Friday, January 22, 2010

Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien Final Show Liveblog

Yes, the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien is almost over already. What the hell, NBC? really doesn't even begin to cover it. I really didn't think we'd be here already, but here we are. Tonight, I follow last year's liveblog of the Late Night finale with one of the Tonight Show finale!

Stay tuned tonight for the actual liveblog at 11:35 EST!

Let's have fun on television!

(11:33) Alright, Conan's about to start. letting you guys know the liveblog's about to begin here.

11:35) It begins! Final monologue time.

(11:36) "Ladies and gentlemen, we have exactly one hour to steal every item in this studio.
Andy: "I'm gonna push this podium home!"

(11:37) Conan clarified that the terms of his contract say that he can't host another show for 7 months. (C'mon, Fox in September!) Announcement of a new Animal Planet show hosted by Andy with Conan as his sidekick, Andy putting Conan in charge of Kitten Corner!

(11:38) Conan to HBO: When you make the movie about this, "I would like to be played by Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton."
Andy: "It works! I'm hoping for Val Kilmer."

(11:39) A list of possible uses for the studio including "Waterpark for Max Weinberg's illegitimate children," "Studio preserved as a nice, quiet, peaceful place where the cast of "Chuck" can be alone with their thoughts," "Leave the studio empty and rename it "World's Largest Metaphor for all NBC Programming.""

(11:41) They can do whatever they want and NBC has to pay for it. Wednesday night's intentionally unfunny expensive sketch was a Bougatti Veyron Mouse with an original Rolling Stones recording for $1.5 million, Thursday night's sketch involved the most recent Kentucky Derby winner, "Mine That Bird," wearing a mink Snuggie and watching unlicensed Super Bowl footage.

(11:42) Tonight's expensive sketch? A skeleton of a giant groundsloth on loan from the Smithsonian spraying beluga caviar on an original Picasso for $65 million. Conan then had to point out that these bits weren't real since a lot of people were seriously bothered online by the idea of buying a real mink coat for a horse and their now pretending to ruin an original Picasso.

(11:44) A montage of comedy bits, remotes and segments from the show's entire 7 month run to Cheap Trick's "Surrender." I am really going to miss this show. So much great footage.

(11:46) The montage ended with "To be continued..." Exactly right. We need a new show this year with Andy, the band, the whole staff, and whatever comedy bits and intellectual properties they can keep around. And we need that new show on a network that'll appreciate Conan and won't stifle his creativity and strangeness, where NBC tried to tone him down as much as they could at 11:35.

(11:47) Tonight's guests. Tom Hanks from the second show back in June. Then Will Ferrell, first guest from the very first show, who first commented that it wouldn't last on that show. And the fantastic Neil Young as the musical guest. Flawless final show lineup.

(11:48) First commercial break. Valentine's Day: Not Paris, Je'Taime. Won't be subjecting myself to that. Sorry Fallon, you're trying, but you're no Conan. I think more of you than Jay Leno, at least. Recall that NBC never promoted Conan on Late Night even half as much as they do Jimmy. From second fiddle to Leno to third fiddle after Leno and Fallon. NBC doesn't know comedy greatness when they've got it.

(11:52) Back from commercial! The Tonight Show Band (Max Weinberg 7 plus more!) are indeed the best band on television.

(11:52) - go there and donate, as Conan reminds. This is a big deal, but the late night wars are nothing next to what the Haitians are going through.

(11:53) Steve Carell is out to give Conan an exit interview as another NBC employee! He wasn't on The Office clip show the other night, was he? I don't remember. That episode was sad.

(11:54) "Did anything trigger your decision to leave?" "Yes, kind of, yeah."

(11:55) "Anyone who has ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are right now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it." Carell quoting Up in the Air for apropos comments. And now he's given Conan a packet on continuing education and taken back his NBC ID.

(11:56) Putting Conan's ID through a shredder. (With Andy's help. "I'm sorry, Conan, I just like shredding.") Commercial break again!

(11:58) When in Rome looks like the worst thing Kristen Bell's done in some time. And I liked Veronica Mars, dammit.

(12:00) Back from commercial! Tom Hanks time.

(12:01) "It's been some week, Coco." Conan and Hanks drinking together - cream soda. Only appropriate.

(12:02) Andy has a flask, so he's always set. "You know what they call that? The co-host's little reward." Conan called out that Tom Hanks was the one who coined "Coco" as his nickname on their second show back on June 2nd. Team Coco!

(12:03) "In our house, you will always be host of the Tonight Show. So if you could get there at about 10:45..." "Honestly, Rita and I will try to stay up for the whole hour." "The band had nothing to do with this." "They don't even know what's going on. The saddest part of all this is LaBamba's coming to the empty studio on Monday with his trombone."

(12:04) Commercial break already. Damn how short the hour is. I've been mocking bad movies in the commercials so far - I have to say that Crazy Heart doesn't look terrible, though. See? I'm capable of praising things.

(12:05) One of those "Wrightnows" Netflix ads. But not the one with the fake cat. Surreal. I actually like those ads.

(12:08) Back from commercial with the band playing the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Reminiscing about Conan writing on SNL and their meeting when Hanks hosted. "You had the same cone of hair but you still had those Elvis-comes-to-Ireland-" "I had really big sideburns back then."

(12:09) "What I remember about it is that you scared the living daylights out of my kids. "WHO IS THAT TALL PASTY-FACED MAN?!'"

(12:10) Hanks had Conan paste big fake sideburns on to demonstrate how he looked back in '85. "I got real good ideas for ya, Mr. Hanks!" "What're your little funny pieces, kid?" Hanks is getting ready to direct a film with Julia Roberts, about a guy who finds out overnight that he's losing his job. Hrmm!

(12:11) "I could play the guy!" And then giving up the role to Hanks - "It'll be much cheaper if we do it that way." As Hanks points out, "the internet is completely wrong about almost everything."

(12:12) Now discussing Hanks leaving immediately to make the end of the Hope for Haiti Now telethon that just aired on everything tonight. The importance of the cause cannot be emphasized enough. And the interview wrapped up - Hanks got the crowd chanting "Coco!" again like before. There's even a Coco gang sign now. Only appropriate.

