Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Appreciation of Stephen Colbert, aka "Stephen Colbert"

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

You know, I’m really going to miss “Stephen Colbert.”
I realize that comedian and writer Stephen Colbert, creator and star of TV’s “The Colbert Report,” will still be with us, as David Letterman’s replacement on CBS’s “The Late Show.” But I fear that “Stephen Colbert,” the bloviating, self-important, clueless conservative pundit Colbert-the-comedian plays on his late night show, will be gone forever when the show ends its run this Thursday.
(In classic “Colbert” fashion, the supposed reason for the show’s ending is that its host has “won television” and to continue would just be “running up the score.”)
I confess that, when the “Colbert” character got his own time slot, a spinoff from John Stewart’s now-essential “The Daily Show,” I had my doubts. I thought basing an entire half hour, four times a week, on a single character, would be a one-joke premise that would quickly run out of steam. Eventually, I thought, Colbert would have to break character.
Boy, was I ever wrong. On the very first show, Colbert coined a word that would soon find its way into the actual dictionary: “truthiness.” Webster’s dictionary now defines truthiness as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts of facts known to be true.”
When he introduced the concept as part of his regular segment called “The Word,” Colbert promised, “Some of you may not trust your gut, yet. But, with my help, you will. The truthiness is, anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news ‘at’ you.” It was absolutely perfect satire, summing up in a single made-up word the anti-intellectual, facts-are-what-my-gut-says-they-are attitude that permeates so much of American culture, politics and journalism. “Truthiness” caught on so fast that Merriam-Webster named it the 2006 “Word of the Year.”
Colbert followed up with some of the most brilliant on-screen pranks ever committed to video. Like his “438-part series, Better Know a District,” in which “Colbert” interviewed a congressman or congresswoman from some district, always referred to as “The Fightin’ [district number]!” He would then proceed, with a totally straight face, to tie the hapless lawmaker in such verbal knots that eventually Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel began warning members of the Democratic Caucus not to go on the show (a prohibition which Pelosi later lifted).
Then there was the time when Colbert discovered that the Hungarian government was holding an online poll to name a bridge over the Danube River. “Colbert” urged his followers (aka “The Colbert Nation”) to go online and vote to name the bridge after him.
After 17 million votes were cast for “Colbert” (7 million more than there are actual people in Hungary), Hungarian Ambassador András Simonyi appeared on “The Colbert Report” and announced that “Colbert” had won the vote, but unfortunately could not have the bridge named after him because he was (1) not fluent in Hungarian; and (2) not dead. He then gave “Colbert” a consolation prize of a 10,000 forint bill (about fifty bucks American) — which “Colbert” promptly tried to use as a bribe.
Colbert didn’t even break character when he was invited to be the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which was attended by President George W. Bush and the first lady, as well as a variety of other VIPs. “Colbert,” in the guise of a glowing tribute, delivered one of the most scathing critiques ever delivered to a sitting president’s face.
“There are some polls out there,” he said, “saying that this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias.” He went on to say of Bush that: “You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.”
He didn’t spare the members of the press corps for their lazy acceptance of everything that came out of the Bush White House: “Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, and the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out.”
It was brave, and brilliant, and boy, did it make some people angry, even as it made many more laugh. That, my friends, is the purpose of great satire.
Can Colbert the comedian deliver the same bite and sting to a mainstream late night talk show on stodgy old CBS? I have my doubts. But then again, I’ve learned not to bet against him. RIP “Stephen Colbert.” Long live Stephen Colbert, America’s greatest living satirist.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reader Mail, plus More Hilarious Wingnuttery

So this letter ran today in the Pilot: 

Dusty Rhoades’ column in the Dec 7 Pilot disturbed me. To say that the prosecutor in the Ferguson case “threw” the case or deliberately lost it for the state involves a level of cynicism that is difficult to take.
Certainly, the prosecutor could have gotten an indictment if he “wanted” to. And just as certainly, there were political pressures for him to do just that. But Mr. Wilson is not a ham sandwich, of popular grand jury lore.
No he was not. But the rest of us would have been treated like one, which was part of the point. 
Imagine for just a minute, even if you are as arrogant as Mr. Rhoades and are able to reach conclusions based on a superficial view of the evidence from newspapers and TV reports, that the prosecutor who did see all the evidence had a good-faith belief that the actions of Darren Wilson may have been justified.
Wrong. I actually read the transcripts. And I'm betting I read more of them than Mr. Muller. if actually doing your research is your idea of "arrogance," then guilty as charged. 
A prosecutor represents the state in an adversarial system, but he is not a pure advocate and must believe that the evidence on review supports a criminal conviction. Can you imagine a prosecutor asking a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty of a criminal offense when the prosecutor himself has significant doubts?
Yeah, actually, I can, because I live in the real world. 
But, understanding correctly the highly charged nature of this case, rather than deciding himself to not proceed further against Wilson, which prosecutors do all the time, he presented the case to a grand jury as a check on the use of his discretion.
Again, a break which no one but someone like Wilson would get. 
Yes, doing so and presenting evidence on both sides was highly unusual.
And thus, not "equal justice." 
 But viewed in this way, the prosecutor was hardly giving Wilson a “break,” and just maybe was trying to do justice in the best way he could.
Justice which the average Joe (or Michael) would not have access to. 
I acknowledge that I don’t know where the truth lies, but I respect the process and don’t share the view that “justice” requires a particular result here.


