Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise

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Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise

**

 

President Obama’s legacy has been hopelessly distorted by partisanship.

The American Right has spun Obama into something that he never was or tried to be: a Progressive.

Ask a Republican, and he will tell you that the President was an anti-American Socialist Peacenik.

Amusingly, the American Left has decided to defend this Funhouse Mirror version of Obama that never really existed. Ask a Democrat, and she will try to defend his foreign policy on humanitarian grounds and defend his health care plan on Progressive grounds.

The reality is that Barak Obama was as moderate as a leader can be. Every action existed to maintain continuity.

During the heart of the banking crisis, he let political donors at Citigroup choose his cabinet. Sorry, Obama fans, but you can read it for yourself in the leaked email from Citi to John Podesta on Oct 8, 2008. The Obama team was tightly allied with Wall Street from day one.

Obama’s foreign policy was a clever continuation of Bush’s War on Terror. Using drone strikes and covert actions, Obama kept his foot on the pedal of relentless Middle East murder and meddling while reducing the number of American body bags to a more tolerable level.

The Affordable Care Act is little more than a scheme to try to keep the current for-profit system going a few more years by extorting money from young, healthy people who need cash way more than health insurance.

In the end, Obama achieved minimal change. The only question is whether his campaign slogan “Change” was always intended as a cynical irony.

 

Now France has its own Barak Obama. His name is Emmanuel Macron. Macron is young, good-looking, smart, and charismatic. And he’s the living embodiment of the status quo.

“Behind the Rise” is a worshipful documentary that follows his successful candidacy for President. The documentary urges us to fall in love with the man. And urges us not to think too much about what he represents.

Emmanuel Macron is the insider’s insider. First he was an investment banker at Rothschild & Co. More recently, he was Deputy Secretary-General under President Francois Hollande.

Last year, Macron bolted from Hollande’s Party and formed his own Party: En Marche! (which means Onward!). See what he did there? Macron fights tooth and nail to defend the status quo, but he does it under the slick banner of Progressivism.

While Marine Le Pen relentlessly focused on France’s need to leave the EU and reclaim its borders, Macron felt no need to discuss issues at all. Throughout the movie, he mostly just smiles, tries to look dashing, and accuses his opponent of bigotry.

Apparently, Macron was right. He beat Ms. Le Pen in a landslide. Le Pen is the better person, but she was not a great candidate. She did a lousy job of reaching out to France’s growing minority population.

The winner of the France’s next election will be the one who communicates that the choice is not between Christianity and Islam; it’s between the Globalists and the people.

The problems plaguing France are unemployment, unchecked borders, and uncontrolled terrorism. The ultimate victims are poor, peaceful young French Muslims who just want to assimilate and work. They need change more than anyone.

The same bland agreeable nature that made Macron an appealing candidate will make him entirely incapable of leading France through the tough road ahead.

America has already been through this. Even though Barak Obama remained personally popular, his party and the American Establishment itself lost their credibility during his Presidency.

Change is no longer a cynical slogan. It’s a desperate need. The Establishment won with Obama and Macron. But we won’t be fooled anymore.
Après Macron, le déluge.

 

Get Me Roger Stone

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Get Me Roger Stone

****

 

“I am the most qualified. I have the most experience. I am the smartest and the most educated.”

-a foolish candidate for public office

 

I cringe every time I hear a politician say something like that. I loathe the guy saying it, but I still feel for him. That strategy never works.

At best, mentioning your brains and your experience makes you look like a boastful egghead.

At worst, people think you are telling the truth.

Being an experienced politician is not a qualification. It’s a huge strike against you.

It’s like saying: “hey, I’m an experienced thief. Let me guard your money.” Or “hey, I’m experienced at sending your sons to Asia to murder foreigners. Let me be your pastor!”

The American voter is willing to forgive almost anything – except the sin of being an intellectual insider. Roger Stone understands this better than anyone.

Roger Stone loves to show off the big tattoo of Richard Nixon that he has on his back. Stone’s worship of President Nixon makes total sense; Nixon was the master of anti-intellectual political success.

In terms of education, experience, and intellectual prowess, Richard Nixon was second to none. But he never would have told you that. He won a 49-State landslide victory in 1972 based on his personal appeal to the “Great Silent Majority” of working class Americans.

Conservative values only get a candidate so far. Republicans win elections by appealing to the anti-intellectual, anti-Washington, anti-establishment masses.

Roger Stone is the ultimate anti-insider insider. The colorful Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone” presents him as the devious Forest Gump of Republican politics, conveniently popping up in the background at every major event.