(12:15) Watch free episodes at! "More colorful," less intelligent. (I'm done with NBC late night now - I still like Chuck, Heroes, Community, Parks and Rec, and The Office, though, so I can't be one of those respectable individuals who're dropping watching the network entirely.)

(12:17) Back from commercial. Neil Young! The first to call and offer to appear when he learned what was happening. Great guy, amazing, legendary musician. Sorry, Fallon, popular as your impression is, there's still no touching the real guy. "Long May You Run" is the perfect sendoff song for the brilliant Conan. He's on to better, greener pastures from here on. NBC's never appreciated him. They'll end up regretting this.

(12:21) Performance finished. Another commercial break. Up next is Will Ferrell! The very first guest - who called the show not lasting as a joke on the first night at the very beginning of his interview - as the very last guest. Very appropriate - like Hanks and Young, Ferrell's a great guy himself.

(12:25) Back again. A massive photo of the show's amazing staff and crew. Nothing but respect to all you gentlemen and ladies - you've done a wonderful job. Conan went over what he could and couldn't say, and he can say whatever he wants on the final show.

(12:26) Conan thanked NBC, looking back at his 20+ years of work there across SNL, Late Night, and the Tonight Show. "Walking away from the Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do." "This is the best job in the world, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the media and I will FIGHT anyone who says I don't."

(12:27) "But despite this sense of loss, I feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian deserves a chance to host the Tonight Show, and for 7 months I got to do it." "I do not regret one second of what I've done here."

(12:28) "If our next gig is a show in a 7/11 parking lot, we will find a way to make it fun." Addressing the fans: "The fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain - it's pouring! It's been pouring for days and they're camping out to be in our audience!" "You have made a sat situation joyous and inspirational."

(12:29) "All I ask is one thing: please do not be cynical. For the record, it's my least favorite quality." "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they would get. If you work hard, and are kind, amazing things will happen - I'm telling you, amazing things will happen. Its true. It's true! Ladies and gentlemen, let's make something amazing now."

(12:30) To close the show, a few good friends led by Will Ferrell. Ferrell dressed up to perform as a musical guest. Time for Ferrell and his group of musicians to rock out with Conan. The Tonight Show Bands there, and I'm seeing at least one member of ZZ Top. Ben Harper, Beck, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons - they're all performing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" together. Beautiful, perfect way to wrap the final show.

(12:34) We've all got a fever. The only cure? MORE COWBELL. (For those who don't know the source, go look up the classic Christopher Walken hosted SNL sketch with Ferrell, Chris Parnell, and Chris Kattan (Possibly Fallon too, I don't remember) playing Blue Oyster Cult.)

(12:35) The end credits began. This topped even the "End of the Show Song" Conan sang last night.

(12:36) It ends once and for all.

(12:37) And cut to Jimmy Fallon. NBC is, from now on back to their old late night schedule, except without Conan to redeem it. From now on, for me, it'll be back to watching Stephen Colbert's original airings in their entirely, then possibly some Letterman and more Craig Ferguson over on CBS.

Well, that's it. No Conan for 7 months or more. Everyone's hoping we'll see him back in as early in September as possible over on Fox, seeing as they'd offered him a new show years ago - NBC having given him the Tonight Show to keep him from leaving, only to continue not to treat him well. It's unfortunate, and in retrospect, Conan probably should have taken the Fox show, where he would have been treated better - one hopes - by a network that realizes his brilliance as a comedian instead of treating him like so much of a castoff second fiddle or third wheel as NBC so often did. But we can't be cynical - Conan wouldn't want it that way, and he doesn't regret the choices he's made or the seven months he got to host the Tonight Show for. NBC and Leno took his dream from him, but for those months, he got to live it - that's more than most of us can ever say about our dreams.

It's impossible to say what lies in the future, but I'll be keeping my eyes glued to the entertainment scene with everyone else on Team Conan, looking forward to news of a triumphant return this fall with as many returning characters and comedy sketches from his previous shows as at all feasible. (We never did see any staring contests on the Tonight Show, for that matter - those were Conan and Andy classics.) If they return to New York, we could even possibly see Abe Vigoda again, who sadly never made an appearance on the Tonight Show. And one hopes Triumph the Insult Comic Dog belongs to Robert Smigel so we might see him yet in the future too.

Its' a weird feeling, not having any Conan to watch after Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert now, with nothing else set in stone for late night's greatest and most downtrodden. But we've got to keep our chins up and our eyes on the horizon, like Conan. He's moving on to new and better things - we haven't seen the last of him by a long shot. So let's try not to be cynical, and just look forward to what lies ahead. Best wishes to every single person involved with the show, both in front of and behind the camera. Here's hoping you guys get to stick together on the next show - it was a loss when Joel was gone, and we don't want to lose Andy, Max, the band, or any of you working so hard behind the scenes to make the show as great as it was. You all did an amazing job.
Wherever you go, Conan, come back to us soon. We all miss you already.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the Shoulders of One Election: Healthcare Reform and Filibuster Abuse

So, as I've reminded repeatedly in recent posts here, we're facing a lot of problems in American politics as of late. This problem is systemic. The government's circulatory system is presently suffering from a debilitating blood clot. The clot's location? The Senate, comprised entirely of its most obstinate members.

Majority Rules... Right?

Let's start by talking supermajority. When America's founding fathers detailed the process and function of the senate, they concluded that a supermajority should be required for very little: to move through a cloture motion, to amend the Constitution, to override a presidential veto, and to end a filibuster. Otherwise, legislation is supposed to be comfortably passed by a majority of at least 51 votes. (In cases of votes where all 100 senators are present - which is by no means all.) It's a simple premise: majority rule. The Republicans never had a supermajority through George W. Bush's eight years of increasing instability and still had no problem achieving their agenda, Bush's agenda very rarely checked by the legislative branch as should have happened, had we a healthy, fully functioning government. Whenever the pressure was on, Democrats buckled and compromised. Some far more easily than others, given that there are many conservative Democrats who are more or less Republicans with a different letter by their name, only slightly deviating from the largely united Republican agenda. While political diversity itself is a positive, this has only helped to undermine efforts to legislate toward progress and cleanup from the massive mess the Bush years left behind for Democrats to deal with. For a very brief period, the Democrats had one in the Senate last year - after Al Franken was finally seated leading up to Ted Kennedy's untimely death. Numerically speaking, we're talking a 60-to-40 divide that should, in a functioning and effective government, allow the majority party to move forward with their legislation. Barack Obama has been in office for just short of a full year now, and despite the strong Democratic majority in the senate, this has not been the case.

