Sunday, March 29, 2015

Truest statement of the week

It really ought to surprise no one in the U.S. government that what amounts to an Iranian occupation of the Levant and Mesopotamia would lead to an increase in jihadist bloodletting. Dempsey has less of an excuse than most. A four-star general, he formerly commanded the First Armored Division in Baghdad, which in 2004 was the unit redirected, as it was about to go home, to fight the Shiite militias who had taken over Karbala and other southern cities, so he would have seen the precursor to the PMUs in action. Yet somehow managed to brief legislators that the Islamic Republic’s role in Iraq might yet prove “positive” — provided, that is, it didn’t lead to an uptick in  sectariansim.  This is like arguing that death wouldn't be so bad if it didn’t result in being dead. It did not take much, however, for the scales to fall from Dempsey’s eyes. He took a helicopter tour of Baghdad last week and noticed the “plethora of flags, only one of which happens to be the Iraqi flag,” The rest, he told reporters to evident dismay, belonged to Shiite militias. (He might have also added that posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are now omnipresent in the Iraqi capital where ones of Saddam Hussein used to be.)

-- Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent, "The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq: Iran's Shi'ite militias aren't a whole lot better than the Islamic State" (Foreign Policy).

Truest statement of the week II

Indeed, quite apart from having American blood on their hands and American interests furthest from their mind, Shiite militias — following Tehran’s favorite playbook — have also taken to conspiratorially blaming the United States for inventing and militarily supporting the Islamic State, while decrying any American anti-IS involvement in Iraq. Take, for instance, the Badr Corps, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of Hashd al-Shaabi, and a man infamous for “using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries,” or so the State Department found in a 2009 cable to Washington, which also alleged that al-Amiri “may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis.” (Despite this grim record, al-Amiri was invited to the Obama White House in 2011 when he was Iraq’s transportation minister.)

-- Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent, "The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq: Iran's Shi'ite militias aren't a whole lot better than the Islamic State" (Foreign Policy).

A note to our readers

Hey --

Another Sunday.  First, we thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

What did we come up with?

This week's truests both come from the same article.
Because it's rare to get so much honesty about Iraq in one article.
Why is Alan Grayson the only Democrat in the House opposed to the Iraq War?
The Shonda beat goes on for Ava and C.I.

We really wanted to like this movie.  We really didn't.
"I pass."
A typo is one thing.  The Mary Sue ran an article calling Tanya Roberts' "Tonya" and even did that in a quote from Roger Ebert.  There's no excuse for that mistake.
What will the tabloids be like in 20 years?
What we listened to while writing.

Great Britian's Socialist Worker. 
The Green Party of Michigan.
Mike and the gang wrote this.

And that's what we came up with.


-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: What's the cost, what's the exit strategy?

Last Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Islamic State and Iraq (see "Iraq snapshot" and "Iraq snapshot" ) and  heard testimony from the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen as well as Brig Gen Michael Fantini and Brig Gen Gregg Olson.

In the hearing, US House Rep. Alan Grayson (above) raised the issue of spending.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Olson, trying to piece together information from public sources, it appears to me that we're spending roughly a million dollars for every ISIS fighter that the US military kills.  Does that sound right to you?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The figure that we understand for the operation cost per day is about 8.5 million dollars.  

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But am I right to think that we're spending approximately a million dollars for every single ISIS fighter that US forces kill?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson:  I-I haven't done the math, sir.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Alright let's assume for the sake of the argument that that's correct.  Does it make sense for us to be deploying the most powerful military force that the world has ever seen and spend one million dollars to kill some man standing in the desert, 6,000 miles from the closest American shore, holding a 40-year-old weapon?  Does that make sense?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The military strategy as designed provides US support to a coalition that will degrade, dismantle and ultimately defeat ISIL.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: What about you, Gen Fantini? Can you think of ways that we could spend less than a million dollars and still keep America safe for every gentleman standing in a desert, 6,000 miles away, whom we kill?

Brig Gen Michael Fantini:  Congressman, I-I can't address the math that you're presenting.  I don't know whether that's accurate or not.  Uh, from the perspective of continuing with the strategy of developing local forces, to enable those local forces with coalition support to degrade and defeat ISIL, I would submit that is a worthy expenditure of resources. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Well let's talk about that.  You of course are very, very familiar with what Gen Powell said about what makes for a good effective war and what doesn't.  Gen Powell said that we need a vital national security interest that's pursued by a clear strategy, we need overwhelming force and we need an exit strategy. So let's start with you on that, Gen Allen, what is our exit strategy?

