Sunday, November 30, 2014

Truest statement of the week

It is NOT the job of the federal government to dictate how teacher education programs are run. Note Duncan isn't about to go after law schools or medical schools--only colleges of education in the attempt to abolish them in order to limit educational access for the masses.

-- Susan, "Once Again Arne Duncan Breaks the Law" (On The Edge).

Truest statement of the week II

It should come as no surprise that President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. Empires do not retreat unless they are defeated. This is especially true of U.S. imperialism, which, like no other empire in history, seeks to bring the entire planet under its control. That’s why the United States maintains 900 military bases in 130 countries. It’s why Washington is methodically subverting international law, which it views as an impediment to its goal of global domination. And, that’s why President Obama never had any intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.
Barack Obama is no different than any other U.S. imperial leader – except that he is a more accomplished liar than most. He spoke with forked tongue back in May, when he promised that, after the end of this year, U.S. troops would have no combat role in Afghanistan, aside from hunting down the all but nonexistent forces of Al Qaida in that country and training Afghan government forces. Actually, all Obama really planned to do was a paper-change, reclassifying the 10,000 U.S. troops as “non-combatants” on paper, while continuing to deploy them against the Taliban.

-- Glen Ford, "War on the Down-Low: Obama’s Afghan Lies" (Black Agenda Report).

A note to our readers

Hey --


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.

And what did we come up with?

Susan gets another truest.
As does Glen Ford. 
Barack never came up with a plan and now Iraqis are rejecting his action.
Ava and C.I. cover sitcoms and Blackish.

Crapapedia struggles with Janis Joplin's same-sex affairs.

We answer a reader.

We almost forgot this feature.
Short feature!

One film reminds us of another. 
We repost Stan's analysis.
From Senator Patty Murray's office.
From Great Britain's Socialist Worker. 
From Workers World.

Mike and the gang wrote this and we thank them for it.


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

Editorial: Today, we're all Condi Rice?

Not quite.

But a number of losers and idiots -- Joel Wing among them -- will soon be following in Condi's footsteps and insisting, "No one could have guessed."

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chair of the Joint-Chiefs General Martin Dempsey and Pentagon press spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged weeks ago that the Islamic State was adapting to Barack Obama's aerial bombings of Iraq.

It was no surprise.

Similarly, it's no surprise that Iraqis are now beginning to speak out.

No one could have guessed?

From the October 14th Iraq snapshot:

During Nouri al-Maliki's first term as prime minister of Iraq, Turkey began bombing northern Iraq.
They did so with the help of the US government which, among other things, provided 'intelligence.'
For Iraq it wasn't a big deal at first.  By the time Nouri was in his second term, it was.  Iraqis -- not just in the north where the bombings took place -- were outraged by the attacks on their sovereignty and by the civilians being killed in these bombings.
Maybe AFP and others have to lie today because they don't want you to know that Barack's bombings today will soon meet the same fate with Iraqi citizens calling out their 'leaders' who allow the country to be bombed and innocents to be killed.

No one could have guessed?

Anyone could have guessed if they were paying attention.

In Chuck Todd's new book The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House, the host of Meet The Press argues that Barack dilly-dallies and flip-flops and is unable to come up with concrete plans of action.

He never came up with a plan for Iraq this year.

Despite sending troops in starting in June.

Despite getting feedback.

What he did was decide to start a bombing campaign and pass that off as a plan.

Dropping bombs from the sky is not a plan.

And like his other actions, this one lost any effectiveness it might have had some time ago.

The Islamic State quickly adapted to it.

And today, Rudaw reports, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr is calling for an end of US involvement in Iraq.

Moqtada has power because he speaks for the people.  He's not famous for speaking on behalf of Iraqi politicians but he is famous for speaking on behalf of many of the Iraqi people.

Barack's 'plan' hasn't worked and now it may need to be re-routed.

TV: Blackish proves ABC still doesn't know from funny

When it comes to sitcoms, there are a lot of lies.

For starters, that Blackish is a hit.

Wednesday nights, The Middle opens ABC's prime time schedule and does so repeatedly with higher ratings than Blackish.  Meanwhile, Blackish follows ABC's giant hit Modern Family and manages to not only score less viewers than The Middle but also to run off an average of three million viewers.

The only real ratings question is will Blackish's rating continue to fall making it the least watched ABC sitcom on Wednesday nights?

