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find a scandal and their denial of facts has gone so far that his “Republicans Inside the Bubble” comedy segments were outdated..Bill said that Republicans have gotten so outrageous  that they are not even in a bubble anymore.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