“Unbroken”, Oscars, Egos, Presidents and Things

US President Barack Obama Visits The UK - Day One

What a competitive world. At one level Al Qaeda battling ISIS for popularity and exposure and, going from nightmare horror to the ridiculous, shows like Keeping Up With The Joneses – uh, that Kardashian ‘show’, if you can call it that; Idols, the X Factor, America’s Got Talent, outpicturing of Simon Cowell’s massive ego. Shows that have drawn furious criticism from greats like Elton John who said Cowell has destroyed the integrity of the music industry and who refused to be a judge on Idols because he wouldn’t descend to slagging performers.

Shows that have convinced musicians the world over that if you don’t win, your life and your [potential] performing career are over. Elton John said of Cowell’s empire that it’s “become boring… ***-paralysingly brain crippling.”

Man, people go to extreme lengths to compete. Politicians slaughtering each other in broad daylight at election time for, in too many cases, the coveted positions of not representing those they’re supposed to represent. The altered universe of brain washing aka advertising, making it impossible to go anywhere without some message, if not a gazillion of them, coming at you saying we’re better, we’re the best.

What about Angelina Jolie noticeably abandoning sexy outfits and power dressing [down] conservatively as she campaigns for the Oscars for her movie Unbroken and does her best to try and convince Hollywood, the Queen of England and the world that she’s not a drama queen but a serious filmmaker as in writer, director and producer and that Unbroken is a work of genius that didn’t deserve to be passed over for Golden Globe and Screen Actors’ Guild awards. Well, it did get a SAG nomination for its stunt ensemble and it opened on Christmas Day and grossed $15.6 million, which is the 3rd highest ever Christmas Day opening figure – if you don’t adjust for inflation, which no doubt Unbroken’s producers would rather we didn’t.

But that’s just good marketing, the big names the Cohen Brothers and Angeline Jolie (who, ironically, has always seduced the world with her sensuality) and a fantastic trailer. It was brilliantly executed; moving, exciting, inspiring. Enough so to convince the world that a great opus was about to be unleashed.

I wondered, though, whether they hadn’t just extracted the only worthy scenes in the whole film and strung them together cleverly. As it happens, Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 50% rating, down from 51% a week or so ago, the main criticism being that the film crawls and somehow never quite comes to life. Blame it partly on the script, I say. The famous and mightily well paid Cohen brothers adapted it from the [alleged] 300 page monstrosity that was written from the book by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese. It just goes to show something or other. My green-eyed monster jealousy more than anything else, probably. I’m sure they’re great guys, really…

I digress. Your own bitchiness will do that to you. My point is that it’s hard to get away from competitiveness at all levels of life. Leaving Al Qaeda and ISIS out of the story, I actually the like the spirit of it; the rough and tumble of engaging in life, aiming for the stars and doing everything you can to get as far as possible. Hey, competitiveness can drive you to overcome fear. Nothing bad about that so long as you’re not on a suicide bombing mission. So, good for Jolie for being smart enough to know what an effect her fashion statement makes on the world and for holding her head up high and going for gold despite the awards snubs.

Still, that rough and tumble tends to make the world one of chaos and din so it’s beautiful when somebody who has every reason to be driven by competitiveness and to have an inflated ego just isn’t (in his job; he is when he plays basketball) and doesn’t. But does have a great sense of humor. Enough to engage in a game of ping-pong with David Cameron against school kids and have a lot of fun.

American Presidents also love to play golf. If they’re any good at it, they let everybody know their scores. If they’re not so good, like Clinton, they claim Presidential Pardons for mulligans and gimmes, all in good fun of course. But Barack Obama sticks to the rules. He’s a pretty lousy golfer, which he readily and laughingly admits. Retired basketball great Michael Jordan, who’s crazy about golf, quipped that he wouldn’t choose Obama for his ideal foursome because “he’s a hack, man. It’d be all day playing with him.” Obama was quick to quip back. He’ll do it with a straight face so you can’t tell if he’s joking or not. Until he breaks out into that million dollar smile.

He isn’t a good golfer; he’s got lousy posture, for one, but he loves the game, so he plays. With a sense of humor about himself. There’s a whole lot of dignity in that and I’m sure it makes him fun to be around. And he is getting better, so that’s something.