ABC's struggled with sitcoms throughout the fall.  There was Manhattan Love Story, for example, which became the first cancellation of the season.  There was also Selfie which got the axe weeks ago.

ABC has a problem, it's the same one NBC has and why both struggle to break open new sitcoms.

They don't know funny and they think they're better than the format.

The sitcom format is funny.

To make sure you're funny, you rehearse, rehearse and then tape before a studio audience.

This let's writers and performers sharpen the scripts as the week progresses and fix, during taping, trouble spots.

This is not revolutionary or a format that just emerged.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz perfected the formula when they basically invented the modern sitcom with I Love Lucy. But everyone thinks they know better than Lucy and Desi.

The ratings prove otherwise.

As does the fact that I Love Lucy has never stopped airing since it went into syndication.

NBC's 'hit' from last year, About A Boy, is struggling badly in the ratings which only makes Marry Me's so-so ratings on the same night look incredible.  Like ABC, NBC thinks it knows better than the likes of Lucy, Desi, Roseanne, Mary Tyler Moore and so many others.

The only network that even slightly has a clue is CBS -- the network that aired I Love Lucy.

The Big Bang Theory, Mom, 2 and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, etc get the kind of ratings Selfie and About A Boy couldn't even dream of.

The other thing the CBS shows have in common -- besides being hits -- is not trying to screw with the formula.  They're recorded in front of a live audience.

This formula means that their bombs aren't huge bombs.  For example, The Millers just got the axe.  It's 'low' ratings?  6.31 million viewers.

Compare that to NBC's two highest profile failures -- The Michael J. Fox Show which posted 1.99 million viewers -- and on a new episode -- and The Paul Reiser Show which set a record low for Thursday nights when the second (and last aired) new episode clocked in with 2.37 million viewers.

Those are bad.  So is 3.23 million.  That's how many viewers Selfie got three days before ABC announced it was killing the show.  2.62 million was the number of viewers that Manhattan Love Story had for its final episode.  With those kind of ratings, maybe ABC should have stuck by Better With You -- a series that averaged 6.60 million viewers for its season, one that got strong reviews and one that was taped before a studio audience.

Ratings should be an issue.

So should satisfaction.

The only thing working on Blackish is Tracee Ellis Ross.  Eight seasons on the sitcom Girlfriends, filmed before a live studio audience. let Tracee hone her chops.  She's hilarious in the way only someone who's performed regularly before a live audience can be.

A recent episode found her character and Anthony Anderson's character concerned their kids had it too easy and Tracee required to point to each child and tell them they were getting a job.

If Anderson had been given the line it would have died.

With Tracee, she turned it into a sing-song, made it funny and brought to life.

She does that with little bits and pieces in episode after episode.

Anderson doesn't know from funny.  A bit player on one season of The Bernie Mac Show didn't allow Anderson to learn funny.

He's merely adequate.

If Blackish were filmed before a live studio audience, there's a chance Anderson would relax, come across less stiff and learn how to play comedy.

He has natural charisma.

What he's not being given is the format to explore and hone his talent.

And that's the other thing about these single-camera 'sitcoms.'

They're not funny, yes.  But it's also that they really don't try.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was hilarious on Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine.

She was so-so on Watching Ellie and she's so-so on Veep.

Big difference?

When you're performing in front of a live audience, you can't phone it in unless you want egg on your face.  You have to try.

On the single-camera shows, they get the shot -- funny or not -- and quickly move on.

If Lucille Ball put the funny in sitcom, Fred MacMurray killed it.

As funny as I Love Lucy was, that's just how dead My Three Sons was.

Fred wanted a single-camera show because he wasn't interested in being funny or spending too much time on a sitcom.  He filmed all of his scenes in two blocks of ten weeks.  The rest of the cast was filming the other scenes while Fred relaxed.


That's why the shows just aren't funny.

The Office?  Better than The Courtship of Eddie's Father and whimsical but not laugh out loud funny.

For funny on a sitcom, you really have to go all out.

Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Penny Marshall, Freddie Prinze, Robin Williams, Suzanne Somers, Helen Hunt, Nell Carter, Mary Tyler Moore, Roseanne, Valerie Harper,  etc.  These are sitcom stars.

Marlo Thomas, Bill Bixby, etc?  They're popular TV performers.  They're not sitcom stars.  They made you smile, they failed to make you laugh.

A sitcom in the multi-camera format is one where the actors explore the humor in the script daily and then tape before an audience.  A 'sitcom' with a single-camera is where a shooting schedule is followed, not the laughter, not the effort to get the laughter.  Just get the scene shot and move on to the next one.