William Muller, Pinehurst
"Justice" does not require a particular result. It does, however, require a fair trial, not a sham. 
At least Mr, Muller was (mostly) polite. But then of course, our old friend "Francis" needed to weigh in in the comments with his usual brand of wingnut fuckwittery: 
More surprising than the article you have commented on is the fact you succeeded in having the Pilot post it, you have openly criticized, and even called arrogant one of those who John protects from any unflattering remarks, not often will you read honest appraisals on the individual you mentioned, even this comment may have gone too far, a very thin skinned critic who lashes out at others with no restrictions.
Get that? The guy with over 1100 posts on The Pilot website, the vast majority of them vicious personal attacks on me (including one that said I should die a slow and painful death from Ebola) is whining that The Pilot is "protecting me" from "unflattering remarks." Not only that, he's doing so in response to a letter disputing one of my columns that's on there as a "Top Letter to the Editor." And as for no restrictions, let's not forget that he's still allowed to post and I'm not. 
 Classic wingnuttery: using a public forum to complain endlessly, week after week, about how that forum is violating their right to free speech. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

A D.A. Takes A Dive In Ferguson

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The one thing that kept going through my mind as the world waited and waited and waited for the grand jury decision in the case of State of Missouri vs. Darren Wilson was, “Man, I wish every defendant got the level of due process that guy’s getting.”
Because let me tell you, folks, if it had been Michael Brown’s case — or yours or mine, for that matter — in front of that grand jury, there wouldn’t have been weeks of waiting for a decision. The grand jury would have indicted and been home before lunch.
I’ve been in Superior Court when a grand jury is meeting more times than I can count. I’ve seen a couple of hundred cases at a time handed to them. And I’ve seen those cases come back within hours with every single blessed one of them marked “a true bill.” Many of those defendants that go to trial are either exonerated or found guilty of lesser charges by the full or “petit” jury.
No less a conservative jurist than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has explained the purpose of the grand jury as “not to determine guilt or innocence, but to assess whether there is adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge. … That has always been so; and to make the assessment, it has always been thought sufficient to hear only the prosecutor’s side.”
A typical grand jury hears only what the prosecutor wants it to hear and routinely rubber-stamps whatever the DA asks for.
The way prosecutor Robert McCulloch presented the Wilson case to the grand jury, however, was, to say the least, extraordinary. Rather than present the evidence most favorable to the state and ask for a specific charge, as it’s usually done, McCulloch decided he’d present all the evidence, good and bad, to the grand jury, and let it decide.
Sounds great, huh? I agree. I’d love it if all grand juries were like that. But they’re not. Not for the likes of you and me. Instead of the usual procedure, McCulloch transformed the grand jury into a mini-trial of the matter — which his office then proceeded to deliberately lose for the state.
If you look at the transcripts, you see DAs vigorously cross-examining the witnesses who support what would have normally been the state’s case, while treating the supposed defendant with kid gloves and accepting his story at face value. (“If he had not grabbed the gun while he was hitting you in the face, would you still have used deadly force”?)
St. Louis County Assistant District Attorneys Kathy Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, who examined Wilson, didn’t even bother to cross-examine him on the unlikely things in his testimony. Things like Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown hit him in the face — hard enough to make Wilson fear for his life — with his right hand, a hand Wilson claimed was still holding stolen cigarillos from a convenience store robbery, and yet didn’t break or damage any of those cigarillos. (Q: “Were there any broken cigarillos or anything in your car later?” A: “No.”)
Or the claim that Michael Brown was “reaching into his waistband” as he supposedly charged Wilson, even though, since he was unarmed, there was absolutely nothing to reach for. Or Wilson’s assertion that Brown ran 20-30 feet away from the police car before turning back and charging another 10 feet back toward Wilson, when Brown (as even McCulloch later admitted in his own press conference) died about 150 feet away from the car.
Any DA would have asked these questions — if he or she was trying even halfheartedly for an indictment.
Perhaps the most stunning thing the DA’s office did in throwing this case occurred on Sept. 16, shortly before Wilson testified. At that time, Alizadeh handed the jury a 1979 Missouri statute that says that an officer has the right to use deadly force if “immediately necessary to effect the arrest or prevent the escape from custody.” Alizadeh did not, however, mention that statutes like that had been found unconstitutional six years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The St. Louis County DA’s office threw that hearing. And it did so as clumsily as a novice WWE wrestler taking his first dive pursuant to that night’s script.
Darren Wilson may or may not be guilty of murdering Michael Brown. One thing is undeniable, however: He did not receive something that is supposed to be so fundamental a principle of our system that it’s carved into the front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building: “equal justice under law.”

