Tuesday, June 29, 2004

'Fahrenheit 9/11' -- Film Review


We went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 this weekend, and I have to say the movie is as good as they say it is. Controversial? Of course! Partisan? You betcha!

Moore's new film is his most mature and professional to date. Michael Moore has definitely grown from an activist with a camera and a sense of humor, to a world class filmmaker. Without the intention to sound grandiose, I have to say that Moore has created one of the most powerful, effective and poignant documentaries of all time. Before I move to describing my views on this work of art, allow me first to describe the viewing experience, since the public response has been a remarkable aspect of the release of movie.

Just about every showing of F911 was sold out in NYC, and only could make reservations for Saturday. There were huge lines outside the theater in Downtown Manhattan to see the flick. The theater was full, and there were even people sitting all over the aisles. Let me repeat that again: every single seat was taken, and so were the side stairs of the theater.

There were all sorts of people, young old, all races, and all walks of life. Lots of people that don't often go to the movies were there. I go to the movies a lot, and I can tell there were folks there that you don't usually see in theaters, yet you notice: they talk through the movie a lot, as if they were in their living room. Still, most people behaved wonderfully, and reacted properly to the film.

The movie is extraordinary, the best film work of Michael Moore to date. For us political junkies, the movie barely reveals anything about the Bush administration that we didn't know already, but puts it all in the right context. For those people that have not been paying attention, the movie must be devastating. No wonder right-wingers are going apoplectic, since F911 must be producing massive amount of synaptic lapses in their neurons: it doesn't compute, it doesn't compute. Same reaction they had to the Abu Grahib torture: denial and excuses.

The movie has enough material to fill three or four movies, and I wished he had trashed the media even more. I know it's my pet issue, but I still thought he could have gone much further in his trashing of our self-serving media. Despite this minor complaint, the movie, propaganda or not, it's extraordinary. A must-see indeed.
People reacted with gasps, cries, and the eventual yell of "fascists!" to the events on the screen. Huge applause during the confession of the soldier that claims was Republican but now will volunteer for the Democrats. Huge ovation at the end. People were moved and angry.

The movie itself could be described as two different movies in one. First you have a movie about the Bush family and their shady deals with the Saudi royals. The second part of the movie is a very raw, very incriminating documentary about the Iraqi war, unlike anything we have seen here in the States. What makes this second part the more poignant is the tremendous contrast that it poses to the sanitized, pro-war, official version of events that we have been fed by the likes of CNN and Fox News. Over the last four years most American media have sunk to embarrassing levels of pro-government fawning, practicing self-censorship daily, promoting the White House talking-points, and ignoring opposing views. The Left, anti-war positions, and critics of the president have been completely ostracized by the media. This movie provides a serious balance and great relief to all those that have been shut out of the mainstream media.

Funny enough, Moore presents widely researched facts and news that, although explosive and highly incriminating, the mainstream media decided to bury. Not surprisingly, all these stories the press decided to ignore were very incriminating for the Bush administration. It's been quite evident that the American media have failed the American people, and I seriously doubt the situation will change anytime soon.

Moore starts the movie with a quick flash of the awful circumstances of the 2000 Elections, the brave response of the Black Caucus in their fruitless efforts to stop the voting certification, and the first few months of the Bush presidency, from vacation to vacation, golf course to golf course.

All the antics of that "lame duck" presidency are interrupted by the violent sound of the 9/11 attacks. Moore does this in a masterful way, distancing himself from showing the planes crashing into the buildings. The blast of the planes against the buildings is unlike anything I've heard before, and the digital surround system at the theater made it the more overwhelming.

This leads Moore to show the uncensored reaction of Bush to the news of the attacks: he kept reading "My Pet Goat" in the Florida schoolroom, since --as Moore points-- he didn't have anyone around to tell him what to do. Then we proceed to see a fascinating and very well documented hour-long report on the uncomfortably close relationship between the Bushes and the Saudi Royals. As I mentioned earlier, for informed people these so-called "revelations" are nothing new, as they have been widely covered by the foreign press and some brave souls at a national level. It was refreshing to see all these issues put together a once in an audiovisual format.

This first hour of the movie is typical Michael Moore, following his very personal style as seen in 'Bowling for Columbine' and 'Roger and Me'. I have the feeling he spent a good amount of time working on this first part of the movie over the last few years. It has been reported that Moore has used several fact-checkers to make sure every revelation in his movie was verified and accurately documented. To further emphasize this point, Moore even shows the newspaper articles he uses as the basis for his assertions, just in case.