And it really shows.

It's what destroyed NBC's Thursday nights.

My Name Is Earl, The Office and other 'buzz shows' failed to deliver the laughs and failed to deliver the audience.

The Office never made it higher in rank any season than 52.

But NBC suits knew it was a 'hit' because it trended on social media and . . .

None of that crap means a thing if a show can't deliver viewers.

NBC and ABC repeatedly fail with one sitcom launch after another.

And they're never smart enough to notice the common glue for CBS' hit sitcoms.

Instead of giving people what they want, they cater to lazy show runners and lazy performers who seem to think acting is bankers hours and they should be able to work nine to five and if the comedy happens, great, but if it doesn't that someone else's problem.

Someone else?

That would be the viewers.

As it stands right now, if Blackish continues to bleed viewers it won't get a second season.  Smartest thing ABC could do right now is switch to multi-camera and a live audience.

The Homophobia of Crapapedia

Janis Joplin was a trail blazer who came to fame in the Summer of Love at Monterey Pop (staged by Lou Adler and John and Michelle Phillips).  One of the all time great artists, Janis has always suffered from certain men -- especially in death.

Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were not portrayed as victims for dying of drugs at the same time as Janis.  No they were supposed Dionysus, living and dying in a frenzy.


The Rock Boys tried to turn her into a cautionary tale to ward off other women.

Ellen Willis and other critics managed to pull Janis' legacy out of that sexist b.s.

But even now, Janis' image suffers.

Did someone say Crapapedia?

Crapapedia doesn't want Janis tagged a lesbian or bi-sexual.

Read their crap here and they think they're doing the world a favor by even (briefly) noting Peggy Caserta, a woman Janis was sexually involved with for approximately two years.

In Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, Alice Echols writes;

Most accounts of Janis' life have relegated Peggy to the sidelines, but she was one of Janis's best friends, and their on-again, off-again affair was probably the closest Janis came to having a long-term relationship.  Those who are eager to heterosexualize Janis would rather write Peggy out of her life, especially in the light of Peggy's embarrassingly overheated memoir, published in 1973. Going Down with Janis opens with the unforgettable line, "I was stark naked, stoned out of mind on heroin, and the girl lying between my legs giving me head was Janis Joplin."   

The sexism of Crapapedia knows no bounds.

While down playing her same-sex encounters (other than Peggy, they ignore them), they rush to prop up Janis' hetrosexuality.  For example, they have a sentence about an unnamed man proposing to her.  Their basis? A book -- a good one -- published after Janis' death.

But Crapapedia doesn't trust women who spoke after Janis' death.  The moderator explains, "All the comments attributed to Janis Joplin about her lesbian experiences were attributed to her when she was dead."

Remember, boys and girls, it's Crap -- Crapapedia and it struggles to portray women's lives as anything other than appendages to men.

From The TESR Test Kitchen

Reader Amanda wondered if we had any suggestions "with regards to food or whether you just taste?"

That's our suggestion.

When eating tater tots, don't confine yourself to catsup alone.

We love to mix it up by eating them with honey ranch dressing.

This edition's playlist


1) Jackson and His Computerband's Glow.

2) The Mamas and the Papas' The Papas & The Mamas.

3) David Rovics' Into A Prism.

4) Jon Butcher Axis' Wishes 

5) Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk

6) Cass Elliot's Cass Elliot/ The Road Is No Place For A Lady.

7) Radiohead's The King of Limbs.

8) Ben and Ellen Harper's Childhood Home.

9) Prince's Around The World In A Day.

10) Tori Amos' Unrepentant Geraldines.

Stop the senseless tagging!


Ridley Scott's new film Exodus is attracting a lot of attention.

Mainly over the casting.

Sigourney Weaver, Christian Bale and Ben Kingsley are among the actors playing Egyptians and Hebrews.

In a novel move, unheard of in history, a Hollywood movie has cast  actors in roles despite ethnicity or race.

It's never happened before.

Except when Bette Davis played Carlota of Mexico in Juarez.

And when Katharine Hepburn played the Chinese peasant Jade in Dragon Seed.

And when Luise Rainer played O-Lan in The Good Earth.

And when Rita Moreno played Tuptim of Siam in The King and I.

And when Natalie Wood played Maria in West Side Story.

And Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata!

And Tony Perkins as Venezuelan Abel in Green Mansions.

And Susan Kohner as Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life.

