my pissant two cents

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The “Half Hour” that I will never get back

I just watched Fox News Channel’s attempt at political satire. “The Half Hour News Hour” wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But then, I’ve worked in real television news.
The show opens with a half-clever premise, that Rush Limbaugh is President in January 2009. But it quickly reveals its humor level, as Limbaugh—apparently quite comfortable in his glass house—congratulates Howard Dean for “finally getting the medical attention he has desperately needed for so long.” Lacking the faintest vestige of irony, Limbaugh blames “two years of a Democrat [sic] Congress” for making America’s international reputation a shambles, and promising “commander-in-chief excellence.” That’s as close as it came to mentioning Bush in the entire program.
Then “VP” Ann Coulter trots out her catchphrase, warning viewers that if they don’t stay tuned, “We’ll invade your countries, kill your leaders and convert you to Christianity”
It doesn’t get any funnier than that. I don’t mean that in a good way.
“Anchors” Kurt Long and Jenn Robertson (a game show host and Canadian comedy writer, respectively, who wisely don’t use their real names on the show) kick off the program-proper with a headlines segment. From a none-too-subtle “Hillary is a lesbian” slag, to a double-jab at Dennis Kucinich and Air America, it was a collection of undeservedly self-congratulatory smirking.
They made a recurring joke of actor/environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., amazingly putting together a poop joke, a joke about homelessness, and another about prison rape, nailing a rare trifecta of unfunny premises. Begley narrowly outpaced Sen. Barack Obama, about whom a fart joke and a body odor joke were made. But one suspects the Senator will be a frequent target, insofar as this show can be expected to stay on the air.
Another butt of repeated jokes is the ACLU, which has been “protecting criminals [like Rush Limbaugh (http://www.aclu.org/privacy/medical/14969prs20040112.html)] from people like you since 1920.” Ha ha. Lawsuits to protect drug suspects from forced blood tests and to protect free speech, even for white supremacists (and I wonder how many Fox News viewers weren’t the slightest bit bothered by that), are how liberals are destroying our nation, get it?
A couple of skits, one on Che Guevara t-shirts and another on global warming, fell sadly flat, as actors Dom Irrera and Jonathan Mangum obviously read their cue cards and gave wooden deliveries of unfunny lines. Long and Robertson did no better, with their schticky reading owing more to Ted Baxter than Ted Koppel.
Veteran comedy writers Ned Rice and Sandy Frank are responsible for this dreck, which ought to bring their many writing awards into question. As pretty much everyone surmised, it was a collection of juvenile, mean-spirited jabs at liberals, full of the usual scorn and derision. They managed to make fun not only of Suzanne Somers, because her house burned down, but also children with cancer.
The depth of the derision wasn’t quite so surprising as the complete absence of wit.
But then, satire is by its nature a subversive art, skewering the powerful and poking meaningful fun at the self-important. It requires insight and impulse. It simply does not go with a conservative agenda, which seeks above all to stifle anything that challenges the orthodoxy.
Instead of insight, what we get from Rice and Frank is a collection of put-downs and insults that would be great in a junior high lunchroom. If that’s what Fox viewers need to feel protected from those mean guys on Comedy Central, they’re welcome to it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical

Bush Administration minions spent Sunday trumpeting the “evidence” that evildoers in the highest reaches of the Iranian government have masterminded a cunning plot to kill Americans and foment chaos in Iraq.
These unnamed U.S. sources say that Iranian agents are smuggling high-powered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into Iraq, and that those explosives were so sophisticated and well machined that they could only have come from Iran. The sources blamed these IEDs for the deaths of 170 Americans.
But I’m having trouble buying any of it.
It all seems a bit too convenient. For starters, where did they come up with 170? Who conducted that investigation, what evidence was compiled, and what arithmetic yielded that number? It’s odd that they could reach such a precise conclusion when everything else in Iraq is utterly devoid of precision.
And how do they know the Iranian government is behind it? Even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace says he’s seen no evidence that supports such a claim. So why the definitive statement casting blame on Tehran?
Bush’s people have been rattling sabers in Iran’s direction for years now. Painting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the latest incarnation of Hitler, they have refused to participate in multi-lateral diplomatic efforts to keep Iran’s nuclear aspirations on a purely non-military basis, and have made clear their willingness to exercise the military option to enforce their will. Sending aircraft carrier groups to the region is widely seen in diplomatic circles as an American show of force intended to create “strategic ambiguity.”
Ahmadinejad, of course, has done nothing to help his cause, denying the Holocaust and spouting anti-American rhetoric that makes Hugo Chavez speeches look like an “Up with People” revue. But as president he has precious little power. In the Islamic Republic of Iran the ayatollahs carry the authority, specifically the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
So why all this sudden concern over Iran? According to a 2005 article by Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer, the official U.S. intelligence position is that Iran is “within five years” of building nuclear weapons. But, Linzer wrote, that has been the U.S. position since 1995.
And who are these unnamed sources casting Tehran as the new archvillain? When stumping for the Iraq invasion, former Secretary of State Colin Powell had the guts to stand before the United Nations and present his case, even though it was made up entirely of lies. If he was willing to do that, how much credence can we put into “evidence” that no one is willing to vouch for?
The timing of the announcement is also suspect, coming just after the announcement that the Pentagon cooked the data on Iraq leading up to the war. The Defense Department’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, made that point clear to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday. While the actions carried out by a faction headed by neo-con warmonger Douglas Feith weren’t technically illegal, Gimble said, they “did not provide the most accurate analysis of intelligence to senior decision makers.”
While some Republicans on the panel tried to undermine the importance of that revelation—notably shameless crackpot James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who lauded Feith’s Office of Special Plans cabal for its “probing” work—many Democrats were duly troubled by it. Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called Gimble’s testimony “devastating commentary” on the administration’s manipulation of the intelligence.
It seems that a healthy skepticism is finally working its way into the Democrats’ collective psyche. Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) appeared on the Sunday talk shows, expressing serious doubts about the administration’s reliability.
Even a former Bush staffer says this smacks of escalation by Bush’s people. Hillary Mann, former National Security Council director for Iran, told Newsweek, “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something (America) would be forced to retaliate for.”
And that is where the American public needs to focus its attention. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter has said repeatedly that all it would take is a manufactured crisis, like a Gulf of Tonkin or sinking of the Maine-like incident, for the Bush people to green-light an invasion that they’ve been itching for since the “Axis of Evil” speech. Let’s not forget that nearly a year ago, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that U.S. agents were carrying out covert operations in Iran that might just provide that provocation.
Here are some other data the American people might want to think about as the chickenhawks squawk at Tehran: Iran is about three times the size of Iraq, with almost three times the population. Those facts come straight from the CIA website, so presumably they’re accurate.
Of course, with these guys, you never know.