Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Current Comedy, 12/16/08: This Year’s Holiday Hits

Every year some lame pundit whips up some sorry ass Christmas song parodies as if that counted for clever commentary. It’s one of the oldest tropes in the business, and who am I not to respect tradition? ‘Tis the season to make folly, as they say.
While there has been quite a bit of speculation as to which holiday hits fist dap the top of the charts with the First Family-elect, there is building evidence that current White House occupants intend to bah-humbug the whole season. After all, Bush isn’t expecting much from Santa this year (there’s that whole “naughty or nice” thing), but at least a member of the Iraqi press made him a present of a nice pair of shoes.
Meanwhile the rest of the regrouping Republicans are gathering around the yule log of American Democracy as their Teutonic forebears once did, trying to reignite it with these festive lines:
Auto Industry, Au-to Industry
How fast we see you fading
You wanna pass for wasting all that gas
What made you keep on waiting?
Global war-ming’s
Way past proof
Gore inconven-i-enced us with that truth
Ignore rich whores
Who run the show
Fox News’ll still
Blame the workers though
Auto Industry, Auto Industry
We used to say buy USA
Till you pissed all that goodwill away
Auto Industry, Auto Industry
Ya make hybrid Hondas looks better everyday

As for Obama, however, the consensus seems to be that his choice for holiday hit is a tie between the holiday chestnut “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot like Clinton” or that old evergreen “Chicago Pols Are Coming to Town.”
While the Dem mainstream seems to prefer the old-time rhymes of the former--
It’s beginning to look a lot like Clinton
In every cabinet post
Got Richardson back again
And that Summers that won’t end
And Geithner to keep the economy burnt as toast

--as for that song and dance, I just have to sing right back:
On the twenty- seventh day of the Transition Obama sent to me
A woman I’d rejected in the name of Hil-lar-y

The case for or against “Chicago Pols Are Coming To Town” is a bit more complicated, like trying to explain anyway Obama’s not-very-lifelike denial of a connection with the Illinois governor’s attempt to market Obama’s vacant senate on EBay as if it were used tinsel. Appointing the head of Chicago public schools, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Dept. of Education is like appointing Mrs. O’Leary’s cow chief fire safety inspector. Bush did the same thing with Rod Paige, from the soon-to-be discredited Houston school district and look what that brought us: 7 years of “No Child Left with Mind.” Oh come on, with fellow Chicago pol, Rohm Emmanuel already ransomed and captive to Israel, one wonders whose silver bells Obama will be answering to?
Chicago politicians have long held a reputation for jingling all the way to the bank. It is no coincidence that Chicago’s city hall was once the inspiration for the perennial season favorite “God Arrest You, City Councilmen.” As David Moberg writes in his article “State of Disgrace” for The New Republic “Since 1971, according to University of Chicago political scientist Dick Simpson, at least 1,000 state and local politicians or businessmen have been convicted of political corruption charges, including 30 Chicago aldermen, as have two of the last four governors (with Blagojevich poised to make it three out of five).”
Speaking of which, one thing’s for sure, despite his Windy City roots, Obama won’t be caught dead humming along to any tune involving a certain governor currently roasting over an open fire. Right now he is a lot more likely to be favoring “All I want for Xmas is to knock out Blagojevich’s two front teeth” over the more traditional “Gov. Blagojevich Song.”
Blagojevich arrives just in time as an almost too perfect spoiler, plopping into this auspicious news cycle to remind Americans of the long established Democratic reputation as cheats and scammers. It is a tradition that goes back to the party’s roots in Andrew Jackson. Blagojevich may be dreaming of a black and white prison jumpsuit colored Christmas, meanwhile Obama must grit his teeth at the strains of his very first and sure to be least favorite gift this season: a brand new scandal:
Gov. Blagojevich looked down
On a prized seat in the Senate
While Chicago pols bumbled all about
Like cops choreographed by Mack Sennett.
Asking for a cool one mil
and a cushy job for his honey
who knows how far this mess might spread
if Fitzgerald chases the money?