And Judy Garland as Manuela Alva, Gene Kelly as Serafin and Walter Slezak as Don Pedro in The Pirate.

And Mickey Rooney as I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Marlon Brando as Tomas de Torquemada and Tom Selleck as King Ferdinand V in Christopher Columbus: The Discovery.

Gerard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus and Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella I in 1492: Conquest of Paradise.

And Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo.

Of greater interest to us is what went down on the set.

After all, the previous blockbuster named Exodus, the 1960 Otto Preminger film, was much more talked about for the rumors that Paul Newman had sidelined former lover Sal Mineo to take up with John Derek.

Tweet of the week

  • Mike Nichols body of work and fascination with the male body (Stan)

    Stan did an overview of film director Mike Nichols' work and C.I. wanted it included last time but we rushed and forgot.  We rushed and forgot again this time but we forgot the playlist as well and are having to pull that together so we're including Stan's piece. 

    Mike Nichols body of work and fascination with the male body

    Mike Nichols has passed away this week.

    A few thought I was not going to comment.

    I am.  I just didn't know what to do.

    I can talk about the art but the reality is the bi-sexual or homosexual gaze he used throughout his career greatly influenced the work for the good.

    No one appears to want to acknowledge that.


    Mike Nichols was at his best when he had a man in the cast to play with onscreen.

    Give him a group of colorless plastic soldiers and he's lost.

    That's obvious from critical so-sos and outright disasters like "Charlie Wilson's War," "Catch-22," "Biloxi Blues," "Regarding Henry" and others.

    Let's talk about his successes.

    "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" established him as a film director.  It is a classic.  He largely just stayed out of Elizabeth Taylor's way (she won a second Academy Award for her amazing performance).  He did ensure that George Segal was presented as a major slice of beefcake.  Has any actor's crotch appeared in so many scenes outside of a porn?

    His follow up film is a minor classic.  In it, Dustin Hoffman is the Ken doll Mike plays with.  He takes Dustin Hoffman, not a handsome guy, and sexualizes him to turn him into a film star with "The Graduate."  Anne Bancroft brings her own sizzle which is a good thing since Mike's not interested in her -- check the blocking on her scenes.  Katherine Ross is left stranded, lacking the talent to carve out a role on her own and not catching the director's interest at all.

    "Catch 22" has what a friend calls "the Jew problem."  When Mike Nichols worked with Jews, he had no passion for them.  Dustin was the exception and "The Graduate" turns Dustin into a Gentile in order to sexualize him.  With "Catch 22," he's got Alan Arkin, Richard Benjamin, Martin Balsam, Charles Grodin, Art Garfunkel, etc and he's not interested in any of them which is how a film that should have been a comedy antic high just sort of peters out.

    "Carnal Knowledge" succeeds because he ignores Art and plays with Jack Nicholson.  I am not suggesting that Mike Nichols had sex with any of the men he was so clearly sexually fascinated with.  I bet he didn't, in fact.  But he did like playing with them in front of the camera, making them sexy.  By contrast, he makes Rita Moreno come off frightening -- especially the hornier her character is supposed to be.  And Ann-Margret overcomes his complete disinterest in her character to give an amazing performance.

    I don't know if I'd call the film a classic.  It's only accomplishment that stands is that Nichols took new star Jack Nicholson (he'd already had the hit "Easy Rider") and turned him into a sexual power on screen.

    "The Day of the Dolphin" is a classic.  It's also a complete exception to Nichols' films.  This has a larger concern and is not really about the personal relationships.  The film flopped but it's one of his first-rate films and hopefully will be viewed as such in retrospect.

    "The Fortune" follows and it bombs as well.  It should also be reconsidered.  This is a hilarious film that really f-ed with expectations (as did Elaine May's "Ishtar" many years later).  Stockard Channing is delightful in a performance that fails to capture Mike's attention because he's focused on Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson.  He continues to develop Jack's sexual performance/presentation (the work Jack will do in "The Witches of Eastwick" owes a great deal to this film and Mike's work) and he also messes with Warren Beatty's onscreen image, adding a new layer to his sexual image, teasing out a new sexual persona.  If the film had been a hit, Warren probably would have explored this further.  But this is a classic film.

    "Gilda Live" is filming Gilda Radner's play/revue which Mike Nichols also directed.  I think this can qualify as a classic concert film.

