Saturday, January 17, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, January 17, 2014.  Today we look at Iraq in terms of the US zooming in on Cindy Sheehan and how she is us and we are her in all the ways that are beautiful and that are ugly and, mainly, what it likely means for the 2016 elections.

Anyone can comment about movies -- they're a democratic art form.  That doesn't mean they can comment intelligently.

I have no interest in seeing Clint Eastwood's latest film.  I'm not a friend of Clint's, I'm not a fan of his films (as an actor or a director) and I don't care for the war combat genre (whose only real classics for me come from Brian De Palma: Redacted and Casualties of War).  Clint's new film is American Sniper.

I've not insulted it and have no plans to.

It's not a film I'd make or choose to see but it's not shocking that Clint was interested in the topic and I'm sure he told it cinematic manner.  We noted the film in the December 30th snapshot.  And yesterday's snapshot included IAVA's congratulations to Clint and company for their Academy Award nominations.

Good luck to Clint and company and, for those who've missed it over the ten long years Ava and I've covered TV at Third, I prefer comedies.  After comedies, I like a good thriller (Alan J. Pakula was one of the masters and no one does suspense like Brian De Palma). I'm also not interested in sitting through films where women do nothing and are discarded on the sidelines. (In fairness to Clint, the source material for his film meant it would focus on a man's journey and the setting didn't lead to much more for women than what Natalie Wood did in Rebel Without A Cause.)

I say that to explain what has been a 'controversial' position.  (Sadly for the e-mailers, I don't avoid controversy, I court it.)  I have defended the film and Clint's right to make it and that's upset a few e-mailers (who haven't seen the movie but know when their 'leaders' stir up s**t, it's their job to eat it).

My stance is an artistic stance and if that's too much for you maybe you can bury your head in the sand.

Here's a reality you might try grasping: If you didn't view the art, you don't have an opinion on what it says.

Friday, Cindy Sheehan wrote a deeply stupid post not limited to this:

Along with another glorification of the War State (Zero Dark Thirty) winning best film title at the Oscars last year and Hollywood’s long history of working with the Pentagon (or War Department) to make decades of Warnography, I was reminded about an episode in my own history.

First, the Academy has no award for Best Film Title.  Possibly, Cindy means Best Picture?

Best Picture went to Ben Affleck's Argo.

But again, when faux outrage is stirred, the sheep know to eat s**t and swallow.  Kathryn Bigelow was made fair game by a cabal that's worked publicly and repeatedly since their attempt to destroy the Academy Award chances for Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind.  It's cute the way this group operates and how, when they destroy, they get away with it -- or think they do.  But that's a tale for another a day -- and when we had time to trace the group's roots which go back decades.

Instead, we'll focus on Cindy's explanations and fantasies of why a film wasn't made of her life.

I don't have the time -- or interest -- in going into copyrights and authorship and the need for people to sign consent agreements to be portrayed in films -- these are legal issues that clearly escape Cindy and I'm not in the mood to spoonfeed today.

We would get lost in the weeds attempting to explain all that.

We're going to focus on film.

Cindy believes there was a possible plot to prevent her story from being told.  That two different groups of producers were attempting to keep her tied up at two different times so that her story would not be told on the big screen.

She feels this might be possible because no film was made.

It might be possible.

Anything is.

But the basics of film and the industry argue against any conspiracy.

As a woman of a certain age, Cindy's story was always going to be hard for the big screen.

She notes Susan Sarandon was attached -- or at least mentioned --  to the film proposal in 2006 and 2007.

And that's about 10 years after Susan could deliver any real audience at the box office.

That's why Susan's doing films like Tammy (where she's not the lead) and the Lifetime film playing Marilyn Monroe's mother.

I don't mean that as an insult to Susan.  We're talking realities here -- the things Cindy avoided in her post.

Susan was all wrong for the role as well.

Cindy's not stupid by any means but she doesn't project intelligence the way Susan does.

Or the way Jane Fonda does which was Mike Nichols wasn't interested in Jane for the part of Karen Silkwood (Jane had tried to get the film rights for the story on Karen Silkwood) and Meryl Streep played the role instead.

Meryl could have played Cindy.   Again, Cindy's not stupid, she's smart.  But there are types and Susan Sarandon would have been the wrong fit for Cindy.

Back when studios still thought Susan could carry a film -- she couldn't, some actors can't, some very good actors can't,  she starred in Safe Passage.  That's more or less how she would have played Cindy and it wouldn't have worked nor would it have sold tickets.