-mikel weisser writes from the left coast of Arizona.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cheney Prison Abuse Investigation Officially Dismantled

December 10, 2008 Raymondville, TX—In a story that is already disappearing from view, Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra has been removed from prosecuting the prison abuse scandal case that brought national attention to this South Texas town by charging Vice President with conspiracy to profit from prisoner abuse and neglect.
Though the case initially portended to possibly have national impact, today’s news is just the latest act of what has evolved into an ongoing battle of wills between prosecutor and judge, State District Judge Manuel Banales, a judge Guerra attempted to have recused from the case and had warned would be prejudiced against him. Banales, who had already thrown out Guerra original set of indictments on technicalities, has now barred Guerra from in any way working on the case which appears to be the only criminal charges likely to be filed against any high ranking member of the Bush administration.
Guerra was further ordered to turn over all files in his possession regarding the case, thus effectively dismantling the investigation Guerra has been pursuing for the last six years.
His investigation finally came to light on Nov. 17th when a grand jury impaneled by Guerra returned indictments against a handful of local officials who had been harassing Guerra as he attempted to conduct an investigation into charges of corruption and abuse/negligence at a local ICE immigration prison. While infighting and corruption among law enforcement officials is hardly new in the four borderland counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley (note this bizarre case occurring on the same day), what caught the eye of reporters and pundits nationwide was that Guerra’s indictments included two astonishingly high profile names: Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales, as well as a state senator, Eddie Lucio.
Cheney owned stock in the company owned the GEO Group, the company that managed the prison; and Alberto Gonzales had gotten involved in the efforts to quash Guerra’s investigation, or so his indictments claim, though the world may never know the truth. On Dec. 1st when Banales dismissed the indictments he also refused to allow any of Guerra’s massive accumulation of evidence to be introduced into the record.
With his new ruling on Dec.10th Banales is in effect attempting to confiscate those records. As hearing ended Texas Rangers escorted Guerra out of the courtroom to guarantee he would relinquish the files he had been amassing for years. A special prosecutor, pro tem district attorney Alfredo Padilla, has been assigned to review the case and Guerra has been ordered to not discuss it with the grand jury when they reconvene this Friday Dec. 12th, though many wonder if the files will ever see the light of day.
Throughout the month-long hyper-public ordeal, Guerra’s outspoken and often outrageous demeanor has made him a target in the press and been the main justification for Banales’ dismantling of the case. Throughout his 20 year on again off career as the Willacy County District Attorney, Juan Angel Guerra has so earned a reputation for theatrical confrontation that his early career was chronicled in celebrated documentarian Hart Perry’s 2003 film Valley of Tears (a staple on liberal television networks like Free Speech TV).
One wonders if in this case that bombastic public persona proved to be his undoing.
Guerra did not appear in court when the charges were first announced. Later in the procedural hearing to recuse Banales, Guerra had a shouting match with the judge, who pointedly left Banales in charge. That same afternoon Banales would summarily dismiss the all charges, including those against Cheney and Gonzales, thus preventing the nature of those charges from even being heard in open court.
Finally on the 10th, according various reports of the three and a half hour hearing, Guerra erratic behavior was at its most extreme. Emma Perez-Trevino’s article in the Brownsville Herald, documents that “Guerra refused to answer numerous questions and challenged the court to hold him in contempt and jail him.” Christopher Sherman’s AP article for the Houston Chronicle explains that “Banales said the only reason he did not hold Guerra in contempt was to deny the prosecutor ‘any dignity whatsoever’ after the disrespect he showed the court.”
With his case completely dismissed, and dismantled, and his records confiscated; having his outrage at the corruption he hoped to challenge turned into a weapon against him, an unsupportive national liberal media who first championed then shunned his case without first looking into its merits, and even having his own home foreclosure become fodder for public derision, one hopes Banales will accept that he has achieved his goal in publicly destroying Juan Guerra. Banales may feel he has achieved justice in his own personal battle of wills with Guerra, but for Guerra supporters around the country and the families of abused and neglected prisoners in GEO prisons across the country if they will ever be allowed their day in court.
Unfortunately for the prisoners held in the privately run prison system the GEO groups runs and Dick Cheney in part owns and in part shapes through his office as Vice President, their struggle for justice and humane treatment was never the topic of the coverage of their case. Prisoners in US privately run prisons die off at a rate five times faster than those in publicly operated prisons and the health care issue that Guerra had hoped to address has already been a scandal unto itself as documented in Wil S. Hylton 2003 Harper’s article, "Sick on the Inside."
The next and possibly final scene in this courtroom drama takes place Friday when the Willacy County Grand Jury reconvenes one final time before Guerra steps down at the end of the month. With pro tem DA Alfredo Padilla on hand to act as his muzzle, Guerra will not be allowed to discuss the case in any way; though he has vowed to continue to fight to prove his accusation of systemic corruption in the private prison industrial complex, no matter which legal hurdles are thrown in front of him and even after he leaves office.
“What does all that matter with people dying in these prisons from this neglect and abuse?” Guerra shared in a personal call with this reporter following the Dec. 1 dismissals. “They can humiliate me, they can take my home; but what does that matter when people are dying from abuse and neglect?”
With determination like that, America will have to stay tuned.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Current Comedy, 12/08/08: The Seven Types of Propaganda, Obama Style

