Saturday, May 18, 2013

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher" #283 "It's a Scandal"

by Catherine Giordano

It seems like everything is a scandal these days. Scandals were the main topics of conversation on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” #283 airing on Friday, May 17, 2013.  In addition to the ones that the news media are all abuzz about which aren’t even all that scandalous, there are other things that are truly worthy of being called a scandal.

Bill dived right into the swamp of scandals in his opening monologue. He reported that the Benghazi scandal is falling  apart—that is to say—there is no scandal. The White House emails that were supposed to be the smoking gun were faked. Republicans changed the wording of the emails when they gave them to the press.  (Now that is a scandal, actually two scandals. One, Republican Congressmen falsifying evidence, and, two, the news media not properly vetting what they were given. I seem to remember that when Dan Rather used false documents to make a case for a scandal—G. W. Bush going AWOL from the National Guard—he was fired. Who is going to get fired at ABC?)

Back to the monologue. He said that Republicans’ zeal to find a scandal and their denial of facts has gone so far that his “Republicans Inside the Bubble” comedy segments were outdated..Bill said that Republicans have gotten so outrageous  that they are not even in a bubble anymore. Now they are in a bouncy house.

Bill also wanted to know why there were no investigations about the 13 embassy attacks that occurred during the Bush administration. (Good question Bill-- Maybe because Democrats have a little more common sense and restraint than Republicans.)

Bill moved on to the IRS scandal. He said, “In wingnut world, Obama told his Negro party and the Black panthers to meet in the park with IRS guys to target conservative groups.” Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. At worst, a few IRS agents may have been overzealous in doing their jobs. They are supposed to check out groups applying for tax-exempt status to make sure they are not too political.  (None of them were denied tax-exempt status—the only complaint was that the process was onerous. Bill said that the scandal began when some of the right wing groups complained about long delays.  “Like black people trying to vote in Florida,” Bill said.

Here’s the real scandal—the IRS is ignoring the wording of the statue governing these 501c groups that says the activities of these group must be exclusively to promote social welfare.  The IRS determined that “exclusively” meant ”primarily” and left the hapless IRS agents to figure out what “primarily” means. The second scandal here is that the Obama administration caved and fired the director of the IRS even though the events in question happened under the former director’s, a Bush appointee’s, term.  (Remember back when Shirley Sherrod got fired for making racist comments in a speech. It was fire first and investigate later. It turned out that her remarks were exactly the opposite of racist. For once, could the Obama administration show a little spine and investigate first.)  

The interview was with Richard Haass, president of The Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Foreign Policy Begins at Home.”  He discussed the scandal of political dysfunction in Washington. Bill mentioned that the House just voted to repeal Obamacare for the 37th time. Boehner called for this vote so the new members would have a chance to vote against it. Bill sounded very exasperated when he asked if Congress had become “The Make-A-Wish Foundation.”  Wasting time and taxpayer money on meaningless votes done just for show while ignoring important issues—that’s a scandal. By the way, as was discussed later in the show, Obamacare has already brought health-care costs down even though it will not even be fully implemented until 2014.

Here’s another scandal that Bill and Haass discussed—wasteful military spending.  Haass said, “It is not how much we spend, but how we spend it. We can get more defense for less money.” Bill mentioned how Congress forces the military to buy tanks that they don’t want because it means jobs in the districts of some Congressmen.  That is “pork” spending, not deficit reducing. That is a scandal.  

Haass also said that the real problem is not defense spending, but spending on Social Security and Medicare. This is the “You-have-now-lost-my-good-opinion-of-you” moment of the week. I think that it is a scandal that some people want to “reform” these programs out of existence. I think that it is a scandal that we don’t have single-payer healthcare insurance in this country.

The panel included Michael Moore, the Oscar winning documentarian, the right wing S. E. Cupp from MSNBC’s “The Cycle” (Yes, MSNBC allows conservatives to co-host some of its shows.), and Andrew Ross Sorkin a journalist and financial columnist for  the New York Times and the author of “Too Big to Fail.”