Lacking the diversity of the Democrats, Republicans have found it very easy to unite as a political mass in recent decades. It doesn't take much - if the Democrats are fighting for it, these days especially, it doesn't take much to get every Republican in the senate to oppose them for the sake of doing so. In terms of political discourse and interest in actual service to the people, our freefall has reached preschool level. Obstruction is the name of the game for the proudly self-proclaimed "Party of No."

We, the American people, are paying the salaries of people refusing to do their jobs - to actually govern - not serving the people, but instead a twisted, regressive corporate anti-humanistic agenda and attempting to shut down the government (Many Americans not quite getting why it's not a good idea to vote for people who insist we shouldn't have any kind of central government structure in society at all and campaign on anti-government policies, completely ignoring and denying just how much of what we take for granted stems from the essential central structure of government.) from properly functioning at all. They owe us what they aren't doing, and their behavior is disgraceful to the very concept of public service. Public servants with no interest in serving the public.

Hey, This Government Racket's Pretty Lucrative!

We got these sorts of corporate servants through the advent of career politicians - politicians who make their political position their source of income, immediately swinging the focus from serving the people to serving themselves. Daily Show host Jon Stewart discussed this problem - amongst the many other obstacles the Obama administration are currently facing - last night with Comptroller General and head of the Government Accountability Office David M. Walker. The minute a politician allows their own financial gain to stand between them and serving the people to their very best, they have failed in their job. In a healthy democracy, these people would see their poll numbers plummet and inevitably end up losing a reelection bid, shamed into leaving office, or impeached by a local, state, or national legislative body. This does not happen. Incumbents almost always win reelection bids in Congress, regardless of performance, in part due to widespread voter apathy. Another key element in the inherent dysfunctionality of American democracy.

Career politicians fear "rocking the boat," and are unwilling to make difficult decisions, as breaking with the status quo - even it for the best - can potentially lose a career politician their job. They tend to sink into a happy little corrupt crevasse where they receive large campaign finance donations from various corporations and special interest groups - looking at our current government, very typically with a strong conservative slant - and enjoy a comfortable life detached from the reality the American people face, voting instead for the agendas of these corporations and special interest groups. Agendas typically in direct conflict with the best interests of the people. As it stands, the Senate is absolutely full of these people - twisting the lofty ideals of representative democracy the country was founded on into fascist corporatocracy. Nothing is being done to reverse this. We don't even have term limits in the Senate - if you can get reelected every 6 years for the rest of your life, you can stay in politics until you're ready to retire. And so the stagnation and ongoing collapse of American governance.

So from here, you'd think, "Sure, the Republicans unite as one big wall of anti-government rhetoric and refuse to serve the people or actually govern without one of their guys in the White House, but the Democrats have this locked up even just short of a supermajority, right? Even if it means making a few pork barrel project concessions to their state to get a few conservative Democrats on board, they should be comfortably getting their way at every turn, right?" Wrong.

Either We Rule or Nobody Does

Let's talk filibuster - the political tactic used to kill legislation by prolonging debate indefinitely. The go-to technique to obstruct government. You need a 60 vote supermajority in order to end a filibuster by invoking cloture - simply threatening to filibuster is all it takes to kill legislation if a bill doesn't have a guaranteed 60 votes ready to back it. Therein lies the next part of the problem - the Republicans have united against the Democrats, wanting to stop them from accomplishing anything. The threat of filibuster has become their most powerful tool and a major threat to functioning government, let alone even beginning to clean up the mess Bush brought us to. They want the narrative to be changed to that Obama caused the trouble he came into after the Bush years, positing that if he can't fix the decades' worth of damage Bush caused in a scant few months, he and the Democrats have failed and the only solution is to vote more of the Republicans who played a key role in thse problems back into power. All while acting like their refusal to participate in government - solely obstructing - has nothing to do with any legislative failures on the part of this administration. A faulty argument derived from outright lies - nothing new there.

In these past two decades, filibuster abuse has been at its worst in American history, to the point at which even Obama addressed the problem last month. This is not a new political strategy, as Republicans used it to force the Democrats out after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, stopping them from legislating and freezing government function, then blaming Democratic incompetence for Republican abuse of senate rules. The filibuster was strengthened further with the addition of Senate Standing Rule XXII, removing the requirement for a filibuster to entail continuous speeches to obstruct Senate floor discussion.

While the filibuster was conceived as a means to putting down toxic legislation and motions, to allow a minority to stand up for the best interests of the American people, the Republican party - with their interests vested very much elsewhere than the people - have turned it into a dangerous political weapon, showing a tremendous amount of disdain for the foundation and function of the senate, the people, and the legacy of the government itself. They have no respect for their once-esteemed office and job. Now more than ever, we need to end filibuster abuse by invoking the "nuclear option" and moving to deem filibuster abuse unconstitutional by a simple majority. The filibuster itself was never established in the constitution and is in no way enshrined - or even mentioned - in America's foundational documents. At this point, it's little more than an affront to government function and progress, threats being invoked whenever meaningful progress or legislation for the people are brought up these days. The filibuster only serves its purpose when used cautiously - to obstruct and terminate legislation and political nominations against the best interests of the people. Now it's nothing more than a wall to ensure that even as a minority no longer in power, Republicans and continue to force America down their self-destructive path and stop Democrats from cleaning up their mess. In their eyes, either they run the government, or it doesn't run. For all they talk about the 'oppression' of freedom and liberty from 'socialists' when we don't have anything resembling a real left-wing presence anywhere in our legislative bodies, they're doing a much better job attacking our democracy and oppressing government function by anybody else themselves.