The Watergate Hearings: 19-year old Roger Stone was there (he played a very minor dirty trick against Nixon’s GOP Primary competitor Pete McCloskey).

The Conservative triumph in 1980: Roger Stone was there (he was Reagan’s regional campaign director for the Northeast).

The 2000 Contested Election: Roger Stone was there (Stone claims that he organized a pro-Bush rally that intimidated Florida election workers from changing the results of the recount).

And if you don’t hate him enough already, Democrat readers, check this out: Roger Stone founded one of the original Super PACs in 1978 to run independently funded attack ads.

And he founded Black, Manafort, and Stone – a shamelessly greedy DC lobbying firm that represented the interests of anyone willing to pay them. Stone’s list of clients included Third World dictators like Ferdinand Marcos and Mobutu Sese Seko.

The neat thing about Roger Stone is that he doesn’t try to justify or explain away any of his villainy. If anything, he proudly over-emphasizes his evil achievements. It is better to be infamous, Stone proclaims, than not famous at all.

Though he works for Republicans, Roger Stone is far from a Conservative. He used to go to Swingers parties with his libertine wife. He enthusiastically supports Marijuana legalization.

He was pro-gay marriage long before any Republican (or any member of the Clinton family) supported it. There’s a surprising scene where Roger Stone proudly marches in a Pride Parade. He gets booed the entire time.

You can hate him all you want, but you must respect him. Roger Stone knows better than anyone how you win elections in the United States.

It definitely is not by claiming to be the smartest and the most experienced candidate. Just ask Roger Stone’s latest protégé: President Trump.

American Experience: The Big Burn

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American Experience: The Big Burn

***

 

We need to Save the Trees!

Deforestation has ravaged our once great forests. The dwindling tree population is choking the oxygen-starved atmosphere.

Sorry, environmentalists: I’m being sarcastic. Every word of that last paragraph is false.

First, a solid majority of new atmospheric oxygen is produced by water-dwelling pytoplankton. If you love trees and walks through the forest, that is perfect understandable. Scientifically speaking, however, we don’t need trees to survive.

Second, North America has way more trees than it had at the turn of the 20th Century. Right here in Central Vermont, deer sightings used to make the newspaper. Hubbard Park was a big, treeless field.

What happened? Did Conservationist save the day? Nope: the automobile was invented.

In the 19th Century, millions of acres of arable land were used for fields to feed horses. As horses were replaced by Model Ts, those fields became forests. Tree-Huggers should pause to hug a Ford Focus; it did more to save the trees than the US Forest Service.

Indeed, “The Big Burn” shows that the US Forest Service has been misguided from the very beginning.

In 1905, The US Forest Service was founded by patrician Progressives who valued idealism more than common sense, and trees more than people.

The fledgling Federal agency sent intrepid young men far and wide. US Forest Rangers even found their way to the remote Bitterroot region of Western Montana and Northern Idaho. When Rangers told the hearty locals that they were no longer allowed to use the vast forest for clearcutting and strip-mining, they were furious.

As the PBS documentary “The Big Burn” reluctantly admits, the Forest Service’s rules that chose trees over people ended up being a disaster for both trees and people.

 

The summer of 1910 was bone dry in the Bitterroot. When a heat-lightning storm ignited a dry patch of trees, the largest fire in the history of the Hemisphere began.

Despite its remote location, America quickly recognized the size and the seriousness of the blaze. Women and children were bustled out; Federal Troops rushed in.

Desperate men aboard the last train out of town were forced off their cars at gunpoint. Uncle Sam needed them to fight the fire, the soldiers said.

But those men were just being sent to their deaths. There was no fighting The Big Burn. By the time the blaze burned itself out, a layer of soot coated the ground as far away as Iceland. Ships in the Pacific Ocean couldn’t navigate because the air was so thick with smoke.

The only thing that could have stopped this fire in its tracks was a stretch of barren, treeless land. You know, the kind that you get when you allow people to clear cut a section of forest or build a strip mine.

In the end, the greatest boon to American forests was the invention of the internal combustion engine. And the greatest disaster was made worse by the myopic machinations of the US Forest Service.

We don’t need to Save the Trees. Take a drive down I89 and look around you. They are doing just fine without our help.

 

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

****

 

Alcoa makes money by producing aluminum and selling it.

Ford makes money by building automobiles with that aluminum and selling them.

Exxon-Mobil makes money by selling gasoline to the people driving those Fords.

How did Enron make money? To this day, nobody knows for sure. And that’s the problem.