Darren Wilson got breaks from the prosecution that no one else would have. And that is why people are in the streets.
THE GOBSHITES SPEAK: 
I knew this one would produce a storm of nasty personal attacks and utterly uninformed balderdash from laypeople claiming expertise in the law while managing to get everything wrong.

As usual, I'm right. 
Anonymous coward "pearlharbor" writes: 
...are you unclear why Wilson shot Brown? Or are you unclear why this was even a story?Let me help you. Brown messed with the wrong cop. If it were me, and I was a cop and some thug reached into my car I would have shot him right then and there.
Inevitably in a story like this, some troll beats their chest and announces how they would have been big and tough and brave in this situation and busted a cap in some thug's ass. The claim of being a tough guy might be a little more credible if the person making it wasn't afraid to use their own name. 
Pearl goes on: To your confusion about the grand jury. Seems like your experience as an attorney is getting in the way of your judgement. [sic] They look at the evidence and decide whether there is enough to convict.
No, they are supposed to look at the evidence and see if, weighing that evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, there is enough to go to trial. 
Maybe in your little legal world defending Michael Brown types it's crystal clear. But out here in the real world average people tend to look at the facts and decide not twist them to mold the outcome they want. It's sad when an attorney loses faith in the system he's been manipulating over the years.
Thanks for the vote of confidence in my ability to manipulate the system. I'm in the phone book. 
The aptly named Walter B, Bull Jr. has this to offer: 
You are an Officer of the Court Dusty and when you have nothing important to say you should just "sit down and shut up."
Mr. Bull, as it turns out, "wrote and published a newspaper, “The Sandhills Pulse” that was distributed in the local community" and now stylesl himself "The Voice of NC" on a blog. Until today, neither I nor anyone I know has ever heard of either the failed "newspaper" or the blog. 

Those who can, do; those who can't, tell those who can to sit down and shut up. 
Of course, no visit to the comments section would be complete without a visit from inveterate gobshite "Francis", he of over 1180 posts, almost all of them personal attacks on me, several of which have been outright libelous and have thus been deleted: 
I would comment but it will be deleted, so I agree " just sit down and shut up ", you have no more information on this than anyone else, always trying to be more than you are.
'Nuff said. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pass a Bill, Congress

