad more out of their league and unruly. Obama has always been a more successful campaigner than president and governs accordingly.

And yet the vitriol has been directed overwhelmingly against the opposition with the assistance of a supine media that simply takes the president’s dictation. The President’s press conference the other day was an especially low point where no questions that might discomfit a most vulnerable president were asked. Perhaps, like Cristina Kirchner, he is allocating newsprint. Or perhaps the media are simply fellow travelers.

The stories of the incompetence of the Obama Administration during the 2011 budget negotiations are legend. The Republicans have their own share of the burden to bear. It always takes two sides to negotiate.

From Woodward’s description it was wrestlemania with actors jumping in and out of the ring and the Sequester as the primary product. A sequester suggested by the President and never intended to have been executed. It was a stop-gap intended to allow more time for real structural improvements. And here we are at the cliff again.

But today the stakes are even higher. The Sequester has had barely any effect on our economy. Today we face a shutdown of which the primary images are of National Parks and Monuments closed to spite the public.

The debt ceiling is once again the central flash point. The President has refused to address our out of control debt nor his health care fiasco. Every day that now goes by without an agreement is squarely on his shoulders. In the meantime I expect the President to revert to the same “No Pasaran” tactics he has used time and again.

We have seen the movie before, but like many Hollywood movies these days, there alternative endings on the Director’s Cut DVD,. In this case almost none of them good for the American People.

 

 

The Administration of Diminished Expectations

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When Barack Obama was elected he campaigned on the message of hope. Today we live in an era of hopelessness for the first time in our country’s history. Unemployment and underemployment are at all time highs. Many have simply left the work force.

Our national reputation is in tatters. Our energy policy is insane. Our national debt is twice what it was just 6 years ago and now our Senate leaders want to remove any cap or control of  it. We are on the path of fiscal insanity. Our Treasury issues debt and the Fed buys it and the primary reason that the economy has recovered to the minimal extent that is the unceasing pumping of more and more debased money into the global financial system. The markets expectations of a cessation of QE is global disaster.

Our education system continues its accelerated deterioration. Race relations are at their lowest level since the early 1960’s.

And all the while, our President and his Administration have sought to avoid blame and manage expectations lower and lower and lower. This is the same Administration that has accrued more power to itself than any since Nixon’s Imperial Presidency. In fact, the new push to eliminate the debt ceiling would disembowel Congress’ power of the purse strings and with that what little power Congress seems to have retained.

He has left the global economic field to the Chinese, who are exercising soft power around the globe, and to the Russians, who have taken great joy in opposing our government in every way possible and rubbing our noses in it.

On the environment he has allowed the EPA to arrogate ever more power in its Luddite policies against conventional energy. The price of gasoline has doubled from the $1.80/gallon level to $4.00/gallon and this suits our president just fine. he has obstructed coal and oil and nuclear power and even natural gas, the cleanest option.

The president’s primary contribution seems to be leading from behind. Whether it is his Shakespearean inner conflicts on the Surge in Afghanistan or his verbal gymnastics on Syria or his lies and silence on Benghazi and the IRS scandal and the NSA scandal.

The “most transparent” administration in history is the most opaque. And as the president arrogates power, he has also instituted internal witch hunts and assaults on the press which resemble Stalinist Russia more that the world’s leading democracy.

His signature health care policy is being shown to be a disaster every day it continues. Access to care will be diminished at ever higher costs.

And yet the president seems to wear a Teflon cloak and goes unchallenged. We are at a schwerpunkt, as the Germans call it; a crisis, and the president is sitting utterly idle within the White House with nothing at all on his schedule. Don’t you consider this tolerable strange?

The propaganda machine blames the Tea Party as if it was a mass movement of Luddite nihilists and yet when facing one of our greatest crises there is little balance, or even proper analysis of the root causes of the problems at hand. Such is a world of diminished expectations.

Promise them little and then underdeliver is the order of the day.

Wagging the Dog – Obama Style

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Ever since he got back from vacation, the President has created a global crisis with his plan to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons. The Europeans are alarmed. The Russians have threatened to intervene. The Iranians are threatening retaliation. And Congress is up in arms in one of the most confusing and incomprehensible tempests in a teapot in many years.The credibility and integrity of the united States is said to be on the line.

Don’t get me wrong. The consequences could be dire. Escalation. World War. Spiking oil prices and financial confusion. But the root of it all is a threat by the President to launch a very limited strike or series of strikes to punish the Assad regime for the tactical use of chemical weapons.Weapons the Assad has used time and again. But this time, according to our president, it’s different.

And in the meantime the most scandal ridden administration in the past 40 years is getting a free ride. Everything else has been driven from the front pages except the football scores. And Benghazi, coming up on its first anniversary with the key questions still unanswered.

The IRS scandal has been driven to the sidelines. And the AP/ Fox news scandal, where the Department of Justice was secretly wiretapping reporters e-mail, has also fallen off the radar.

The Administration feels that it has carte blanche to do whatever they please whether it is to blatantly lie to the people or use the tools of government against its opposition or to conduct witch hunts violating the First Amendment. They feel that they are above the law.

Now the president is trying to deflect blame for his failed policies in Egypt, Afghanistan and elsewhere onto Congress, our allies and anyone else he can find so that he can escape responsibility for his disastrous actions. He has put the prestige of our country on the line in a no-win game.

