Wednesday, December 19, 2012

¡Hola! Fellow Republicans

By Bill Maher

Only when the borders are secure, only then can those who are in the US illegally, "come out of the shadows, get biometrically identified, start paying taxes, pay a fine for the law they broke. They can't stay unless they learn our language, and they have to get in the back of line before they become citizens. They can't cut in front of the line regarding people who are doing it right and it can take over a decade to get their green card."
                                                - Lindsay Graham, on "Face the Nation"

He didn't mean it, really. It sounds harsh, but what Lindsay Graham was saying (as predictably as heartburn after a burrito) is that we're going to be having a great big Latino-loving legislative fiesta before Cinco de Mayo.

The language has to be harsh. The Republicans have to strongly condemn the idea of amnesty and the idea of forgiveness, and make it clear that such things will not be tolerated. And they will strictly enforce the letter of their law by making illegal immigrants suffer the deep, painful, merciless punishment of...paperwork!

That's right -- go back to Mexico, because there's no way, Jose. At least not unless you sign here. And here. And here. And give us a DNA sample. Okay, and wait a couple of years, just like you've been waiting, feel free to keep cleaning those toilets while you do. And then...Hey, welcome to America, citizen! Have fun, and please consider voting Republican!

The language that Republicans are going to be spouting for the next few months will continue to sound harsh, as they struggle to convince their base that they are Solving the Problems caused by shiftless Mexicans. And talk is all that's needed, because several of the key problems are imaginary, which are the easiest sort of problems to resolve.

So we'll "close" the border by beefing up security...and then be able to brag about the fact that we've attained a net cross-border migration of zero. Which, of course, we've already got. And we'll force those Mexicans to learn English, which, obviously, most of them want to do. We won't let them steal the jobs we want, which they’re not doing. And we'll make them wait patiently for their papers, which isn't a huge hardship for people who've been waiting anyway.

Obviously, this will be a huge victory for Democrats and something the Republicans are doing only because they feel they have to if they want to remain politically relevant. But let's not fool ourselves -- it's a victory for Democratic ideas, but politically it could work out to be a way better thing for Republicans. If they can convince their base that they've "solved" the illegal immigrant problem and take the nasty Joe Arpaio-type talk off the table, there's not a lot of reason why they couldn't find themselves grabbing much, much larger percentages of the Latino vote right away, and we'll be saying a fond "¡Adios!" to the new "permanent" Democratic advantage.

Then again, you can never underestimate the Republicans' ability to come across as racist douchebags.

Prescription For Disaster

By Bill Maher

One of the big problems with the Drug War is that it goes after the wrong drugs. Because of prescription abuse, drug-related overdoses have doubled nationally in the last decade. We should lay off the pot and start curtailing the pharmaceutical companies and doctors peddling the prescription shit.

The Los Angeles Times ran an eye-opening series last month, revealing that prescription drug overdoses kill more people than heroin or cocaine. Over a five-year period in four counties in Southern California, The Times found 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs. Compare that to the number of deaths from OD'ing on marijuana, which was just one guy in the Valley who giggled to death.

298 of those deaths resulted from just 71 doctors; 16 of them were under the care of one guy named Van Vu. Ask your doctor if Dr. Van Vu is right for you. Amazingly, he has a spotless record with the Medical Board of California.

Wouldn't we be a lot better served asking our drug czar to stop worrying about the other drugs and focus instead on cleaning up this problem?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Control Debate

Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland), James Carville, Mike Murphy (@murphymike), Bill Maher (@billmaher).

Here's a clip from the January 14, 2011 episode of HBO Real Time discussing gun control after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting of January 8, 2011.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Authentic Is the New Slimy

By Bill Maher

Days before the election, a video surfaced of Mitt Romney from August of 2007, in which he's arguing with a radio interviewer at Iowa's WHO 1040. Why is he so pissed? Because the guy asked Romney to comment on how he reconciles his Mormon faith with his position on abortion and women's rights. There is no problem, asserts Romney, and then he proceeds to get angry and lay into the radio host, even though the DJ keeps reminding Romney that he's on his side.

What's notable about the video isn't the content so much as that it shows Romney actually acting, well, human. He's emotional. He’s not speaking in sound bites or platitudes. He's taking on the interviewer, even calling his assertions baseless and laughing him off. For the first time anyone in America can think of, Mitt Romney actually seemed to be telling a potential voter that he's an asshole and he can believe whatever he wants, but that doesn't make it true.

Or as it's otherwise known, "two humans speaking as two humans usually do."

It's also what Chris Christie does, if one of those two humans is a prick. But I have to say, I find the Christie brand of prick kind of refreshing. I even liked Mitt Romney's brand of prick in that video. I certainly like it a lot better than the "Gosh, I Love America" Mittbot 3000 that we saw during the campaign.