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

A U.S. president, without action by Congress, takes unilateral executive action to delay deportation and grant work permits to children of undocumented immigrants who would not otherwise be eligible for citizenship.
The president: Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the right wing. The year: 1987. Cries of “tyranny!”, threats of lawsuits, and calls for impeachment: zero.
Another U.S. president expands the program to defer deportation for even more immigrants, again via executive action. The president: George H.W. Bush. The year: 1990. Cries of “tyranny!”, threats of lawsuits, and calls for impeachment: zero.
In 2014, a U.S. president takes executive action after numerous requests for Congress to do something about the broken immigration system. The president: Barack Obama. Cries of “tyranny!”, threats of lawsuits, and calls for impeachment: too many to count.
Actually, I’m sure that the “Republican leadership” (two words I can hardly put in the same sentence without laughing) breathed a huge sigh of relief after the president gave his speech announcing what he planned to do. This is exactly what they wanted. I knew this the minute the Republicans started talking about how any executive action would “poison the well,” meaning that they wouldn’t even try to take action on immigration if Obama did.
The thing is, the GOP really doesn’t want to talk about reforming immigration. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are terrified of even bringing it up. They know that any realistic immigration reform will have to include some kind of path to legal citizenship for at least some currently illegal immigrants. But they also know that that will send the Teahadist wing of the GOP into a frothing rage.
No matter how many conditions, background checks, payment of back taxes or other conditions that proposed path may require, Boehner and McConnell are very aware that the Raging Right will call anything short of mass imprisonment and automatic deportation “amnesty.” They know that they won’t be able to prevent crackpots like Louie Gohmert or Tom Coburn from saying something racist, xenophobic or condescending that will alienate Latinos even further than their party already has.
Any actual debate on immigration reform, even among the majority, would split the Republican Party and drive America’s fastest growing constituency even further away than they already have.
Immediately after the president’s speech, Boehner told the press: “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek.”
This position is patently absurd. There is absolutely nothing about President Obama’s executive action that keeps Congress from passing its own bill on immigration reform. There is no provision in the Constitution or any federal law that says “should the president do something that hurts the feelings of the majority party, said party shall thenceforth be without power to pass legislation, so there.”
The only thing that’s stopping the Republicans from doing their job of passing legislation is the inability of their “leadership” (chuckle) to actually get their motley collection of nutcases, prima donnas, grifters and future Fox News hosts to fall in line, stop playing to the cameras, and, as the president challenged them in his speech, “pass a bill.”
The Obama administration’s response to every question or complaint needs to be those three words: “Pass a bill.”
“This is dictatorship!” … “Pass a bill.”
“You’re acting lawlessly!” … “Pass a bill.”
“You’re not the boss of us!” … “Pass a bill.”
“You should go to jail for this!” … “Pass. A. Bill.”
In fact, a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill has already passed the Senate — 68-32, with 14 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote for it. It provides for increased border security, requires mandatory verification systems by employers, and yes, contains an arduous 13-year path to citizenship that could only be called “amnesty” by people completely unaware of what that word actually means. That bill was strangled in its crib by the House.
The House could take up the Senate bill or provide its own version. But that’s not going to happen. The Republicans will stomp their feet and yell and send out fundraising letters and emails. They’ll threaten and maybe even file lawsuits. They’ll threaten to shut down the government and maybe even do it. They’ll threaten to impeach, and maybe even do it. Will they do the one thing that would make this unnecessary, which is pass a bill?
Nope.
We can expect more useless political theater from the party that can win a midterm where only 36.4 percent of the voters show up (a 72-year low), but which is utterly incapable of actually governing afterward.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again: The PWoC Returns

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Yes, it’s November, folks, and we all know what that means. It means it’s time for Christmas decorations to start appearing on the shelves and in the streets. It’s time for Christmas commercials to begin showing up on TV. And it’s time for loud (and ultimately useless) grousing about how awful it is that all this is happening when it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.


All of this is followed, as the night follows the day, by the annual Phony War on Christmas (PWOC), that yearly ritual in which the most privileged class of people (white, straight Christians) in the most privileged country on Earth get to whine about how they’re being oppressed because someone wished them “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

As always, the first cries of woe came from our old friends at the Resentment Channel, aka Fox “News.” Bill O’Reilly, whose platoons of researchers apparently comb the Interwebs looking for stories to spin up into new occasions for right-wing butthurt, announced, in his words, “the first salvo in the war on Christmas.”

In one school district in Maryland, O’Reilly said indignantly, “there will be no mention of Christmas or any other religious holiday on the school calendars going forward. That’s because a Muslim did something!”



Now, you may be thinking, “Doggone those Muslims! Now they’ve gotten Christmas banned! Is there no end to their perfidy?” Not so fast. What “a Muslim” (actually several local Muslim leaders) did in Montgomery County, Maryland, was ask for a day off for one of their own religious holidays, known as Eid al-Adha or “feast of the sacrifice.” They were certainly not asking that there be no Christmas.
I imagine they didn’t expect the school board’s reaction, which was to totally punt on the issue and remove all religious designations from the school holidays, both Christian and Jewish. It was a decision which satisfied no one.

Note well that the Christian and Jewish holidays themselves are still there: Everyone still gets the same time off for Christmas and Easter, as well as the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s just that Christmas vacation happens over what’s now called “winter break.” Easter vacation is where it’s always been, during “spring break.” As for the Jewish holidays, they’re
designated as days of “no school for students and teachers,” according to a report in the Washington Post. So the kids still have the same holidays they had before, to celebrate in any way they and their families see fit. 

You’d think that would placate Mr. O’Reilly and his colleagues. You’d think that, that is, if you’d been living in a cave without TV for the last 20 years and were unfamiliar with Mr. O’Reilly’s shtick. This board decision, he groused, was “wiping out” all our traditions. “They’re wiping out — you know Christmas and Easter and Passover, these have a Judeo-Christian tradition in our country,” he said. “So they just wiped out all our traditions for these people.”

Actually, “they’ve” done no such thing. While calling the break at the end of the year “Christmas break” is something we may have gotten used to over the years, I seriously doubt that anyone regards how it’s designated on the written school calendar crumpled up in the bottom of Junior’s backpack as one of their fondly embraced traditions.

