Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mind on they money and they money on forklifts

Back on Feb 7th, Henry Waxman (D-CA) questioned unequivocal failure and Medal of Freedom recipient Paul Bremmer in front of a Congressional Oversight Committee. The congressional session focused on 8.8 billion dollars spent in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority that remained unaccounted for. How do you get rid of almost 9 billion with no answers as to where it went? Well, here's a good way to get rid of half of it.

That money, it turned out, was loaded onto cargo planes by forklifts in the form of $1,$5, $10, and $20 dollar bills. In case you're wondering how much 4 billion dollars weights, it's slightly over 363 tons. Yes, tons of small bills were flown into one of the least stable regions in the world, to be distributed by one of the most notoriously corrupt administrations in our nation's history, with no systems of accountability in place. Here's one of the original reports on the story from Reuters.

One of my favorite tidbits of reporting on this story came from Tim Grieve over at Salon:
"Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is predictably but not unreasonably apoplectic about the shipments. 'Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?' he asked during a hearing on the Hill Tuesday." I think the word apoplectic is hilarious. Also hilarious is the Daily Show's take on the story, available here.

I bring this almost month-old story up now because the New York Times published an Op-Ed today criticizing the coverage of this story by the Mainstream Media (MSM). I was surprised to say the least that this Op-Ed came out now, too late to serve as effective damage control, yet too high profile to be seen as anything but. A NY Times link will expire after a week or so because of that TimesSelect bullshit, but I'll give a quick synopsis of what seems like a pretty one-sided account of what happened in Baghdad.

The author of the piece is John B Taylor, former UnderSec of the Treasury and author of the book Global Finacial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post 9/11 World. The first part of his argument appears to be that in post-Saddam Iraq, there was a great danger of the Iraqi financial system collapsing, and that until new Iraqi money could be printed we needed to essentially flood the country with American dollars taken from Saddam's own frozen bank accounts. The second part was to print new Iraqi dinar once some sort of stability had taken told.

Now, not being an economist, I can't really attack this plan on economic grounds, and in the best-of-all-possible-worlds one could see how this theory might work. The problem that critics of this program had, including Rep Waxman, is that, according to Paul Bremmer himself, no one knows where the cash went. "Iraqi Foreign Ministries lacked good payroll records," Bremmer admits at the hearing. Contrast that with what Taylor writes in today's NY Times.

"During April, United States Treasury officials in Baghdad worked with the military and the Iraqi Finance Ministry officials — who had painstakingly kept the payroll records despite the looting of the ministry — to make sure the right people were paid. The Iraqis supplied extensive documentation of each recipient of a pension or paycheck. Treasury officials who watched over the payment process in Baghdad in those first few weeks reported a culture of good record keeping."

So either the Appointed Head of the CPA doesn't know what he's talking about, or Taylor is lying. Taylor doesn't respond directly to Bremmer's testimony in front of Congress at all in his piece. He simply pounds forward, claiming, "This success paved way for the second stage of the plan." I'm sorry, but if you are attempting to refute the media's coverage of this topic, you simply have to directly address the the genesis of the controversy, namely Bremmer's testimony.

Anyone who has worked for this administration, especially concerning the allocation of funds to Iraq, has a greater burden than usual to prove themselves trustworthy. Taylor skirts the issue, instead opting to describe the plan, claim it works, then deride the media's coverage of it. By failing to address Bremmer's words as he said them, Taylor fails to clear up the issue at hand, and adds only another temporary distraction to full public disclosure of just how wrongly the Iraqi war funds were spent. I mean it was forkloads full of cash, you gotta prove you know where it's going...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Neal Boortz: Batshit Crazy

Wait...what's that...what's that smell? It's kind of, I don't know, it smells like...oh, I remember, that's the smell of batshit crazy. That's right. I thought maybe it was something else, but no, it's just batshit crazy. Here's the source.

It's Neal Boortz, right-wing scream-o-phile and radio show host. In this clip, Mr. Boortz makes the astonishing claim that the Teacher's Union is more dangerous than Al-Queda with a nuclear weapon. Let's all take a deep breath and then continue.