Another golfer said of him that the way he plays gives the measure of him as a President. He’s honest, he keeps his cool through rank adversity, he smiles and he doesn’t give up. I raise my glass to that. And to Angelina Jolie, good luck with the Oscars. She has spirit in spades, that woman. As for the Coen Brothers, guys, you need me, I know what went wrong with your script… Hey, a girl can dream.

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The Poor Wealthy

It’s always distressing to see people who either have all the outward show of being intelligent and well-educated or who are in positions of power behaving like the village idiot, clearly incapable of stepping back from themselves enough to look in the mirror. Granted, it’s a difficult thing to do, but one of the drawbacks of having power is that you have to use it wisely and to do that you have to examine your motives.

This is not about morality, it’s about practicality. Wield your power irresponsibly and mindlessly and you’ll reign supreme for a while, but ultimately whoever you’re trampling on will rise up against you with a force that your power can’t overwhelm. I’m not just talking about despots either, although they illustrate this beautifully. There’s almost a formula for how events play out.

They gain power undemocratically, or even democratically. Then it goes to their head and they begin to bleed their subjects dry. They surround themselves with sycophants, and convince themselves that they’re acting in the country’s best interests. Eventually they’re fit only for the lunatic asylum. One day their subjects begin to say we’ve had enough. They protest. They’re ignored. Their protests get louder and more physical.

Protesters get brutalized, arrested, violated. They get angrier and more violent. Further suppression follows, bloody and violent. Surprisingly no doubt to the despot, their power isn’t so effective any more. They go into denial. Their sycophants start deserting them. The world either intervenes or doesn’t but severely criticizes them and they become outcasts. They insist they are doing nothing wrong.

They refuse to leave. They say they will die in the country that they were born in. The sycophants that are left beat their chests with bravado as they nervously look around them and calculate the odds. The rebellion doesn’t stop, no matter how much and how bloodily the subjects are violated, no matter how more sophisticated the despot’s weapons of suppression.

The despot goes down still protesting. It never happens any other way, unless the despot has some capacity to step outside of themselves to look at the consequences of their actions and get out sooner. As in Egypt. In countries where the democratic process is more sophisticated, the violence is mostly absent, but the process is the same.

It’s always the middle class that starts out naive and believing, willing to work like dogs for the sake of God and country. Proud of their democracy, proud that change happens peacefully and that they can have a hand in it. Not always able to grasp the extent to which their good-heartedness and commitment get exploited. Not always that able to step outside of themselves either and see that they’re letting themselves be doormats.

But democracy has an inherent flaw. It’s supposed to be the best system for the exercise of freedom. It would work well in a country where there’s no greed, where leaders and all politicians genuinely work for the better of the individual and the country as a whole. But failing that perfect scenario, gradually greed and power takes less and less responsibility (pays less and less tax) and exploits the good qualities of the middle class who pay more tax and get lower salaries until their morale and their lives are eroded beyond endurance.

The erosion has only one possible ending. People start to protest! A new leader emerges who sees that the danger isn’t just imminent, it’s upon the country, and something has to be done to restore the middle class, because it’s always the engine of any society. The leader wants the middle class to get its just rewards, and for the wealthy to pay fair tax. The powerful class clings panic-stricken to its position, terrified of giving an inch. Which nicely reveals exactly how powerful they really are.

What’s mind-boggling is the childish transparency of their excuses. Namely if you raise taxes for the wealthy they will leave the country, you will discourage investors (the implication being that they only invest in the US because they can exploit and not contribute their fair share). The best one is that you will be taxing all the small businesses who will fold and job creation will cease. Enter John Boehner, with that sulky look on his face, moaning about the poor wealthy.

It’s mindless. Pity the seemingly civilized, educated, sophisticated individual who appears to not have much better of an understanding of what makes society run smoothly than a Middle Eastern despot.

Obama Wins Florida After All

So all the swing states, including Florida, went to Obama after all, as I thought they would. How did CNN, the New York Times, and to a lesser extent the Huffpost, get it wrong, and how did I get it right? Luck of the draw? I don’t think so. Absent in polling is an understanding that giving your opinion is one thing, the reality of voting is another. Opinion has no consequence and in the case of those so-called undecided voters, it was often driven by powerful emotion.

Their lives had been difficult for a long time, they were afraid of things getting worse. They had a lot of ‘information’ thrown at them by the Romney campaign, very little of it truthful, much of it fear-mongering, but how were they to know that? Fear diminishes your capacity for rational thought. It happens to all of us.