Susan has tremendous talent and cast her as the woman who unravels the secrets in a thriller or as the seductive vamp or any number of roles and she'll deliver.  But when she plays someone newly awakened it doesn't really work because, like Jane Fonda, her characters are a little bit faster than everyone else on the uptake so you don't buy them as 'awakening' to politics -- though you do buy them 'awakening' to love.

The part could have been played by Meryl (a given) or by Jessica Lange or Sally Field -- and Sally probably would have been the most effective in the role.  The role could have been played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Jodie Foster, Debra Winger, Joan Cusack, Rosanna Arquette, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, etc.  Of the women listed after Field, the only one whose name only would have interested studios enough to consider the film would have been Jodie Foster.

Jodie could deliver an audience large enough to make back the costs of filming and, if she and the film delivered, she could have brought in a much larger audience.

But even with Jodie, working against the film was that the role had already been played by Jane Fonda -- Sally Hyde in Coming Home, Jane won her second Best Actress Academy Award for playing a woman who awakens to the realities of war.

Sally was only one part of the story.  Jon Voight (who won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance) played Ron Kovic with a fictional name.  Bruce Dern and Jane's marriage ends due to the war, Jon Voight's character finds his voice when he loses so many other things, there's the subplot with Vi and her brother and so much more -- including graphic sex scenes (Jane had a body double).  Don't forget the graphic sex scenes.

All of that and a beautiful, muted look via Haskell Wexler and innovations via director Hal Ashby -- he used sound like no on else before him.

It made for a film.

But The Cindy Sheehan Story, as portrayed in Peace Mom, is a TV movie, if you're trying to pull off the arc of awakening.  Probably starring Meredith Baxter.  It could also be a powerful play if you zoomed in on just the day Casey Sheehan dies and the aftermath on the family -- we're talking the immediate effects.  And that could also make for a powerful premium cable channel movie.

You have to know what the story is and where the story fits because a Lifetime TV movie is not going to sell tickets in theaters.  You're wasting everyone's time delivering a pitch for a TV movie to a film studio exec.

Cindy thinks there might have been some conspiracy.

There was most likely none at all.

Her film never had studio backing -- nor even serious interest from a studio.

Even if it had, there are projects studios get behind which get gutted all the time.  Jodie Foster and Robert Redford were supposed to star in Crisis In The Hot Zone but Redford was a dick and a vain one and Jodie walked.  The film had been in competition with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman's Outbreak to see which could start shooting first.  That ended when no other name actress wanted to put up with Redford's nonsense.

Films go under all the time, they go from talk to nothing.

They can even be announced -- and advertised -- and then not get made.


That's Faye Dunaway.  Height of her beauty.  Height of her box office.

And she's going to make the film Duet For One.  It's about to begin filming.


When it was made a few years later, it would star Julie Andrews.

There was no plot to keep Faye busy, to tie her up, so no one else could use her in movies.

Joan Crawford would leave MGM for, among other reasons, the refusal to allow her to star in The Spiral Staircase despite the fact that she'd optioned the source material.  (A few years later, RKO would make the film and it would be a hit.)  Miriam Hopkins thought she'd play the lead in the film of Jezebel.  She'd played the role on Broadway, she held the rights, Jack Warner led her to believe that handing the rights over to his studio meant she'd star in the film.  Instead, Bette Davis played the role and won her second Best Actress Academy Award.  Bette Davis was led to believe she'd star as Mary Todd Lincoln but when the project moved from development towards filming, Jack Warner refused to greenlight claiming a film that told the truth would be an insult to Abraham Lincoln's memory.

Yentl is a film classic and one that director Barbra Streisand should forever feel proud of.  But as much as the film on the screen is something to be proud of, Barbra's dedication to the project is also something to be proud of. She started working on the project in 1968 and never lost faith in it, never took a "no" as the final answer and, in 1983, the film was reality.

Or look at The Dollmaker.  In 1971, Jane Fonda falls in love with Harriette Arnow's book. In 1974, she meets with the author about making the book.  She's in her grey-listed period -- where politics keep US studios from hiring her for many projects (though she still has a few offers coming in -- she turned down Chinatown and The Exorcist, among others, during this period).  When Tricky Dick resigns and realities have to be reconsidered, studios are interested again and her first leading role is in the box office hit Fun With Dick and Jane (1977).  One hit after another followed and Jane still couldn't get studio interest for the film.  So, as she herself tells it, she met with ABC in 1979, the day after she won her second Academy Award, and she (and Bruce Gilbert) proposed The Dollmaker as a movie of the week for the TV network.  ABC was all for it but there was still the issue of the script.  It would be 1983 before the TV movie was filmed and 1984 when it aired.   (Jane won an Emmy for her performance.)