The sycophant press has lined up behind him and his own partisans are twisting into pretzels in their attempts to rationalize his bizarre gambit.

We are witnessing a man who will put the best interests of his nation behind his own statist agenda, but we should not be surprised after the last 5 years. Every step of the way his policies have accrued ever more increasing power to the state as he rewards his cronies and punishes his enemies.

He seems destined to fail in his Syria gambit, but we must hold him accountable for all of his major transgressions. it will take years to undo the damage that he has done both internationally and domestically.

In 2008 he promised change. We have seen how disastrous that promise has become.

This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said.

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This is not Pakistan. This is not Somalia. This is not Yemen. This is not Libya; he should have continued.

We are waging war all through Western Asia and Africa. mainly against terrorists but we also took on Muammar Ghadaffi and now Bashar al Assad; the legitimate leaders of their respective countries.

We are still waiting on the case against Ghadaffi and for honest answers on the impending anniversary of the Benghazi massacre.

For a president who pledged to push the “reset” button, Mr. Obama has become the most warlike leader our country has ever known. In May he declared the “War on Terror”, which he had renamed “contingency operations”, over. Now he wants to go once again to war.

He drew a red line in the sand and then redrew it again and yet we still do not have a compelling case nor a desired end state for an operation in Syria.

The Syrians, Iranians, and Russians have promised a wider war should we act. Russian destroyers have been located to the Mediterranean near Syria to back this threat up, and the Iranians have promised missile strikes on Israel. We are in a high stakes poker game and Mr. Obama is the mark.

In the background the Saudi Arabians and Gulf Arabs are supporting some form of moderate resistance in Syria to counter Iran, but are unable to rein in the Islamist extremists. There is a tri-polar political conflict between the Sunni moderates; the Islamists and the neo-Iranian Empire. And then comes the ROW (Rest of World).

In reading the political history of the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700’s and 1800’s one can begin to understand the complexities and importance of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Ottomans balanced constantly changing relationships very similar to today.

The dream of empire by Napoleon in Egypt and the changing alliances of the Ottomans with the British Empire, the Tsar, and Napoleon, especially with the fates of subject peoples such as the Greeks, Moldovans, Armenians, Bulgarians, Syrians, etc in constant play required that the Sultanate despite is decrepitude and corruption be upheld.

Now,  200 years later the chronological snobbery of the new great powers is leading to an even more volatile end state. Under the Sultan, Shia and Christian and Sunni were allowed to practice their faiths but now we have a state of religious civil war at hand. Egypt narrowly missed being drawn into the maelstrom. Libya is in constant tribal conflict.

But Syria represents a new Karbala, a call to the front lines for Sunni vs. Shia.

But this time the dark shadows of modern warfare overhang everything. Chemical warfare, air strikes, and heavy artillery generate massive casualties very rapidly. Syria is tearing itself apart with the help of a wide range of outside enablers. A dictator willing to use all means at his disposal is fighting to hang on.

And in Washington and Moscow and the West there is no clearly iterated reason for our involvement. We cannot abide the use of chemical weapons except when we can, as we did with Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gas versus the Iranians and his own people.

Mr. Obama means well, but the sad fact remains that the down side in getting involved in Syria is much greater than the up side.

 

The Death of Old Media?

There have been some major headlines in the past week that have largely been ignored for their meaning by the same denizens of the world they live in. Newsweek has been killed off. The Boston Globe, which was purchased for $1.1 Billion, was sold off for $70 Million by the New York Times, a staggering 93% loss. And just a short while ago it was announced that Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post’s primary newspaper operations for $250 Million in cash.

It is deeply ironic that the Times chose to run a crocodile tears article about Newsweek this morning. But then, the problems and cluelessness at the Times have been evident for many years.

In visual media, CBS and Time Warner Cable are at daggers points over programming fees, the ones that continue to inflate your cable bill as viewers seek refuge with Netflix, Roku and other alternatives.

Tina Brown, the publisher of Daily Beast/Newsweek said “It doesn’t matter how talented you are right now. You used to be judged by your performance, but now it doesn’t matter what you do,” she said. “It is quite a business.”

Except that in each case these media empires have run themselves into the ground. The first step was in alienating huge swathes of the demographic base. A merchant, whether of news or other products, must appeal to the most profitable audience it can in order to survive. In the case of the newspapers the alienation was political in nature.

The newspapers and magazines simply stopped caring about presenting objective news. Their political views seeped from the editorial pages to the hard news sections. It is hard to recover when almost 50% of your potential audience will not purchase your product.

The networks face the problem of poor content and poor return on investment. There are a very few winners but with hundreds of channels, most of those networks are scraping by. And with each of them adding a surcharge onto the customer’s bill, the wheat must eventually be separated from the chaff.

Hollywood is crying the blues as well. Spielberg, Lucas and Clooney decry what Hollywood has become and yet their entire careers have been made on big money productions including some very expensive vanity projects. Salaries for the top talent are still in the $20 Million per picture range but somehow it is the financiers fault.

In a way, the same trends in defining downward we see in industry and commerce we are now seeing in the media. Inferior product is driven by inferior thinking and especially in today’s groupthink bubble, there is a crisis not only of content, but of rational thought.

In the case of each of these media meltdowns the old adage has been reversed. Failure has many fathers and mothers.