The panel discussed another of the “big scandals”—the A.P. Scandal. The CIA foiled a terrorist plot. Information was leaked to the AP that endangered the informant that was key to foiling the plot. The government wanted to find out who was responsible for the leak. The government did not do anything illegal and they did not listen in on any conversations. They only sought to find out who AP reporters were talking to in the hopes of deducing the source of the leak. Bill said that “We all gave up privacy ten years ago and the Republicans loved it. Why are they outraged now?”

Cupp gave a knee-jerk right-wing response: “Turn it around. Why aren’t liberals pissed now?” Cupp, you are wrong!  A lot of liberals are pissed about it and saying so very loudly.  Michael Moore promptly said, “I’m pissed.”  He then went on to say that the press did not question “the weapons of mass destruction” claim during the run-up to the Iraq war. He seemed to imply that they did not report when they should have been reporting, but now they are all pissy about being called out for revealing classified information that endangered our country’s ability to combat terrorism.

During the discussion about how health care costs and Medicare costs were coming down, Cupp suddenly lost it.  “No,’ she screeched practically jumping out of her chair, “It’s a ticking time bomb.” She did not present any evidence to support this claim. Up until this point she had spoken calmly, but now it was like some switch had been thrown, she continued to screech for the remainder of the show.  (During Overtime, she did not speak, but she rolled her eyes when others spoke.)

In a discussion, about reforming gun laws, Bill said that we need a gun registry. Moore seconded it. He said, “We register our dogs, yet we don’t say Obama is coming for our dogs.” (I would also add that you can hardly get any job in the United States anymore without a background check, so why should people be ale t buy again without a background check.) Cupp went berserk, screeching, “They assume I have criminal intent.  It’s an abuse of power.” The audience groaned.

Moore followed up, “If you have a dangerous device that can kill 20 children, we need to know where that device lives.”  (Low blow, Moore, bringing up the kids, but effective.) Bill added, “We should follow the framer’s intent. Everyone can have a musket. Cupp was practically foaming at the mouth at this point. “Mass shootings are down in the last 30 years,” she screeched.  Everyone just stared at her because apparently, like me, they found that hard to believe. I’ve been around for the last 30 years, and I seem to recall that mass shootings were a rarity. Now it feels like we have several every year. Maybe Cupp was including military deaths during WW II in her statistics.

Another scandal is the sequester and the Republicans apparent determination to ruin the American economy. Sorkin pointed out that the sequester had slowed the economy.  (And I will add, that we have not yet felt the full blow.) Why do they do things that hurt the economic recovery?  Moore said, “They hate America.” I thought he was kidding, but he meant it. As I think about it, I think he is right. They do hate the foundational principle of America: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Their policies are those of an aristocracy, government for the rich and powerful.

The mid-show guest was Zach Galifianakis, and actor best known for The Hangover movies (three of them so far.)  He addition to being a movie star, Galifianakis apparently also calls himself a farmer. “I have three donkeys and a blueberry bush,” he said.

In New Rules, Bill talked about the “Rice Capades.” He said, Susan Rice used talking points, but at least they weren’t written on her hand.  Benghazi was starting to sound like the name of a monster in an Asian horror movie. The difference between furor over Benghazi and a car alarm was that sometimes a car alarm indicates an actual crime.  Nixon ran a burglary ring out of the White House. Reagan traded arms with actual terrorists. Bush made Colin Powel go to the UN with props turning a war hero into Carrot Top. But Republicans think that Benghazi is the worst scandal in American History! 

I think he should have ended New Rules right there, because the remainder seemed anti-climatic to me. “What about the bogus talking points from Republicans on climate change?”  Bill concluded, “The Obama administration isn’t dirty, the air it.” Bill’s point about climate change was important point that should have preceded the list of Republican scandals.

I conclude with this observation:  There are plenty of scandals to be talked about, and the news media is not talking about the really important ones. 