To get a film made -- for the big screen or for TV or (today) the internet) -- you have to be a long distance runner.

The film frustrations Cindy Sheehan went through don't even qualify as a 1 K fun run.

Let's deal with another aspect and then we'll circle around.

Casey Sheehan died.

That was a huge loss for his family.

As someone who felt her loss was great enough to warrant a meeting with a world leader, I'm not really sure where Cindy gets off insulting Chris Kyle.

Guess what, it's not all about you, Cindy Sheehan.

I've defended Cindy here repeatedly over the years.  She's said nothing to help another mother, has she? She can't identify with Pat Smith's loss?

I've wondered about that.

And now here is she is trashing a dead man because she thinks he's racist -- or says she thinks it.

If only we were all so pure and wonderful like Cindy Sheehan?

The fact of the matter is she needs to lose the judgmental.

There's no reason for her to insult Chris Kyle.

Her view of her son is in conflict with those who served with him.

That's not surprising.

He was put through the same socialization process everyone in the military is.

So I'm not understanding why Cindy's being so awful to Chris Kyle who has a family that misses him dearly.

You're not happy that he shot Iraqis?

I'm not happy that any Iraqis were shot.

But the blame for that, for Americans, goes to the White House (then and now) and the Congress.

Casey Sheehan didn't declare war on Iraq.  Neither did Chris Kyle.

If you're offended by what Chris Kyle did, then you need to take that argument up the chain.

Stop blaming the people and start blaming those in charge.

Chris Kyle broke no law.

He said some mean spirited things about Arabs?

I don't doubt it.

And I'm not stupid enough to assume he came up with those remarks himself.  I'm fully aware that this was part of training, part of the socialization, part of the attempt to create the belief in 'the other' which allows the dehumanization necessary to kill.

Now maybe moon beams shot out of Casey Sheehan's ass like Cindy seems to think.  Maybe they didn't.  But I'm not going to insult Casey Sheehan because I'm opposed to the ongoing war.  And I'm not going to insult Chris Kyle for it either.

I don't expect Cindy to be a saint.  I do expect her to have common sense.

Her post is beneath her and goes to the reality that she has a myth about Casey with regards to Iraq and it's a myth she wills herself to believe.

Chris Kyle.could have been her son but she attacks him and berates him in a post.

She has no humanity to share and can't relate to the family of Chris Kyle on any level.

Nursing a myth takes a lot out of you.

 And let's point out the obvious about her supposed offense regarding what Kyle wrote in his book.

Cindy does a radio show.  If she really cares about the Iraqi people why doesn't she cover Iraq?

If she really cares why, in the year long bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods, has she never devoted an episode to this topic?

These are War Crimes, legally defined War Crimes.

And Cindy's not calling them out, she's not using her forum to draw attention to the thousands of civilians who have been killed and wounded for the 'crime' of being in their neighborhood, for the 'crime' of being in their homes.

This is not the Islamic State.

Grasp that.

This is the Iraqi military bombing Falluja daily.

It started under Nouri al-Maliki.  September 13th, new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi noted how wrong it was -- but stopped short of calling it a War Crime -- it is one, it's the legal definition of "collective punishment" -- and promised the bombings had stopped.  The next day they continued.

So when Cindy's going to talk about that?

I'm so tired of people who pretend they care about this or that but when they've got the chance to talk about something that matters, they don't.

Ongoing War Crimes and no one wants to call them out.  It's pretty much Human Rights Watch, Felicity Arbuthonot and this community willing to call out the War Crimes. (If you call it out or know someone who does, send a link to and it will gladly be noted here.)

How damn difficult is for a citizen in, for example, the United States to call out the Iraqi government attacking civilians daily in Falluja?

I don't think it's difficult at all.

But the silence from Cindy Sheehan and others never ends.

Pick any day at random, let's go with June 18th: The bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods claimed the lives of 6 civilians -- two of whom were children -- with sixteen more civilians injured.

So don't come whimpering to me about some 'naughty words' that were used in a book when you don't have the guts, the spine, the compassion, the humanity to call out the year long suffering of Sunnis in Falluja as the military has repeatedly targeted the residential neighborhoods wounding and killing thousands in 2014 alone.