Was that enough time? Okay, keep scratching your head. I am. So, let's see here. The Teacher's union...is more dangerous...than Al-Queda. Hang on.

Ohhh, sweet whiskey. You make it all go away.

Okay. Now, I'm not one to champion the fear-mongering that goes on in the media about how dangerous Al-Queda is. Whatever it was before 9/11, whatever it was immediately after, and whatever it is now is impossible for the average citizen to know. That "Al-Queda" serves as an invisible enemy against whom we can wage unending war should give anyone cause for suspicion about what the organization actually is, and what they are actually capable of. That said, I'm pretty sure that "Al-Queda" with a nuclear weapon is scarrier (I live in NY) than the TEACHER'S UNION, of which several of my friends are members.

Why would a person with the capacity for rational thought turn his back so resoundingly on the basic tenets of logic and run screaming into the forest of pure delusion? For that I have no answer, but that is how I've heard an acid trip described. And it's hard to tell, but I think I can see a sort of existentialist despair in Boortz's eyes as he claws desperately for some semblence of grounding, a common symptom of drug-induced extrasensory phenomena.

Maybe the fumes of the batshit crazy he spread all over himself cut off the oxygen to his brain. Or maybe, just maybe, he got paid a lot of money to go on TV and say hateful, dispicable things. And if it is the second option, let me say this: Fox News, call me, because I think hospital volunteers secretly carry Bird Flu, and we must shotgun their brains out like the advancing zombie menace they are.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Colbert and Silverman

Sarah Silverman's new program, aptly named The Sarah Silverman Program, has once again thrust her into the national spotlight, and with her come the inevitable controversies surrounding her act. Once known for her half cute, half bitchy supporting roles (Seinfeld, School of Rock), Silverman's noteriety began to grow in mainstream culture after her appearence in The Aristocrats, in which she deadpans, "[talent agent] Joe Franklin raped me."

For many, Silverman's joke was the highlight of the movie. The Aristocrats joke is intended to be as offensive and shocking as possible until the punchline, which stays the same no matter who tells it. Silverman, however, didn't exactly tell the joke. She told a joke in the same spirit, one that was as offensive as possible, but without the familiar punchline to soften the blow. Jesus is Magic brought her abrasive and ironic sense of humor to the silver screen, and solidified her position in society as the woman willing to speak the unspeakable.

Silverman's jokes are meant to push our buttons: "I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a jewish girl." Some argue that by confronting us so blantantly with racist, sexist, anti-semetic, etc. stereotypes, Silverman subverts them by showing us their absurdity. My take? That's possible. More likely, I believe, is that Silverman has an ear for the offensive, and she's a talented enough jokesmith to make her punchlines work. As far as I can tell, her offensiveness is a sort of end in itself. An end that may cause the audience member to rethink his or her assumptions about people, but an end nonetheless.

In contrast, Stephen Colbert's irony comes from a specific philosophical viewpoint: "I don't trust books; they're full of facts. I'm more of an opinion man." Where Silverman's Doctor-Rape joke relies on Jewish stereotypes, I'm not sure what, if anything, it actually illuminates. It shocks, but does it ask anything from us other than the knee-jerk response, "oh my god that's offensive." Colbert's joke, on the other hand, dripping with as much irony as Silverman's, subverts the so-called pundit class by showing how ridiculous talking heads who run their mouth with no supporting evidence are.

I think Silverman is funny, but ultimately I'm not sure she's more sophisticated than the following formula: "say something offensive, reframe it to sound even more offensive."

"I don't care if you think I'm racist, I just want you to think that I'm thin." That is a pretty good joke though.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Who is afraid?

From this weekend's Meet the Press

If America actually nominates him and then votes for him for president and elects him, this will be a sign that we are a good and decent country that has healed its racial wounds. Now, Jesse Jackson had a same subtext, but Barack Obama is a much different politician than Jesse Jackson—much less threatening, much more appealing, and he actually has the ability to carry this off. (from Glenn Greewald's excellent blog.)