Martha Coakley vs. Scott Brown: On the Shoulders of One Election

All that said, we face a critical election in Massachusetts right this second as I type. Today's the special election in Massachusetts to replace Ted Kennedy following his passing last fall. He died fighting for healthcare reform, making it his life's goal: to see to it that every American has healthcare access. When he passed, Republicans feigned respect for the "lion" of the Senate, while not so secretly cheering the death of one of their fiercest, most hated enemies - the rare Democrat willing to stand up and stand strong for the right thing, even when most others in his party buckle to pressure from the right. That's one of the biggest problems with the Democrats - a severe lack of strong, gutsy leadership willing to fight and fight hard for their ideals and to stomp down the opposition when it's right to do so. And healthcare reform was one of the times to do that.

That didn't happen. The right - between Republican obstructionists and conservative "blue dog" Democrats that had to get pork barrel projects and some awful concessions to get on board - has gutted healthcare reform. In its current form, it can still at least potentially extend healthcare access to another 30 million Americans, and as obviously angry as I am to see the reform we've needed - even the great bill Kennedy drafted himself, which was laughed at and tossed out quickly - I'm not going to stand against 30 million in need. Though if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment makes it in after reconciliation of the House and Senate bills is completed, I may just find myself doing that. That would be the final line - essentially obliterating women's right of choice in exchange for giving insurance companies millions of new customers.

So now the people of Massachusetts are determining today whether or not the Democrats will be recovering their supermajority or if Republicans will gain the final bullet in their gun to ensure they can completely shut down government function through filibuster abuse. It's a very important, potentially very dangerous day for this country. We had a great deal of prosperity and stability to tide us over during the early Clinton years as the Republicans made a mockery of the legislative branch. We're very much in the opposition situation now, the Republicans offering no working solutions to any of the problems we face - just additional means to deepening them, having played the role they have in their causation.

On the Democratic ticket, we have Massachusetts State Attorney General Martha Coakley. She's received endorsements from Ted Kennedy's widow - Victoria Reggie Kennedy - and family, as well as the Clintons and President Obama. Of the two candidates, Coakley is the only qualified one, actually tapped into political realities here and abroad, and set on seeing to it that healthcare reform will be passed in Kennedy's name. She'd make for a historic victory as well, becoming Massachusetts' first female Senator. (I didn't think we'd beat Massachusetts on that here in North Carolina, but we actually did. Thankfully, Democrat Kay Hagan - who replaced lockstep Republican Elizabeth Dole after winning the 2008 election here - has done mostly well so far, and is standing for healthcare progress, whatever little we can hope to achieve now.) She's the respectable successor for Ted Kennedy that Massachusetts needs - and the Democrat the American people are in dire need of, given the devastated state of our legislative processes. And her biggest scandal? A bad joke referring to a Red Sox pitcher being "A Yankees fan."

He's happy 'cause he's thinking about the uninsured dying!From the Republicans, we've got State Senator Scott Brown. In 1982, he was named Cosmopolitan Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" at age 22. (What is it with Republicans thrusting people who've gotten ahead in life on their looks to the forefront lately?) If you watch his campaign ads, you'll learn that he owns a truck. Which can only mean that he's a down home American everyman just right for the people of Massachusetts and not at all treating the voters like morons. Yes, he's a handsome "good old boy" with a truck - running mostly on that he wants to kill healthcare reform. That's pretty much it. Another case of not being interested in the best interests of the people of Massachusetts or the nation as a whole - he just wants to join the Republican "NO!" wall and become another part of the lockstep obstruction actively working against the people and any efforts to solve the problems we all face. There's also some accusations that there will be voter fraud from the Democrats - which we seem to hear over every election now despite that that hasn't been happening at all - and general aggressive mudslinging. Classy. Would you be surprised to hear he's also aligned himself with the "teabaggers?" I didn't think so.

In our first president, George Washington's 1796 farewell address, he warned the nation of the perils of a two-party political systems. Of geographic factionalism, and of two competing factions to inevitably seek to wreak vengeance upon one another at the expense of the people. All it takes is for one party to lose respect for this nation, its people, and its foundation. To reject their rejection when rejected by the American people. They lost the 2006 and 2008 elections. Their vegeance? Cheering on our problems and saying they hope the Democrats fail, and doing everything they can to make that end a reality. The fact that these people are still remotely politically viable - let alone considered electable - speaks much of how dwindling this nation's future has become.

One party spent the past decade running this country and the global economy headfirst into the ground in the interests of the rich and corrupt, screwing everybody else. The American people elected the other party - which promised real change. A soon as they lost, the right decided to dig their heels in and make their focus obstructing government function entirely while announcing that the president "isn't accomplishing anything," as though it has something to do with incompetence as opposed to half our more powerful legislative house being deadset on stopping him from fixing any of the problems they created. (All while insisting that the Bush era problems should have been cleared up in no time, as if by some great, magical force that doesn't exist. George W. Bush left us with more problems than even decades of Democratic rule with no Republican obstruction could fix at this point. And that's not even getting into what cannot be fixed - the incredible number of civilian deaths in the Middle East and the casualties in our own armed forces as a result of ill-advised invasions and occupations.)

Hateful radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh openly announced last year that he wanted Obama to fail, knowing full well that his failure would mean far worse and far more problems for the American people. There's no regard for the needs of the American people or what America's many dire problems (Especially from the economic side of things) mean for the rest of the globe. It comes down to putting as much money in corrupt industry and banking execs' pockets as possible while wrecking the nation for the rest of us and defunding as many public programs as possible, treating the people as nothing more than cattle for the corporate slaughter instead of actually serving them as is the government's foundational purpose. The political right is hellbent on keeping us on this deeply self-destructive traack they've been focusing the country on since the Reagan years. They'll do everything they can - including shutting down government function - to keep us on the Reagan/Bush track for as long as possible until this entire country is derailed by it and collapses into chaos.

These same people are making gains on the idea that Obama is "failing," and that as such, the only other place to turn for answers is the same party that ran this nation into the ground to begin with - their "solution" being to keep on that same self-destructive track. We're at a deepening hate-and-ignorance-fueled low for this nation politically, and now more than ever, we need a strong, populist progressive party to storm the political scene, win elections left and right, and take power. This isn't going to happen.