Because say what you will about Chris Christie, but the man is the most candid politician on the national stage today. Perhaps that's not saying much, but he’s not someone who panders a whole lot. He's not afraid to have enemies. When he speaks, you get the sense that he believes it. Political people spent weeks trying to decipher what Christie's motivations were when he praised Obama for the hurricane response and ignored Romney. But the likeliest answer is that he's an emotional guy and that's how he reacted to an enormous hurricane.

I'm just saying: maybe authentic is the new Slick Willy. Maybe the paradigm has shifted here. I think voters -- though still largely clueless and uninformed -- are far more media savvy and familiar with political bullshit than they were a generation ago. We're not only living in the information age, but the Gawker and Buzzfeed era, where every public figure's public statements are criticized and made fun of on websites and on Twitter from the moment they're uttered. There's now a whole sector of the internet devoted to finding public figures to make fun of. And the obvious target: the people who are obviously full of shit. The Mitt Romneys of the world don't stand a chance anymore. This generation saw right through Mitt's act. Because not only do we have your past statements on video, we can post them all in succession followed by a cat playing you off on the piano. That's new.

Much in the same way I think there's a real opportunity for a moderate Republican right now, isn't there also a growing opportunity for someone who hasn't had the ability to talk like a normal human being willingly stripped from them by political consultants?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff Part II: Electric Boogaloo

By Bill Maher

I think most people have "the fiscal cliff" confused with the debt ceiling crisis. Really, they're opposites. Not raising the debt ceiling means not paying our debts. Going off the fiscal cliff means paying off our debt by raising taxes and cutting government spending. Well-advertised is the CBO saying going off the cliff could lead to a recession next year. Less advertised is that it also says it could get us into a more sound fiscal position in the long-term.

All this fiscal cliff panic is just proof that we are all Keynesians. Everybody knows that more government spending -- whether it's in the form of tax expenditures or social services, helps the economy grow. But you have to balance that with not letting your budget get out of hand.
Since we're looking for new revenue streams that aren't income taxes, Obama should use this budget crisis -- if you can call it that -- to do something about global warming with a carbon tax. This may be his last and only chance to do something big since cap and trade didn't work. And it would be just desserts for the oil and coal industries that went all in for Mitt Romney, a nice little personal fuck you to the Koch brothers.

Actually, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, has actually supported a carbon tax, saying, "As a businessman it is hard to speak favorably about any new tax. But a carbon tax strikes me as a more direct, a more transparent and more effective approach [than cap and trade]." I never thought I'd say this about a CEO of Exxon Mobil, but he's right.

The Fiscal Cliff

By Bill Maher

Now that the election dust has settled, and the big GOP donors have cut off Karl Rove's thumbs, and Donald Trump's syphilis has runs its course, everyone is talking about the "fiscal cliff." In fact, President Obama talked about it in his first appearance as a "two-termer." After which, let’s face it, he's going to be completely gray. He's going to look like Uncle Ben. Happens to every president. You age exponentially. Can you imagine what McCain would have looked like if he'd been president? He'd look like "Blue" from Old School.

What is the fiscal cliff? It's basically a built-in punishment if Congress and the President don't do their homework. Since they couldn't get a deal done last year, this is what they agreed to do in 2011 in order to raise the debt ceiling: come January 2013, automatic tax hikes and spending cuts would kick in that would be so large ($800 billion, according to the CBO) and abrupt that everyone pretty much agrees it'd send the economy back into recession. The Bush tax cuts expire. Obama's payroll tax cut expires. $55 billion cut from defense spending and $55 from nondefense discretionary spending. Basically, we'd be taking a good deal more out of paychecks and whacking government spending at the same time, which is going to do real damage. And if the Republicans could blame it on Obama they'd probably be for it. But chances are they'll get blamed, so they aren't.

So the President and John Boehner have to go golfing again. And these two do not have a relationship like Reagan and Tip O'Neill. Most of what they're fighting over is, of course, the tax cuts for the wealthy. Obama wants to extend the middle class tax cuts, but feels that we can't afford the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and that those have to go back to Clinton-era rates. He also ran on this and won. Also, about two-thirds of Americans agree with him.

Republicans, of course, pretend that all that stands between us and darkest night are tax cuts for job creators, and that even though the Bush tax cuts are a huge contributor to the current deficits they say they despise, they're also perfectly crafted and must never be touched. Make sense? I didn't think so.
Interestingly enough, the CBO put out a report saying that tax hikes on the rich really don't hurt the economy the way Republicans contend: "Allowing income tax rates to rise for wealthy Americans, and maintaining rates for the less affluent, would not hurt U.S. economic growth much in 2013."
And this goes to the larger problem everyone is talking about post-election: Republicans live in their own world, where the key to job growth isn't anything but lowering tax rates for job creators. That's not their belief based on evidence. It's their religion based on faith. And the non-partisan number crunchers at the CBO are saying, "No, that's not really true." It shaves a fraction of a point off GDP growth, and in return you get about $1 trillion in revenue over the next ten years.