That was Roger Simon, Chief Political Columnist for The Politico, a beltway online mag. I don't know much about Simon, but some preliminary research shows he is still claiming that McCain is "a straight-shooter" and that McCain is "honest and authentic enough to tell you what you don't want to hear." Media Matters has the video here. That, coupled with some false indignation regarding John Kerry's "botched joke" tells me as much as I need to know about him for now.

Greenwald makes an excellent point when analizing the above quote:
One could say, I suppose, that Jesse Jackson was more ideological and further to the left than Obama is -- though I think that is far from clear at this point. But even if one believes that, in what conceivable sense was Jesse Jackson "threatening" in a way that Obama is not? Jackson -- whatever else one might think of him -- is a Christian minister whose speeches almost invariably were grounded in religious concepts of faith, hope, charity, and aiding the impoverished and disadvantaged, and were free of racially inflammatory rhetoric, or any type of notably inflammatory rhetoric. Even for those who disagreed with Jackson politically, in what sense could he be viewed as "threatening"?

What do we as a culture mean when we say Jesse Jackson is threatening? He's not a criminal. You could even nominate all 47 members of the Wu-Tang Clan and I don't think anybody would actually think Method Man is gonna come to Whitey's house, sew his asshole shut, and just keep feedin' him and feedin' him and feedin' him.

So, threatening how? Jackon threatens to increase visibility for marginalized groups and their needs? Well, yes, although no one could actually come out and say that worried them.

Does the fact that Jackson is "more threatening" than Obama mean that we as a culture could live with our white daughter bringing a 19 year old Obama home after her Freshman year at a high end liberal arts college, but the idea of Jackson taking her away is too much to bear? Why should that be the case? Is is a matter of skin tone? Are we really no further than the days of "passing"? A man like Simon sees Obama as Black like black people should be Black. For Simon, being more Black than Obama is threatening, and therefore marginalized, but Obama is acceptable, which we know because he is "less threatening."

The same as the Biden post below, maybe Simon could explain himself given the chance, which is another discussion entirely. It's just interesting to push these words a little to see the underlying assumptions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Balanced like me after 8 beers

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just released Bush 2.9 Trillion dollar budget for the year, which includes, among other things, an increase in "Defense" spending, cuts in Medicare and Social Security, and an extension of the Bush tax cuts. The best part is that he is claiming the budget will be balanced by 2012, but only in the most elusive of ways.
Here is the catch: funding for Iraq will decline over the next few years, according to the budget, but this will not correspond to a decrease in American involvement in that region, according to Nation Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. We are not going anywhere, but the war will get cheaper, and then the budget will be balanced. Just like me after 8 beers. I am walking, but there is nothing sustainable about it.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Libby Trial

Like many people who sit at a computer all day with little do to, I have become fascinated with the Libby trial. It's a complicated case with a lot of ins, lots of outs, but luckily Patrick Fitzgerald (Special Prosecutor) is adhering to a strict drug regiment. It's looking more and more likely that when Libby testified before the grand jury several months ago he perjured himself, which to me sounds like something after which he should have to change his underwear.
But that's beside the point, at least for me right now. What I find most interesting about this case is how good the White House used to be at presenting itself as a unified entity, all its various parts acting in beautiful harmony to create the most evil possible. Now, after Ari Fleischer's testimony, that the administration was just as succeptible to all the pitfalls of a normal, slightly less evil office.
At one point, Libby was afraid he would be sacrificed to save Rove's oily hide. Fleischer was so worried about what he superiors asked him to do that he refused to testify before being granted immunity, like a common mob rat. Judy Miller, the disgraced New York Times journalist, is now turning against Libby. Sure, she wasn't technically a part of the administration, but their goals would've been impossible without her invaluable propoganda.
Why oh why did I assume that these monsters worked in harmony? Was it my desire to believe in an all-powerful cabal, a kind of Super Villan that is unstoppable, so why even try? It's certainly tempting to create larger-than-life enemies. This reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Marge paints Mr. Burns naked. She explains herself by saying something to the effect of, "he's evil, but he's a man, and he'll die."

