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June 20, 2004 - Asking the right questions?

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Sometimes you have to ask the right questions, directly.

Eric Alterman does so at his MSNBC site “Altercation” –

And here I reformat for emphasis – one paragraph becomes many …

It’s hard to say which is the best representation of what this war is doing to and has done to this country.

Is it the lies that were told to get us into it?

Is the fact that we are picking up innocent people off the street and torturing them?

Is it that we have suspended the most basic civil liberties in our own country?

Is it that the work of professional intelligence agencies has been corrupted?

Is it that we have drawn resources away from the fight against Al Qaida which has completely regrouped?

Is it that we are creating more terrorists?

Is it that more than seven hundred Americans have been killed and thousands have been seriously injured?

Is it that thousands of Iraqis have been killed but nobody is keeping an account of the numbers of their deaths?

Is it that we are now more hated around the world than we have ever been?

Is it that we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars while actually decreasing our security?

Is it that we are doing all this while starving the most crucial homeland security programs?

Is it that everyone who told the truth about what was being planned has been dismissed and seen their characters attacked?

As they say on the infomercials for kitchen gadgets, it’s all this, and more!

Then Alterman links to an article by Mark Follman in salon.com – an interview and book review – regarding Thomas Powers and his views. Thomas Powers wrote Intelligence Wars: American Secret History From Hitler to Al Qaeda – and that book claims that “the Bush administration is responsible for what is perhaps the greatest disaster in the history of U.S. intelligence.”

The article is available only through subscription, but you get the idea. (And if you don’t really care that much about copyright laws, the article is reprinted here in full: … the Bush administration "correctly read how the various institutions of our government could be used to stage a kind of temporary coup on a single issue: Whether or not to go to war with Iraq.")

Out here in La-La Land, Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times explained a few weeks ago that this is quite an accomplishment -

As Thomas Powers, one of America's foremost scholars of intelligence and the author of the forthcoming "Intelligence Wars: American Secret History From Hitler to Al-Qaeda," recently wrote, "In its first half-century the CIA got lots of things wrong…. In 1950 it failed to foresee intervention by the Chinese in the Korean War, a mistake that almost resulted in American armies being driven entirely from the peninsula. In 1968 the agency was surprised by the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, a failure repeated in 1979 when the agency failed to predict the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

"Ten years after that the [CIA] estimators continued to issue new alarms about Soviet power and intentions almost until the very moment the Berlin Wall came down, signaling the true end of the cold war, an event soon followed by a still greater astonishment — the actual collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union itself."

And screwing up with Iraq, from the WMD business to maybe Chalabi being in bed with the mullahs running Iraq, is worse than all this?

Maybe so.  We have got a whole lot of things quite wrong.


But we meant well.  We always mean well.

Alterman, above, says that everyone who told the truth about what was being planned has been dismissed and seen their characters attacked.

Oh heck.  We need an example of that.

Scanning This Modern World one finds such an example.  


The example is Michael Moore and his new film, Fahrenheit 9/11 of course.


Is Moore being attacked?  Sort of.

At This Modern World you will find a link to Move Forward America, which seems to be a Republican group mounting a grass-roots effort to pressure individual theatres and theater chains to not, under any circumstances, screen this film – or suffer the wrath of the right, or righteous, or whatever.  They do provide a list of email addresses for major theater chains and some individual theaters.

Ah, but that can be turned the other way.  You, or anyone else, could go to the site and send emails telling these folks that they SHOULD show the damned movie.

For starters I recommend dropping a line to these folks.  When I lived in Rochester I used to patronize this place.


The Little Theatre
240 East Avenue Rochester, NY 14604
Phone: 585-232-3906
Email: info@little-theatre.com or marketing@little-theatre.com


But you can look for movie houses in your own town.

Of course, viewing will be restricted even if the film is screened.

See Ratings row over Moore Iraq film
BBC, Monday, 14 June, 2004, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK


The US distributors of Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 are to appeal a decision by US censors to give it a restrictive rating.

The Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) has rated the film R, meaning nobody under 17 can see it unless accompanied by an adult.

Moore has attacked the decision, saying that teenagers should be allowed to see the film unaccompanied.

… Lions Gate, one of two companies releasing the film in the US, called the decision "totally unjustified".  The MPAA said that the rating was given for "violent and disturbing images and for language".

… Moore said: "It is sadly very possible that many 15- and 16-year-olds will be asked and recruited to serve in Iraq in the next couple of years.  If they are old enough to be recruited and capable of being in combat and risking their lives, they certainly deserve the right to see what is going on in Iraq."

… IFC Entertainment, which is jointly distributing the film in the US along with Lions Gate, said it was confident the decision would be overturned.


If it is overturned, or not, it really doesn’t matter.  Any twelve-year-old knows how to get into an R-rated screening.

Moore may be dismissed, and attacked, as Alterman suggests.  But we will be able to see his film.

(By the way, This Modern World also provides a link to the background of those running Move Forward America - the organization trying to stop Michael Moore. Just your normal Republicans.)


Of course, by the end of the week we can see how the “get Moore good” campaign is panning out.


