Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Real Time" Highlights

The show started with Bill Maher as “Phil” from “The International House Of Flammable Flags”…”You’re at a protest and you just can’t get your flag to burn? Our flags come with a patented 'Tru-Burn' technology, for easy lighting. Perfect for jihads, free trade riots, or birthday parties. Check out our ‘Double-Sided Infidel’ flag (U.S. on one side, Israel on the other) for our friends in the Middle East.”

From the monologue: “Sorry I’m late: Bush sold the freeway to the Arabs, and somebody blew up the 405.” Also, Maher said that the proposed port sale must be part of a new strategy, namely, “to fight them here so we don’t have to fight them there.” Bush also apparently said, according to Maher, that “if this deal doesn’t go through, it will be a slap in the face to the Arabs. That’s ironic considering that we have four guys at Guantanamo whose specific job is to slap Arabs in the face." Maher also said, “Bush is furious about civil war in Iraq, reportedly saying ‘How dare you start a war in the middle of our war’.” The news from Iraq was so bad that Bush told Cheney “to go hunting again.” Also, the Sunnis blew up a holy Shiite mosque, but Maher said it could have been worse; “they could have drawn a cartoon of it.” Also, upon hearing of sectarian violence in Iraq, Bush “immediately called for an invasion of Sectaria.” Bush then tried to speak to Iraqis in their native language, saying “Can’t we all just get Allah?” (ba-dump).

Update 3/1: Yep, I guess all of that carnage and destruction is "made up" by the media also, isn't it, Neil?

The first guest was New Mexico Republican House Representative Heather Wilson, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee (short name), who said that the DP World controversy was “a terrible failure of communication, and Congress will review” (I would say so also). Maher then asked, “What would have happened if John Kerry had said in the 2004 presidential debate (that he would have allowed this),” and Wilson laughed a bit over that, acknowledging the obvious in the process. Maher pointed out that Wilson was against the NSA spying also, making a joke by saying that “Bush said the 1978 law is out of date, and my 1978 phone is out of date also,” implying that he might go along with Bush on changing the law to a point. Wilson said that she “didn’t want these ‘powerful tools’ (re: the FISA law) to be used improperly against citizens.” Maher then pointed out that Wilson “voted against the 9/11 Commission and investigating into Abu Ghraib,” and Wilson said that she thought both of those incidents should have been part of “regular Congressional oversight” (how conveee-nient for a bunch of Repugs to feel that away). Maher said, “it’s easy to be sanguine when you don’t have to worry about getting blown up,” and Wilson said (coming back to FISA again) “there are good, talented people (in the NSA), but Congress has to do oversight on this program like all others.”

The panel discussion began with Irshad Manji, an Islamist writer who appeared to be pretty open minded and a friendly guest (I didn’t know who she was at first, so I was automatically suspicious), actor and activist Danny Glover, and former senator Gary Hart (man, did HE get old!). Regarding the DP World deal, Maher asked “What happened to ‘Everything changed after 9/11”? Why are we suddenly treating other countries as if they are the same (as before the attacks)? Glover said, “We’ve been politicizing people for a long time, and businesses approve of it, getting the message out that governments are being undermined because of foreign ownership.” Maher then asked, “Suppose we let DP World take over Bush’s Secret Service detail, and tell him to hope that that ticking sound is only Dick Cheney’s pacemaker? Who’s kidding who here?” which drew applause. Gary Hart then added quietly, “all Arabs aren’t bad people,” and Maher said, “But some of them want to kill us. What about three years down the road? Won’t it be easier to infiltrate our ports then?” and Glover said, “The union workers run the ports,” but Manji said, “all it takes is one guy.” Hart pointed out that this was tied to our oil dependency (true) and “they can put a nuclear weapon in any container, since only 5 percent of the containers are inspected” (how nice). Manji then asked “Do you want to tempt fate?" and Maher said, “we are already.” Glover reminded everyone that “we supported the Taliban,” but Maher said, “That was years ago. We’ve changed,” with a perfectly deadpan expression.

(By the way, there was no apology, faux or otherwise, from Maher because a conservative was missing from the panel. That was fine with me after having to put up with both Dan Senor and Fred Barnes last week.)

Maher said, “I love being a First Amendment martyr,” but then turned that around a bit when he led into the discussion of Larry Summers (I know I got into that a bit Monday and yesterday, and I confess that I was motivated to do that after watching this show). Maher then pointed out that Larry Summers said there might be a biological reason why men often do better at math than women, pointing out that Summers admitted the topic was up for debate, “but Harvard believed that Summers was the problem.” Danny Glover said, “it’s interesting that, when he questioned Cornel West, nobody said that he was a racist.” Maher said that he thought a lot of colleges “are in the stranglehold of a radical left,” which I think is way too strong of a characterization (Manji said, “you seldom hear about ‘the ideological left’). Maher quickly backed up his “stranglehold” comment by saying that, “For example, at Brown University, you can’t have sex with a woman who’s drunk or it automatically is rape. At Smith University, a bastion of lesbianism, I spoke to some straight kids with tears in their eyes because of abuse they’d received because they hadn’t seen the last episode of ‘Ellen’” (at this point, I thought “you’ve got to be kidding,” wondering if Maher wasn’t trying to make up for the panel’s left imbalance after all). Danny Glover asked, “What exactly is the left?” and Gary Hart said, “Doctrinaire, special interest turf isn’t left or right,” an interesting though cryptic comment (Hart’s demeanor seems to have changed into that of a slightly hip college professor, which I guess was appropriate for the subject matter). Remaining somewhat on the topic of academia gone nuts, Maher discussed David Irving, the British historian and Holocaust denier who is in jail, and said, “Should we be jailing people for an opinion like this and lecturing Muslims about a cartoon?” and Manji pointed out that the mayor of London has been forced to resign temporarily because he compared a Jewish reporter to a Nazi prison guard, to which Maher said in mock exasperation, “can’t we all just get along?”

