Sunday, December 21, 2014

Barack: Hack Attack Lacks Tact, but Raoul Is Cool

As I said before, it really doesn't feel like the holidays, and with the events of the past week I would guess that others are wondering where the spirit went. Or when it's really going to arrive.

The Sony hacking is certainly a wake-up call for anyone who doubts the severity of our online, privacy-free, abc123 password-protected culture. That a foreign government, and one that we consider to be a running joke, could inflict such pain on us and our free time is disturbing and frightening. Sony employees are rightfully feeling exposed, not to mention that, evidently, Hollywood backstabbing culture is still alive and well as evidenced by the hacked e-mails from company executives.

Honestly, though; did the creators of The Interview really have to use actual names? One of the first rules of comedy, or at least the ones I learned, was that funny comes from imagination and suggestion, rather than always bashing someone on the head with facts. I'm not in favor of naming any world leader and then killing them on film unless that's what actually happened to them. It would have been more funny if the film's creators had made up a country and a leader, given him the same hairdo, so that, yes, even American audiences would have recognized who the character was supposed to be, and done the film that way. Killing a real name? Bad form, no matter who it is.

President Obama has promised a proportional response, but I'm not sure what that means in this context. A proportional cultural action is not really possible given North Korea's film industry, which seems to consist of one person with a camera following Kim Jong-un around all day. We could also hack into their e-mail and read more messages that promise a fiery death to America. That's comedy.

And while we're speaking of hermit countries who whine over Olympic sanctions, President Obama's Cuba gambit is everything that absolutely drives the Republicans nuts about the man. Just when they think they have him humbled by the terrible results of last month's congressional elections, the president comes out and reminds everyone that the executive is an equal branch to the others and has certain powers at its disposal. And make no mistake about his announcement; this is a big deal that will reshape the hemisphere in the short term and the world in the long term.

Raul Castro can say all he wants about how Cuba is going to stay a Communist country. In 10 years he might be gone and Cuba will have a capitalist economy and, I'm thinking, democratic reform. Yes, I know that many pundits are saying that Cuba will be like Chine or Vietnam--one party states that allow their people to get wealthy while repressing them politically.

I'm, guessing otherwise. My sense is that proximity to the United States will work in freedom's favor by blunting foreign adventurers who want to gain some favor on the island. Vladimir Putin might want to play the history card, but we will never stand for that. And it's likely that we will do all we can to blunt China's influence too. In fact, our main competitors in Cuba will be other Latin American countries who already see a compatriot waking up and wanting to join the region's economic system. No, Cuba will be different. There will be growing pains, but it will be different.

Back in Congress, Obama had masterfully put the Republicans back in their Cold War box. By opposing his opening to Cuba, he's reinforced the idea that the right has no new ideas on what to do about the island and would continue the embargo for another 50 years if they could find a way to win a presidential election during that time. Senator Marco Rubio's fiery response is exactly the wrong message at a time when economic and cultural engagement are what's needed.

Besides, it wasn't that long ago when the right wing was lauding Vladimir Putin and his shirtless foreign policy that seemed to compare favorably with Obama's more composed, measured approach. That's what always backing the hare in a marathon will get you. Putin is lording over an economy that is tanking, while the United States has seen steady growth for the past six years, and now with an added bonus of rising wages. Gas prices are sharply down. The XL pipeline might become superfluous if they go any lower. The US is a major contributor to a landmark climate agreement. Things can turn around quickly in this world.

Gee, maybe it's feeling holidayish after all.

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