Today while looking through the new US history book I am to teach with, I found their discussion of propaganda tucked into the coverage of the American Revolution. Not where I would’ve put it, but appropriate enough. It was not the first time that intentionally misleading promotions and pronouncements in periodicals prodded an American public into a war. Nor was it the last.
As you may recall from your high school journalism class, or from that one crazed social studies teacher who kept imploring you to be less gullible than an Eloi marching blindly into a Morlock cave, there are seven types of propaganda. While Bush boners like the “Healthy Forests Initiative” and “you’re either with us or against us” may have been painfully plain to the liberal among us, Obama might be harder to peg.
Obama did not simply buy his way into the presidency, he talked us into it; even if he did raise seven hundred and fifty million dollars, outspending McCain 2-1 in the homestretch. Clearly Obama made his case with the American people; but his campaign was no less manufactured than McCain, except Obama’s worked. He didn’t talk America into hiring him it by being the anti-politician; he did it by being the best politician the money could buy.
Educational ethics lead me to disclaim that the following list is based on an online handout I stole from Dan McDowell of West Hills High School in Santee, CA, without his foreknowledge, but with his permission and my apology, in the hopes we can all just write this off as educational intellectual freedom in the further hope some of us might learn something.
Barack Obama has worked very hard to appear to all things to all people while campaigning, but now that he is defining himself through his cabinet appointments and press releases; it could be fun for the strong stomached to parse the propaganda factor in Obama’s present pitches. Or it could be distressingly predictable and depressing.
Obama’s propaganda does not protrude as pronouncedly as Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” codpiece, but he’s still got it hanging seven different ways.
APPEAL TO AUTHORITY: Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to supports a position, idea, argument, or course of action.
We’ll start with reminding you of something that you already knew: no one gets into the club unless they are already a member. Oh sure, Obama and McCain competed to see who was the farthest outsider and the most maverick; but most mavericks are out on the range, not in the Hart Senate Office Building. They don’t call the Senate the “Millionaires’ Club” for nothing.
Oh yeah, Obama’s been in there with “the haves and the have mores,” those adorable folks Bush calls his base. We’re talking Bilderbergs, baby. Obama’s been hanging out with them since he got hot, just like Hillary, Robert Gates, Bill Richardson, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, and Tom Daschle. You throw in cabinet member memberships in the Council on Foreign Relations and other NWO-type group and you’ve got most of Obama’s people coming from the crowd that produced Bush’s people. I am sure we’re all agreed that those guys are indeed the authorities on how to run a government … straight into the ground.
GLITTERING GENERALITIES: This approach is closely related to what is happening in TRANSFER (see above). Here, a generally accepted virtue is usually employed to stir up favorable emotions. The problem is that these words mean different things to different people and are often manipulated for the propagandists' use. The important thing to remember is that in this technique the propagandist uses these words in a positive sense. They often include words like: democracy, family values (when used positively), rights, civilization, even the word "American."
In the campaign Obama’s greatest strength was that he didn’t give a simple answer. Even his shorter remarks were built on specifics. In politics that is often mistaken for telling the truth. Now of course, President –elect Obama is happy to speak in generalities. For example, on Obama’s change.gov website, in his Friday 12/5 speech, which addresses the half a million jobs lost last month alone, among the over two million this year, Obama promises “to put people back to work and get our economy moving again.”
Good thing we didn’t elect the other guy. He probably wouldn’t have thought of those kinds of things. (OK, knowing McCain, maybe not.)
BANDWAGON: The basic idea behind the bandwagon approach is just that, "getting on the bandwagon." Either everyone is doing it or supporting this person or cause, so you should too. The bandwagon approach appeals to the conformist in all of us: No one wants to be left out of what is perceived to be a popular trend.
Do you have your Obama plate? Everybody wants one. You don’t want to be the heretic who doesn’t love him enough to collect plastic crap for him, do you?
TESTIMONIAL: This is the endorsement of a philosophy, movement or candidate. While celebrities are usually used, it can be people who supposedly "know" about the topic or situation.
Unfortunately for some of us, many of the people who have lately taken to endorsing Obama are actually far scarier than Rev. Wright or Bill Ayers ever were. When Karl Rove cup of Thanksgiving cheer includes a WSJ editorial praising Obama, you know he isn’t in the same party as Kucinich anymore. These days Obama’s looking so Republican even GOP hard-line pundit David Horowitz has taken to fronting for him.
PLAIN FOLKS: Here the candidate or cause is identified with common people from everyday walks of life. The idea is to make the candidate/cause come off as grassroots, all-American, for the common man.
Obama photo-ops are a clear winner in this field. It is probably not even possible to take this image any further of being a man of the common earth than the now iconic pic of Obama’s feet propped up revealing his soles worn through.
TRANSFER: Transfer employs the use of symbols, quotes or the images of famous people to convey a message not necessarily associated with them. In the use of transfer, the posters attempt to persuade us through the indirect use of something we respect, such as a patriotic or religious image, to promote specific ideas.
As Daily Show’s Jon Stewart justly chortles, Obama’s bunting bill is more getting obscene than the GOP Styrofoam fake straw hat bill. No less than five flags flank the dauphin as he makes pronouncements these days. That’ll teach you, lapel flag flakes, who is the REAL patriot.
FEAR: This technique is very popular during wartime. The idea is to present a dreaded circumstance and usually follow it up with the kind of behavior needed to avoid that horrible event.
Wanna create some fear? Start here: All the Robert Rubin acolytes given high positions of power did not help many Americans feel warm and fuzzy. During the campaign Obama rightly slammed McCain as wrong on deregulation, but now he’s advancing the same kinds of people? When the audience commented on what appeared to be smoke and mirrors in selling repackaged Clinton Redux as “Change,” the Obama reaction was swift and reminiscent of the way Ari Fleischer used to do such a heck of a job reminding folks they should watch their step for being too liberal. Now Obama’s got Steven Hildebrandt to do it for him.
Keeping the theme going, recent admissions reveal the Obama “Take America Back for the American People” plan has already lost its crowd pleasing components of taxing the rich and windfall oil profits. Oops, there goes some of that populous luster. And how about this James Ramstad, the proposed “Drug Czar”? No wonder they call the position “Drug Czar.” The guy is charge of a Gulag the size of Siberia, and Ramstad seemed intent on keeping it that way.
Remember the Yes Men’s faux New York Times edition, where an Obama admin would be a liberal’s dream come true? Well, for this one liberal the dream is coming nightmare: that I’ll wake up in ’09 and it will be ’02 again.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Current Comedy 12/1/08: On Not Drinking the Kool-Aid for General Jim Jones