In “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” documentarian Alex Gibney explores the historic rise and fall of one of America’s most dishonest companies.

Gibney does a terrific job of explaining a twisted financial tale. And he blames all of us for accepting the perverse Wall Street culture that allowed it to happen.

The fatal flaw of Wall Street is that the stock market expects every corporation to make more money than last year. In fact, every quarter is expected to be a record-breaking earnings bonanza. A CEO knows that his company needs to keep growing or the stock will tank.

The guys who ran Enron – Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay – came up with a brilliant plan to always beat earnings expectations: they made up the numbers.

While Ford can’t claim to have sold a million more F-150s than it actually did, a company like Enron could fudge its numbers with impunity because no one really understood how it made money.

Enron’s business was to take advantage of the recently deregulated energy markets by buying and selling natural gas and electricity. How much money can you make as gamblers in an energy casino? Common sense says you’d lose money as often as you’d make it. According to Enron’s accounting books, they were raking it in.

The system made it disturbingly easy for them.

Enron was legally reporting their earnings using the Mark to Market method. In Mark to Market, a company signs a business deal and can report the profit that they expect to make from that deal as immediate actual profit.

Enron signed a deal with Blockbuster Video to buy and sell excess broadband bandwidth. That very quarter, Enron reported $10 billion from the business. In reality, trading broadband as a commodity was desperately stupid and they lost $billions. But the huge reported profit was already part of the official Enron bottom line.

Meanwhile, Enron retained its reputation as a top company by rewarding Wall Street analysts who wrote positive stories and attacking anyone who dared to publish a “Sell” rating on the stock.

Therefore, it was a surprise to everyone when the stock price plummeted from 90 in 2000 to less than 1. Well, everyone except for Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, who sneakily cashed out their Enron shares before the crash.

The documentary doesn’t demonize the guys who ran Enron into the ground. Alex Gibney argues that Enron is just a symptom of a broken system where naughty companies are allowed to run amok.

We should be grateful to the wonderful companies that produce real products that make our world a better place. And we should be suspicious of corporations that produce nothing but money.

“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” is a first-rate documentary. It makes a very complicated story understandable. And it warns us that it will absolutely happen again.

Silicon Cowboys

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Silicon Cowboys

****

 

Ten thousand years ago, man developed written language. Written language allowed for the advancement of technology, the growth of cities, and the creation of lasting civilizations.

Five hundred years ago, a German invented the printing press. Suddenly, Western Europeans became the most educated and the most intellectually rebellious people in world history. Within a generation, another German guy permanently destroyed the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church.

Forty years ago, nobody had a computer in their home, on their desk at work, or in their pocket. Now we all do. The universal availability of personal computers is as revolutionary to human communication as the invention of the printing press and the written word itself.

“Silicon Cowboys” tells the scintillating story of some American underdogs who spearheaded the computer revolution.

In 1982, three nerdy friends quit their jobs at Texas Instruments and in order to start a company of their own. They almost opened a Mexican restaurant (seriously), but they ultimately decided to build a factory in Houston and produce computers. They called the company Compaq.

At the dawn of the PC era, there were several companies selling home computers. The problem was, the companies were all separate from each other and it was hard for a new user to decide which PC universe to dive into.

Compaq’s brilliant innovation was to make its computers completely compatible with IBM. Now, if a consumer already owned a bunch of IBM software and had learned how to use it, he could buy a Compaq for his next device and feel right at home.

It sounds simple, but this nifty little change started a chain reaction, transforming PCs from a niche product into the machines that run our lives.

Compaq also made its first computer portable. Granted, the Compaq Portable weighed 28 pounds. But it had a durable plastic shell and a leather strap so that business people could take it to and from the office.

Those three Texas pals – who almost opened a Mexican restaurant – had started a chain reaction that would end with half the human race carrying little computers in their pocket at all times.

The most entertaining part of this thoroughly entertaining documentary is when we see how savvy Compaq was at marketing.

So, it’s 1983. You’re selling a $3000 luxury product aimed at the 30- something nerds who can afford it. Who is the perfect pitchman?

Two words: John. Cleese.

The 70-minute film does not skimp on the footage of John Cleese’s charmingly irreverent ad campaign that transformed Compaq from underdog outsider to Wall Street mega-titan.

“Silicon Valley” is a joyous little film that celebrates an American company that made a billion dollars, gave hundreds of Texans solid factory jobs, and changed the world forever.

For the record, I am not saying that the computer revolution was a good thing. I saw “Terminator.” And I don’t like how addicted I am to my iPhone. But the revolution is here, it’s irreversible, and it’s as important to human history as the Printing Press. “Silicon Cowboys” is an interesting story about the guys who did it.