Then he moves to describe the Iraqi mess. The second hour of the movie pretty much focuses on the Iraqi war from a perspective missed by most Americans. Believe me, this part of the movie hurts. It feels as if somebody is punching you in the stomach, as we see that Iraqis are people too. Our lazy and self-serving media never cared to present the Iraqis as anything else than "the enemy", some obscure and faceless "other" that deserved to be bombed for the mendacious reasons given to us by the Bush administration. But regular Iraqis were people too: women shopping, couples dining out, families enjoying weddings, and kids flying kites. While the invasion was able to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein, it killed and estimated 10,000 Iraqi civilians. Our media never cared much to show us that, as they were in full patriotic fervor, unable to provide a balanced service to the citizens.

Well, Michael Moore shows us this, and many other things about the Iraqi war that we never got to see in CNN. The movie shows confused, discontent and frustrated soldiers wondering what the heck they are doing there. The movie shows the pretty much forgotten wounded soldiers and the physical and emotional scars they will carry for life. The movie shows the anger and frustration of Iraqi civilians at the bombardments of their cities. We also get to see some of our soldiers telling us about their favorite heavy-metal or gangster-rap tunes when going into battle. That reminded of a scene from Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket", where a journalist interviews several soldiers in Vietnam and they provide him with some shocking answers. At least the ones in Kubrick's movie were fictional!

In what could be the most gripping moments of the documentary, Moore contrasts the anger of an Iraqi woman who lost her family, to the sorrow of Lila Lipscomb, a mother from Flint, Michigan, who loses her son in this war. Every neocon, chicken-hawk and pro-war individual in this country should see those images. If they were so willing to root for the war, and so willing to send other people's sons to Iraq, at the very least they should see what it is that they bought.

Moore's film wraps its message reminding us of the tremendous responsibility of sending our troops to fight foreign wars. He makes a special point in reminding us how those less favored in society are the first one to sacrify their lives for our lifestyle. It's our moral duty to only send them to war if we really, really have to. Powerful message that wasn't lost in the audience.

This was a masterful and powerful documentary that people should see independently of their political persuasion. I really hope this is sign of hope, and an opportunity for the people to take back our media and our capability to call things by their rightful name. It takes courageous filmmakers like Moore to remind us all that we have to fight and reclaim our freedom of speech. My only minor complaint about the movie is that it didn't go far enough in criticing the media and their submissive attitude before, during and after the Iraqi invasion. I think our news networks have provided enough embarrassing material to fill another movie.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a must-see, and Michael Moore an accomplished filmmaker.


On edit:

I wanted to point that one of the best elements in the movie is the clever use of music. The opening sequence with the members of Bush's cabinet getting their earpieces and make up on, getting ready for the daily farce they are delivering was incredible. It was particularly accentuated by a very sad and simple guitar melody, which at the same carried a sense of impending doom, of bad things to come. That combination of visuals and music was telling you "this is more than a farce, this is more than an operetta -- bad things are about to unfold."

Then the lyrics of the songs Michael Moore used were excellent to drive the point home. Some that I could recognize in the movie were the following:Funny, ironic, explicit and driving the point home.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Family Values

The "pros" definitely know who forms their client base:
With thousands of Republicans set to invade the city this summer, high-priced escorts and strippers are preparing for one grand old party. Agencies are flying in extra call girls from around the globe to meet the expected demand during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 gathering at Madison Square Garden.

"We have girls from London, Seattle, California, all coming in for that week," said a madam at a Manhattan escort service. "It's the week everyone wants to work."

"It's going to be big," agreed one operator at a midtown escort service.(...)

New York Daily News
Never forget these are the people that brought you the Lewinsky scandal, and brought a presidential impeachment over a sexual act.

Friday, June 25, 2004

How the Right-Wing Plays Ball
Review of 'The Hunting of the President'


I saw “The Hunting of the President” last night, and I have to say it was a very powerful experience. Before I comment on the movie, I would like to divide my commentaries in two different aspects, first the technical elements of the film, and then the subject it covers.