Hmm. Non-partisan number crunchers say one thing, Republican Party says another thing is true, and blows off the number crunchers. Where have we seen this before?

Now, the inability for our government to deal with this stuff is a real problem. It spooks the markets. It's already spooking the markets. They're going to need to do a deal. But in the past Republicans have basically held the economy hostage for tax cuts for the wealthy. When these deadlines neared, and ratings agencies started downgrading us, and the markets started tumbling, Obama gave in. Maybe that was smart, maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was all he could do. But now it's different. He holds the cards now. He won the election on this.

Some are arguing for Obama to hold his ground, even if it means we go over the cliff a little bit. Because this time everyone will know who to blame. It'll be like when the Republicans shut down the government thinking it would make Clinton look bad, but it ended up backfiring.

The threat of tanking the economy is the only card the Republicans have to play. Obama is proposing a middle-class tax cut for the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year, letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more. If the Republicans block it, everyone's taxes will rise on Jan. 1.

So that's where we are. Let the golf outings begin.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Climate Change Semi-Denial

By Bill Maher

Last month on Real Time, Margaret Hoover advanced the theory that nothing we do about reducing our carbon emissions will have any real effect on global temperature changes over the next 20 years. And a small but well-funded portion of the Internet let out a tiny cheer. Because on a night while New York and New Jersey were underwater and still struggling to dig themselves out, someone, someone had the guts to stand up for bullshit.

What's interesting is the small industry devoted to propping up this latest incarnation of climate change skeptics. These people don't claim to be climate change deniers. Or even "global warming skeptics." They're only skeptical of climate change scientists, they say. Man-made climate change is real; it's just woefully overstated by the browbeaten scientific community and the hysterical media. They'll tell you how even if we totally eliminated our carbon footprint, it would only slow the rate of temperature rise by less than .1 degree over the next 50 years. They write reasonable papers and blog posts about how, for instance, everyone talks about the decrease of arctic ice, but that nobody talks about the dramatic increase in Antarctic ice. It's not so bad, they say, and even if it is, we can't change it too much.

And yes, you guessed it, they are a teensy tiny part of the scientific community and they get all their money from the fossil fuel industry.

Hoover's information likely comes from guys like Patrick J. Michaels and Chip Knappenberger. They are both climate scientists, they've written papers together, and they both hold titles over at the Cato Institute (founded, yes, by Charles Koch). Michaels runs a consultancy group called "New Hope Environmental Services," and serves as editor of the of the blog "World Climate Report -- The Web's Longest-Running Climate Change Blog." Chip writes for it, too.

The client and funder lists for these very concerned-sounding enterprises are often hard to find, because, as Michaels said in an affidavit, “large companies are understandably adverse to negative publicity." But we know, for instance, that New Hope Environmental Services has done some of its great work for fossil-fuel based power companies like Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association and Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

The insidious thing about guys like Michaels and Knappenberg is that they're masters of Not Getting Pinned Down. They keep a hand in and write scholarly papers in peer-reviewed journals, in which they seem to agree with the basics of climate science. And then they turn around on their blogs and in their congressional testimonies, and cherry-pick data and bash other people's work in a manner that produces the results that oil and coal and "free market" warriors want: A hodgepodge of "reasonable" reasons why we don't need to change what we're doing. They're the new generation of climate-change deniers -- "Climate change agreers and confusers." And they're winning.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Spacial Delivery

By Bill Maher

Republicans don't want anything to do with progressive thinking in any area of American life -- except in the case of military hardware. Then and only then are they willing to embrace the future. That's how we got that weird, mechanical over-land death mule and it's how we got the unmanned drone. We can now visit death upon our enemies without having to show up in person, look them in the eye and have an actual fight. It just feels wrong -- like breaking up with a girl via text message. If you're going to vanquish your enemy, shouldn't you have to confront them? How does a warrior willing to die for his cause in the Takhar Province fight a guy operating a joystick in Tallahassee?

Which brings me to this: Earlier this month we were flying one of our unmanned drones near Iranian airspace -- you know, the ones we use for surveillance and to provide the "something blew" to Muslim weddings -- and the Iranians took some shots at it. The incident was described as "unprecedented" and, as such, we really didn't know how to respond. I mean, it was an unmanned drone, not a plane with an American pilot in it, and they didn't shoot it down; they just shot at it. It's like catching the neighbor you hate throwing a beer bottle at your parked car and missing. We had no idea what level of outrage to feign.

I didn't go to West Point or anything but I’m guessing if one of our planes came upon an unmanned Iranian death-copter off the coast of Jersey the order wouldn’t be to "get a nice picture of it."

We utilize the best means at our disposal to go into foreign lands and blow up the people we consider the bad guys even if that means collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties. When someone does that exact same thing to us, don’t we call it "terrorism"?