In the opening comedy bit, Bill Maher, with way too much pancake, a stringy black wig and a faux accent that made him sound like he had sinus blockage, pretended to be Antonio Banderas making a public service announcement in support of illegal immigrants (the “illegal” vs. “undocumented” question would flare up shortly, by the way). “Before you take the hard line, consider this…it is we, the Latinos, who ‘do’ the women Americans don’t want to ‘do’ (as photos of a pudgy looking Melanie Griffith and Lucille Ball with Desi Arnaz – hey, c’mon now! – appeared). Can you afford to let women like these ‘go under’? Take it from me, Antonio Banderas…you cannot!”
This continued into the opening monologue, where Maher said to the audience, “you’re just applauding because you want me to stay in the country.” He added that, “Bush was in Cancun to promote his new video ‘Foreign Policy Gone Wild’. He was there with Vicente Fox and the Canadian prime minister to work out a problem with soft woods, though soft woods were never a problem with Clinton” (ba dump). Switching to a gathering over the last week with the same old zealots called the “War on Christianity” in Washington, D.C., Maher noted that “Tom DeLay, channeling the Merchant of Venice somewhat, said ‘just because I’m a prick, do I not bleed’?” Maher also noted a new study that revealed that “cell phones can be bad for your brain, especially if Naomi Campbell throws one at you.” Maher said the police told her “she had the right to remain silent, pouty and bored by the whole ordeal.” Turning to sports, Maher said that Barry Bonds, upon hearing of Major League Baseball’s investigation of steroid use, “got so mad that he broke his chains and tore down the Golden Gate Bridge.”
The first guest to appear via satellite was Jorge Ramos of Univision, the Spanish network, who pointed out that Univision gets more viewers than the top three US TV networks combined, and Maher asked “Since illegal immigration is suddenly an issue, what is the biggest misconception?,” and Ramos said, “Well, first of all, I wouldn't call them 'illegals,' because, by saying that, maybe many people assume that they are criminals or terrorists. And they have absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Another misconception is that ‘undocumented’ (Ramos’ word) immigrants do not contribute enough to the economy. And that's quite the contrary. I mean, the latest study that I saw from the National Academy of Sciences says that most immigrants, both legal and undocumented, contribute about $10 billion to the economy of the United States every single year," and also “we have this image in this county of undocumented immigrants coming through fences and pipelines to get into this country, when in fact most of them come by plane.” Maher said that “since most undocumented and illegal immigrants are hard working, why is Mexico in such bad shape?” and Ramos said that the immigrants “are leaving because they’re hungry. Mexicans know they can make more money in the U.S., and half a million cross every year” (that’s a staggering number). “Vicente Fox promised a million jobs a year,” Ramos added. Maher asked “Why can’t Mexico fix the problem and do the noble thing?” and Ramos said, “Are (the immigrants) supposed to wait 20 years? The EU countries invested billions, and Mexico needs something like a Marshall Plan…we take jobs the Americans don’t want to take.”
(At this point I had the reaction I’m sure you do also. I respect Ramos – he was very articulate and persuasive – but if you think I want to see one dime of foreign aid go overseas when there are so many people in this country who need jobs, then I’ve got some swamp land in Tijuana to sell to you. I also take issue with this statement that there are Americans passing up jobs that Hispanics are taking instead – I think it’s more employers hiring Hispanics because they know they’re less likely to change jobs for something better, a punitive mindset that I did not see in this country prior to 9/11, I must admit.)
Maher then asked Ramos, “Are white people clueless in this country? We expected 30,000 people to show up at the rally, but 500,000 did instead,” and Ramos said, “What’s going on is interesting. There will be more Hispanics than non-Hispanics eventually in the U.S. The U.S. is the largest Spanish country except Mexico (really?), and Bush is the first U.S. president who thinks he speaks Spanish.” Maher ended by asking, “The whole argument about immigrants put forward by Lou Dobbs and others…do you think it’s racist?,” and Ramos said he thought it was but added, “This is nothing new. Even Ben Franklin thought there were too many Germans for a time in Pennsylvania. The most important argument is economic.”