Technically, The Hunting of the President (THOTP) is a low budget documentary shot and edited on Digital Video (DV). These days we are witnessing a “democratization” of the means of production in film. As the quality of the DV technology improves to incredible levels, the prices are becoming dramatically more and more affordable. These days a good DV camcorder (even any product aimed to the home market) has better video quality than many broadcast-quality systems used only ten years ago. This quality improvement is quite obvious in certain scenes that juxtapose video from broadcast news from the mid 90s, with recently shot interviews in DV format of journalists and other personalities involved in the story. I’m sure when the movie comes out on video this contrast would be less accentuated in your average TV. On a large screen, it was a bit annoying at once, same with the usage of stock footage when certain scenes lacked actual videos from the story.

THOTP immerses you in the thick plot of shady characters right from the start. I did read the Conason/Lyons book years ago, so I had no problem following the wild collection of wacky individuals involved in the story. I thought that maybe the movie could have benefited from a brief introduction (10 or 15 minutes) to put these people in the right context. To my taste, THOTP just dives directly into the plot.

From the point of view of the content, the movie tries to explain, chapter by chapter, how the fake Whitewater “scandal” came to be, who was behind it, and how it snowballed into a taxpayer-funded $60 million investigation that led to a failed impeachment over a minor sexual affair. The movie certainly drives the point across, and it’s at its best when showing the rapacious methods of Ken Starr and the injustice done to Susan McDougal. Let me list briefly my highlights of the film:

In short, THOTP is a very powerful movie that clearly shows the whole picture of the injustice that was done not that long ago to the Clintons and to the nation. The movie places the blame equally on the Republican partisans driven by hate for the Clintons, and the sleazy, complacent media always ready to print a scandal and to take right-wing propaganda and lies at face value.

I wish we had learned something from that decade, but by the way it looks, I believe we have learned nothing.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Hunting of Michael Moore

As the big opening of "Fahrenheit 9/11" approaches (it opens tomorrow nationwide, although it's been playing in New York since Wednesday), the right-wing media heads are going insane in their efforts to slander Michael Moore and criticize the movie on purely partisan grounds.

The biggest clowning around has to be that of the fake grass-roots organizations Move America Forward and David Bossie's Citizens United.

These guys have been looking for legal ways to censor, shut down or even ban the movie on baseless campaign finance laws.


What's more, these nice Republican organizations are doing all they can to censor not just F911, but also every single movie coming out this summer that doesn't show Bush in a glorious light. They may actually succeed. They will apply the same legalese to muzzle "The Hunting of the President," "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," which opens in August, "The Corporation," about democratic institutions being subsumed by the corporate agenda, and "Silver City," a slam at the Bush administration.

Every right-wing leaning pundit, media whore, or news bobble-head is going apoplectic, foaming at the mouth at the horror, oh the horror, of displaying Emperor Junior as he really is, without the glossy media filter they have provided for the last four years.

Christopher Hitchens in his natural stateNevertheless, if we had an award for media clowning, I think it should go to Christopher Hitchens. Chris has been throwing tantrums all over the media about this movie and its author, and by large all he has done is to slander at will without base and fundament. In his ethylic displays of outrage at F911, Hitchens has called Moore a liar, a propagandist, akin to Nazis and Communists, and a pro-Al Qaeda traitor. Seriously. Earlier this week Hitchens wrote a lengthy attack on the movie at Slate.com, based mostly on distortions, libel and already disqualified denials. Blogger Chris Parry wrote a nice reply to Hitchens' hit piece, parsing sentence by sentence, unmasking all his lies.

Last night they allowed Hitchens to substitute Chris Matthews in MSNBC's "Hardball." Hitchens used the show as an opportunity to slander Michael Moore, and accuse Moore of saying things he never did. Hitchens accused Moore of claiming that Osama Bin Laden was innocent --a complete bald-faced lie. Hitchens trashed the movie on nitpicking matters and, for good measure, he also attacked the producers of The Hunting of the President. They even questioned whether Moore had "a right to make this movie." Seriously.

We strongly suggest Hitchens that it's time to consider a twelve-step program. For real.

The transformation of Hitchens from one of Britain's more respected progressive writers to an American neo-conservative laughingstock will always be puzzling. This is a guy that has gone from building a career investigating the Vietnam war crimes of Kissinger, to turning around and embracing Bush preemptive war and neo-conservative thesis with open arms. What really surprised me was the foaming-at-the-mouth nastiness of his attacks on fellow writer Michael Moore.