The National Priorites Project notes:

Cost of War in Iraq

Every hour taxpayers in the United States are paying $365,297 for Cost of War in Iraq. 

[Total thus far] $819,388,801,813 

With that kind of a price tag, you'd think Americans would be asking for Barack to clearly define a plan and to explain its costs.

You'd also think they'd be asking what is the exit strategy for the latest wave of the never-ending Iraq War.

Grayson asked.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Well let's talk about that.  You of course are very, very familiar with what Gen Powell said about what makes for a good effective war and what doesn't.  Gen Powell said that we need a vital national security interest that's pursued by a clear strategy, we need overwhelming force and we need an exit strategy. So let's start with you on that, Gen Allen, what is our exit strategy?

Envoy John Allen:  The exit strategy is an Iraq that ultimately is territorial secure, sovereign, an ISIL that has been denied safe haven ultimately has been disrupted to the point where it has no capacity to threaten at an existential level the government of Iraq and the nation of the Iraqi people and ulitmatly ends up in a state that does not permit it to threaten the United States or our homeland.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  General Allen, that doesn't sound like a strategy to me.  That sounds like a wish list.

Envoy John Allen:  You know --

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  You certainly understand the difference between a strategy and a wish list.

Envoy John Allen:   And-and I do.  And this strategy, in fact, has a whole series of lines of effort that converge on Da'ash to prevent it from doing the very things that I just mentioned. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But what is our strategy?

Envoy John Allen:  The strategy is to pursue a series of lines of effort from defense of the homeland to stabilization of the Iraqi government to the countering of the Da'ash message, to the disruption of its finances, to the -- uh -- impediment of the foreign fighters to the empowerment of our allies to the le-leadership of a coalition ultimately aimed to the defeat of Da'ash.  That's a strategy.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?

Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this.  This is about dealing with Da'ash.  This is about defeating Da'ash.  The success of the strategy is not about exit.  The secees -- success of the strategy is about empowering our partners so that they can ultimately restore the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of a country and deny Da'ash the ability  ultimately to, uh, to do that.   

Once upon a time there was an Out of Iraq Caucus in the House.

It's a shame that those who belonged to the caucus are largely silent on Iraq today.

TV: When a show runner is a show ruiner

"Your coverage isn't helpful."

That's what an ABC friend, an executive, told us two weeks ago.  We'd been again discussing how Shonda Rhimes was running off viewers with him and he'd insisted that all would be fine March 26th.  We'd predicted, at that time, that the Lena Dunham episode would take the show to a new low and he wisely hadn't disputed that.

However, he had insisted that the March 26th episode of Scandal would turn things around.

"It's a wedding," he pointed out, "and viewers love weddings."


That's true.

Weddings are usually a way to pump up the ratings.  Few get the kind of ratings that Rhoda received for its October 28, 1974 episode where Valerie Harper's character got married as over fifty-million viewers tuned in.  And when Laura (Genie Francis) and Luke (Tony Geary) married on General Hospital, 30 million viewers tuned in.

Those are the big records but weddings generally pump up the ratings for any series.

Which is why the ratings for last Thursday's Scandal are so telling.

Lena Dunham is an overpraised hack who's also unable to deliver viewers for HBO.  ABC execs were opposed to an episode revolving around Dunham because she's divisive.  That her heavily promoted guest starring episode on March 19th delivered the lowest rated episode of the season (to date) surprised no one.

It certainly didn't surprise us.

Nor did the ratings on Thursday.  Yes, they were almost .3 million higher than the Lena episode.

Even so, they were lower than the March 12th episode.

The wedding of Cyrus (Jeff Parry) and Michael (Matthew Del Negro) did not bring the viewers back.
Suddenly, whether we're helpful or not, we're being sought out by our ABC friends to explain what is going on?

What's going on is rather simple, Shonda has painted herself into a corner.

Will Olivia (Kerry Washington) and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) get together or not was the question at the start of the series.

In an attempt to stall that, Shonda created a triangle by adding Jake (Scott Foley) to the mix.

Olivia and Fitz have already had sex (repeatedly).

This isn't Sam and Diane (Cheers) or Maddie and David (Moonlighting) where the audience wonders if the two will -- or even could -- get together.

Olivia and Fitz as a couple?  That's always been a known.

The audience has just waited for them to get together.

Until Jake came along.

And surprisingly, Jake won over a number of viewers.

Or maybe not surprisingly.

Thursday's episode featured lots of scenes with Cyrus and James.  This despite the fact that Dan Bucatinsky's character was killed off last season.