America is in deep, deep trouble - far deeper than most are willing to comment on, and certainly not in our corporate-controlled mainstream media. The best we've got for honesty lies in Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and it says a lot when our best newsmen are comedians. And just as one of our most impressive new senators to come out of the 2008 election - after a long-fought post-election battle - ended up being Al Franken, himself a comedian who saw a strong Republican opposition to legislation last year extending rights to rape victims after a young woman working for a contractor in Iraq was raped and not allowed to sue the company for allowing it to happen. Yes, the same political side where you've got the gasbag decrying aid and relief for Haiti and the majority of their Senators voted against legislation to help rape victims get justice is the one trying to shut government down and dangerously close to succeeding.

In 2008, the American people voted for a promised major policy change from the Bush years. For a new government administration that would address and solve the numerous problems we face. Obama promised these things, and he's trying to follow through. What did we get? An opposition trying to shut the government down that wants to see Obama fail - for us all to fail and suffer. And that thinks we're stupid enough to believe Obama's failures on account of Republican filibuster abuse are solely his and the Democrats' faults and signs that the Republicans need to be voted back into power. The sad thing is, this works on the uninformed - they cash in on ignorance in the Republican party, as they do hate. They've established just how broken the Senate is this past year.

It's hard to be optimistic about the future. All it takes is one election in Massachusetts - that should be an easy win, no less - to take us to a new low.

Game Change: Reid's Can of Worms and the GOP's Disrespect for Democracy

Recently, the media's been feasting on the recent release of the controversial Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. (Released in the UK as Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House.) Based on interviews with over 300 people involved in 2008's political campaigning, it's full of behind the scenes insights and dirt on both sides. Most of the dirt, however, was nothing we weren't either aware or otherwise convinced of by now. Two particular stories have stood out from the book's revelations.

The right latched onto comments made by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in private conversation during the campaign, and scandalized them. The objectionable comments in question were made to the effect of that Obama's "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," would help him find success as a candidate. Yes, there are so many ways Reid could have articulated these thoughts far more gracefully, but the right attempted to latch onto these statements as outright racist, taking the use of the term out of context. The statements Reid made were not racist so much as an observation of that sadly, racism is very much alive and well in America. Racist sentiments have boiled under the surface like a festering sore and since Obama's rise to political prominence on the national level, American racism has very much exploded back into the cultural mainstream. (Lots of people also lack the cognitive faculties to realize that saying you're not a racist does not strip any racism from your beliefs or any statement prefaced by, "I'm not racist, but...")

Were Obama completely of black genetic descent (Though he does identify as black despite his mixed ethnic background - which itself represents American diversity more than any white president ever has.) and were his skin tone darker, given the amount of racism we're seeing now, it's certainly possible that that could have had an impact on some of the people who did ultimately vote for him. I can't make any definite statements here, but I wouldn't count out the possibility of lighter and darker skin tones potentially making an additional impact - it's purely speculative to discuss it either way.

As for speaking in a more "urban" vernacular, as Reid was alluding to, we can all be honest - that would have sunk Obama early in the primaries. (And Republican National Chairman Michael Steele has embarrassed himself on numerous occasions now, having talked about wanting to put a "hip hop" spin on the party and worked in references to such slang as "bling-bling" that would make anyone of any age cringe. A great example of how utterly out of touch both he and the Republican party are with youth culture - there's a reason why Gen Y is predominantly Democratic and actually further-left progressive-leaning. We've seen what the Republicans have done to the country these past few decades, and they've screwed us directly in many ways.) Older voters certainly wouldn't vote for anyone who spoke that way. We may respond to "dumb redneck," but the American people wouldn't give any serious consideration to someone speaking as though they're from the streets of Harlem. (Regardless of whether they actually were.) It is funny how we'd take the former seriously, though, and how most of the country would write off the latter as not taking the office remotely seriously. (Look at Sarah Palin! And she didn't know anything.)

Ultimately, Harry Reid did nothing with his comments but show his age and that he's not completely politically correct at all times as Democrats are often stereotyped as a negative. There was no bigotry or malice in his comments, "negro" having been the standard appellation during the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s, when Reid himself was young. Reid called Obama and apologized as soon as these comments became public, only to come under predictable fire from the Republicans, desperate to destroy their opponents' image. Obama accepted Reid's apology and told him that the issue was closed as far as he was concerned. Likewise, Reid has received support from other Democratic leaders in the party, as well as key African American leaders in Congress and the Civil Rights community. Even Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac did a remote in Nevada the other night to find that the black community there was fully backing Reid, having been a good, supportive leader concerned with their interests.

In addition to the double standard over conservatives who come off as inarticulate hillbillies vs. anyone who might affect a more ebonics-oriented manner of speech (Yes, I'm showing my whiteness with even this articulation.), conservatives showed again that they don't seem to quite understand the whole "racism" thing here. A problem that goes to the roots of many of their supporters, along with the constant accusation of "playing the race card." This is a party full of people claiming that we're living in a "post-racial" society where racism is now nonexistent. These claims amount to political posturing aligning themselves against ethnic minorities in the American population and denying the existence of a very serious problem that anyone with basic observational skills cannot miss in our culture. They're more than happy to welcome all kinds of racists into their "big tent," and their propaganda arm, Fox News, works very hard to avoid showing much of the discussion going on at the teabagger movement's demonstrations - the very racism internet bloggers have had no problem exposing by quietly infiltrating these meetings as supposed normal attendees. (The demographic makeup? Overweight, unhealthy middle and lower class white people who don't actually understand what they're protesting beyond that there's a black man in the white house and they're mad. These people will deny being racist if accused as well, and claim you're just trying to slander them, of course, like any other casual racist who doesn't think they believe anything wrong. A very saddening lack of self-awareness.) Likewise, they'd defend the famous racists in their party and stand by anyone who made a comment like Reid's if they were Republican - and if they were Republican, there's a good chance we'd be looking at a very different statement. (And one in no way defensible. I don't even want to know what people have undoubtedly said about Steele. His own incompetence makes it pretty clear that his being made RNC Chairman was a stunt not unlike Sarah Palin's VP nomination - an attempt to change the party's image while leaving their core substance as rotten as ever.) "Negro" is itself often taken as a slur today, but it has a somewhat more complex history than other, more open slurs that couldn't be mistakenly used as anything but. Harry Reid isn't a young man, and the divide over public reaction to his statements? It's a matter of context - of who is actually paying attention to the substance if what he said and the context of the words he used, as opposed to who is simply picking a loaded word not commonly or appropriately used today and using it to blindly cast aspersions of racism. But then, a large number of Republicans seem to look at racism as someone "playing the race card" - in their eyes, unjustly attacking someone who leans to the right. (And who's inevitably white.) They want to play up a narrative of the wealthy and white as "victims," while insisting that racial and ethnic victimization and negative slants against the African American community (Amongst others, Muslims and Mexicans being major targets too.) no longer exist. It's dishonest in an incredibly absurd way. Another out-and-out case of conservatives trying to dumb down a very complex issue - one that isn't being approached with anywhere near enough maturity in this country - to something black and white that portrays them as battered victims of some progressive minority conspiracy. Rhetoric like that only contributes to America's tendency to run in circles in terms of progress and lack thereof. This is only part of why the rest of the world doesn't share in our self-aggrandizing delusion that we're "the greatest nation on Earth."