    1983's "Silkwood" is his first film since 1971's "Carnal Knowledge" to be a hit at the box office.  This film stars Meryl Streep in an amazing performance with strong support from Cher (who should have won the Academy Award -- she lost to Linda Hunt) and mainly it features a shirtless Kurt Russell.  Up until his butt scene with Sylvester Stallone, Russell's body had never been presented as lovingly.  A box office success and a critical success, this one qualifies as one of his classics.

    1986's "Heartburn" does not.  Jack Nicholson's back only after Mandy Patikin is fired.  Why?  It's 1986 and the work Barbra Streisand did in "Yentl" to make Mandy come off sexy is long gone.  And we've already noted Nichols' lack of interest in Jewish men.  Jack and Meryl try but the script's a mess and a disappointment.  They can't pull it off and when two of film's finest actors can't pull it off . . .   The film is remembered for Carly Simon's amazing "Coming Around Again.'

    1988 finds him flopping again with "Biloxi Blues." Yes, a comedy that fails to make $50 million in North America is a flop when it's got a name male star (Matthew Broadrick) who was paid several million just to make the film.

    It might have been over for Nichols who went 8 years (from "The Fortune" to "Silkwood") before Hollywood hired him to direct a film.

    But he directed "Working Girl."

    As with Gilda Radner, he found Melanie Griffith interesting and she gave an engaged and skilled performance (and was nominated for an Academy Award).  This isn't just a classic of Nichols, it's one of his two best films.  There are great performances in this film: Griffith, Joan Cusack, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford.

    And . . . Alec Baldwin.  Mike's toy for the film.  How many ways can he show Alec shirtless and in briefs?

    Along with Griffith, Sigourney, Joan and Carly Simon were also nominated for Academy Awards.  Only Carly won -- for her theme song "Let The River Run."

    "Postcards from the Edge" followed and didn't do as well at the box office, though it was a hit.  (A comedy starring women in the 80s that made it to $40 million can be considered a hit.  The studios spent less money on those films, promoted them less, etc.)  Shirley MacLaine and Meryl do a great job with Carrie Fisher's screenplay and Mike's toy in the film is Dennis Quaid who is caught in stages of undress.

    "Regarding Henry" was a flop.  Critically, the meepie (male weepies) was lame and dead on arrival while commercially  box office champ Harrison Ford was left with a film that wasn't even able to break $50 million.  His film before, "Presumed Innocent," had made $86 million in North America and the film after "Regarding Henry," 1992's "Patriot Game," made $83 million.

    1994 found him rebounding with a film that made $63 million in North America -- a big hit for an adult film.  That was "Wolf" which found him reteaming with Jack Nicholson and adding Michelle Phillips to the mix.  Jack Nicholson should have been the male lead in all of Mike's films, he's the only leading male that consistently interested the director.  In this romantic update, Michelle succeeds in love with Jack by not trying to remake the man she loves but by exploring his quirks with him.

    He followed that with his biggest success "The Birdcage."  The comedy, screenplay by Elaine May (his former improv partner, they were a comedy team -- hugely successful in the fifties and the early years of the JFK administration), stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a couple who son Dan Futterman is marrying into a conservative family and doesn't want to be the son of a same-sex couple.  Calista Flockhart is charming in the film.  Gene Hackman and Dianne Weist are left on their own -- good for Hackman but it means Dianne does the same performance she always does.

    Mike Nichols is most fascinated with Luca Tommassini -- and Luca's crotch.  (He plays Nathan Lane's dancing partner with the fondness for chewing gum -- "It helps me think," he insists.)

    I can't judge "Primary Colors" because I've never made it through that movie.  It was a hit.  I love John Travolta and Emma Thompson but I just can't get into that movie (it's based on Joe Klein's book about the Clintons).  

    That was his last hit.

    "What Planet Are You From?" was a bomb and it's not going to be re-appraised.  This is a hideous comedy.

    "Closer" rebounded commercially.  I find the film to be a failure. It should have been so much better.  Natalie Portman and Clive Owen won Academy Awards for the film (supporting category).  The only sequence that actually works in the film, the only one Mike Nichols is fully vested in, is when Natalie Portman's doing a strip.  But he's not interested in Natalie.  His focus is on a fully clothed Clive getting a hard on.  The film also stars Jude Law's pubic bush.

    Then came the bomb "Charlie Wilson's War."  Unlike "Closer," "Charlie Wilson's War" had a huge press rollout.  "Closer" had the average 'we want to be number one opening week at the box office' press rollout.  But "Charlie Wilson's War" was treated as historic and important.  And it starred Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.  Pre "Larry Crowne" this was thought to be an outstanding pairing.