The hydra-headed scandal monster.
This is a  stereographic  drawing by Dain Fagerholm
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher #282 “Crazy Glue”

by Catherine Giordano

HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, episode 282, which aired on Friday night, May 10, 2013 had a lot of good moments, serious and funny.

Bill had a big target during his opening monologue with Christ Christie and his lap band surgery--the surgery that staples off part of your stomach so your smaller stomach limits the amount you can eat. Bill reported that Christie lost 40 pounds. “He skipped breakfast,” Bill said. Many people think that Christie wants to lose weight because he wants to run for president. Bill commented that having this surgery is tantamount to admitting that you have no will power. He added,“That’s exactly what you want in a president—no will power.”  

He also got a shot in at Sarah Palin. Bill said that when Sarah Palin heard about the arrest of Ariel Castro in connection with his kidnapping of the three women in Cleveland, she said that she was glad that he “was no longer ruling Cuba.”

Bill had a dig for Obama-hating Republicans. “Obama has just done the worst thing ever. We just have to find out what it is. They can’t find the smoking gun. Imagine, this is America and they can’t find a gun.” [The Republicans are so desperate for a scandal and whether it is Benghazi, tax audits, vacations, they can’t get anything to stick. Maybe if they had some Krazy Glue. [They’ve got “the crazy”, all right, they just need the glue.]

The interview was with Mark Bittman, an op-ed writer for The New York Times and the author of VB6: Vegan Before Six. He claims you can lose weight if you eat vegan before 6 pm, while eating whatever you like after 6 pm. [It’s probably a regimen that can help some people—no bacon and eggs for breakfast, no hamburgers for lunch reduces caloric intake--but it is not a sure thing for a lot of people.] Bill pointed out that someone could eliminate all animal foods from his diet, but still be fat if he ate a lot of sugar. [My take: If your excess weight comes from eating too much meat and dairy, the VB6 diet can help you lose weight if you replace those foods with fruits and vegetables.]

This conversation gave Bill an opening to criticize Chris Christie for having lap band surgery—He said, “It is like a cocaine addict Krazy Gluing his nostrils shut to force himself to stop using cocaine.” 

The panel included Glenn Greenwald who writes for The Guardian.  He has just written a new book, With Liberty and Justice for All: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. During the discussion about the kidnapping of the three women in Cleveland, Greenwald pointed out how there is no longer class mobility in America. The abductor was “hiding in plain sight”, but he held those young women captive for ten years because boarded up windows were nothing unusual in the poor neighborhood where he lived.

Joy Reid, who writes for The Grio (a news website targeted to African-Americans) and an MSNBC contributor was also on the panel. She spoke about the Middle East saying that whenever we try to impose democracy we get something worse. Whenever they overthrow a dictatorship, they get the crazy—a theocracy; democracy just doesn’t stick .

The conservative panelist was Charles Cooke who writes for The National Review Online. Usually, I want to crazy-glue the conservative guests’ mouths shut, but Cooke was OK. He’s a libertarian, but not off-the-wall crazy. He said the Libertarians should be alarmed about the government getting involved in things like prohibition, the war on drugs, and removing the specs for making a gun from the internet. There was agreement with the first two, but not with people making plastic guns that could evade metal detectors at home.

For the mid show comedy segment, Bill gave us part three of his ongoing segment “Craziest Congressman.”  He talked about Paul Broun, a Republican Tea party representative from Georgia. Broun believes that Obama is a Marxist who want to destroy the U.S. from the inside. [t is one thing to disagree with Obama’s policies and feel that they are harmful, but to claim that his goal is to destroy America is crazy.  [As much as I thought G.W. Bush was an evil person, I never thought he was trying to destroy America; I believed that he was destroying America because he was incompetent, not because he hated America.] Bill said the Broun is a doctor who doesn’t understand embryology, and opposes abortion because “it puts storks out of work.” He’s the one who said that science is “lies straight from the pit of Hell” guy. [I’m glad he is not practicing medicine anymore.]