Going back to Palin, here's where things get especially interesting. Longer term Spiral Reverie readers may recall that back in August of 2008, I observed that Sarah Palin was obviously picked as John McCain's running mate solely because the Republicans were banking on her as a gimmick candidate. She was an insult to the American people as a whole because they didn't consider her - let alone choose her - based on any of her qualifications. She was an especially sharp insult to women as an open anti-feminist figure who'd openly used her appearance to get ahead in life and stood for basically turning the women's rights movement back a good 50+ years in her own politics. I stated that she was chosen because after the anger over Hillary Clinton's dropping out of the race and conceding the final candidacy to Obama, Republicans assumed that America's women were so stupid that they would vote for McCain solely because Palin was a woman, regardless of how strongly she stood against progressive women's politics. It was a cynical, misogynistic decision banking on massive ignorance in the American populace - which the Republicans often rely on quite openly and gain from it far more often than they should. As I also called, the McCain campaign was dead wrong, Palin ultimately playing a major part in the sinking of the presidential bid.

Senior McCain Strategist Steve Schmidt recently appeared on a 60 Minutes special where Anderson Cooper interviewed him about the book and campaign, and bombshells were dropped. Joe Lieberman was - as everyone already knew - McCain's personal choice for his running mate. You can easily see what a match they would've made when you consider how many times Lieberman's turned on the best interests of the American people - even just in the past couple of months - but it would have been campaign suicide to pick a Democrat running mate thanks to today's extremely polarized political environment, the right largely squabbling like children and insisting they have to have things their way and no one else can have anything. (See: Their entire voting philosophy since Obama and the Democratic majority House and Senate took office.) Palin was clearly a desperate attempt to cash in on women, and Schmidt admitted that they were specifically looking for a woman - confirming everything I said back in 2008. What's worse? McCain Campaign Manager Rick Davis conducted his last minute search on - wait for it - YouTube and Google. This is how far they've fallen, and how little they considered the best interests of the American people. It wasn't about finding the best possible running mate, as Schmidt admitted, and it wasn't about qualifications or vetting - as they certainly didn't do that with Palin either, and it showed. It was all about finding a last minute trigger that'd get every woman in America to vote for them. They thought so little of the entire process that they'd just hit a search engine and everyone's favorite corporate-meathook-laden viral video site and find a magic bullet. What they got was someone astonishingly ignorant and proud of her ignorance. Someone who would be legitimately dangerous in a position of real power. Someone happy to lie at every turn, who couldn't even get her opponent's last name right during the Vice Presidential Debate that fall, accidentally referring to him as "O'Biden" once on air, notoriously only calling him that when out of the press's view.

This is what the Republican leadership thinks of America.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Conan O'Brien vs. Jay Leno vs. NBC vs. Humor

As political wars wage across the country - the average American just trying to live their life, rather than being staunch conservative or progressive soldiers as we like to treat them (As newscaster Tom Brokaw reminded in a recent TV special) - a different kind of war has been waging on television in the wee hours of the night.

Let's start from the beginning. Six years ago, Conan O'Brien, NBC, and Jay Leno struck a deal for Leno to retire in 2009 and for Conan to finally realize his lifelong dream: taking over the Tonight Show. Late night TV fans have cause to be happy: after 17 years of Blandy McBigChin turning the Tonight Show into a forgettable snoozefest - the entire purpose of which amounted to little more than tucking the baby boomers into bed and helping them get to sleep with safe, boring, conservative humor - someone following in the footsteps of David Letterman and Johnny Carson was going to take the reins and bring the funny back. Leno announced that he was happy to retire and supported Conan as his successor back in 2004 when the deal was initially announced, not long after Conan's Late Night Ten-Year Anniversary Special.

The cutoff date neared and Leno began to get anxious. He didn't want to retire after all, but he couldn't back out from his contract. So now NBC had two choices - give Leno a new show, seriously undermining the changes they were about to embark upon, or risk Leno getting a show on another network at the same time and lose one of their only more profitable shows as the network continues its slide into 4th place. With that, The Jay Leno Show is conceived - an hour of boring jokes and bits at 10 PM for Jay, before the local news, replacing the usual scripted hour-long programs that traditionally take that time slot. It's Jay Leno and talk shows are far cheaper than scripted shows? How can cutting an hour of scripted programming for a new cheap Jay Leno show possibly go wrong? This is what Jeff Zucker and the other NBC executives asked themselves, ultimately concluding that it was a worthwhile risk.