Climate but not Change, Global but not Warming

I was reading a news story yesterday that I found on either thinkprogress.org or drudgereport.com that profiled scientists who were prohibited by the current administration from using the words "climate" and "change" and "global" and "warming" next to each other. They were speaking at a Congressional Oversight hearing, and they could say the word "climate" but they literally weren't allowed to say "change" afterwards. The worst part was that these scientists weren't so called "climate change sceptics." They were honest-to-god scientists whose hands were tied behind their backs by ideologues.
Comedy and Politics has a solution for these scientists: charades.
Sure, they can't say, "All available evidence points to the fact that humans are causing global warming," but they can act out:
2 words
first word
2 syllables
first syllable
[sounds like] make "snow" angels
audience eventually gets "snow," shortly after gets "glow"
first word
second syllable
scientist walks around miming humourously large testicles swinging back and forth between his legs
audience eventually gets "glo-ball"
See...that's not so hard. If these scientists want to get the word out, they have to take some risks and think unconventionally. I mean, they were at a Congressional Oversight hearing. This is all basically make-believe anyway. What's Congress going to do, pass a non-binding resolution asking the President be blinded by science? So, Scientists, take a cue from Congress: play charades.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Joe Biden, what is wrong with you?

Joe Biden (D-DL) announced yesterday that he will be running for President in 2008. He then went on to make some pretty harsh statements about Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, followed by a characterization of Barack Obama which was condecending at best, thinly veiled racist at worst. With Obama, Biden said, "you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy ... I mean, that's a storybook, man." Biden has since apologized, but continues to insist he was taken out of context.

The MSM and blogosphere has hooked on to the word "clean" as the most offensive word in the statement. On the Daily Show last night, Biden said he should have instead said "fresh," at which point I wanted a beat to drop and Joey to start rapping along with that Outcast song.
"O-bama fo' Presi-dent
he's just so fresh and (so fresh and) so clean clean"
Sadly, that didn't happen.

Refering to a black man running for president as "clean" is certainly a bit of a head-scratcher (or just racist), but the Chicago Tribune pointed out their problem with a different word: articulate. Usually I have problems with the Trib's Editorial Board, as they are right-wing hawks, but this time they were right on. They write:

Note to Biden. Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them “articulate.” It’s the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying “He’s a credit to his race” they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.

Those dated words, like Biden’s comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.

This also reminds me of a Chris Rock joke that goes something like,

"White people are always saying how Colin Powell is so well-spoken,
he's so well-spoken...HE'S AN EDUCATED MAN!
What kind of voice were you expecting to come out of him?!"

The issue here is that these words, "clean," "articulate," don't really make sense when applied to other candidates. Think about how strange it would be if John Edwards came out and said,
"Joe Biden is a really clean guy."
"Yeah, clean."
"I'm sorry, I don't think I understand."
"And he's articulate."
And so neither do they make sense when applied to Obama, execpt in the way that as a black man, some white people feel the need to characterize him with these "positive" words that, as the Trib editorial points out, are historically problematic as well as just plain stupid.

The most complicated issue here, I think, is that Biden was trying to be a good guy. I think he was trying to be complimentary, and "straight-forward," and I don't think he's a racist in the way that Bush ("doesn't care about black people") is. That doesn't excuse his poorly worded, awkward re-entry into Presidential Politics, but I do think that given the chance, he could elborated on his initial statement to get to something closer to what he meant, and futher away from the insensitive condescention that actually came out of his mouth.

PS- Biden has also said some really insentive things about Indians working at 7-11s, and something else really stupid that escapes me at the moment. So, maybe he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt after all.

Will Cheney Resign?

CCinsider.com is reporting a rumor today that Cheney will resign, Condi Rice will move to VP, and John Negroponte, the former Intelligence Czar who recently transfered over to the State Department, will become the new Sec. of State.