The panel discussion featured Seth Green, whose new movie is called “Robot Chicken” apparently (interesting), author Erica Jong, and U.S. House Representative Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA). Maher started by saying that, of the two bills in Congress concerning illegal immigration (with all due respect to Mr. Ramos, that is what it is to the majority of the people in this country, including yours truly, and “undocumented” is a polite euphemism), the House bill is tougher (less fair also, I would argue), and Maher said to Rohrbacher, “you’re in the press saying we should let prisoners pick fruit,” and Rohrbacher kind of dodged that I thought, shifting gears and saying, “We’re told all the time that the illegals do jobs we won’t do in the U.S., when in reality illegal immigration holds down wages. Half the Republican Party is too closely tied to big business. The Democrats exploit (the illegals) politically and the Republicans exploit them economically. This affects our tax base, school funding (and Rohrbacher went down the list of revenue streams that are basically cut off when we give jobs to illegals).” I thought that, for a Republican, that was probably as close as I’m going to get to a reasonable analysis on this, even though the “prisoners picking fruit” idea is totally out to lunch, of course, and I have no evidence of his “Democrats exploiting (illegals) politically” charge.
Erica Jong refuted Rohrbacher by saying “As a single parent, I wouldn’t have been able to do my work without Mexican women, since American women look down on child care in my experience.” Rohrbacher said, “We had triplets, and we were able to get by without a nanny,” and I’m thinking, sure, good for you, but not all of us serve in Congress. Maher added that, “Our Mexican border was bigger for a long time in this country, until we trumped up a phony war (and took more territory to shorten it),” and Rohrbacher then said, “we owe it to this country to watch out for our own people and watch out for the middle class,” and at that moment, I just about fell out of my chair in astonishment (don’t worry…Rohrbacher would return to Repug form later, though I have to admit that he’s a bit of a different animal than the typical Bush acolyte, and a HUGE improvement over Ileana Ros-Lehtinen). Maher said, “We want it both ways with immigrants in this country. We have this nonsense guest worker program, and Muslims in France are angry for similar reasons,” and Erica Jong said, “Exactly.” Maher then said, “I’ve lived in canyons and as I drive down (a hill to get out), I see this Mexican lady a lot, and I can tell she’s a housekeeper. I picked her up and started talking with her one day, and it turns out that nobody picks her up. My question is this: aren’t rich white people then just a bunch of pricks?”
Rohrbacher said, “We’re complaining about the upper class here, but (illegal immigration) has a horrible impact on wages. We have 50 million people between 25 and 50 who are unemployed (I don’t know what the latest numbers are, so I can’t say anything about that, but I give Rohrbacher credit for highlighting that), and that includes 15 percent of high school graduates. People with lower incomes are paying the price.” Maher, repeating himself from earlier, said that “the House immigration bill is bad, but the Senate bill is better.”
Also in the news last week was the report of another Downing Street memo that had surfaced (I believe this is the third to date, but I’ll have to check) from 1/31/03 stating that a military invasion of Iraq had been “penciled in,” using Maher’s words, for March 10th. Seth Green pointed out that “this is so indicative of this administration…its expansion of presidential powers reflects a corporate mentality,” and Rohrbacher of course said, “I disagree with that.” Maher said that, “Bush and Blair were planning to paint a U.S. spy plane with the U.N. logo on it and fly it over Iraq and hope that it would be shot down to start the war. Didn’t I see this plot on ‘McHale’s Navy’?” and of course Rohrbacher didn’t like that one at all. He immediately started rattling off all of the right-wing boilerplate – “he gassed his own people, mass graves, genocide, etc.” and I’m thinking, “water wet, sky blue, blah blah blah, oh God when will they ever stop spouting this garbage?” I could hear Erica Jong quite rightly standing up to Rohrbacher saying that we were told Iraq had WMD that they could hand off to al Qaeda, and that’s why we went to war. Rohrbacher responded by saying that, as chairman of an oversight subcommittee, he just found out about all of these documents that have been uncovered supposedly documenting Saddam Hussein’s atrocities, and his subcommittee is still going through them (including his use of 488 Kuwaitis as human shields). I’m thinking, “You know, 20 years from now God help us, we could still hear from these people, ‘oh, what do you know? We found a new spider hole just north of Mosul that had some hidden documents that explains FOR REAL AND FOR KEEPS AND FINALLY AFTER ALL THIS TIME about what a horrible, vicious, rotten, brutal guy Saddam Hussein was after all and why we JUST HAD TO FIGHT THIS STUPID WAR’.” Erica Jong again stood up and pointed out that Rumsfeld did business with Hussein in the ‘80s (you’ve probably seen the same slightly-out-of-focus photo on that that I have). Maher was particularly strong in calling Rohrbacher on this, to the point where I think Rohrbacher was actually stunned a bit by it, and I was a bit surprised also. Maher said, “But what about other dictators?,” and Rohrbacher said, “The world is safer,” squirming slightly as I honestly think I heard catcalls from the audience. Maher said, “Safer with Iraq as a training ground?,” and Rohrbacher said, “They have limited resources, and they’re wasting them in Iraq. We’re fighting them over there…” (you know the rest). Maher said,“You’re just saying that,” and Rohrbacher firmly replied, “No.”