The United Nations refuses to release an 'official' count on deaths in Falluja and that's because they don't want to speak up about the ongoing War Crimes.

The only time they've acknowledged it seriously was when new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced these bombings had ended -- then the UN had praise to offer publicly.  But the bombings didn't end, the UN didn't retract their praise or even acknowledge that the bombings continued.

Iraqi Spring MC notes 3 civilians dead and four injured on Friday from the Iraqi military's non-stop bombing of civilian areas in Falluja.

And these bombings have other impacts as well.

النازحون من منازلهم جراء القصف العشوائي المتعمد من قبل القوات الحكومية على منازل المدنيين. .

As Iraqi Spring MC notes, they add to the ever-growing refugee population in Iraq.

The silence also means others can get away with it.

Today, civilian areas in and around Baghdad were bombed by the war planes in the US-led coalition.

But let's all get upset over what Chris Kyle wrote in a sentence or two in his book.

That is the real crime -- right, Cindy Sheehan?

Not the ongoing bombings of civilians, not the never-ending war.

Yeah, you play strong and proud over your attacks on a dead man who can't defend himself and who might be a little too close to what you fear your son was like in Iraq.

Can your crazy -- can it, market it, sell it, maybe it'll make you rich.

It just won't help end any wars.  But the woman who occupied a ditch in Crawford can't be bothered with Iraq today unless it's to trash a dead soldier.

I don't have time for the crazy.

There are two ways to make The Cindy Sheehan Story -- I said we'd work back to it -- a big screen film.

The first is to deal with the tragedy of those quiet moments when Cindy's alone with her memories and has to realize if the construct she's created about Casey is accurate or not?

That sort of haunting is what got Music Box a greenlight (and when the studio paid Jane Fonda a small fortune not to act in the film and replaced her with Jessica Lange, that was about sexism and age-ism and not a conspiracy).

The other story, the one I urged to the second group of film makers Cindy whines about -- yeah, I'm going to call it whining.  I've been kind when she's misconstrued Rob Reiner who is a friend of mine.  But I'm not going to be kind here.  She's whining and doing so stupidly.  She had two different groups approach her about making a film and she never took the lead and she never fought for it but instead sat back and expected to happen when the reality is over 99% of proposed films never get made and any that do require people to champion the projects and fight.

The other story is about a woman who allowed herself to be used.

This is the reality, not the story Cindy wants to tell.  She likes to, for example, claim she was against Barack from the start.  That's a lie.  It's a known lie.  She was for Barack up until the Democratic Party primaries ended.  Common Dreams is among the websites she left comments on.  She can claim she was trying to destroy Hillary Clinton (his opponent in the 2008 primaries, for those who've forgotten).  Doesn't really matter.  Oh, wait, it does.  Had Hillary been elected president in 2008, the so-called peace movement wouldn't have folded up the tent and gone home.

But the film that would work as cinema is about a woman who really wasn't sure where she stood on the war while her son was alive.  She waivered.  And that's understandable and even something most can feel empathy towards her for.  Then she became outspoken.  This is months before her Crawford, Texas stand.

And then she's in the DFW area at a Veterans for Peace meeting and decides, since Bully Boy Bush is at his Crawford, Texas ranchette, to go down there.

It's decided to start Camp Casey.

And tons of people show up.

Most are grass-roots people who want to end the war.

But there are those who see it as political hay.

And then some anti-Semitic statements Cindy made emerge.

And let's not pretend that they were anti-Israeli government.  They weren't.  They were anti-Semitic.  Doesn't make Cindy a bad person (we won't rush to attack her the way she rushed to attack Chris Kyle), just means she needs to be a little more informed.

And that's really when they have Cindy -- and a detail not often told.

The behind the scenes players -- only some of which she's named -- rush to spin it as (a) she didn't make those comments and (b) even if she did, she's a dumb little home maker so no one should get too upset about it.

August is a dead month for the media and they were happy to let the spin settle and continue to cover the woman in the ditch outside a world leader's home, demanding to speak with him to know why her son died in Iraq.

Partisan bloggers for the Democratic Party took part in the lie that Cindy wasn't opposed to the war, she just wanted an answer.  A blogger named Jude, for example, is someone we broke with over this lie.  Jude was pimping it online -- she was always a Democratic Party house organ and not an individual blogger -- and she wasn't the only one.

And Cindy allowed it.

She walked in the narrow confines she was instructed to.

She wouldn't sell party politics but she would -- and did -- take part in the media creation of "Peace Mom."

