Monday, January 9, 2012

My Debatable Weekend

From Saturday night until Sunday morning, we were given a taste of what life would be like if there was a 24 hour Republican presidential debate channel.

Saturday's debate followed the adventure game show Wipeout where contestants tried to navigate a moving obstacle course suspended over water. Even though the Wipeout contestants often emerged soaked and battered, they emerged from the chilly waters with more dignity than most of the GOP candidates.

A year from now, one of the candidates in the debates this weekend will be doing reverse mortgage commercials.

Jon Huntsman kept his dignity intact and won both debates. Not just for what he said, but for the fact he finally got to say anything at all. Like many people, when I first heard Huntsman speak Saturday night, I thought "Oh, so that's what he sounds like."

With the elocution, looks and demeanor of someone who would have played the part of the president in a 1950's film, Huntsman proved that by speaking with intelligence and wisdom, and at times, in Mandarin, you completely alienate the Republican base. Even though Huntsman is an authentic dyed-in-the-wool conservative who hasn't done a Romney flip-flop, he is looked upon by Republicans as an alien from another political party. Even though he would be the GOP's strongest candidate if they were willing to take him seriously.

The real question is how Republicans can take any of the other candidates seriously. When Newt Gingrich passionately defended marriage as a "sacrament", which is at the very foundation of our society, you might rightly wonder how this twice divorced philanderer qualifies as an expert on that institution.

After some early comments, Rick Perry disappeared from the first debate (I think he flew to South Carolina ), until the final question, when he was asked "If you weren't here, what would you be doing tonight?" Perry said he would be at a shooting range, which was one of the most believable comments anyone said all night. But just when I thought Perry might be finally getting his muddled thoughts together, he gramatically incorrectly said in Sunday's debate, "I make a very proud statement and a fact that we have a president that's a socialist." Perry also gave his vote for sending our troops back to Iraq. Next, he'll be calling for a restart of the Vietnam War.

Romney is an oddly ill at ease, uncomfortable front runner. He's like a comedian who's always desperately trying to win over the crowd. By using someone else's material.

If I left Ron Paul out of this article, his supporters would claim it was a conspiracy. So I didn't.

And Rick Santorum says he doesn't discriminate against gays, but just doesn't want them to actually have equal rights.

After watching the first debate Saturday night, I went to sleep and had a few nightmares. Then I woke up this morning and turned on the second debate.

Those nightmares turned out to be real.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The End Of The Year As We Know It

To those of you who think 2011 flew by more quickly than any other year, you're absolutely right.

While we were being distracted by wall to wall coverage of trials of people we had never heard of, and marriages of people we shouldn't have heard of, and debates with candidates we hopefully won't hear from again, some benevolent force was out there discreetly trimming hours from 2011. Because in a year where craziness reached new heights, the merciful thing to do was to wrap things up more quickly, and hope the new year brings some sanity.

But don't expect an easy path to a rational, reasonable year. House Republicans will try to block that. And Senate Republicans will filibuster confirming any names to implement rationality and reason. Or even the law.

Mitt Romney will come out and say he used to agree with reason while he was Governor of Massachusetts, but that being rational and reasonable doesn't work for other states or the country as a whole. Newt Gingrich will then cite his fictionalized history of the words rational and reasonable, and finally claim that those are "invented" words.

Rick Santorum will insist that being rational and reasonable begins at conception, Ron Paul will cut all aid to both traits, Michele Bachmann will make some facts up to show that being wrong about everything is the most rational and reasonable way to be.

Rick Perry will give three reasons why he's the most rational and reasonable guy out there. I can't recall what those three things are at the moment.

And finally Jon Huntsman will actually say rational and reasonable things, like believing in the validity of science. But no one will be listening to him when he says that.

And when President Obama calls for rational and reasonable things to get done, to add to the many rational and reasonable things he's already done, liberals will say it's irrational for him to be so reasonable.

But maybe, 2012 is the year craziness becomes so 2011, and intelligence becomes the new trending topic on Twitter. In 2012, maybe being hip will be replaced by being smart, and red states will be replaced by well read states.

2012 may well mark the beginning of the end of the Tea Party, or else it will be the beginning of the end of the Republican party. Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle cost the Republicans a Senate majority, and if Republicans continue to pledge allegiance to Grover Norquist instead of America, and continue to block implementation of laws and confirmation of qualified people to carry out those laws, they could well lose the House next year as well.