    The film was a flop, not even making $70 million despite tons of Academy Award nominations -- which gave it a second life -- it did not win any awards.

    Not only is it a flop and a boring movie, it was a sign that Mike Nichols needed to stop directing.

    The film's only historic importance is explaining 9-11 but that was taken out because Tom Hanks threw a hissy fit.

    So that his career.

    He could come alive if he had a man to show off, especially if he could undress him.

    Two of his films are undisputed classics: "The Birdcage" and "Working Girl."

    "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" also qualifies as a classic and I'd also include "Wolf."

    I think "The Fortune" and "Day of The Dolphin" deserve re-evaluations and appraisals.

    "Silkwood" and "Postcards From The Edge" and "Gilda Live" are minor classics.

    So four classics, two films I think should be reclassified as classics and three minor classics.

    That's not a bad filmography to have.

    “To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service"

    Senator Patty Murray

    Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (which she formerly Chaired).  Her office issued the following:

    For Immediate Release                                                      

    Murray (202) 224-2834

    Isakson (202) 224-7777

    Monday, November 24, 2014                                                                                 

    Murray, Isakson Lead Bipartisan Letter Pressing Army Secretary on “Grave Concern” Over Retirement Benefits
    In letter to Army Secretary McHugh, Senators call for immediate reversal of policy forcing officers to retire at highest enlisted rank
    Current policy results in significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more
    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers and are being forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB). This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more, or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.   
    “These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives… We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation.”
    Under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  During the “Grow the Army” effort the Army dramatically increased the number of officers commissioned via its Officer Candidate School (OCS).  The Army expanded to a post 9-11 peak of 570,000 soldiers in 2010 and is currently executing an aggressive end strength reduction designed to shrink the Army to 450,000 soldiers.  Many of those OCS graduates are now being forced to retire through the E-SERB process as the Army shrinks.  Officers with more than 18 years active service are screened by E-SERB and those selected will be forced to retire on the first day of the month following the month they reach 20 years of service. These former non-commissioned officers stepped up and volunteered for OCS at a time the Army badly needed officers and served honorably for between 6 and 7 years.  Now, many are being retired at enlisted ranks they have not held in years.  This is particularly disturbing because had they ignored the Army’s call for officers most would have been promoted at least once more and been eligible to retire at a higher enlisted rank.
    Senators Murray and Isakson were joined in sending the letter by: Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Bernard Sanders (D-VT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
    Read a one-page summary of the issue here.
    The full text of the letter is as follows:
    November 19, 2014
    The Honorable John McHugh
    Secretary of the Army
    101 Army Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20301-0101
    Dear Secretary McHugh:
    We write to express our grave concern over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of Army captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers.   These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank.  This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, approximately $1,000 per month or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.  This is simply unacceptable. 
    These former non-commissioned officers have been placed in this untenable position as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB).  Officers selected by the boards are forced to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service. Unfortunately, under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  While this requirement makes sense in the case of soldiers who choose to retire, are passed over for multiple promotions, or are forced to retire due to misconduct, none of those cases applies to the soldiers in question.  On the contrary, Army Human Resources Command has explicitly acknowledged that E-SERB will separate fully qualified officers “who have rendered quality service to the nation.”  To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives.
    Rather than forcing these officers to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service, the Army could modify its E-SERB policy to delay the mandatory retirement date of affected soldiers until the first month after they become eligible to retire as commissioned officers.  For many of the affected soldiers this would extend their time in service by only a few months.  We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation. 
    Patty Murray                                                              
    United States Senator                                                 
    Johnny Isakson
    United States Senator
    Meghan Roh
    Press Secretary
    Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
    Mobile: (202) 365-1235
    Office: (202) 224-2834

    Artificial intelligence is not as close as its fans make out (GB Socialist Worker)

    This is a repost from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

    Artificial intelligence is not as close as its fans make out

    John Parrington looks at artificial intelligence, and says it will be a long time before computers are smarter than humans

    We don’t have to worry yet about Terminators taking over
    We don’t have to worry yet about Terminators taking over (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

    Will a computer ever be able to think like a person? Could such a machine even surpass human intelligence?

    And if so, should we be delighted or terrified by such a scenario?

    For those of us worried about making ends meet, the prospect of job cuts, or even the threat posed by global warming, these may seem like abstract questions.

