Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"Real Time" Update

The show began with a parody of QVC called the “High Value Channel” in which Bill Maher and a female lead were announcing a new product that you could call in and buy, presumably, called the “iGod,” as opposed to the iPod™ of course. The woman cheerfully asked, “How can I practice my evangelical faith at the same time as I engage in hot sex with my lesbian lover?” and Maher jumped in with “With the new iGod, of course!" (I’m messing this up a bit, but this is close enough). You can store all kinds of spiritual material on it, including over 100 psalms! It gives you the joy of Christian worship without all of the proselytizing.” Maher then gave the comely woman a look with a bit of a raised eyebrow and asked, “Lesbian lover, huh? Can I come over one night and ‘bear witness’?”

In the monologue, Maher commented on Bush’s recent visit to California in which Schwarzenegger snubbed him because of the special election set for 11/8 (Ahh-nold wanted Dubya to stay out, see, because “the governator’s” approval numbers are slightly lower than Dubya’s, and he needs Dubya like a dead Philly mobster needs a pair of cement galoshes for a swim in the Schuylkill). Maher said Bush was hurt, saying “My positions on stem cell research and gay marriage are entirely based on that movie where he gets pregnant.” As for the fundraiser that Dubya flew out to attend, Maher said “All of the usual suspects were there, which in this case was a literal description (DeLay, Cheney, Rove, Libby, Frist). I haven’t seen this big of a Republican collapse since Bob Dole ran out of Viagra.” And Dubya is so upset by it all, according to Maher, “that Laura actually had to calm him down; the both of them prayed together for another natural disaster to take place so Bush could sit back and do nothing again.” Maher also joked regarding the testimony this week of Marty Bahamonde, the only FEMA person on the ground in New Orleans when Katrina hit who said that he called Mike “Horsey Time” Brown and was told that Brown was out having dinner or something. “That’s typical for Brown – he couldn’t even cut through the red tape at ‘The Oliver Garden’,” Maher said. Also, regarding Hurricane Wilma, Maher mentioned that it had slammed into Mexico “and Mexico didn’t have any insurance.”

The first guest was Arianna Huffington who appeared as a non-panelist (though she could have helped the panel considerably – more on that later). Maher said, “OK, let’s hurry up and get to the part where Bush gets impeached,” which was worth a laugh, though there are a bunch of people (including yours truly) who are utterly serious in wanting to see that happen. Huffington started to give a bit of a synopsis which anyone reading left-leaning (though I prefer to use the words “truth telling”) sites like this one (I aim for that, anyway) knows thoroughly by now, and Maher tried to head her off by asking her to state the law that was broken. Arianna may have done that, but she kind of zipped through it.

Anyway, for the record, this is the offense that was committed (depending on what Patrick Fitzgerald decides, of course) and the potential penalty (from this article by David Corn in The Nation):

Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in prison.
Maher then read aloud that extremely flowery, picturesque note that “Scooter” Libby sent to Miller, to wit...

"'You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. Out west, where you vacation...' See, this is how I know it's bullshit. Who talks like this? If you vacation there, you don't have to say it. It's like bad exposition in a movie. 'Ted, you're my brother.' 'Out west, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters. Because their roots connect them.'"
Upon reciting this, Maher said, “I think the source of the leak is Walt Whitman.” Maher then asked Huffington “Look into your crystal ball and tell me where this all goes,” and Arianna got off on this riff about how Dubya and Arthur Sulzberger are, supposedly, members of “the lucky sperm club” and they have to be stopped.

As I watched this, I realized that this summary by Arianna didn’t do a lot to simplify what, for most people in this country, is a tiresome, tedious affair. I know that Florida Masochist person said something like that, but call me crazy…I think if you’re going to comment on this matter online, you should have a clue regarding what it is you’re writing about. Arianna is, of course, an expert in this whole thing, but Maher wanted her to stay on the matter of what kind of crime was committed and how this jeopardizes and demoralizes our intelligence operatives and their ability and willingness to do their jobs. THAT is the crux of the matter. Sure, the convergence of this with politics and the media is big deal also, but most people don’t care about that. They want to find out how this matter has hurt the people serving our country, and I think Arianna got caught up in the personality BS a lot. She’s awesome, and I hate to be critical, but I think that is what has happened to a degree.

The panel discussion began after that with Tucker Carlson of MSNBC (something called “The Situation” or whatever?), Michel Martin, and Spike Lee.