See Fans, foes of '9/11' gearing up

Elaine Dutka, Los Angeles Times, June 18 2004

Facts the reporter, Dutka, uncovers?


Like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," all the gnashing of teeth is generating the sort of media attention that should pay off at the box office.  The documentary, which opens in New York on Wednesday and in L.A. and the rest of the country next Friday, will screen in more than 700 theaters; Moore's Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine" played in 243 theaters at its peak.


That’s pretty substantial. 

And Elaine nails the group that tried to stop Moore:


The Sacramento-based group, with ties to Republican campaigns and last year's effort to push "The Reagans" miniseries off CBS, was formed last month by former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R-Carlsbad). According to the group, the website has received more than 2.5 million hits since the posting last Friday.

John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, calls the tactic "ill-advised and counterproductive."  Any time someone protests a film, he notes, it lights a fire under the box office.


Wasn’t that entirely predictable?  What was Kaloogian thinking?


I spend a lot of time in Carlsbad, north of San Diego – my sister lives there.  If I run into this Kaloogian fellow at the local mall, I guess I should smile smugly.  On the other hand, I should actually thank him for working against that miniseries on Reagan.  I did not much care for Reagan’s politics, but really, that miniseries was just awful.  Heck, if you’re going to do a counterculture attack drama on the Reagan presidency, at least do it competently.  That miniseries was unwatchable dreck.


So how is the “get Moore good” campaign going so far?


"Not one theater owner has told me that the e-mails have had an impact," said Fithian, whose group represents 27,000 movie screens. "I don't know of any theater chain that's not going to play the picture.  Exhibitors, as a whole, are probably more conservative than Hollywood, as a whole, but they're also believers in the 1st Amendment — the right to show movies of all different philosophies and perspectives."

Rick King, a spokesman for AMC Theatres, said that nine of his theater members were listed on the Move America Forward site and on another called "Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood."  One received about 20 e-mails, he said, some threatening not to patronize his theater.

"As long as a movie has artistic merit and the potential for commercial appeal we'll play it," King said.  "People should be permitted to make up their own minds.  And, frankly, a film like this broadens the appeal of our theaters.  It's a chance to program a serious-minded picture in a market dominated by lighter fare."

The Pacific Theatre chain also indicated that it will not be dissuaded by the e-mails.


Oh well.  Nice try.


And note also Moore has hired Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, former advisors to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, to go after anyone who slanders him or his work.  This is his “immediate response” counterattack squad.


The Move America Forward folks are a bit embarrasses by all this.  And they are really not working against free speech or anything like that!


Sal Russo, chief strategist for Move America Forward, said that the call for exhibitors to boycott Moore's film is less a 1st Amendment issue than a warning about faulty goods.

"People have a right to make silly movies and air them," said Russo, who has yet to see the film.  "But this one is a bad product — a so-called documentary whose accuracy has been called into question….  Telling theater owners not to screen it is no different from telling Wal-Mart not to stock guns and ammunition or Paul McCartney telling his employees not to eat beef or wear leather.  We're all saying that there are commercial products in which people shouldn't partake."


When these guys invoke Paul McCartney and the gun-control lobbyists – Hey, we’re just like them! – you know something isn’t working for them.


But that ratings business is pesky.  The difference between a PG rating and an R rating?  Usually about twenty percent of box office.


It seems the MPAA – the folks who give out the ratings – rejected Lions Gate's emergency appeal for an "expedited screening" to reassess the rating.  They said it takes five to then business days to organize an appeal hearing.   No time for any appeal.  Jack Valenti, who heads the MPAA, refused to comment on any of this.  There will be an appeal meeting to slap on the final R rating on Tuesday the 22nd – and no sooner.


So Moore hired a big gun, Mario Cuomo – former Governor of New York, a Jesuit-educated Catholic, and a pretty articulate guy – but there is a problem:


To bolster its chance of having the decision reversed, Lions Gate and IFC Entertainment, the distributors of the film, have brought aboard a high-profile advocate in Cuomo, who said he would be present at the June 22 hearing.

One hitch: According to the MPAA, only those involved in the production or distribution of the film — the producer, director, writer or distributor — can argue an appeal. Though Cuomo could be there, he'd have to sit in an anteroom.

"Our interpretation, per MPAA rules, is that Gov. Cuomo would be allowed to argue the appeal on Lions Gate's behalf, as he was hired by the distributor of the picture," said Ortenberg. "We'll make a determination as to who will represent us as we get closer to the appeal date."


Well, Mario Cuomo was on the talk shows all week.  Maybe he doesn’t have to attend.  Everyone knows what’s up.

Asking questions, the right ones as some see it, will go on.


It is hard to shut down discourse.


It might have been wiser for Kaloogian and his folks to have produced their own film.  Peggy Noonan could write the script, along with Ann Coulter.  It could just as hard-hitting as Moore’s, just from the other perspective.


Why not?


The idea here is this – rather than shutting down one side of an argument it might be better for us all if everyone jumped in and showed us all how they see things now.


More voices, not fewer.  I do wish that didn’t seem so un-American an idea these days.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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