But, the problem was that nobody really liked Romney. When you’re not a fanatic, it’s very hard to place your trust in somebody who either doesn’t know how to reach you and connect with you, or doesn’t think it’s important. Plus, he’s not a trustworthy politician. He’ll say what he thinks people want to hear. This is not the first time he changed his policies mid-way. He did it when he ran against Ted Kennedy.

He started both campaigns as a conservative, didn’t make enough headway, so became more moderate. People who want to get rid of a politician because he threatens their status quo or because he’s the wrong color, won’t care about this absence of backbone and deep-rooted conviction and they have no investment in rational thought. They’ll blind themselves to something we all instinctively know if we let ourselves admit it, that a man who betrays once will betray again. And who he betrays isn’t of much concern to him.

But even those Romney supporters didn’t really like him and their reasons for voting were not that he had great leadership qualities. He doesn’t have them. It’s ironic that all the impassioned rhetoric about rescuing the American economy and society from the claws of a socialist came from people who were willing to leave things in the hands of a patent liar. Romney did now and then irrevocably and openly expose the truth of who he is, mind you, when he said 47% of Americans were irresponsible victims and they weren’t his concern.

He consolidated that with another bit of truth about himself when he added, in his clumsy and not particularly intelligent attempt to patch things up, that in a campaign you tell your electorate what they want to hear. That must have really reassured his wealthy supporters. But they didn’t care. Now that kind of stupidity is what causes the demise of all civilizations.

I watched this circus and became pretty sure that the ‘undecided voters’ were obviously not  fanatics, and had no agenda in voting Obama out. I was sure they wouldn’t be able to blind themselves to Romney’s weaknesses or to how much he lied when it suited him, or to how much Obama connected with them at a humane level. They don’t like Romney but they do like Obama, not because he’s a con artist but because he’s a good man with powerful leadership qualities and a profound humanity.

He might not have turned the economy around sufficiently to completely alleviate their fear and discomfort, but he had succeeded enough against massive odds and despite great Congressional resistance, for them to see that he was a safer bet than Romney. That moment of voting is when the reality of consequence stares you in the face, when you realize that your choice could be the one that shapes your future. If you have an ounce of sense you cast your fears aside enough to think rationally, and you pick the safer bet.

I predicted that Obama would get all the swing states because I believed that the majority of Americans have that capacity. It’s easy to say you support somebody you don’t trust and don’t like. It’s very difficult to actually vote for them. People are so cynical about politics in the US, but I think they illustrate the degree to which its society has advanced in its capacity to make healthy choices that are truly about the improvement of their world, even if that improvement involves discomfort and challenge. And nothing could be more important than that.

I’m Holding Out For Barack Obama, A Man Amongst Men

I woke up this morning in Cape Town South Africa at 5:30 and my first thought was please God, the Universe or whatever, let all those Americans who support the truth and the wisdom, honesty and transparency that Barack Obama embodies as an individual and as a President, know how crucial it is to vote today.

In the past week I’ve seen two documentaries aired on CNN, one about Mitt Romney, the other about Barack Obama. There were things about Mitt Romney that I liked. I liked how passionately he loves his children and his wife. I didn’t see an evil man. But I did see a man who shifts with the wind whenever it suits him, and who apparently has no awareness that he’s doing it, and that I don’t like.

It scares me. Because either he’s dissembling and knows exactly what he’s doing, which makes him just a political opportunist who will say whatever he thinks people want to hear so he can get into power – which is definitely not outside of the realm of possibility – or he’s a fool like GW Bush, which makes him the ultimate potential puppet.

Neither alternative is particularly attractive in the leader of a country that has historically shown tremendous willingness to create war where none was necessary, to fill the pockets of the military industrial complex. I saw an interesting photo of GW Bush and Romney standing side by side, hands across their chests, looking beautifully patriotic.

But alarmingly, with the same vacuous expression on their faces. What is so hard for me to understand is how so many Americans can want to place their trust in a man who can’t steer himself on a straight course through a campaign. He couldn’t do it against Ted Kennedy and he hasn’t done it against Barack Obama.

If he was deliberately screwing with people’s minds, well, it didn’t work against Kennedy, did it? Only problem is, Kennedy wasn’t the first African American president, so factor that into the mix and the picture becomes a little more alarming. Still, somehow I have this inner conviction that Barack Obama will cary the day.