Maher reminded everyone (as a follow up to what Arianna said), that, around the time the whole “Plamegate” thing broke (yes, I know it’s trite of me to add the “gate” automatically at the end), Helen Thomas said to Bush at a White House press conference (and again, they have been few and far between), “Mr. President, why don’t you just call in everyone and ask who did it?” (Maher imitated Thomas with kind of a whiny voice when he recounted this). Tucker Carlson chimed in right away and said, “This will be a repeat of Whitewater,” and at that point, any notion of credibility that I thought he might have had immediately evaporated. Carlson also said that people will be prosecuted for crimes after the leak, which I thought was ridiculous also – as I stated earlier, the leak WAS the crime. Michel Martin didn’t add much either when she said that “Clinton didn’t let the special prosecutor law lapse, and neither did Bush,” and I’m thinking, “oh, of course…THAT’s what’s at fault here, not the fact that the Bush White House compromised an intelligence operative and, thereby, undermined our intelligence gathering capability and severely hurt morale. No, let’s just disregard the law, and everything will be fine.” Ugh…

As I was mulling this over, Maher played a clip of a few of the barking heads on Faux News (especially Bill Kristol) discussing the Plame situation, and the clip caught them, in typical fashion for the Repug ciphers that they genuinely are, repeating the phrase “the criminalization of politics” over and over and over and over and over when discussing it (a typical advertising technique, and that’s the background for a lot of people in Bushco – drum the message into people’s heads and they never forget it).

Spike Lee then pointed out, regarding this matter, that “when a New York Times reporter (referring to Judith Miller, of course) supports the war in Iraq, that’s gospel to a liberal,” or words to that effect. Maher then came up with this quote:

"The New York Times - but the whole country gives it that weight. It's like the Asian kid in math class. Everybody in the media cheats off the New York Times."
I thought Maher also did a good job this week moving the panel discussion along, mainly because he had to since the interaction between the three of them was pretty lousy…it came across that they didn’t like each other.

Martin pointed out that, “Judy Miller went to jail event though she didn’t write a story,” and I know Martin was referring to Valerie Plame, but of course that comment, though literally true, misrepresented the whole dynamic of the situation, I thought. Carlson further sank in my estimation when he said the Times “was just a daily metropolitan newspaper,” and of course, he had to stick in this comment: “Clinton and Daschle supported the war – why don’t we hold them responsible also?”

(see, if someone unfamiliar with Repug propaganda took what these characters say literally at face value and wasn’t familiar with their tricks, they would think that Iraq War II was started by John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, and Dick Durbin, and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ELSE! And of course, it’s a typical Repug cheap shot to go after Daschle, since he was defeated by John “Deep Pockets Pretty Boy” Thune last year – and of course, Ellsworth Air Force Base being kept open had nothing to do with propping up Thune…of course not. Besides, if you’re thinking that, then the terrorists have already won.)

Maher, noting that the union workers at GM and Delphi made concessions because of health care costs, asked what I thought was a good question. He noted that, during the Clinton administration, Hillary tried to implement health care reform, and the Repugs beat her up over it, and Maher asked, “wouldn’t we be better off now if the Republicans had just worked with her a bit?,” and Carlson immediately shot back with “it’s too expensive in countries where the government runs it.” As I heard him say that (realizing that I had neither the time nor the resources to check what he said for accuracy), I had two reactions: 1) I wanted to rip his bow tie off his shirt and shove it down his throat, and 2) It was becoming crystal clear to me why Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” tore his head off last year. Martin said, “We’re a rich country – we should be able to do this,” and I thought, “Yeah, no kidding, Sherlock.” Maher said, “We pay more and get less back (right)…probably more to pharma companies,” and Carlson said “They’re curing diseases, including AIDS,” and Lee immediately said, “Wait a minute. You said they’re curing AIDS,” and Carlson said, “Oh, did I say that? I misspoke” (sorry if this transcription isn’t 100 percent verbatim, by the way…the dialogue was rat-a-tat-a-tat all over the place with Carlson jumping all over the other panelists when he saw an opportunity). Martin said that there are disproportionate costs for end-of-life care (furthering my estimation of her as a “rocket scientist”…), and Maher noted that “seniors vote…we just passed a Medicare bill that isn’t necessary.” Martin recalled that, early on in the Clinton administration, she knew of Republican senators who didn’t want to touch the health care issue because they knew it was “a buzz saw,” so they decided to let the Clintons “stick their hands in it,” so to speak.