    Yet IT entrepreneur Elon Musk recently warned that super-intelligent computers are not only close to becoming a reality, but also pose a grave potential threat to humanity.

    Musk made billions from internet company Paypal and was an early investor in the artificial intelligence (AI) firm DeepMind, acquired recently by Google for £255 million.

    Yet now he claims that, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon”. He warns of a situation like in the Terminator films, in which Skynet, a military AI system, turns on its makers and destroys human civilisation.

    How seriously should we take Musk’s claims?

    One problem with AI enthusiasts who say that conscious computers are coming soon is a tendency to underestimate the human brain’s true complexity.

    For example, some describe the brain as “wetware”, analogous to computer hardware. This obscures the fact that it’s a far more sophisticated structure than any computer.

    Our brains contain 100 billion nerve cells. But each connects to an average of 1,000 others, creating a quadrillion connections, all exchanging electrical impulses. At the moment, no computer has anywhere near this level of circuitry.

    But brains are far more than just giant circuit boards. We also can’t ignore the structures of the nerve cells themselves, encoded in our DNA but also shaped by our experiences as individuals.


    Our brains represent a unique interface between a biological entity that has evolved over millions of years.

    These include the unique human traits of self-conscious awareness and an ability to share ideas and thoughts with others.

    All of this is powered not only by electrical impulses but also by diverse chemical messengers.

    Currently even understanding how this complex object functions as a connected whole lies beyond us, never mind trying to mimic it in a machine.

    The differences between humans and computers are reflected in what the latter are still unable to do.

    A lot has been made of some computers’ prowess at chess. But this reflects their number-crunching abilities rather than real intelligence.

    They have proven useless at games like poker or the board game Go, which don’t involve calculations, but do require intuition, creativity, and even empathy. I’m sceptical about claims that a computer will soon think like a person, or even become more intelligent.

    Where I would agree with Musk, though, is the need for scrutiny of new developments in science and their potential risks.

    But who will carry out such scrutiny? Ordinary people have little input into the development and application of new technologies, particularly those with military potential.

    Only in a socialist society will we be able to realise the potential of new technologies for improving the lives of ordinary people, and to properly assess their risks.

    A character in the Terminator films says, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
    Ordinary people can decide whether new technologies make Earth a paradise or a hell. But we must first reclaim the world from the minority who rule us.

    Fighting imperialism, come hell and high water (Caleb T. Maupin)

    This is a repost from Workers World:

    Fighting imperialism, come hell and high water

    By on November 29, 2014

    Caleb T. MaupinWW photo: G. Dunkel
    Caleb T. Maupin
    WW photo: G. Dunkel

    Excerpted from remarks by Caleb Maupin at the Workers World Party 2014 National Conference in New York City, Nov. 15-16.

    What’s the difference between a socialist and a communist? This question comes up as we spread the revolutionary message among our class. The writer Sherwood Anderson said, “The Communists are the ones who mean it.”

    We do mean it. We are serious about our vision of a classless society, without the profit system’s horrors of hunger, poverty and homelessness.  We intend to rip up this society and replace it with something completely different.

    Every so often, a historical moment arises where we are put to the test, and we have to prove that we are the ones who mean it. A moment like that came about 100 years ago. Then, as now, the world was ruled by a group of billionaire monopolists, who profitted from war and militarism.

    Imperialist war: A test for revolutionaries

    During World War I, when the billionaires waged war to determine how profits would be divided, many socialist parties and “Marxists,” labor union leaders, intellectuals and academics went along with it. They waved their flags and did not oppose the catastrophic imperialist war. Millions of workers were sent to their deaths.

    Eugene Debs in the United States, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin in Germany, and V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia stood alone against the war. Afterwards, Lenin urged the Bolsheviks to stop calling themselves “socialists” and “social-democrats,” so they weren’t confused with the imperialist war supporters. Instead, Lenin urged the Bolsheviks to call themselves the “Communist Party” to show their distinct political trend.

    Workers World Party, like the Bolsheviks, is a Communist party. Like Lenin, we will never wave the flag and cheer as workers are sent to die. We will never team up with the war makers and billionaires when they  attack a country.

    Not only are we anti-war, but we are not neutral. We don’t just oppose U.S. imperialism and Israel’s Zionist settler regime, we defend the right of the Palestinians to fight against it, whatever their tactics. We support the Islamic Republic of Iran’s right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy and develop its economy. We support the right of people in East Ukraine to form self-defense militias and get support from whomever offers it. We support the right of socialist north Korea to develop nuclear weapons and  protect themselves.