2011 was a crazy year.

So it's a good thing it went by so quickly.

But the brightest moments of 2011 came when people around the world rebelled against the craziness and the unfairness, and screamed out for a better life. The Arab Spring combined unspeakable bravery and dedication with a rational and reasonable desire to be free. And the Occupy movement has begun to call for other kinds of rational, reasonable fairness and equality here at home.

Hopefully in 2012 being rational and reasonable, smart and thoughtful, kind and compassionate will guide the actions of all of our elected officials and citizens here and around the world.

If that happens, I hope 2012 goes by nice and slowly.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ohio and Wisconsin Republicans Reveal Union Busting Was Early April Fools Joke

Republicans in Ohio and Wisconsin admitted today that their legislation to severely weaken the right of unions to engage in collective bargaining was merely an early April Fools joke.

Ohio State Senator Shannon Jones said, "When I sponsored this bill, I really didn't think anyone would take me seriously. I mean, what kind of an idiot would think it was a good idea to balance state and local budgets on the backs of hardworking union public employees?"

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker added, "Do you really think I would try to destroy unions in a state that has such a progressive tradition of looking after the rights of workers? Just to pay back the billionaire Koch brothers for financing my campaign?"

Governor Walker said that he was surprised no one got the joke. "Attacking the rights of public employees and unions was such an irrational, over the top thing to do. I can't believe people thought I was serious."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Valentine's Day Card to Egypt

I don't have all of your addresses, so here's a group Valentine's Day card to the people of Egypt to express my love and admiration for your miraculous and inspiring achievement.

Your heroic perseverance, poise and dedication showed us all that anything is possible.

That Facebook can be used for more than just promoting comedy shows and sharing with 1800 people how wasted you were last night. And that Twitter can mobilize rallies for democracy instead of just inform us what Shaquille O'Neal had for lunch.

It took the Egyptian people 18 days to bring down a dictator. It took me 18 days to decide which coffeemaker to buy on Talk about using your time productively.

The road to democracy in Egypt will be difficult and messy. But the truth is our democracy is still difficult and messy after 234 years. The U.S. wants Egypt to be just the way we are. But Egypt can produce a democracy that's even more, well, democratic than ours.

First, your military. I know you love those guys and most of them are an admirable group. And they stood by you in the most trying of times. But once they guide your country through the transition to free and fair elections, make sure they don't decide to run the country. I'm not saying they would, but just in case. And when you prepare your first budget don't give them a crazy amount of money. We do that here and quite frankly it's largely a big waste of money that could be better spent on social programs here at home.

Now that you'll be able to criticize your government and speak freely on all issues, go ahead and enjoy! But don't create shows where people of opposing views yell at each other and talk in sound bites. We do that in the US and it just appeals to the lowest common denominator.

Have plenty of good, thorough news programs. And make sure all of your cable systems carry Al Jazeera. And The Daily Show.

And insist that your politicians be intelligent. And don't give them reality shows. In fact, don't have reality shows, period. There's nothing like a good half hour scripted comedy. But I digress.

I hope you can find a President like ours, who is worldly, really smart, thoughtful, and who understands what you're going through.

And try to make it possible for people to run for office who don't have a lot of money. And insist on a single payer health care plan. And keep trying to help bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The truth is, I don't even have to be telling you this. If you can overthrow a dictator in 18 days, you can do anything!

And remember. Not only can your democracy be as good as ours, it can be even better.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's The Guns, Stupid

In the week since the shootings in Arizona, there have been many comments about Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and civility.
And comparatively very little has been said about guns.

And what limited discussion about guns there has been, has largely focused on how it's pointless to make guns laws more strict, and how we should make it easier for Americans to get their hands on a gun. How much easier could it possibly get? And yet, the NRA and its many followers in civilian life and Congress, keep making the most twisted arguments in favor of a Wild West gun mentality.

I'm tired of hearing people say, "Criminals will always find a way to get a gun, so why punish law abiding citizens with stricter gun laws?" Jared Loughner could easily have been prevented from getting a gun because a far more thorough and lengthy background check would have turned up many red flags. And even if, at the very least, he was forced to spend much more time in search of a gun, that might have given authorities the chance to catch up with him before he committed his crimes.