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien debuts and does well, but its ratings inevitably start to drop when the viewers who tuned in for the novelty stop watching. There are always those viewers with every launch of a new show - this is nothing new. The Jay Leno show hits a month later. Enough people watch for it to be profitable, but it's a massive drop from The Tonight Show. Viewers are fleeing and nobody's watching the local news on NBC. Things start looking bad for the affiliates. 10 PM is not bedtime. The Jay Leno Show isn't tucking anybody in and numbing their brain to sleep with lazy writing from a host who's been phoning it in for years and obviously doesn't have any real passion or excitement for what he does anymore - he just doesn't want to let go of it.

This is where things start getting particularly bad. Conan's ratings aren't terrible, but in his first half a year, Letterman is undeniably tough competition. Despite NBC's efforts to tone down Conan's wonderfully absurdist and often low brow humor from Late Night, the Leno crowd still doesn't like him. (These people don't tune in for the funny. Nor do they like change.) Conan's own audience is still backing him, but many aren't happy with the perceived taming of his comedy - especially following Conan's announcement that he wasn't going to change on the Late Night series finale in February last year. There weren't enough weird characters - even The Interrupter has only shown up once - and most of the beloved Late Night characters vanished entirely. (Including the particular fan favorite, The Masturbating Bear.) In their place, we got audience bits like Leno was known for - not so great, but still better than Leno's, at least - an amusing but somewhat lukewarm Twitter Tracker recurring sketch, and a few returnees from Late Night like Celebrity Survey, Noches de Pasion con Senor O'Brien, and the always-great Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The surreal, out-of-left-field characters were mostly gone, as were the bits with the band, Pierre Bernard, Susie Santomauro, and Joel Godard's absence was definitely felt. (Andy Richter's just not the greatest announcer, though he's been gradually - and especially as the show nears its end now - returning to his rightful position on the couch by Conan as his sidekick.) Instead, we'd get comedian and writer Deon Cole appearing to comment on things - and Cole's funny, I've enjoyed his stand-up before, but like most fans from Late Night, I'd just rather see him doing more of a character sketch than a commentary bit. That would align more with the flavor of comedy Conan established so long ago.

If NBC had actually treated Conan properly - and they have a history of treating him like crap compared to Jay Leno and now Jimmy Fallon, who gets Late Night support the likes of which Conan never received - they would have had more confidence in him and let him keep doing the Tonight Show. Less taming of the humor, more of the Late Night style surreality and self-deprecation we all came to know and love. Every new host needs a few years to establish their audience, and at a different hour, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien could have been so much bigger than even Late Night was. The younger audience - which tends to appreciate funny over bland - would have finally taken back the Tonight Show from a comedian who wasn't doing anything new, exciting, edgy, or even interesting with it, from an audience that isn't even watching for comedy.

Instead, NBC cancelled The Jay Leno Show, then made it clear they wanted to give him back the 11:35 Tonight Show slot for a later version of the same show they just cancelled. Jay was dragging the network down and actively hurting the affiliates, and instead of giving Conan a chance to establish a fuller Tonight Show audience, after only 7 months hosting it, NBC pulled the rug out from under his feet. Conan had two options: to take a stand for his show and his integrity as an entertainer who loves and cares about what he's doing, or to kowtow to NBC (Much like Jimmy Fallon and Carson Daly have to.) and let them bump the Tonight Show to 12:05, just after midnight. NBC chose to punish Conan for the damage Jay had done, and in the end, Conan made the choice to walk. For seven months, he's gotten to live his dream, and after 16 years hosting Late Night and all this hard work to reach his dream, all it took was one corporate executive decision to completely fuck him over.

TMZ has already reported that Leno has signed a new contract to take the Tonight Show back from Conan this spring following the Winter Olympics, all the way down to the name, knowing exactly what he's doing to Conan and going through with it anyway.

Conan has one week left ahead before The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien ends not even a full year after Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The internet is furious, to say the least, and like the rest of them, I'd like to see a sharp backlash against both NBC and Leno for this. The new Tonight Show with Jay Leno absolutely deserves to crash and burn hard for what they did to Conan. As for whether it will, I have a feeling that Leno's established 11:35 audience that hated Conan will be right back with Jay and both he and NBC will be laughing about this and continuing to try to blame Conan for what happened, revising history - as they've already begun to. (NBC Universal Sports' Dick Ebersol is already claiming this all happened because they "bet on the wrong guy," because Conan couldn't beat Jay's previously consistently always higher ratings in a mere 7 months, when the original plan was always to give Conan a real window in which to prove himself. He was never going to win over Leno's audience, but Ebersol was convinced that he could - or so he claims - and he's sore that Conan ignored his suggestions on making the show more "mainstream." Conan already attempted to make the show more accessible than the Tonight Show without completely selling out - what we have here is a sports division bigwig claiming that he knows how to run a mainstream comedy show, when he undoubtedly would have liked to have turned the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien into a carbon copy of Jay's show, just with a different host that Jay's audience still wasn't keen on accepting. "Mainstream" and "accessible" are the death knell of good comedy - they're just another way of saying bland and inoffensive. Conan wouldn't have any integrity as a comedian - let alone a host - if he was interested in selling out his own sense of humor and comedy style to appeal to people who don't actually want their comedy shows to be funny.) Show business is a disgusting world.

So with the rest of Conan's fanbase online, I say, fuck you, NBC, and fuck you, Leno. This is why you're in fourth place, and the more celebrity and public backlash Leno gets for screwing Conan over like he did Letterman back in the '90s, the better. Leave late night to people with actual comedy talent. And baby boomers - if you need some help sleeping, try reading a book.

Even more sad is that Conan had chosen to stay with NBC in the past because he didn't want to lose his backlog of characters. And now that he's leaving NBC, he's completely screwed out of these characters and sketches, since NBC owns all of them. The best he could do on a new show is take some of the same premises and rename them. Like most fans, I would love to see him spend this last week of The Tonight Show bringing back every character possible, just to give them one last hurrah. And given that Robert Smigel created Triumph the Insult Comic Dog - and Triumph even had a major role in a couple of episodes of Comedy Central's short-lived TV Funhouse back in the early 2000s (Which Smigel created) - one hopes that NBC can't stop him from taking Triumph to wherever Conan ends up next.