    We support Ferguson’s oppressed youths’ right to do what they determine is necessary to stop police terror. We offer unconditional support to forces of resistance outside the U.S.’s illegal borders.

    Forging our own ‘deadly weapons’

    Marxism-Leninism isn’t a utopian doctrine, with dreams about the ideal society. It is the science of revolution, and it views the world as filled with contradictions. It involves taking sides in unfolding struggles and pushing forward the forces of social progress against the old order of reaction and oppression.

    The oppressive order today is imperialism. A small group of monopolists and bankers control the world economy and use violence and repression to keep their profits rolling in. To defend their profits and keep this system intact, the imperialists have drones, tanks, fighter jets and cruise missiles.

    The pro-imperialist press is their deadliest weapon. When imperialists funded a neo-Nazi army, which overthrew Ukraine’s elected government, the media convinced millions of people it was about  “Russian aggression.”

    In Hong Kong, a pro-imperialist, pro-Wall Street minority of rich students fantasize that China can become a Disneyland playground if only the Communist Party is overthrown. The majority of working-class Chinese people oppose them. Yet the U.S. has convinced many that this is a righteous struggle for democracy.

    To combat the billion-dollar imperialist megaphones, we have our own media: Workers World newspaper and Red Flag, the Fight Imperialism, Stand Together magazine.  Also, there is more media coming from oppressed countries, which present their views.

    Why doesn’t Workers World criticize certain countries? Because the press is a deadly weapon, we won’t add our voice to the imperialist chorus. We won’t echo the bosses’ case for war and destruction.
    We want to build a revolutionary movement. We want to build alliances with those fighting against Wall Street: Muslims, secular nationalists, Bolivarians, anarchists, all resistance forces.  We know who the real enemy is and what our job is in the center of the empire.

    Danger of a new world war

    Imperialism does not bring development. It impoverishes people all over the world.

    Russia is now a capitalist country, and China has strayed far from its revolutionary past, but both of them became what they are today because of socialist development, which brought them out of poverty. It is only because of revolutions in 1917 and 1949 that Russia and China are rising as huge players on the global markets.

    The Wall Street imperialists, the London stock exchange criminals and the Western banking cartels are losing their grip on the world. Their only hope for getting it back is war.

    If the U.S. launches a new world war, millions of youth, who go to schools filled with cops and who face lives with short-term, low-wage jobs, will be sent to fight in Wall Street’s war.

    Our revolutionary duty

    When that happens, what will we do?  It is our duty to tell the next generation that the Chinese people didn’t cripple us with student debt, Russians didn’t fill our schools with cops, and Iranians and Venezuelans didn’t destroy good-paying jobs. If World War III comes, U.S. workers must turn their guns around and make war against the war makers.

    With a strong revolutionary party, this country’s youth have the potential to be the generation that saved humanity from catastrophe and destruction. This will require fearlessness, boldness and a willingness to make sacrifices.

    The U.S. is a reactionary place, but this society still gave birth to great revolutionaries like Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Paul Robeson and Andy Stapp.

    The next chapter in the people’s struggle is waiting to be written. It is time to move forward, to bring our class a message of resistance and to keep raising the banner of revolution.

    Articles copyright 1995-2014 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved


    This piece is written by Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Kat of Kat's Korner, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Ruth of Ruth's Report, Marcia of SICKOFITRADLZ, Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends, Ann of Ann's Mega Dub, Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts and Wally of The Daily Jot. Unless otherwise noted, we picked all highlights.

    "Jim Webb, Chuck Hagel and Eric Shinseki" -- most requested highlight of the week.

     "Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Corrine Brown"  and "Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Let's Be Whats..." -- Isaiah serves up two comics.

    "Strong truth teller, strong woman" -- Ann offers praise.

    "Got A Vacation To Take Care Of First" -- Isaiah dips into the archives. 

    "The Mindy Project (Rhea needs to go)" and "The awful Constantine" -- Mike, Rebecca, Ann, Stan, Marcia and Ruth cover TV. 

    "Stevie Nicks' 24 Karat Gold" -- Elaine covers music. 

    "Leftovers?" -- Trina has some tips. 

    "Idiot of the week: Joel Wing" -- Mike picks the loser. 

    "He calls it a win" and "THIS JUST IN! BARRY O FINDS THE SILVER LINING!" -- Cedric and Wally on the economy. 



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