There are plenty of stories ripe for lampooning. A ton of stories begging for your attention: We could stare in open-mouthed disbelief with the rest of the mainstream media at the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which is exactly what we are being instructed to do on most every news front. Which is exactly the reason we should resist the temptation. Mumbai, a terrible terrorist tragedy at a very opportune time for those given to oppressing, is almost too exquisitely 9/11-ish. Terror Takes Center Stage, ignore all other news stories.
I also refuse to drink the Kool-Aid over the appointment of Jim Jones, General Jim Jones that is, to NSA chief, along with the return of Robert Gates at Defense and “Why-the-hell-not, Hillary Clinton” to the Secretary of State. Mainstream media may be gawking at how smoothly the transition is going. But from the view we get out here in the sticks, the baton passing isn’t so impressive. We already know the truth: the less you change, the easier the transition.
If Obama really was working to improve our security, he’d do more to protect us from the outgoing Bush admin, who are just about finished rewriting the Labor Dept. workplace safety standards on toxic exposures. According to the New York Times, this is the first of many little nuggets on Bush’s final to-do list of still more ways to screw us before leaving office.
For that matter Obama could also make a statement or two about Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s efforts to prevent Bush pre-emptive pardons for his outgoing lackeys. Stopping Bush or at least promising to undo him is “change that we need.” Restaging a faux Clinton Camelot is “more of the same.” Now there’s the chant we should be hearing. Where’s that Biden when you need him?
But for me, over these last two weeks, the story that has hit closest to home came from my hometown, Raymondville, Texas; and from a friend I have kept up with since high school, more than 30 years ago, Juan Angel “Johnny” Guerra. Touch me, I’m famous. Once upon a time I had PE with the guy who tried to lock up Dick Cheney.
Many on both the left and the right side of the media will spin this story down to nothing and have been aiming to bury it as quietly as possible. But for me, Juan Angel Guerra is a hero I wish more people would write about.
I was in Raymondville for my mother’s funeral on Oct. 23rd, so my wife and I dropped by his county offices to see him, the day he initially filed the then-secret, now famous, or infamous, indictments. He shut the doors and leaned to us to whisper. He told us of a massive corruption and prisoner abuse case he had just finished with the grand jury. The case was too big, too hot. It was nationwide. It went all the way to the top. He couldn’t even talk about it there.
We followed him to his house out by the county line. It felt like the scene in the second reel of a movie where the brainiac explains the secret plot to the hapless dupes while they are checking to see if that black SUV is following them. Turned out, with the aid of a woman named Blanca, Guerra had been secretly pursuing the case for years. He had corporate flow charts and prisoner rights videos in stacks, folders of folders in folders of folders on his desktop, and cases, literally cases, of paper files stacked around the room. The whole house that we could see had been turned into a private office for this one case.
But it was too much to comprehend, especially while dealing with 80 years of my family’s debris and 50 years of my own memories. We left with my head a-swirl. I offered to write a story about the indictments when they came out, you know, to help promote them. He said that was OK. He was already in touch with the New York Times. We laughed, but it was true.
On November 17th Guerra stunned the world by managing to do what no other prosecutorial official in the United States had had the cajones to attempt: he brought charges against Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales. These weren’t little charges either. Cheney was accused of using his influence as vice president to direct prisoners and prison money to have ICE immigration prisons built to be managed by a company he owns stock in. And, further, that in the interest of making a profit, this company cuts so many corners as regards prisoner medical treatment and safety that prisoners in the Raymondville Texas facility and across the country had died as a direct consequence of that willful neglect.