I’ve already said what I think of Carslon, but though Martin is an intelligent journalist (I missed the identification of which news organization she’s with, and I haven’t been able to find out that information), she seemed totally uninterested in an exchange with the other panelists (I can’t entirely blame her in the case of Carlson). She complimented Lee on the movie “Four Little Girls,” but it seemed like it was a great effort for her. As for Lee, I wish he’d brought the organization and attention to detail he shows in his films to his presentation on the show. I realize that he isn’t a public orator, but I wish I’d seen a bit more “Mars Blackmon” if you will (minus the “please baby please baby please baby please baby baby baby please”) than “the world weary and borderline pretentious artists struggling with the human condition.”

Maher then showed a picture of a rotting dam in Massachusetts and said, (tying back to his opening comedy bit) “Isn’t that what we do in this country – put our best money into Viagra and iPods without paying attention to long-term issues?” and Carlson quickly jumped in with “Fewer elephants are being slaughtered because their tusks aren’t need for aphrodisiacs since more people are using Viagra,” which left me wondering what that had to do with anything except giving free publicity to Phizer, Inc. Either Maher or Martin recalled the quote from Bill Bradley saying we should “fix the roof when the sun is out,” with Maher noting again that 45 million people in this country don’t have health care. Martin said, “we’ll drive a car made overseas, but we won’t fix social problems,” which, though true, is mixing apples and oranges as far as I’m concerned. Carlson then said, “Our infrastructure isn’t crumbling. Our roads and interstates are fine. We’re in better shape than Italy, for example. That country is falling apart” (possibly true, but irrelevant…can you say that about our bridges and water/sewer systems, for example?). Martin then said that it was “immoral” that we don’t have better health coverage (restating the obvious yet again). The group then discussed the high school principal who cancelled his school’s senior prom, with Maher noting that, for many schools, proms have become pageants/festivals/orgies that are getting out of hand (I don’t know if Maher said that about “orgies”…possibly my paraphrasing), and Carlson, sinking further, said that the principal was envious of the kids, and that’s why it was cancelled (at this point, I could detect some restlessness from the audience with Carlson who, aside from Kellyanne Conway in Week 1, has been the worst panelist of the season so far).

Maher then introduced Chris Webber from the Sixers via satellite to talk about the new dress code of the National Basketball Association (with Webber and Lee greeting each other individually, Lee being a big New York Knicks fan and all). I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to this, but apparently, NBA commissioner David Stern has told his millionaires that they should dress up like profesionals when they’re at courtside and not playing for whatever reason and not look like a bunch of gangstas with the baggy pants, ‘do rag, and “bling” waiting for some type of police activity to occur. Webber (who, believe it or not, was the best panelist/guest of the evening because he came off as a real person, made the best presentation, and HAD FUN…and no, I’m not just saying that because he plays here), provided this quote, that I thought was really good:

"For everybody to say that it's racist, to me, what you're saying to me is that the black man can't be fresh or fly or can't have a suit on."
I think the audience applauded, actually.

In response to Maher’s question which wondered if the dress code issue was racially motivated, Webber said “I believe there’s racial overtones in damn near everything.” Lee asked “What does AI (Allen Iverson – Webber’s teammate here and one of the league’s finest players) think about this?” and Webber said, “He said they can go to hell.”

(I’m still making up my mind on this whole “issue,” by the way – I think it’s a curious marketing move for the league if they’re trying to reach a younger demographic, but fundamentally, they’re right to take this step.)

Maher then mentioned that something apparently happened with some players on the Minnesota Vikings football team on a boat (appropriate for a “Viking,” I guess), and Webber said, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen with me. I have my own boat.” Maher immediately asked, “How big is it? How big is your dingy anyway?” with everyone cracking up (nice to have some laughs) and Webber said, “Be cool, Bill. My mom is watching,” which I thought was a nice touch. After Webber signed off, Lee immediately said that he didn’t approve of the whole “gangsta” look, and he noted that some NBA teams such as the Knicks already have dress codes. Martin noted that a lot of the NBA players are young and didn’t even go to college, “so we should invest in these guys emotionally and spiritually, since now, they go from being a kid to a conglomerate,” which was easily the best thing she said all night. Maher said, “People who were doing well used to shut up,” and Martin said, “If you’re 12 years old and you don’t have a gold-encrusted cell phone, you’re not ‘there’.”