What could possibly fuel the raging hatred this man feels for Michael Moore? Well, a sentence at the end of his long diatribe at Slate sheds some light on this issue:
"Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line.(…)
So that's what it is, Chris? Is it pure and unadulterated ENVY? How much does it burn you inside that none of your shitty documentaries have made it anywhere, yet Michael Moore has become a star of the genre? Are you playing Salieri to Moore's Amadeus?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Back from Boston

We got back from a wonderful weekend in Boston. Thanks so much to Michelle and Tim for letting us stay at their place, and for being such gracious hosts.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

CNN: "You don't come here to diss us!"

I witnessed a very, very interesting media atrocity on CNN this morning, at around 8.30 am:

They had Harry Thomason, the director of “The Hunting of the President” and Susan McDougal in the show to present the movie and discuss the controversial topic. An obviously uneasy Bill Hemmer conducted the interview.

It wasn’t even a minute within the interview that Bill Hemmer asks why the director of “The Hunting of the President” places the blame of the scandal on the media. Bill Hemmer looked and behaved peeved and defensive, trying to shift the blame of the scandal from the media to Bill Clinton (“he lied, anyway”). Hemmer constantly referred to the movie as a product of "conspiracy theories."

At that point Harry Thomason started explaining why the mega-media corporations and all the new ”McNews” channels were to blame for this feeding frenzy. Bill Hemmer looked terrorized. Mind you: it wasn't a rant at all. This man started explaining very politely why the media were so susceptible to buy right-wing propaganda without double-checks.

In the middle of this explanation we could hear a lot of commotion in the background. Some people are yelling in the studio, off camera. Bill Hemmer looks confused for a second, looking back and forth to his guests and off-camera. Then they shift to Soledad O’Brian in a rushed manner.

Soledad O’Brian, looking a bit puzzled and distressed, announces that they need to interrupt the interview because they have some very important breaking news coming.

Then they switch to the 9/11 Commission, (which had already been running for nearly 30 minutes), and a guy explaining the routes the hijacked planes took. There was nothing that remotely called for a panicky “breaking news” interruption.

It was such an obvious freak-out and censorship moment on CNN that I wish I had taped it. Monumentally embarrassing, to say the least.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Lying in the Face of Evidence

Still, after all the evidence debunking the idea that Iraq and al Qaeda had any ties, Bush still backs Cheney's assertion that such link existed. Cheney is still touring around using this lie as a central part of his speech.

Bush and Cheney yesterday:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush yesterday defended Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion this week that Saddam Hussein had longstanding ties with Al Qaeda, even as critics charged that the White House had no new proof of a connection.
The 9/11 Commission today:
WASHINGTON -- The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported Wednesday that Osama bin Laden met with a top Iraqi official in 1994 but found "no credible evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida in attacks against the United States.
Do you think they'll stop advancing their disinformation now? Don't bet on it. It's not like fact and investigative research has ever stopped them from advancing their lies.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Redefining Chutzpah: Part 4

The chutzpah of the neocons is just unbelievable. Today is the turn of George W. Bush:

In 2003 we decide to invade Iraq without solid evidence and without the support (or approval) of most of our allies. We tell them to take a hike, and then piss on the UN.

The Iraqi adventure turns sour, then into a mess. It leads to squandering the American moral standing and nearly 900 American soldiers killed (and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians). The most remembered moments of this war will forever be captured in the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib.

The mess gets so big that Bush has to go around begging the UN and our European allies to bail him out of this awful Iraqi mess. He does the rounds and have to visit each one of these countries begging for help on a UN resolution, which was reluctantly passed today.

So what does Bush have to say after the UN resolution is passed? According to CNN:
"There were some who said we'd never get one," President Bush said of the resolution earlier Tuesday during a photo opportunity at the G-8 economic summit in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.
Right, George. And you singlehandedly got one done, right? No begging to our allies or anything. He says that as if telling the rest of the world "see, I was right all along!"

He continues:
Bush said a unanimous vote would signal "to the world that members of the Security Council are interested in working together to make sure that Iraq is free and peaceful and democratic. I think this is a very important moment."
See, this is good not for the US, but for the UN, cause it makes them "look good," like they are actually interested in the security and well being of Iraq. You see, the disapproval of Bush's Iraqi invasion only meant that the UN "wasn't interested" in a peaceful and democratic Iraq.

The gall!