And after the 2006 mid-terms, the Democratic Party and their various outlets and organs had no use for her.

She had helped them deliver both houses of Congress to the Democrats.

The political party had used the illegal war to drum up votes.

So if you thought they were ending the Iraq War in 2007, you were a damn fool.

They weren't going to end it, not when they had a presidential election two years out that they could win by harnessing the outrage over the Iraq War and turning it into votes.

Cindy betrayed herself in various little ways.

But none of that prepared her for the betrayal she would face from others.

You can make that film as a comedy or as a thriller.  You can use Frank Capra's Meet John Doe as your backdrop -- they share many of the same plot points.

And it's a movie that could put people in the seats because it's not just the story of Cindy, it's the story of America in the last fifteen or so years.

In one way or another, like Cindy, we all did small steps of self-betrayal.  We kidded ourselves that it was for 'the greater good.'  We kidded ourselves that, when we were silent, it was helping the movement.

Whether you think Occupy was a movement or not, the lack of criticism -- serious criticism -- allowed whatever it was to peter out quickly and Occupy is no more despite the hopes and dreams of a bunch of elderly radicals in NYC.

But we did that in the peace movement or the anti-war movement.  We pretended it was okay that those with divided loyalties -- at best (you can't serve the peace movement and a corporatist, War Hawk political party at the same time) -- were in the forefront.

We created our own free speech pens and sat out so much time in them.

It set the stage for the next presidential election, "2008: The Year of Living Hormonally (Year in Review)."

A time when all good Democrats must not call out Barack for putting homophobes on stage at campaign events, a time where all good Democrats must not note that after the Iraq War started in 2003, Barack was a public supporter of it -- yes, 'anti-war' Barack got on board.

We 'built' that.  And we created the stage for the events Joan Didion so aptly described (link goes to New York Review of Books podcast):

What troubled had nothing to do with the candidate himself.
It had to do instead with the reaction he evoked.
Close to the heart of it was the way in which only the very young were decreed of capable of truly appreciating the candidate. Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching of arguments made on the candidate's behalf by their children -- by quite small children. Again and again, we were told that this was a generational thing, we couldn't understand. In a flash we were sent back to high school, and we couldn't sit with the popular kids, we didn't get it. The "Style" section of The New York Times yesterday morning mentioned the Obama t-shirts that "makes irony look old."
Irony was now out.
Naivete translated into "hope" was now in.
Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.

By then, some had begun speaking out.  Cindy was among those.  But she and I and many, many others helped set the stage for what came after by biting our tongues when we should have been speaking out.  By thinking silence on an issue meant helping the larger issues.

I've known all my life Naomi Klein was the child of a war resister.  I know Naomi's father and knew him before she was born.

But as Naomi refused -- refused -- to speak out on war resisters, I stayed silent for years.

She had no right to.  She owed it to the community to speak out, to pay it forward.

And yet she'd plug her books and plug her articles and act ditzy on Al Franken's radio show ('Oh, you can't say s**t on the radio in America? Giggle, giggle, I'm practically a bra-less starlet!').

At one point when I said I was going public, it was conveyed to me that Naomi feared going public would mean she would lose entry to the United States, be put on some sort of list.

That was nutty but okay, I bit my tongue.

And I did it far too long.  When there was serious media attention on war resisters in the early days, I should've outed Naomi as a child of a Vietnam war resister, an American who went to Canada.  That would have forced her to address the issues in all the interviews she was giving, it would have raised the profile of war resisters, it would have put a human face on it and it would have argued: 'Canada, you have a figure of global prominence in Naomi Klein and you have her as a citizen because you welcomed war resisters in the past.  Do so again.'

We all lied and that's how we arrived at the point we're at now.

And we're still lying because people don't want to tell you how Hillary probably wins if she runs for president.

She wins because we're so f**king ugly on the left now.

We're an eye sore.

Large segments of the country are repulsed by it and this allows the neoliberals to argue that we need to drop the 'purity tests' and we need to be 'rationale' and Hillary's the candidate for us and blah blah blah.

The pendulum swings back and forth not because the country is bi-polar but because the middle and the apathetic (which does comprise the bulk of the United States population) grow outraged over the excesses of the right when they're in power and over the excesses of the left when they're in power.

Both segments seem to think they have a right to dictate to the American people how they should live their lives and the voters reject that repeatedly over and over.

We could have stood for something beyond partisan politics in the last six years but we didn't.

And now it's likely Hillary Clinton in the White House or a Republican and, honestly, aren't the two really just the same damn thing?