Turning to a study from a Harvard professor that states that women are less competitive than men (trying to measure “manliness”…wonder if any tax dollars are being used on this nonsense – I think the name of the professor is Mansfield), Seth Green said, “The guy behind this has never played Boggle with my girlfriend.” Maher said, “If women are more passive/aggressive but men are just more aggressive, doesn’t that mean that Bush went to war to prove something?,” and Erica Jong said, “this isn’t a gender-neutral society…there are more guys in academia with big, endowed chairs” (FINALLY some double entendre from her, I thought). Maher said, “You mean they’re liberal AND sexist? Wow.” Dana Rohrbacher said, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see two women running for president one day” (an interesting segue, I thought…as I mentioned, Rohrbacher, not being a typical 100 percent Repug clone from the Karl Rove factory, actually has a bit of a brain), and Maher pointed out that the UK, Ireland and now Chile are all countries that are or have been run by women, but Erica Jong said he thought it would be “a cold day in hell” (I think she said “hot,” but misspoke) before that happened here.
Maher then led into a bit based on more whining from Fox that “the media isn’t reporting the good news in Iraq” (as I’ve pointed out here many, many, MANY times, if you send me stories and/or photos of bridges, roads, hospitals, power plants, etc. being rebuilt with the help of our service people, I would be VERY HAPPY to publicize that here), and then showed the following “headlines”: “Turkish Barbers In Green Zone Today,” “Among The Dead, No One You Know,” and “37 Sunnis Shot In Head In Hunting Accident.”
The next guest to be interviewed via satellite was actor/comedian and Maher buddy Robert Wuhl, who was plugging an upcoming HBO special called “Assume The Position,” about “the stories that made up America and the stories America made up”. Wuhl said the show “is more about a point of view and perspective” on history. Maher said that “Bush always says, ‘You may not like me now, but history will bear me out’ (I’m quite sure it will also),” and Maher asked, “Could Bush be thought of as a genius one day?,” a question that just about made me spit up, and Wuhl said, “Absolutely; it depends on who’s telling the story.” Maher, in an example of history being misunderstood I guess, said, “Al Gore actually did invent the internet to a degree and he should have stood up (when he was attacked for it) but here we are” (I didn’t get Wuhl’s response). Maher asked, “Is there too much emphasis on reading and math now?” and Wuhl said he thought it was “a generational thing…in 1944, there was criticism that our kids weren’t learning enough history.” Maher said, “if we give up on any subject, it shouldn’t be history, because it gives perspective (amen). Kids have this attitude that ‘I wasn’t even born yet’ when something happened, and when they say that, don’t we have to slap the snot out of them?,” and Wuhl said, “all generations are self-absorbed.” Sneaking in a plug for Wuhl’s former comedy show on HBO called “Arliss” (and yes, I know it should have the two dollar signs at the end…sorry), Maher said, “You’re something of a sports fan. What do you think of the steroid controversy with Barry Bonds?” and Wuhl said, “I’m one of the few people he talks to…I wonder why they’re only going after him. In golf, for example, the players are straight, but they juice the equipment.”
