Monday, April 18, 2011

Casino Jack and Tennessee Whiskey

Last Saturday night Anita and I were choosing a movie at our favorite Blockbuster. We had settled on “The Switch,” a Jennifer Aniston film, but at the last minute I decided to check the documentary section and a picture of disgraced ├╝ber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff on the cover of “Casino Jack: Jack Abramoff and the United States of Money” caught my eye. We decided to leave Jennifer for another night and learn more about Jack instead.

A few weeks ago all I knew was that Abramoff was a bad guy in Washington D.C. who wore a black fedora and ended up going to jail. Then I learned a little more about what a slimy prick he was by reading a chapter of Matt Taibbi’s book, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, entitled “Meet Mr. Republican: the secret history of the most corrupt man in Washington.” But the movie taught me that Abramoff was in fact not the most corrupt man in Washington; he‘s just one of the best examples of the kind of shit that floats and swims in the putrid cesspool that is the United States Government. The film also made me want to drink massive quantities of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey.

“Casino Jack” references the revolving door between Congressional offices and K Street lobbying firms. Lots of top congressional aides leave government, then turn around and persuade/pressure/purchase the same people who used to sign their paychecks, which are now a lot bigger. (The law that’s in place to prohibit this for one year is apparently routinely violated.)

We see Tom DeLay (R-TX) slandering Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and “the liberals” for trying to expose what Abramoff and his political pals were doing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), 15 islands in the western Pacific Ocean with ties to the U.S. The efforts of Abramoff, DeLay and others to prop up CNMI’s factory owners in effect led to indentured servitude, prostitution and the desire on the part of some exploited immigrant workers to sell their kidneys so they’d have money to return to the Philippines and elsewhere. With golf courses, hookers and a five-star Hyatt, it sure was a cool place for political junkets.

We see how Abramoff was apparently so smart that he figured out ways in which to cheat Native American tribes out of millions upon millions upon millions – yes, the Indians are screwed again by the White Man – yet so stupid that he recorded every unethical plan and unflattering perception of his clients in easily-retrievable e-mail messages.

We see how anti-gambling Christians were purposefully and cynically manipulated by a well-compensated Ralph Reed – the creepy, born-again wingnut who looks like a 12-year-old wearing his daddy’s suits – to help get casinos in Texas closed down so Abramoff could swoop in and save the day for the tribes by promising congressional action – for a price.

The movie spends a fair amount of time examining Abramoff’s longtime relationships with Reed and Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform who really ought to be head of the “I Despise Anyone Who Doesn’t View Government as I Do” organization. The three rose to the top of the Republican shitheap at approximately the same time and shared the same myopic, self-serving goals of getting rich and powerful – really, really, really rich and powerful – by any means necessary.

We see the convict Bob Ney (R-OH), who flew to Scotland with Reed and other conservative cronies to play golf on Abramoff’s dime – our dime, really – and then did Abramoff’s bidding in Congress, postulating that if we would just bring about public financing of campaigns, everything would be fixed and the birds would all sing again.

We see how Abramoff arranged for the Malaysian government to meet with Dubya in the Oval Office after cash had been delivered, and how Russian thugs and organized crime had a direct line to the elected officials who were writing bad laws and killing good ones. We see that a number of other ethically-challenged politicians should have gotten in trouble but avoided the snare like cockroaches avoid a flashlight beam. (Former bug killer Tom DeLay knows a little about that.)

The doddering Maverick from Phoenix is in this film. So are Harry Reid (D-NV) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Karl “Piggy” Rove and Newt “I Exude Slime” Gingrich and St. Ronnie of Reagan. Also making appearances are Susan Schmidt – the heroic Washington Post writer who first exposed Abramoff’s grossly improper treatment of Indian tribes – and a bone-headed lifeguard from Delaware and even Jimmy Stewart, whose Mr. Smith went to a far different Washington in 1939.

It’s all about how dismally and possibly permanently corrupted our political system is. It’s about how junkets funded by greedy interests are the norm and regulations are really bad and an unfettered free market is really good and people are stupid, especially liberals and Indians and Filipino immigrants, and what we learn in high school civics class has absolutely no relationship to what really goes on in the Hollow Hallowed Halls of Congress. It reinforces in the biggest of ways the claim that politicians no longer serve the public and even if you’re the squeakiest of wheels, you don’t play if you don’t pay.

It’s kind of like a Michael Moore movie only without the dripping sarcasm and confrontational street theater that turn off some moviegoers. Toward the end, it references how sweatshop owners in Saipan were not the only ones trying to avoid pesky regulation by the feds; the “Too Big to Fail” financial industry was also spending pretty pennies to manipulate politicians. (We know what’s happened with that.) And it points out how the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, then shows, as the credits roll, a clip of DeLay’s repulsive, ass-shaking performance on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009.

People really ought to see this film. But I know a lot won’t. Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are so much more photogenic.

P.S. Casino Jack was convicted in 2006 of mail fraud and conspiracy and went to federal prison to serve three-and-a-half years of a six-year sentence before being released to a halfway house in June of last year.

P.P.S. This past January, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison on conspiracy and money laundering charges. He posted a $10,000 bond and is a free slug man awaiting appeal.

P.P.P.S. This just in: Ralph Reed was being considered by The Donald to manage his faux presidential campaign. That noise you hear is Jesus laughing hysterically.


  1. You hear Jesus laughing? Patrick, up the medication!

  2. Patrick, politics by any other name would be just as slimy. This sort of thing goes on where ever there are elected officials who realise just how easy it is to become wealthy while in office. Lord knows the Bahamas isn't immune to it.