New York Doll

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 New York Doll

                                               ***1/2

     When I was a young man, I decided that my life would be easier if I didn’t have children. So I never did.

     Now, twenty years later, I have learned the truth: my decision to abstain from reproduction was even more wise than I had even imagined.

     People without children have more freedom, more money, more options, more time, and more sleep.

     People without children have less stress and less worry.

     Seemingly, the only advantage that people with kids have is that their lives have built-in meaning. Childless adults have far less responsibility, but we have one big challenge: find meaning to our lives.

     “New York Doll” is an open-minded documentary about one man’s search for meaning during his last days.

     The story begins back in 1973. In the early 70s, American rock and roll was at its lowest point. Boring Prog rock and heavy metal ruled the airwaves.

     Into this artistic void stormed The New York Dolls. Musically, they were an amalgamation of the Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones that had just passed and the punk rock that was to come. But it was their public persona that made them infamous and influential.

     The New York Dolls dressed in women’s clothing.

     They dressed in women’s clothing, but they weren’t drag queens. And they weren’t cross-dressers in any conventional sense. They dressed like drugged-up, poorly made-up prostitutes.

Their look was too weird for the American top-40. But they inspired a generation of punks, hair metal bands, and brave weirdos. Mick Jones of the Clash sings their praises. Morrissey was the President of the New York Dolls UK fan club.

       You’d think that being part of a legendary rock band would be enough to give a man meaning to his life. Well: yes and no.

     Arthur “Killer” Kane was the bassist for the New York Dolls and the subject of this documentary.

     The memory of the New York Dolls is always fighting a war inside Arthur Kane’s head, with pride in constant battle with regret. As Kane succumbed to obscurity and poverty, he saw his old friend David Johansen (the Dolls’ lead singer) become rich and famous.

                      While watching “Scrooged” (in which Johansen plays the Ghost of Christmas Past), the former rocker hit rock bottom. He drank so much that his wife left him for good and he jumped out his third story window.

                  During his long hospital stay, Killer Kane turned to Mormonism. Yes, Mormonism. “New York Doll” wasn’t produced by VH-1. It was directed by Kane’s Mormon friend Greg Whiteley.

                  The Mormon Church saved Kane’s life and gave him a much-needed job away from the music industry. It is funny to see how well the former hedonist Kane got along with the innocent old ladies at the Family Research Library where he worked.

                  It would have been easy for Greg Whiteley to say that the Mormon Church saved Arthur Kane and leave it at that. But, to the filmmaker’s credit, “New York Doll” shows that the Church gave Kane stability – but not meaning.

                  Jesus is going to save his soul, Whiteley concludes. But for peace in this life, Kane needed rock and roll redemption. “New York Doll” goes from mundane to magical when Kane gets a call from Morrissey.

                 55 year old Killer Kane was invited to reunite with The Dolls for Morrissey’s Meltdown Festival in London. The final act of “New York Doll” is bittersweet and life-affirming.

                 “New York Doll” shows that it is possible for a childless man to find meaning in this crazy world. But it definitely isn’t easy. I’m not sure I’ve found meaning just yet. But getting to write for this wonderful newspaper is good start. Plus I’ve never changed a baby’s diaper. Not once.

Peter and the Farm

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Peter and the Farm

***

A Montpelier lobbyist once told me that if you want to convince a Vermonter of your side, hire a farmer to present your argument. Vermonters trust farmers above all others.

There’s something weird about that. Seemingly, the only thing separating a farmer from you or me is that he has a terrible, terrible job.

200 years ago, 72% of American workers were farmers. Today, it is 2%. It’s a proven fact of history that most people eagerly leave the farm when given the chance.

Farming is the most dangerous, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing way to earn a living. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

Peter is a profane old drunken philosopher. He lives alone on a farm off a dirt road near Springfield. Either you will hate him or you will pity him. Or both.

When you picture a family farmer, you imagine that he has a fatherly kinship with his animals. Like James Cromwell in “Babe.” Not Peter Dunning.

He treats his animals like commodities and pains in the butt. There is a graphic scene where he shoots one of his sheep to death and then skins and disembowels the corpse. The sad thing is, that is the nicest thing he does to a sheep the entire movie. Peter really hates sheep.

I’m not judging the guy. It is possible that 35 years of farming makes a man indifferent to death and suffering. However, if the government enacted a prohibitive sin tax on every item of meat sold in Vermont, I would heartily support the measure.