It’s one thing to say you support somebody you don’t really like, it’s another thing to actually vote for them. Mitt Romney isn’t a popular man amongst his own followers. But Barack Obama is. Which tells a story. It seems that the only people in the world who can’t see why he should be president for another 4 years are that belt of conservative Americans.

Everybody else in the world wants Obama to win. It’s so clear to all of us. I’m sure even Iran would prefer him to Romney! Plus, we’re all sick of war too. We’re all sick of lies and politicians who shift with the wind, who love to bully and throw the weight of their country around. We know a good man when we see one. And we see him, clear as day.

I love America. It embodies so much that I hold dear – the ability to make something of dreams, to think big, to constantly evolve what it means to be a free and caring individual. The years under GW were dark, but with Barack Obama as President I’ve seen the America that I love begin to come alive again. So I’m holding out for him. A man amongst men.

Dear President Obama…

Dear President Obama,

Oprah Winfrey once said that if you want to thank somebody, then do it! I can’t let another day go by without thanking you for the way you’ve inspired me in my own life, for the incredible courage you’ve shown, for your remarkable capacity to focus on the important aspects of humanity, and for the truly great president that you’ve been these past four years. I wish I was American, that I could work for and vote for you.

I’m relieved and thrilled that many Americans appreciate you. I wish more could step away from their fears, prejudices and conditioning to see how you speak and act from the heart, and with wisdom and breadth of vision. I wish they would factor in the reality of what it takes to heal America from the wounds inflicted by the past Administration.

Most of all, I wish they’d let themselves see what you’ve achieved despite unbelievable resistance and odds – and that you are succeeding. Sometimes it seems to me that you’re a great man in a room full of blind, deaf, prejudiced, fearful people. And no matter how strong you are, I think it must be painful and so hard.

When you were elected, I celebrated with every molecule of my being! Of course I want to see a landslide this time, it should be a landslide. When there’s this much good going on it’s natural to want to see it widely acknowledged and celebrated. Well, you never know, but landslide or not, I think you’ll win. Integrity and reality have a way of getting beyond the barriers of prejudice and fear.

Thanks also from the bottom of my heart for the inspiration you’ve brought to my own life. I’ve had a lot of obstacles to overcome within myself. I never give up but I do sometimes feel discouraged. Every time, though, I look to you in my mind. You remind me of what a person can achieve, and what they can withstand without losing any part of themselves.

I wish you peace in your heart, and great and wonderful success in your campaign. You’re a pearl of great price in my estimation.

Yours truly,

Jennifer Stewart

Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney, Quotable Quotes About The US Elections

“My job is not to worry about these people.  I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  Mitt Romney, in the leaked video taken at a $50,000 a plate fund-raiser, speaking in reference to the 47% of Americans who he said, “pay no income tax” and “are dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Jim Messina, Obama Campaign Manager, said “it’s shocking that a candidate for the president of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as ‘victims’, entitled  to handouts, and are unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives.  It’s hard to serve as President for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”

The Romney campaign put out a statement from communications director Gail Gitcho:  “Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy.”  Actually, Romney’s exact words were “my job is not to worry about these people.”  Gitchko continued: “ As the governor has made clear all year he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the Federal Government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million who are struggling to find work. “

Again, Romney’s exact words were “my job is not to worry about these people.”

By the bye, the facts, according to the Tax Policy Center, are that 46.4% paid no federal income tax but most households did pay payroll tax.  So they are being responsible.  So Romney lied about them.  Of the 18% of households that pay neither federal nor payroll tax, nearly half were elderly and more than a third of income tax credits went to children and the working poor.  THE WORKING POOR.  Again, people who are being responsible.  Perhaps Mr. Romney believes children shouldn’t be dependents.

It gets better.  Many of the seniors who benefit from the current tax policy are likely Romney voters.  The Republican share of votes among white seniors which had increased to a whopping 58% by 2008.  Either of the top income states with the lowest tax liability are red states.  Romney either outright lied about the 47%, or he didn’t check his facts.  That’s frighteningly reminiscent of his reaction to the embassy attacks.  Having got his facts wrong, he also insulted his own following.  What a great campaigner. 

Not content to leave it at that, he felt compelled to put the other foot in his mouth, giving new meaning to the malaise foot and mouth disease, by holding a late night availability with so little notice that none of the news organisations were able to capture it live.  Either that was a lack of foresight and good, or it was really excellent planning in case he made another gaffe.