Shonda loves bringing certain people back for new episodes (Stephen Finch's Henry) or for flashbacks (James being only the most recent).

You know who hasn't come back?

Debra  Mooney.

Mooney played Supreme Court Justice Verna Thornton.

For those who've forgotten, cancer didn't kill her in the middle of season two, Fitz did.

With his bare hands.

That's part of the reason audiences accepted Jake.

That and Tony Goldwyn.

Tony's a good actor but his career, until Scandal, is most noted for his potrayals of scumbags.  Like in Ghost where he's the reason Patrick Swayze's killed and Swayze's ghost tries to protect Demi Moore from him.  Like in The Pelican Brief, where's he's part of a conspiracy to kill Supreme Court judges (so there was a pattern before he killed Verna).

Scott Foley didn't come with that baggage.

Viewers know him from Felicity, Scrubs and Cougar Town -- among other programs.

And Shonda was thrown.

Jake was never supposed to be more than a delaying device for Fitz and Olivia getting together.

Instead, he became an audience favorite.

Even his killing James didn't stop Olivia from running off to an island with him.

A serious problem for Shonda is that Foley and Washington have chemistry.

While Goldywn looks at Washington touchingly in scene after scene, Washington doesn't really project anything back and, with the introduction of Jake, Olivia began to seem rather a coldfish with regards to Fitz.

Shonda's answer, which will be on display this Thursday, is to screw with Jake -- to basically punish the audience for responding to the character, for embracing him.

Shonda likes to blame Kerry Washington when talking to ABC execs.

Scandal, she insists, was moving along great.  It had begun to be the biggest ratings winner on Thursday nights, everything was moving along swimmingly and then, because of Washington's pregnancy, they had to shoot around her and could only do 18 episodes in season three when they should have been doing a full 22 and using that season to consolidate the gains.

The embarrassing 'resolution' for the rogue spy agency storyline, she insisted, was the result of having to wrap up the season quickly due to that pregnancy.

"That pregnancy" is, in fact, how Shonda talks about it to ABC execs (but never to Kerry Washington).

Kerry Washington is a physical actress and when her fluidity of movement is confined for any reason, she has less to offer, that's true.

But any limitations her pregnancy (legally seen as "an act of God" in the legal contracts) imposed on season three do not explain how awful season four has been.

Characters have been introduced and then vanished.

Storylines have been started and forgotten.

Lately, Shonda's taken to ripping off Mistresses (Olivia's decision to ape Lena Dunham's character by going to bars and sleeping around was already done last summer by Yunjin Kim's Dr. Karen Kim on Mistresses).

And the season three pregnancy doesn't explain the victimization of Olivia that's been the hallmark of season four -- and a development viewers have repeatedly rejected.

Kerry's season three pregnancy has nothing to do with Olivia being kidnapped in season four, tormented, taunted with threats of rape, sold to the highest bidder, etc.

None of that has a damn thing to do with Kerry's pregnancy and none of it has a damn thing to do with why viewers love Olivia Pope.

The problem here is Shonda Rhimes.

And the solution?

If Shonda can't pull it together, ABC may need to consider what they did when another show runner was running off viewers -- replace the problem.

Revenge has managed to continue and thrive once ABC removed Mike Kelley.   The same might prove true for Scandal.

Killing the Message and the Messenger

Killing The Messenger is now available on home video.

We streamed it off Amazon with trepidation having already heard that it was 'problematic' at best.

For those who don't know, Gary Webb was a journalist.  Working for The San Jose Mercury News he didn't juts break a major story, he also demonstrated the power of the then-still-new internet.

The News was seen as a regional paper with limited scope.

When Gary Webb exposed the CIA's backing of drug runners in their operation to illegally arm the Contras (fighters attempting to overthrow the government in Nicaragua), it was a major story and one that many, including the CIA, hoped would stay in the Bay Area.

But the internet proved its power in 1996 and a scoop from a regional paper -- due to the internet -- became a scoop throughout the US and around the world.

While Web's explosive Dark Alliance series found supporters in its immediate run (including US House Rep. Maxine Waters and Pacifica Radio), it also found detractors.

The original trolls were those working for the CIA or indebted to the CIA.

'Journalists' like David Corn attacked Webb in order to defend the CIA.  The CIA worked 'friendlies' at various outlets -- including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post -- to discredit the series.

They destroyed Webb.

They managed to thwart the truth -- briefly, but they did manage that. The CIA Inspector-General's findings would back up the larger points of Webb's Dark Alliance series.

People like Corn who had attacked Webb -- on behalf of the CIA -- thought they could simply ignore the IG's findings.  But the same internet that allowed Webb's reporting to read a wide audience allowed the cover up and attacks to be rebutted.