Broun was paired with Michelle Bachman, the Tea Party Republican from Minnesota.  Bill said that she thought that “Thomas Jefferson’s slaves were friends with benefits.”  “A woman once told her that her daughter got retarded because of a vaccine and she said ‘Mom?” You know she is way far-out crazy when you learn that the AP stopped fact-checking her because it overloaded the system.

The mid-show guest was Zachery Quinto, an actor who portrays Dr. Spock in the new Star Trek movie. He has come out as gay.  Quinto said that gays have to have visibility.  A total of 12 states have now made gay marriage legal and there is no stopping it now. Bill added that “when you say that the Bible is against the gay, it makes young people question the Bible.“

I liked Quinto. Sometimes I see actors who I like on the screen, but when they do an interview, I see that they are empty-headed morons. Quinto was intelligent and thoughtful. He calls himself a nerd. [Carey Mulligan, the actress who plays Daisy in the remake of The Great Gatsby is a case in point. She’s been doing a lot of TV interviews to promote the movie, and she comes across as an empty-headed moron. She giggles a lot in the hope that all the giggles will cover up the fact that she has nothing to say.]

Bill’s “New Rules” began with a discussion of The Great Gatsby. Bill said the movie is out of date because the wealth gap is so much greater today than it was during the 1920’s.  Today one in four Americans makes less than $10 a hour. Working at McDonald’s used to be a kid’s job, now people are trying to support a family with the earnings from that job. Close to half of all recent college grads have to live at home because they can’t afford to live on their own. A CEO makes 300 times more that the average worker. The six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune have more money than the 130 million poorest Americans.  [The statistics are frightening.]  

Bill talked about countries that have huge financial inequalities, like Mexico--kidnapping becomes a way of life. A kidnapping for ransom takes place 72 times a day in Mexico. He used this observation as a warning to the uber-rich in America. And it also gave Bill
an opportunity to to stick it to Donald Trump.

This is the “Don’t-get-into-a-fight-with- a-guy-who- buys-ink-by-the-barrel” moment of the week. [I’m referencing an old saying about not getting on the wrong side of someone who writes for a newspaper because he could inundate you with bad publicity.  Let me change that to “Don’t get into a fight with a comedian with his own weekly TV show.  He will make you the butt of his jokes over and over I bet Donald Trump regrets getting into it with Bill Maher.] Bill concluded his remarks about kidnapping by saying “I’m talking about you, Donald Trump” when he spoke about how the trophy wife of a rich man is not going to raid the Swiss bank account “to save your sorry ass.”

“What is the difference between a hedge fund manage and a mosquito?” Bill quipped. “A mosquito stops sucking blood before it explodes.” [Heed the warning!  A socialite once quipped, “You can never be too thin or too rich.” Perhaps you can be too rich.]

I’m glued to the TV set every Friday night When Bill Maher airs a new show.  You never know what crazy thing the guests will say or how crazy funny the show will be.

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Bill Maher made Donald Trump the butt of his joke on Friday, May 10, 2013 when he joked that his trophy wife "was not going to raid the Swiss bank account to save your sorry ass" if Donald was kidnapped.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” #281 “Do We Have Time for the Truth?"

by Catherine Giordano

The best line on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”, episode 281, airing on May 5, 2013, came not during the show, but during the “Overtime” webcast.  Lawrence O’Donnell, host of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC said “Do we have time for the truth?”  Bill tires to allow time for the truth, but it is difficult when he has two Republicans on the panel.

Bill’s monologue began with good news.  The Dow hit 15,000 for the first time ever and unemployment is the lowest it has been in four years. But according to Republicans, Obama is wrecking the economy. Later in the show Mattie Duppler, from a group called “Americans for Tax Reform” managed to turn that good news against Obama saying it proves he was wrong about the sequester—it has not ruined the economy.  