Of course, the article mentions that France, Germany and Spain voted for the resolution QUITE RELUCTANTLY, and just in the spirit of cooperation:
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in a radio interview that France, which has veto power on the council and staunchly opposed the war in Iraq, was still not fully satisfied with the resolution but would vote for it.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "Germany is going to vote for the resolution. It is important now to stick to the schedule that is to lead to free and fair elections by January 2005 at the latest."

In Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told a news conference, "Spain will vote in favor in a spirit of cooperation."

Some progress indeed.

His Other Accomplishments...

Ronald Reagan passed away, and the media are going on a rampage of praise and platitudes about his accomplishments. In many cases they are even rewriting history, or simply lying about his presidential record. Atrios has been on top of this multitude of lies.

While I feel for the family of Ronald Reagan and give my condolences to those who loved him, let me please list some of the achievements of his presidency, as a way of memorializing his legacy and giving a bit of balance to the love-fest of the mainstream media over his presidency:David Corn had a longer list of at The Nation.

Also, there's a little bit of trivia that all the right-wing and X-tian fundie pundits are either ignoring or simply distorting. Sherrie Gogerty reminds us of the following in Pundit Pap:
Something about Ronald Reagan that women should be aware of is that as Governor he signed the bill legalizing abortion in the state of California BEFORE the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. You won't hear the Republicans talking about that little factoid, but it's something I won't forget.

Nor should it be overlooked that Nancy Reagan for some time has been vigorously supporting stem cell research, to the great dismay of the right wing whackoes.(sic)
Interesting how our "so called liberal media" and right-wing pundits do not mention this in their highly emotional bios of Reagan.

Monday, June 07, 2004

One Shocking Memo: Smoking Gun on Torture Practices

The Wall Street Journal has an incredible exclusive report in today's edition. Apparently the Pentagon provided legal rationales and loopholes in 2003 by which the use of torture and methods of near-torture could be use avoiding various international treaties and US laws. So it wasn't just "a few bad apples" behind the Abu Ghraib scandal: actually the rationalization of torture goes all the way up to the Pentagon, and at least as early as 2003.

But if that wasn't bad enough, here's the kicker: the legal recommendations of the document include suggestions to help US personal avoid prosecution for torturing or killing people subjected to torture. How can they circumvent US and international laws in such a blatant way?
To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."
We are no longer a "nation of laws." Now the president, according to this legal document, is above the law, and can change the rules of the game as he pleases. And the practice of torture is protected by the president, who's above the law.

Are we a monarchy now? Or rather a dictatorship? What is it?

Who wrote these heinous, undemocratic legal guidelines, you may ask? None others than John Yoo and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Many in the blogosphere are dissecting this very troubling document. Here you have a few recommendations of some of the best:

- Intel Dump

- Billmon

- Talking Points Memo

This thing is developing, and fast...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Fascism Coming to America

Taking a page straight out of the German Kristallnacht, some psychopaths in California attack an art gallery owner for displaying a painting that depicts the torture in Abu Ghraib.
Attacked for art, S.F. gallery closes

The furor began on May 16 when Colwell, an East Bay artist, made an addition to his monthlong showing at Haigh's gallery on Powell Street. Angered by the pictures he saw of Iraqi prisoners being abused, he created a black and white painting depicting three hooded and naked men undergoing electric shock torture by American soldiers. Colwell, who took down his paintings Saturday, declined to comment.

Two days after the painting went up, Haigh arrived at her gallery to find broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront. Haigh also began receiving the first of about 200 angry voicemails, e-mails and death threats.

A week ago, a man walked into the gallery and spit in Haigh's face. On Tuesday, Haigh decided to temporarily close the gallery and began to consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery. Just two days later, another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion.

It's more than Haigh ever imagined. She opened the studio 1 1/2 years ago, hoping to display the works of important and possibly controversial modern artists. (...)
Pictures courtesy of The San Francisco Gate:

Lori Haigh, a North Beach district gallery owner, bears a painful reminder of the nation's unresolved anguish over the incidents at Abu Ghraib -- a black eye delivered by an unknown assailant who apparently objected to the painting that depicts U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. Associated Press photo by Jeff Chiu

Guy Colwell removes his controversial painting from the Capobianco Gallery on Saturday morning. The gallery, in North Beach, closed its doors after its owner, Lori Haigh, was assaulted and received several threatening phone calls after displaying Colwell's painting depicting American soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners. Chronicle photo by Mike Kepka

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