Saturday, August 3, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (8/12/13)

Oh boy. The last Real Time for 6 weeks or so. And one panel guest really made the show unwatchable. But the counterpoints must still be made. So let's get to it.

Barney Frank 1 (lisp translation): I respect Chris Christie, but he can't represent the moderate wing of the Republican Party if he single handedly stopped gay marriage from being legal in New Jersey.

This is a cheap shot at Governor Christie, who at the time stated that he felt like an issue of such social importance should be decided by voter referendum rather than the votes of elected officials. And it's not a dodge for the governor because New Jersey is a very liberal state. They will most likely vote to affirm gay marriage and it's better for local politics if it's done by referendum. It's much harder to look your neighbor in the eye and tell him he's wrong. It's much easier to attack an elected representative.

Alexis Goldstein 1: If Governor Christie wanted to honor the 9/11 victims, he should push for medical treatment for first responders.

First responders don't get medical treatment? Public employees who work for the city of New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey actually get very good health benefits. I guess it's fitting to counter cheap rhetoric with even cheaper rhetoric but let's not pretend that government employees don't get good benefits.

Alexis Goldstein 2: Bradley Manning didn't do an indiscriminate leak of classified documents. He uncovered a bunch of things that the public should know about.

Barney Frank 2 (lisp translation): What Manning did was very harmful to US foreign policy and his indiscriminate leak of classified documents dramatically hampered our diplomatic capability.

This illustrates the classic conflict between liberals without power and responsibility and liberals who do have power and responsibility. What Barney Frank knows is that you can't have some enlisted Army intelligence specialist dump gigabytes worth of classified documents onto the internet to an avowed adversary of the US government (Wikileaks) and get away with that. Any attempt to justify his treasonous actions is weak and extremely lame.

Manning is lucky he gets to escape the ordeal with his life. I would have preferred death by hanging. To treat your security clearance so cavalierly and with such blatant disregard to the appropriate channels of authority while taking an oath to defend the US against her enemies is simply unconscionable. Military personnel should and are held to a higher standard than civilians. Manning is fortunate in the fact that his execution would have generated an unneeded political controversy.

Alexis Goldstein 3: We buy up distressed student loan debt and retire the debt because it's the right thing to do.

I am not inherently against populism. And I do think that college prices are vastly inflated and too expensive for the value a college degree confers (which is...not much). Retiring student debt represents a bailout for a very small number of college students, and to be frank, it's an idiotic gesture. The student loan market is worth over a trillion dollars. This can't put a dent into any of it. Futile gestures made by those who have very little power doesn't do a favor to anybody. There are only immediate beneficiaries who don't deserve special treatment.

Bill Maher 2: Ross Perot and Ralph Nader were laughed out of the elections but they had a point. Government is beholden to special interests and it's absolutely insane that the very companies that the government is supposed to regulate have such a large role in writing the regulations.

Everybody has a right to petition the government. And that includes the people who work for corporations. But I'm not going to hide solely behind the constitutional argument. The reality we live in is that the modern economy is extraordinarily complex. And most people in government understand that there are very few people in government who truly understand the industries and market sectors they're responsible for regulating.

The people who are engineers, and bankers, and lawyers, and doctors, they're all people who would rather work in the private sector. That leaves a bunch of non-engineers and non-bankers and non-lawyers and non-doctors in the government responsible for overseeing a bunch of highly complex and extremely specialized vocations. Can they even trust their own judgment?

There's a paradox at work here, because either the government has to rely on the very companies they're supposed to regulate or they lure employees from the companies to work for the government by promising lavish compensation (the executive pay schedule as opposed to the general schedule and excellent health benefits and work hours). But what you get is a revolving door between the government and the corporations.

It is impossible for the government to function properly and not also look like they're in bed with corporations and special interest groups.

Barney Frank, Jay-Z, Alexis Goldstein argue about police and public housing.

I thought Barney Frank did a terrible job arguing his case, especially when Jay-Z challenged him on a lot of things. His lisp really makes it even worse. What he should have said is that the government needs to do a better job of delivering public services (such as policing) to the people who need it the most and then also agree with Jay-Z that public housing is a disgrace and that the public should be engaged on trying to find ways for people to escape the poverty, violence, drugs, and despair that's so often found within Section 8 housing complexes.

On the issue of the police turning into special forces wannabes, the Wall Street Journal actually had a good essay on it a week ago. It is important to remember that, even with bloated budgets and unnecessary equipment (like armored personnel carriers), having cops on the beat does decrease crime rates. They just don't need military-equivalent setups.

The one applause line that Barney Frank had on Republicans defunding police departments was bogus. Municipalities are drowning in red ink and shedding public employees because they're so expensive. They've been promised exorbitant pensions and health benefits and it's politically unpalatable to raise taxes. So they cut public payrolls, and this has happened in bipartisan fashion, in both Democratic and Republican municipalities and state governments.


1. Barney Frank is a nightmare. His lisp is too strong. He tries to dominate every conversation he's in. He's rude. A bully. I'm frankly shocked that such a person could have won reelection 10 times. Or that he won in the first place. He's a thoroughly unlikable person.

2. Alexis Goldstein is seriously naive. But she hailed from the Occupy Wall Street movement so I guess that's par for the course.

3. That other panelist essentially had 5 lines in the entire show. I felt sorry for him. Most of the show was just Barney Frank arguing with Goldstein and Jay-Z and Maher trying to moderate it without success.

4. Jay-Z should not have worn those gold chains. I get the fact that artists have to push boundaries and defy convention, but the fact is he is one of the most influential figures in black America. It's not enough to chide other rappers about drug use in your songs. And that kind of message gets muddled when you dress like a stereotypical rapper by wearing two huge, ostentatious gold chains. Wear a suit by Tom Ford, especially when you're going on that kind of show.

5. Jay-Z has the nerdiest laugh ever. I totally get his quote about him feeling like he's gotten away with murder. How could a guy that looks like he does, who sounds like he does (that laugh is seriously aggravating and effeminate) be such an incredibly successful rapper and businessman?

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