In any case, I strongly suspect that students and parents will still refer to the holidays as “Christmas break” and “Easter break,” and no one will try to stop them. All will still be allowed to participate in their real traditional observances of the season, such as trampling their fellow celebrants on Black Friday so as to snag the last of the “door buster” 50-inch TVs for $199 at Best Buy.

I’ve noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of outcry from Jewish people over the Montgomery County School Board decision, even though their holidays got the same treatment as the Christian ones. Perhaps this is because Jewish folks, having actually been the recent targets of horrific and genocidal persecution, are less inclined to get their knickers in a twist over what some school board calls a holiday.

It’s a lesson some people could stand to learn. If the thing that makes you indignant is a faraway school board calling the end-of-the-year vacation the “winter” rather than the “Christmas” break, or the thing you feel the burning need to protest is someone using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I submit that you’ve actually got life pretty good and should just be thankful for that, it being the season for thanksgiving and all.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Net Neutrality' is The Right Thing, Even if Obama's For It

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

There’s been a lot of talk since the election on where the first big showdown is going to occur between President Obama and Congress over the use of “executive actions.” Surprisingly, it may turn out that the first battleground won’t be immigration or the environment, but the issue of net neutrality.
So, what is net neutrality? Put simply, it’s the principle that all data going across the Internet should be treated equally. Imagine the Internet in the term once commonly used to describe it: as an “information superhighway.”
You’d want everyone on a highway to have equal access to it, right? But imagine if some people got special access to higher speed lanes and on ramps if they paid more. Imagine if, say, J.B. Hunt Transportation could pay to use faster lanes and quicker access ramps than Bob’s Friendly Trucking.
Pretty soon, poor Bob’s going to be out of business, and J.B. Hunt has one less competitor. That’s not good for capitalism. Further, J.B. Hunt’s going to pass that premium down to its users, who’ll have fewer and fewer options to go elsewhere. That’s not good for consumers.
To apply this to the Internet, say you and a few of your entrepreneurial friends have an idea for a new search engine, one that runs faster and provides better sorting of search results than Google or Yahoo. But when you try to get it up and running, you find out that you can’t complete because Google has flexed its financial muscle and paid Comcast and Time Warner off so that they’ll always have better access and run faster than you.
After the customary months of internal debate and re-debate on the subject, President Obama stepped forth and stated: “I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”
What that means in plain English is that he wants the FCC to treat Internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities or “common carriers,” meaning that they’d have more power to make them treat all their customers equally.
Some right-wing Washington types immediately leaped forward to defend the only real principle the wingnuts have left, to wit: “If’n Obama’s fer it, we’s agin it.” Orange John Boehner, alleged speaker of the House, claimed the president’s proposal would “destroy innovation and entrepreneurship” (as we’ve seen, precisely the opposite is true).
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put down his copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” long enough to take to Twitter and Facebook to call the proposed rule change “Obamacare for the Internet.”
Cruz indicated his utter failure to understand the Affordable Care Act, net neutrality, and the English language by going on to claim that the proposed redefinition “puts the government in charge of determining Internet pricing, terms of service, and what types of products and services can be delivered, leading to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers.”
This, despite the clear language about “forbearing from rate regulation.” On second thought, perhaps this is like Obamacare, if by that you mean “something right-wingers justify opposition to by lying through their teeth about it.”
It should surprise no one that Sen. Cruz is the recipient of over $47,000 in campaign contributions from the biggest Internet service providers, such as Comcast, TWC, et. al. What may have surprised the senator, however, is the number of self-described conservatives who joined their more liberal brothers in geekdom to tell him he’s totally full of it on this subject.
“As a Republican who also works in IT,” one wrote, “you have no clue what you are talking about.” Another wrote, “As a tech and fiscal conservative in Texas who generally votes Republican, I am incredibly disappointed by your completely inaccurate statement.”
That shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, however, because this is by no means a strictly liberal issue. According to a recent story on Time.com, a survey by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance (IFBA), a group led by former GOP Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, found that “83 percent of self-identified conservatives thought that Congress should take action to ensure that cable companies do not ‘monopolize the Internet’ or ‘reduce the inherent equality of the Internet’ by charging some content companies for speedier access.”
Net neutrality is good for the Internet, and since so much of our business these days gets done there, it’s good for the country. This is an issue with support all along the political spectrum, even if it’s opposed by Comcast, TWC, and other corporate behemoths, and by their bought and paid-for shills in Congress.
Let’s not let knee-jerk opposition to all things Obama, as well as congressional harlotry, be the end of an open and level playing field for all online.