These days, being a farmer might actually be more dangerous than going to war. The few people I know who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan came home in one piece. Peter Dunning, on the other hand, has a three-fingered claw for a right hand as the result of a gruesome farm accident.

Another shocking fact about being a farmer: zero paid vacation days. In fact, zero vacations period because you are always needed on the farm. For decades, Peter hasn’t traveled any further than the Brattleboro Farmers Market.

Not that he has anyone to visit. Apparently, sheep aren’t the only mammals that Peter has mistreated over the years. Peter Dunning has two ex-wives and several children. He is estranged from all of them.

“Peter and the Farm” is a horror movie. Peter’s daily life is a living nightmare of loneliness, regret, and pain. He talks openly of suicide. He describes the deepest depths of alcoholism, where he has to get up in the middle of the night and guzzle rum in order to stave off Delirium Tremens.

As a Vermonter, apparently, you suffer from the strange mental affliction of romanticizing the family farmer. “Peter and the Farm” is your detox. There is nothing romantic about the life of a farmer. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

 

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America

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Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America

***

 

We are living in a time of shocking hatred and intolerance.

I am talking about college campuses, of course.

I imagine that you know what happened at Middlebury College last month. It made the national news. Charles Murray – a semi-famous, blandly mainstream political social philosopher – was invited to give a talk.

In Charles Murray’s 1994 best seller “The Bell Curve,” there were a few chapters that suggested that different races have different average IQs.

My first thought is that his conclusion is unverifiable and stupid. Middlebury’s first thought was that Mr. Murray has forfeited his right to speak and to even step foot on a college campus.

Never mind the fact that “The Bell Curve” was published before any of the students were born. Never mind the fact that Mr. Murray was there to talk about his new book “Coming Apart.” The Middlebury Thought Police concluded that students needed to be protected from the scourge of alternative ideas and free debate.

The anti-debate fanatics threatened Murray with physical harm if he didn’t leave and one of the professors was injured by the mob as he helped usher the speaker to safety.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to get my education during the easygoing 20th Century. Times have changed in a bad way. Is there any group of people more hateful and intolerant than a mob of brainwashed college students? Maybe the KKK?

Apparently not.

In this strange new world where progressive children aren’t allowed to talk to their ideological enemies, Daryl Davis stands out. He is either an angel among devils or an unforgivable apostate, depending on your perspective.

He makes his living as a rock’n’roll piano player, but Daryl Davis’s claim to fame is his unique circle of friends. Mr. Davis is a black guy who likes to befriend White Supremacists.

If you recently received a liberal arts degree, then “Accidental Courtesy” is guaranteed to offend you. Not only is it a film about people with differences having civilized conversations with each other, it dares to present Klansmen as…people.

In fact, it is the non-Klansmen who give Mr. Davis the hardest time. A trio of #blacklivesmatter activists brutally lay into him for being an Uncle Tom turncoat. Davis gets treated a little more respectfully when he visits the Southern Poverty Law Center. But when Davis suggests to them that they try to engage White Supremacists in dialogue, a civil rights worker laughs in his face. “All those people do is hate,” Davis is told.

But that isn’t true. No one just sits around and hates all day, obviously. It shouldn’t need to be proven, but Daryl Davis has proven it. In his thirty years of befriending White Supremacists, he has inspired dozens of Klansmen to rethink their values and leave the KKK. Mr. Davis proudly keeps the robes and hoods of the friends that he inspired to change.

Even the active White Supremacists who Daryl Davis sits down with act like respectable gentlemen in front of the camera (with one exception. Pastor Thomas Robb, who should probably be banished to South Sudan immediately).

The White Power kooks don’t seem all that angry. They are driven by one bad, outdated idea: the desire to be separate from other people. The Klansmen and Neo-Nazis agree that white people should live apart from non-white people and that they should not reproduce together.

This worldview is 100% wrong. But it’s not that different than the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. And it’s almost exactly the same as the racial separation theories of Marcus Garvey and Abraham Lincoln.

Daryl Davis’s life’s work is to demonstrate that a man can be wrong but not be a monster. And Davis continues to prove that it is more productive to talk with your ideological enemies than to demonize them.

I doubt it was Jewish director Matthew Ornstein’s intention to present Neo-Nazis as well-behaved conversationalists and progressive activists as mind-numbed fascists. But that is what happens in “Accidental Courtesy.”

Which is better? To be dead wrong and act like a peaceful gentleman? Or to be potentially right but demonstrate insufferable arrogance and intolerance? Young campus rioters need to look in the mirror and ask themselves that question.