After getting sandbagged by NBC, I wish all the best to Conan, Andy, Max, and the show's writers and crew that made a point of uprooting their families from New York and moving all the way across the country to LA only to get this. You guys have done a great job and made a quality show - what NBC's done won't be forgotten. Here's hoping that Conan gets a new show on Fox, ABC or anywhere else where he'll be treated properly within the next year or two and brings as many of you as possible with him. I'd love to see a full-on return to Late Night form - and Conan's nothing-left-to-lose bitterness these past few weeks has shown just how much was being comparatively held back, hilarious as he's been in the face of this corporate backstabbing - and undoubtedly so would his other fans. Conan, Andy, the band, Smigel, as much of the rest of the writers, staff, and crew as possible - whether still in LA, back in New York, or even elsewhere - on Fox, ABC, or anywhere else would be welcome. Wherever you guys go, you'll have Team Conan waiting eagerly.

To close, enjoy this footage of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel ripping Jay Leno apart on his own show from a couple of nights back.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guess What I've Got For You in My Pants (It's a Bomb)

When Xmas Day arrived, so too did a gift for conservatives in the form of Umar Mutallab, a young Muslim Nigerian man - and son of one of the wealthiest men in Africa - who attempted to set off plastic explosives concealed in his underwear on a flight bound for Michigan from Amsterdam. His weapon malfunctioned and passengers subdued him, putting out the fire he started, and everyone walked away from the incident safely. And so, it was time for the American right-wing to grab the terror bull by the horns and ride it into the American people yet again.

As Daily Show host Jon Stewart recently articulated it well, another round of "Terrorball" has begun. What does Terrorball entail? Mostly Republican politicians and Fox News's right-wing propaganda machine "keeping score" on attempted terrorist attacks in this country with the intention of framing the discussion as one of Republicans being "tough on terror," while terrorists have been coming out of the woodwork since Obama took office. This argument also entails the claim that we somehow didn't suffer any attacks from Islamic extremists or anyone else during the Bush years - including going as far as to taking the precious political prop they've made the September 11th attacks into and insisting it was something that happened on Bill Clinton's watch and that no one can blame Bush for it when his administration had the intelligence necessary to act and prevent it and chose instead to do nothing.

The Republicans spent the George W. Bush years ruling with fear, insinuating that the September 11th attacks would unquestionably be repeated if the American people voted the Democrats into power again. This, of course, led to severe disillusionment with the party as the nation all but collapsed under their dangerous governance this past decade, and played a huge part in the Democratic sweeps in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Not that the Democrats actually got to properly check the Bush administration's power in many ways that counted in the final years, and as I'll discuss soon in a forthcoming post, even a majority hasn't helped the Democrats accomplish nearly enough since Obama took office.

The Republicans have exploited (And continue to exploit) every bit of paranoia they could, seeking to benefit from even the notion of terrorism. Fear-based politics subvert and smother real political dialogue, and following their 2006 and 2008 defeats, they're dead-set on continuing to use these disgusting tactics in a complete insult to both the American people and all those who've actually died on account of extremists.

The attempted December 25th attack has led to a focus on stepping up airport security with plans to expand the use of new body scanners that function like unwarranted strip searches, scanning through people's clothes. Naturally, many people are not so happy about this, what with all the additional violations of privacy we're introducing in the name of security. Not the first sacrifice we've made - and undoubtedly not the last - to supposedly make ourselves safer. Our civil liberties and privacy rights have been eroding by the year since the September 11th attacks, and we aren't standing up as a nation against this. As a moderate, Obama isn't going to stop it, either. All they have to do is wave the "Terrorists might get us unless we give these things up!" wand and everyone gives in. What we forget - what no one wants to address - is the fact that it's impossible to be 100% safe. No matter how many liberties and privacy rights we sacrifice, we will never be meaningfully safer for it. There is no 100% failsafe method to keeping the American people safe at all times.

Benjamin Franklin, American pimpmeister. Image obviously not mine.Founding father Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." And now, that is our trajectory - Bin Laden and his cohorts don't need to actually attack or kill anyone to wreck this nation as is their goal - they just have to scare us every so often and we'll destroy ourselves. All the same, we remain constantly on the lookout for new "enemies" (Many on the right have already concluded that Yemen is the "next war" following our invasion, occupation, and wrecking of Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which we're doing much long term good for, even when the Obama administration has made it clear that an invasion of Yemen isn't even on the table.) and, as you'd typically expect of Americans, in no way asking ourselves why it is that we have enemies at all, and why it would make sense that there are people who'd want to blow us up or fly planes into our buildings. Instead, we get right-wing talking points to the tune of that we're hated because "we're the greatest country in the world and they hate our freedom." Wrong answer. In reality, that kind of attitude is absolutely part of why we're hated - and naturally, this same crowd's angry that America's image has improved as much as it has abroad on account of the election of Barack Obama.

Our culture of fear is only going to drag this country into ruin.

Spiral Reverie Turns Three

Here we are, another new year, and now another decade. As you'd expect, people are arguing all over the internet over whether the new decade begins this year in 2010 or next year in 2011. The exact same argument the internet had over whether the new millennium began in 2000 or 2001 a good ten years ago. (Why do I still remember the internet ten years ago?) Of course, it's all arbitrary - technically every year is the beginning of a new decade as any block of ten random years is a decade. People just want to celebrate a shifting of the year's digits. Any excuse to make an even bigger deal out of a holiday about getting drunk. (Wait, that's every holiday.)

I've been less than reliable when it comes to post consistency as of late - not that I mean to be, mind you - and so, to start off the new year (There will be much more substantive content coming yet soon, plus a returning week-long feature from last year to look forward to in February.), have some mini-rambles! A handful of what you could consider cupcake equivalents of my usual ranting and rambling - a little bittersweet treat fit to give you mental indigestion. What more could you ask for?

Oh, of course! I know what you could ask for! The aforementioned mini-rambles turning into a series of several full-fledged posts instead! Because I don't know how to stop myself once I get rambling! (Otherwise it wouldn't be rambling. You can't control rambling. You'd just be holding it back then.)

Spiral Reverie had its third birthday on January 1st - and now, year four begins! (It's like Harry Potter, except it'll kill you inside. Also, less Dumbledore.)