So powerful was the internet that when Webb died in 2004, losers and liars like David Corn were forced to spin their attacks as something other than attacks while they attempted to pretend that they didn't have blood on their hands.

The David Corns destroyed Webb's career.

This was important because they couldn't disprove the story sot hey had to destroy Webb -- to harm the story and to send a message to others not to step out of line and do real reporting.

Corn continued to do the work of the CIA when Valerie Plame was outed, he plays his work there as ground breaking when it was little more than the work of a gossip columnist.  Also true of his take down of Mitt Romney.  Corn doesn't investigate, he's fed information like the fat little pig that he is.

What was done to Webb was appalling and there was so much hope when Focus Features announced a film would be made.

The hope only increased when top talent like Jeremy Renner, Ray Liotta, Paz Bega, Barry Pepper and Andy Garcia signed on for the film.

The hope dimmed when Peter Landesman's pedestrian script began making the rounds.

Then TV director Michael Cuesta was hired to pretend to be a film director and the project died.

Renner still gives the basics of a strong performance as Gary Webb.

It's just that his acting and the story itself are repeatedly undermined.

Cuesta apparently showed up for every day of shooting, he just didn't have anything to bring.

So the film is lifeless.  It's like watching dailies.

Scenes are never shaped.

Moments are never created.

The film doesn't deserve to be called a film.

A re-enactment on an episode of Forensic Files has more life.

Alan J. Pakula or Francis Ford Coppola could have built a mood and suspense.

Cuesta can't even add tension in a basic and standard parking garage scene where the main character feels they're being followed.

Though out the film, the camera is pressed in too close -- as though Cuesta thought he was directing an episode of Homeland and not making a project for the big screen, not projecting on a large canvas.

Gary Webb deserved better.

The hardest working member of Congress?

Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Iraq and the Islamic State.  Testifying before the Committee were the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen as well as Brig Gen Michael Fantini and Brig Gen Gregg Olson.

For reports on the hearing, see Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and Saturday's "Iraq snapshot."

Various issues and questions were raised throughout the hearing.

But one exchange stood out above all the rest.

Chair Ed Royce:  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from  Alabama, Mo Brooks.

US House Rep. Mo Brooks:  I pass.

Mo Brooks's round of questions in full:   "I pass."

Oh, Mary Sue, really?

Friday, Cedric ("Oh, Mary Sue, who did that to you?") and Wally ("THIS JUST IN! LOOK WHAT THEY'VE DONE TO THE MARY SUE!") called out The Mary Sue for basically turning what a commentator at The Mary Sue rightly called "astroturf" into an 'article.'

That actually might be the least of The Mary Sue's problems.

The Mary Sue prides itself on 'civility' which is why it's so damn useless.

See, if Slate makes a mistake, the people who comment there will scream out loud for the error to be corrected.

But at The Mary Sue, every one's so genteel under their afghans and sipping their chamomile tea, that they don't want to upset anyone by pointing out factual errors.

Lesley Coffin's got a history of errors (her Lew Ayers biography was both a whitewash of Ayers' sexuality as well as riddled with factual errors such as the names of people).

So it's no surprise that her "Re-View: Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, The Marvel Movie Nobody Remembers," which The Mary Sue published last Thursday, would have errors.

What is shocking is that one error would be so obvious.

What's further shocking is how low the journalistic standards are at The Mary Sue because no one caught the error.

The article demands a basic correction.

The article goes on for over 1970 words.

It pretends to be about the film Sheena: Queen of the Jungle -- a film which Coffin thinks she's so far above and so much more intelligent then.

But here's the thing, when Sheena opes, when the credits roll, they get the star's name right.

Tanya Roberts.

Not Tonya.

That's from Tanya's official website.

She is the star of the film, what kind of idiot writes nearly 2,000 words about a film while repeatedly getting the name of the star of the film wrong?

And what does it say about the hideously stupid editors at The Mary Sue that they don't know Tanya Roberts' name.

She was the last new angel on the TV show Charlie's Angels.  She starred in The Beastmaster, was a Bond girl in A View To A Kill and played Midge on That 70s Show for over 70 episodes.

She's not exactly obscure.

The Mary Sue maintains, "We promote, watchdog, extoll, and celebrate women’s representation in all of these areas (and more!) and work to make geekdom safe and open for women."

You're not promoting or extolling when you publish an essay about a film that gets the female star's name wrong.  You're not watchdogging when you insult an actress by mispelling her name repeatedly.

Fix your damn error.

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