The next topic led into a comedy bit (playing on something Maher originally discussed with Heather Wilson earlier) about a church in New Mexico that uses hallucinogenic tea in an attempt to communicate with God, and Maher said, “I’m sure you don’t need the tea to do that…but why take chances?” Maher displayed some mock church slogans appearing on the marquee in front of the building, and the one I liked was “Never rob Peter to pay Cheech.” Maher also noted that, "This was such a tough one for the Bush Administration, because on the one hand, they love anything to do with Jesus and religion. On the other hand, they hate any drug that doesn't put money in the pockets of Pfizer."

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof then appeared via satellite to talk about Darfur, with Maher chiding him a bit saying, “You won’t get off Darfur. Good,” asking why “genocide doesn’t get more attention.” Kristof said, “We in the media allow that to happen,” mentioning how much time the newscasts give to that versus stories of much “greater” import, such as Anna Nicole Smith’s Supreme Court case and Britney Spears’ driving adventures with her baby. Maher said, “Why don’t we just bomb the ‘janjaweed’,” (who apparently are the tribe or gang – or both – responsible for the atrocities), and Kristof said, “there are a lot of things we can do short of that. It would be great to have a no-fly zone, for example.” Maher then said to Kristof, “You raised a million dollars to get Bill O’Reilly to Darfur” (as a response to some dumb remark, no doubt), and Kristof said, “We offered to take him there, but he said he couldn’t do his work there, even though we also offered to set up a phone link for him,” with Maher asking, “How much would it cost to keep him there?,” which drew some hoots (though Maher had trouble with the audience on a couple of borderline jokes). Kristof immediately said, “The people of Darfur have suffered enough.” Maher then asked Kristof, “Is there any going back on Iraq,” and Kristof said, “We can leave immediately, in which case there will be total chaos, or we could stick to it grimly and have gradual chaos, or we could set up a timetable to try and reduce the nationalism that’s deadly to our soldiers” (amen).

Maher asked the panel what they thought could be done about the Darfur crisis, and Danny Glover said to “empower the African Union.” Gary Hart said, “we’re still carrying the burden of Somalia – Clinton said the worst mistake we made was not to intervene in Rwanda, but then when we went into Somalia, that led to the ‘Blackhawk Down’ incident. Maher, returning to Iraq, noted that Condoleezza Rice said that, “people who don’t want the political process to work intervene in the 11th hour,” with Maher wondering what made Rice think the wave of Sunni/Shiite violence had only started recently. Irshad Manji said, “The mosque bombing is more problematic,” noting the shrine’s religious significance (as explained in this Washington Post story). She added that, “the violence is truly apocalyptic, and this plays into the hands of Iran. The Shiites in Iraq may think they can only rely on their fellow Shia in Iran, who have nukes,” and I’m suddenly realizing as I hear this that what passes for a discussion in this country about Iraq shouldn’t be whether or not civil war is taking place, but to acknowledge the reality and find some way to bring everyone to the table and NOT blow themselves to kingdom come (and our service people are stuck right in the middle…dear God).

Maher also said, “When everyone was saying that the world was better off without Saddam Hussein, I said no. Saddam knew how to hold that country together” (which, at the risk of patting myself on the back, is something I’d been saying for about…oh, I don’t know…MAYBE FOREVER??!! – I can also recall Maher telling Richard Perle that, as much as he disagreed with the war, he would give the neocons credit if they managed to build a democracy in Iraq; I don’t think Maher has to worry about following through on that now or ever at this point). Hart continued by pointing out that “Hussein pacified a volatile nation, and we missed the opportunity for an orderly exist strategy.” Maher concluded by asking, “Can the Democrats run on the platform of ‘the Republicans lost the war’?” and Gary Hart said “no, because a lot of them supported it” (all too true, unfortunately).

Returning to New Orleans after Katrina, Maher asked, “should we NOT rebuild?” and Hart said, “it’s a major port – we don’t have a choice.” Danny Glover added that, “enormous wealth has been created over time – when it comes back, what will the schools and infrastructure be like and who will make the money” (my answer, as Brendan noted some time ago: “Mandalay Bay, New Orleans!”). Irshad Manji said, “I’d feel better about the rebuilding effort if the government stayed out of it,” a comment that led me to believe that maybe she is more conservative than she led on. Maher then asked, “Should they have Mardi Gras?” and Glover said, “Yes. The French Quarter is booming” (good news), and Manji said, “it would be earning money in a dignified manner as opposed to a handout,” which to me was a funny quote because I don’t think ANYTHING in New Orleans is done (few things, anyway) in a “dignified manner,” which to me is part of its charm. Maher asked the $64 K question, which is “where did all of the (reconstruction) money go,” and no one knew for certain (nor do I think anyone ever will). Glover said, “Go to Bay City – some of those people are desperate, such as the hotel workers and service people making $7 an hour, and many of them will be working on Mardi Gras.” Maher then said, “it reminds me of Atlantic City…the casinos built expensive hotels and ignored poor people” (I can personally vouch for the truth of that statement). At that point, it was time for “New Rules”.

Everyone on the show pretty much got along fine without any dustups, even during the segment with Rep. Heather Wilson earlier, who was a good sport. Though this can lead to boring television, it was nice to relax and witness a discussion among people in the “reality-based community” where I could actually learn a thing or two.

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