Maher then turned to this week’s resignation of Andrew Card as Bush’s chief of staff, and Maher immediately recalled Card warning Bush on the day of the 9/11 attacks during Dubya’s “My Pet Goat” moment. Erica Jong said, “there are people theorizing that he knew 9/11 was coming,” and Maher immediately said, “Oh, come on.”
(My note: I’m not in that camp either…yet. However, I’d like to hear a plausible explanation for the fact that Tower 7 of the World Trade Center came down the exact same way as Towers 1 and 2 – some theorize that it was controlled demolition, but as I said, I’m not onboard with that yet – and though we know 1 and 2 were hit by aircraft, Tower 7 wasn’t hit by a damn thing.)
Erica Jong reminded Maher that Dubya was briefed in advance, though, as we know, that was the supposedly “historical” brief in August before Dubya was about to go on vacation (and Harriet Miers had a role in that also, let’s not forget). Dana Rohrbacher said that, “I called them the day before. As an Afghan specialist, we knew that the murder of (Visud? I can’t find a link on this, but I know Rohrbacher is referring to the ruler of Afghanistan prior to the Taliban taking over.) was a signal that something was going to happen.” Rohrbacher, talking directly to Maher said, “You made a significant point a minute ago stating that Reagan was savaged as a buffoon and a warmonger” (the same way Bush is now, presumably – my note: next to Dubya, Reagan looks like FDR, though I can’t imagine anyone except the most bald faced partisan would consider Reagan to be a great intellect). Maher said, “Not enough history has passed yet on Reagan.” Rohrbacher said, “He brought down the Soviet Union,” a typically preposterous remark for a card-carrying Repug, and Maher said, “He shouldn’t get sole credit” (as far as I’m concerned, he shouldn’t get any credit). Maher, returning to Bush and 9/11, said, “This seven minute thing really sticks in my craw. A president is told that America is under attack in the age of ICBMs, and…well, let me put it to you this way; I wouldn’t sit there like Forrest Gump. If Clinton had sat there for seven minutes, would you defend him?” and the audience applauded. Rohrbacher said, “It makes no difference if it’s Bush or Clinton,” and Maher said, “You’re right.” Rohrbacher said, “If it had been a major attack, Bush would have been pulled out of there,” which, quite possibly, is one of the most pathetic statements I’ve ever heard from a Bush acolyte. Maher said, “Bush didn’t know any more than that,” and Rohrbacher said, “It could have been an accident.” Somewhat exasperated, Maher said, “It shows you how lame the Democrats are that they couldn’t beat Bush with that in the election. If Karl Rove worked for the Democrats, he would have made sure that picture of Bush sitting there is the only thing people remembered from that election,” and I nodded with resignation and said “uh huh.” Seth Green reappeared, showing disgust also, and said, “The Democrats always say ‘Stop playing so rough’ and that’s why they always lose.”
Turning back to global warming, Maher noted that “Brazil has a goal to be energy independent, and we can’t be apparently,” and Erica Jong said “that’s what happens when the country is run by energy companies.” Rohrbacher said, “We also provide a lot of resources to defend the world” (…that, presumably, we could use to make this country energy self-sufficient also? Riiight, and how much for our interest versus theirs, I thought, and why exactly should that be a choice for us anyway if we were smart?). Erica Jong said, “But we’re going broke,” and Seth Green said, “We’re even building a new debt sign because the old one couldn’t hold all of the numbers.” Maher brought the discussion back to global warming, and Rohrbacher gave Maher a list of scientists who apparently say that global warming isn’t happening (oh really?), and Maher said he’d look it over, adding that, “apparently, we can’t build levees like they can in Holland or cell phone networks like Japan, either.” At that point, it was time for “New Rules” with a particularly awesome closing commentary.
I should point out that, though I disagreed with a lot of what Dana Rohrbacher said, at least he was civil on the panel along with the other members, who, judging from their actions and body language at the end of the show (and Rohrbacher’s stony silence during some of Maher’s final funny jokes about Bushco) didn’t think much of each other either.