The question on everyone's mind right now, of course, is: do we here at the Comedy and Politics blog believe these rumors are true?
Well, it's complicated. See, earlier this week Fox News reported on a story published in Insight Magazine, a rightwing rag, that claimed that Barack Obama attended a Radical "Madrassa" in Indonesia as a child. A "Madrassa," as they defined it, is a school that indoctrinates children to the tenets of radical Islam, and therefore we as a country might not be able to trust Obama.
The Insight report, the thing that started this all, cited an unnamed source as the basis for these claims. CNN, surprisingly, debunked this story by sending a real live reporter to check it out, and found that the school is less than harmless. Not that this should be an issue either way (oh my god, he was raised in a religous setting!), but it is a perfect illustration of how a rumor can become a story which can become front page news.
Now, however, we find ourselves in a similar position.
In this analogy, CCinsider.com, which, by the way, is short for COMEDY CENTRAL Insider, which is reporting that Cheney might resign, is Insight Magazine, and we, who are taking this story and running with it, are Fox News. Let it be known that a recently created blog has the same journalistic integrity as News Corp.
We say, let's do this thing. If every comedy blog out there, The Apiary, Best Week Ever, A Special Thing, The Facetime, took this story and made it front page news, maybe CNN will eventually spend some of Ted Turner's money debunking it.
Because, honestly, at the end of the day, fuck CNN.

Why Christopher Hitchens is Right

In this January's issue of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens turns his still lucid mind to a question that is more relevant today than ever before: Why Aren't Women Funny?

Or, rather, he phrases it as a conclusion (Why Women Aren't Funny) as opposed to a question. I, for one, say good work Mr. Hitchens. A lesser man may have learned his lesson after predicting that invading Iraq would be a great idea, but you, sir, are still drawing conclusions as grounded as they are nuanced. Don't let one wrong move get you down. Bravo.

Hitchens rightly begins his article with a joke.
Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny … " (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny? He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce bĂ©arnaise.")
Ahhaahahahahahaahhahahahah. Yes! In your face upscale lobster entree! If Hitchens didn't wield his rapier wit so effortlessly and effectively one might start to believe that it is in fact Hitchens who isn't funny. Lucky for him, he doesn't have to worry about that.

Hitchens then goes on to outline his argument clearly and succinctly on page...um...page...let me see here...it's clear, somewhere...well, it seems that these truths he takes to be self evident:
1. Wit is a sign of intelligence
2. Women are really in control of men
3. Women are smarter than men
a. Proof: They don't laugh at poop jokes, ever
4. Women don't have to be funny to attract men. In fact, they don't have to do much of anything.
5. Women don't want to threaten men by being funny, and therefore intelligent. That's right. Women, who are in charge, don't want to threaten men, who are subservient. It makes sense after 6 whiskeys, trust me.
6. Bearing children makes women unfunny, because they don't have time to be funny. Also bearing children is a very serious and painful job. No time for banter at 3 centimeters.

Hitchens hits a home run with these last two. He simultaneously praises the fairer sex for being more sophisticated and in control (so why are they always complaining! Am I right guys?), and also biologically incapable of keeping up with men in the humor department. It's that kind of drunken incoherence that makes his argument so powerful. Sure, a logician would say that the Hitchens' reasoning is violently fallacious, but as long as that logician is a man then Hitchens can make a pun on fallacious and fellatio and all will be well.

Christopher Hitchens, thank you. You've taken a complicated social observation (that when performing traditional gender roles men are valued for their intelligence and women are valued for their beauty and ability to perform domestic functions) and, hilariously, illuminated and clarified the issue at hand, namely that women aren't funny, with a few exceptions. Some dyes, a fat chick or two, and Lucile Ball made the cut, which is by the way Hitchens' call to make. Those who say you are a whiskey-guzzling traitor are wrong. You are a visionary. A double-visionary.


I spend most of my day reading about either comedy or politics, and, seeing as one is often inextricably linked with the other, I decided to start this blog. Hopefully this site will be a little funny and a little political, but not too much of either. Enjoy.

ps- The first two blogs are lifted from my comedy group's myspace blog. Just to get things started.