The next topic was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Maher used the opportunity to plug the documentary Spike Lee is making on it for HBO (there were also plugs for Lee’s new book, which I think were ultimately the reasons why he was there to begin with). Maher then showed some phony promotional posters for the movie, which were good, including “Finding FEMA” which looked like “Finding Nemo.” After that, Maher mentioned the recent “Million More” march sponsored by Louis Farrakhan as a follow up to the “Million Man” march ten years ago (sneaking in another Lee plug to his movie “Get On The Bus”). Maher recalled Farrakhan’s quote to Lee that the government wanted to blow up the levees anyway in New Orleans to get rid of areas like the Ninth Ward, or words to that effect. Lee seemed to endorse that and added this:

"There was a hurricane - Betsy in '65 - they felt the same thing happened, where a choice had to be made. One neighborhood - got to save one neighborhood and flood another. Look, if we're in L.A. and there's an emergency situation, we call from Beverly Hills and we call from Compton. Which one is the cops coming to first (sic)?"
I heard that and immediately cringed because I knew what was coming next, and sure enough, Carlson (who was silent during the whole segment starting with Chris Webber) jumped down Lee’s throat:

"So as you - as you sit here, who is someone who is rich and has options, and are watched by people who are poor and have no options, it seems to me it's your responsibility, your obligation to tell them the truth. And you know the truth, which is, the federal government did not blow up those levees. You don't feed the paranoia and the craziness."
I had a few reactions to that. One was that Carlson should shut his stupid face and not bring up the fact that Spike Lee probably IS rich (and I’m sure Carlson is a pauper – please). The other reaction is that we could never know what our government – this one in particular – may or may not have in mind because all they do is spoon feed us their propaganda (will they ever confirm what is going on in some of these FEMA camps like the one in Oklahoma that lady blogged about a couple of months ago, for example?). However, another reaction I had (which basically ties back to the fact that Lee’s presentation the whole evening wasn’t very good) is the fact that Lee shouldn’t throw out stuff like that without evidence, or else a Repug sympathizer is going to jump down his throat (like James Glassman did with George Carlin a few weeks earlier). Lee could have said, “I have no evidence that our government blew up any levees, but I wouldn’t put anything past them,” and he would have been fine. Lee mentioned the Tuskegee incident and the fact that the speculation he quoted was discussed on CNN, but unfortunately, the moment had already passed. Martin just acted bored and said, “We keep going back to this same old script,” and at that point, I wanted her to just shut up and “take a powder” also.

Somehow, as a result of this, the group turned to discussing Iraq (I think it was because Maher noted that we’re coming up on the grim milestone of 2,000 casualties in Iraq…just keep repeating after me – “Impeach Bush: Downing Street Memos,” “Impeach Bush – Downing Street Memos”…). Carlson quickly jumped in again with “The New York Times doesn’t have as much influence as Spike Lee” (as I said earlier, it’s all about repetition with these guys), and “everyone knew what the resolution for war was all about when it was voted on,” and Maher, to his credit (again, his best moderating performance all year, I thought) said, “No they didn’t. That’s why John Kerry said he voted for the resolution before he voted against it” (the audience applauded, and I thought, “If only Kerry had put it that way last year…”). At that point, it was time for “New Rules,” at which point I said, “Thank God.”

When I got done with the show, I wondered something else about Carlson and O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh and some of these other right-wing meatheads. I wondered what their experience was in news writing, feature writing or reporting, or anything close to the legitimate function of journalism. I said somewhere earlier that Coulter is trained as a lawyer, so that explains a lot of her behavior. But what of these other guys? And I’m not talking about a book they’ve written (or had co-authored or entirely written for them) that celebrates the fact that they’re famous now. I mean something along the lines of Norman Mailer, Pete Hamill, Studs Terkel, or someone accomplished in that vein. I know the answer to the question, but I think we should all ask it of these people before we listen to a single word that comes out of their mouths.

Unfortunately, the prospects for next week don’t bode any better. Though Richard Clarke will be a guest, Tony Snow, he of the Fox-big-head-hard-hair propaganda brigade as well, will also appear. I caught his act enough on “Dr. McLaughlin’s Gong Show” enough in the past to know what to expect.

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