As for Gonzales, the charge was that he had used his power as US Attorney General to stop investigations into GEO Group in general and the Raymondville prisons in particular. Further, Gonzales was only one of many in the criminal justice system who sought to stymie Guerra’s investigations into corruption in the prison system. As part of the long ranging efforts to thwart Guerra’s investigations into the prison corruption case, for 18 months trumped up indictments hung over his head, hobbling his investigation and losing him his re-election bid. In addition to the high profile targets like Cheney and Gonzales, there were a handful of local indictments bundled in the mix for good measure.
You probably never heard the story reported that way. You weren’t supposed to. The Guerra story was meant to marginalize any die-hards who still had hopes of seeing criminal justice-style retribution against the blasphemies of the Bushco years. The case was made to look like a loser from the get. The majority of the news stories that reported on Guerra’s effort to follow one money trail through the corrupt side of the American Police State Prison Economy movement were written to make Guerra out as the fool for indicting the people who had worked together to falsely indict him, and depicted the Cheney-Gonzales connection as outlandishly Byzantine at best, and most likely, simply preposterous.
It was a story built up to tear down. Even the Left was supposed to laugh at the country bumpkin county DA who once protested those charges against himself by camping in the front yard of the county court house with farm animals. Jon Stewart took his turn at mocking Guerra’s efforts on the Daily Show, leading his show with a bit about it when news of the indictments was new. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales tried to crowd him explaining the complex paper trail that took years to assemble into an interview with less than 10 minute for the segment, leaving Guerra looking inarticulate, out of his depth and chopping off his entire explanation of the Gonzales connection.
It all went as planned. Despite Guerra’s stalling efforts to give the story time to build momentum, the story instead was laughed off in less than a week. Except Guerra didn’t know he was a joke. He thought it really was wrong to use positions of power to swing government contracts. He thought it was wrong to hinder investigations into the abuse, neglect and deaths of prisoners. It was wrong to leave people, even guilty ones, to suffer and die more often in exchange for making an extra buck or two; and wrong for him to not try to do something about it.
But, he was wrong. Like I said, it was a story built to tear down. You weren’t supposed to believe it anyway. That story was officially put to rest today, Dec. 1, as so many of us feared it would: all charges being summarily dismissed. On a technicality no less, with none of Guerra’s reams of amassed evidence even admitted.
On the 10th is a hearing to stop him from attempting to re-file indictments in revised form. Since his term ends at New Year’s, the case will then be lost and soon forgotten. One doubts whether national media, which briefly hovered around the tantalizing prospect of Cheney on trial, before moving on to other issues to drone to death, will even deign report the outcome.
Like I say, most of us knew the case would come to nothing. Motions upon motions would delay, misconstrue and eventually bury any case such as this where an earthling tries to reach up and touch power with justice. But for a couple of weeks we had another chance to believe that change could possibly actually come.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.

Footnote: Hollywood cinematographer/director Hart Perry, wrote about Guerra and made him one of the stars in the 2003 film, Valley of Tears, Perry’s immense twenty year spanning documentary on race relations in Raymondville, home of the farm workers strike of 1979, the Casteneda v. Pickard lawsuit which established bilingual mandates for schools in America and Guerra. Yours truly appears in the film at 16:27 in the background of a march which came in from west of town, i believe on a Saturday. I'm wearing a white tee shirt, red shorts and looking doofy.