Bill also used his monologue to opine on Republican nuttiness. He reported that a survey showed that 44%, nearly half!, of Republicans believe that armed rebellion against the government might be necessary in the next few years to protect our freedoms. Bill said, “I wish they’d start an armed rebellion because I want to see their faces when they walk out of The Waffle House and get smashed by a drone. Later on he talked about how Waco showed what happens when a well-armed group gets into a battle with the government. They are smashed. My opinion: These 44% are sick, sick, sick. Are there lives so drab that they have to entertain rebellion fantasies just to get through the day. The hatred and anger that they hold within themselves is what they should be worried about. If they would just stop listening to the rabid fear-mongers on Fox news, talk radio, and the internet, they might be able to relax and enjoy life.

And, of course, Bill had a pope joke. He said that the former pope, Pope Benedict, was back in the papal palace, “Or as I call it,” he said, “Club Ped.” Pow! Then Bill added that they keep a chart on the fridge so they know whose turn it is to be infallible. Pow! Pow!  

The interview was with Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, with a new book “Dirty Wars” and a documentary, being released in June with the same name.  Bill Moyers has called Scahill a “one man truth squad.” Scahill slams us with the truth: No one knows why we are in Afghanistan anymore. Drones, assassinations, torture, night raids are making us more enemies than killing terrorists. He was especially damning when he told us about the killing or Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16 year old son, who had nothing to do with terrorism. There was a lot of controversy about the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and one could argue both sides of that case, but killing a child because of who his parent is, is indefensible.

The third panelist Peter Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans of America, at least made a little sense when he said that the sequester is making stupid cuts. O’Donnell, said that America wasn’t as stupid as the European countries who “went wild with austerity.” Their economies are sinking and ours is not.

Bill lampooned two Republican Congressmen in a Craziest Congressman segment. He skewered them with the truth. He lambasted Louie Gohmert of Texas for his ignorance and for his off-the-wall comments that Muslim terrorists are going to Mexico so the can sneak into the United States and that oil pipelines are good for nature because they make animals horny. 

But maybe Tennessee congressmen Scott DesJarlais takes the prize for craziest. His campaign slogan is “truth and faith” and he is strongly anti-abortion—except, it seems, for the fetuses that he conceives. He had numerous affairs with patients (he’s a doctor) and coworkers, pressured his co-worker to have an abortion and consented to his wife’s abortion, twice. Two abortions for his wife!. This is the “he’s-not-crazy-he’s-just-vile” moment of the week.  

Marc Maron was the special guest. He is a triple threat comic—he has a podcast, a TV show, and a book. He’s also insightful about current events.  He said that the media is calling the second bomber (I can’t spell that name) and his friends “kids.”  “They are adults, not kids.” We don’t call 19 year old black defendants kids. He also asked how many of the people who recognized the bombers called the FBI and how many just spoke to the news media.

New Rules was good this week. One of the New Rules was “Slime and Punishment.”  Speaking about the bombers, Bill said that the uncle had it right.  They are “losers.” We should rename the “War on Terror” as “The War on Losers.” The Boston bombers were too stupid to realize that there would be cameras at the Boston marathon. Bin Laden wasn’t living in some fantastical rigged-up cave, but a drab suburban home. The Times Square bomber, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, all failed. The Liberty 7 would-be terrorists were caught because they made a video of themselves shooting guns and shouting to Allah, and then brought it to Circuit City to be made into a DVD.

Bill concluded that bin Laden’s plan was not to kill us all but to scare us into over-reacting. The one thing they can blow up—it’s our balance sheet.”  And that’s the truth.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

HBO Real Time with Bill Maher #280

by Catherine Giordano

HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher", episode 280, airing on 4/26/13, was a fairly calm hour with some interesting guests.

The interview was with Don Borelli, an accountant turned FBI agent. 

The panel was John Avlon, a journalist with Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Anna Deavere Smith, playwright and actress (you've seen her on "Nurse Jackie--she's plays the head nurse) and Robert Trayvon, Dean of Georgetown School of Continuing Studies.

The special guest was Jimmy Kimmel, the late night TV host.

My day job is taking up a lot of my time so blogging has suffered this week.  I hope to do a complete review before next Friday night.