Why should gun background checks be instant when just about everything else we want in America takes so much longer? Anyone who has closed on a house, knows that process can often take several weeks, or even months, and require hundreds of pages of documents and records. On a smaller scale, when you order cable for your new place, it can often be at least a week before you can get an appointment. And then you still have to wait four hours waiting for the cable guy to arrive. Neither closing on a house or getting cable installed is a life and death matter, although some people treat it as such. Yet we put up with the inconvenience of waiting, because frankly, we can afford to wait.

Any law abiding citizen who wants to buy a gun can also afford to wait. Anyone who objects to a thorough background check, no matter how long it takes, clearly has something to hide. And it's not the Constitution. This should apply to gun shows as well. As the laws in most states now stand, anyone can stroll up to the kind of gun show held so tastefully this weekend in Tucson, and buy the assault weapon of their dreams on the spot.

Why does any law abiding citizen need an AK-47? Are they a hunter seeking to eradicate the entire deer species all in one afternoon? Or are they expecting an invasion by a foreign army in their sub-division? The same goes for the extended ammunition clips Loughner used with his Glock 19. What law abiding uses are there for shooting 30 rounds without needing to reload?

How can it possibly be so difficult and controversial for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban which expired in 2004, due to the cowardice of both Republicans and Democrats? Even if you think the Constitution gives you the right to bear arms, those arms do not include weapons of mass destruction like military-style assault weapons. And if you think you should be able to buy any kind of gun at any time, why not expand your options to missiles and bombs too?

Some people say we need assault weapons for the day the government will attack its people by going door to door and taking away their guns. If you truly believe this scenario, you don't need more guns, you need a psychiatrist. But they are not alone.

The craziness of this past week is not confined to the Arizona shooter. If the people of the United States, and its representatives in Congress do not insist upon doing everything in their power to prevent what happened in Tucson from happening again, this country can rightfully be considered crazy. No one is talking about "taking away your guns". We need the kind of exhaustive, effective federal background checks that, while not foolproof, will at least make this country much safer than it is now. And to ban the kinds of weapons only the military and law enforcement personnel really need.

Because being civil to one another requires changing our gun laws so that we are once again a civilized society.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Navy Defends Country From Comedy

As a comedian, I hate jokes that are moronic, low brow, mean spirited and geared to the lowest common denominator. Which pretty much describes the excerpts of the videos by Captain Owen Honors which led the Navy to fire him this week.

If Captain Honors openly discriminated against gay soldiers under his command, and created the videos to foster an environment where gay sailors felt uncomfortable, his removal is the right thing to do.

But if the videos were simply the work of an unfunny, uncreative Captain, who thought gay jokes and sex jokes in general would make his sailors laugh, perhaps we should slow our rush to judgment. Because what is tasteless and offensive to one person can be a belly laugh for someone else. And I have the personal experience to back that up. Early in my career, I was working with the legendary Andrew Dice Clay, whom I met through comedy and consider to be a nice guy. His comedy persona is considered by many to be offensive, but on that night at a comedy club on Long Island, my political jokes about then President Reagan drew hisses and boos, while the Diceman's four letter tirades against women and other groups were greeted with a standing ovation.

Comedy should never have to be defended. It should be laughed at, hissed at or reacted to with silence. So if Captain Honors treated his sailors equally, with respect and appreciation, and confined his ignorance to stupid jokes, then he should not have been fired.

Of course, in keeping with the climate of our times, he won't have the chance to answer whether or not the videos were representative of any deep seeded negativity towards gay people, or simply the work of someone with a rather stupid sense of humor.

Last year, three personalities were abruptly fired after comments deemed to be offensive. Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams never had the chance to tell us if they stood by what they said, or felt the need for clarification. In an open society, we should reserve judgment and consequences until we know what the person really thinks. And even if they stand by opinions we find distasteful, not every situation calls for punishment and excommunication.

There are things I find offensive, distasteful and reprehensible. The deception in the rush to war in Iraq based on lies from our President, Vice President and other government figures. And the despicable embrace of torture, to this day, by Bush, Cheney and others. That is the kind of thinking and behavior that sets a bad example, and is a total failure of leadership.

If Captain Honors was a bad commander who treated gay sailors in a less respectful manner than everyone else, and harbored any ill will towards them, he has no place in the military. But if it was simply a case of making videos that were dumb and not funny, he deserved a chance to explain himself.