Which he did.   “It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way, I’m speaking off the cuff in response to a question.  I’m sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.  At a fundraiser you have people say ‘governor how you gonna win this?’ and so I respond ‘well the president has his group and I have my group.

I wanna keep my team strong and motivated and I wanna get those people in the middle.’  That’s something fundraisers who are parting with their money are very interested in, can you win or not, and that’s what this was addressing.”  In other words, what I said wasn’t really the truth, and heck, you have to tell your potential backers what they want to hear, regardless of whether it’s the truth or not.  Anything to get their money.

Center-right columnist in the New York Times David Brookes commented “Personally I think he is a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he’s pretending to be something he is not – some sort of cartoonish government-hater.  But it scarcely matters.  He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign.  Mr. Romney your entitlement ideas are essential but when will the incompetence stop?”

I don’t agree with the entitlement stuff, but this is damning from a man should be a supporter of Romney and who clearly is trying to like the man but is having an awfully hard time of it.  Romney followers are scattering left right and center, hoping probably to dodge Romney as he flip-flops between one position and the next.  He has followed in the footsteps of G.W. Bush, but he’s doing it before he even got elected.

He can kiss that dream goodbye.  The Huffington Post electoral college map gives Obama 300 and 17 leaning.  Mitt Romney has 152 strong and 39 leaning.  Toss-ups are now reduced to 30.  Even if Romney gets all of them he can’t win as things stand at the moment.

What better way to end this than with Howell Raines who said (Special to CNN, September 18 2012) “Since the GOP convention, Romney has been getting blasted by his ought-to-be fellow travelers, notably the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and freelance radio right-wingers. Where others have bludgeoned the Republican nominee, Fox News has nibbled, as if to indicate that telling the real, whole news would let too much water through the Titanic-like hole in the U.S.S. Romney.

“In an energetic follow-up to Politico on his morning show, Joe Scarborough said he was the first high-profile media conservative to announce that Romney is blowing a winnable election and that Limbaugh et al followed him in defining Romney’s damning new persona: a CEO who says American needs a CEO, but who is publicly failing at being CEO of his own billion-dollar campaign.”

Sometimes Chocolate Works

I’m a co-creator in my life.  My part is to be as present as I can and as accountable as possible for my actions.  A friend of mine once said “all we have to do is show up at the door.  The rest isn’t up to us.”  Easier said than done.

Everything has a price.  It’s always a trade off between what has to be paid and what can be gained, and whether that gain is just for physical survival or for integrity of the heart and soul.  The belief that one has to be sacrificed for the other is very powerful in western culture.  I’ll stick to my belief that whilst it’s a challenge to have a really good balance, it is possible.

This moment is all I really have.  A moment that holds wild dreams and powerful aspirations as well as the reality of what I’m capable of achieving right now.  So long as I allow the former to live and breathe and accept the truth of the latter it will develop to the point where my dreams can actually materialize.

Vulnerability isn’t shameful.  It doesn’t mean you’re a failure.  It means you need love.

Barack Obama said once that without compromise nothing would ever be achieved, and the American Constitution wouldn’t exist.  He added, though, that everybody has the right to draw their line in the sand.

When somebody walks away from a relationship, it could be because they’re selfish and thoughtless.  But it’s just as possible they left for a real reason.  It’s easy to blame the person who leaves.  Not so easy to examine your own behavior to see if you chased them away.

I like people who can say “If I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry, and if you want to talk about it I want to listen.”

People who are afraid of their own feelings and don’t know what to do with them will be terrified of yours, and will pressurize you not to feel, but to be sensible and rational.  What they don’t realize is that if only they could let you be and give you love and understanding, you would automatically get to that point of being sensible and rational.

When we overvalue money life will give us an opportunity to reassess our values.  It will do it gently at first, but if we can’t listen, the opportunities will get increasingly painful until we can’t avoid them any more.

Humans are notoriously bad at listening to their own needs, and placing any value on them.  This has been turned somehow into a saintly virtue.

If I’m judging somebody else without making the effort to know their side of the story, chances are I’m avoiding uncomfortable truths within myself.  Easier to judge you than to face me.  We should be careful with our judgments because they are lethal weapons that can do a lot of damage, especially if we spread them around so other people believe them too.  The saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can do no harm” is bollocks.

Sometimes chocolate works.