Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cisneros investigation won't end

This is unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.

This spring, Republicans and Democrats voiced outrage over the news that independent counsel David M. Barrett was still pursuing a decade-long, $21 million investigation into a crime long confessed and paid for.

Yes, I wrote about it at the time. But now it turns out that Barrett's investigation just keeps on going.

Without debate, the Senate unanimously agreed to strip Barrett of further funding for his inquiry on former housing secretary Henry G. Cisneros.

But, prodded by conservative commentators, House Republican leaders grew convinced that Democrats were trying to suppress embarrassing revelations about the Clinton administration. The Senate provision was ditched behind closed doors, and Barrett and his staff continue to work -- at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $2 million a year -- on an inquiry that seemingly ended 13 months ago.

What this demonstrates is that the House Republican leadership does not believe in good government, they believe only in hard-ball politics. Shut down a pointless investigation that is just wasting taxpayers' money? Not when there is some vague hope, no matter how small, that they may turn up some fresh dirt to throw at Bill Clinton.

From the very beginning, Republicans have used the power of the federal government to launch countless partisan investigations of their political foes. Drunk with power, they are completely unconstrained in spending millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of their political agenda.

In its semiannual audit, the Government Accountability Office said yesterday that Barrett spent $930,742 from October 2004 to March 2005, six years after Cisneros pleaded guilty to the charges Barrett was appointed to investigate -- and more than a year after Barrett submitted his 400-page report for final judicial review. The GAO did not indicate what Barrett has been doing since he finished his report, other than maintain staff and office expenditures that have continued to rise since the investigation ended.

Do you suppose they will finally be shamed into pulling the plug on this waste of an investigation this time?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's tough at the top

It’s tough being a leader in the House and Senate these days. Not that I have any sympathy for Tom DeLay, but I can’t help but notice a distinct pattern of tragic consequences befalling these folks in recent years.

Go back to Speaker Jim Wright whose tenure was cut short by a scandal that in retrospect seems laughably insignificant today. He was replaced by Tom Foley who then became a target of Republican opposition and ended up losing his House seat in the 1994 mid-term election that brought the Republicans to power in the House.

Next we had Speaker Newt Gingrich whose rapid rise to power eventually flamed out in the midst of a sex scandal that probably would have gone unnoticed if he hadn’t been leading the charge to impeach President Clinton over the Monica Lewinski affair. Gingrich was followed by Robert Livingstone whose career as House Speaker lasted less than a day when it was quickly revealed that he too was cheating on his spouse.

So far, Speaker Dennis Hastert has managed to avoid any serious repercussions, but that is probably because all of the attention has been focused on DeLay as the one wielding the real levers of power.

On the Senate side we had Tom Daschle who would probably still be in the Senate today if he had not taken on the leadership role of the Democratic Party during the last election. Before ascending to the rank of minority leader, Daschle was a relative unknown outside of his own state. But once in the seat of power he became a target of daily abuse from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News talking heads and the GOP dumped tons of money into their ultimately successful race to unseat him.

And let’s not forget on the Republican side we had Trent Lott who had to give up the reins of power after making racially insensitive remarks at the late-Strom Thurmond’s 100th Birthday celebration. His replacement, Bill Frist, is now the target of an SEC investigation looking at allegations of insider trading involving his family-owned business and it is probably just a matter of time before he will be out the door along with DeLay and the others.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tom DeLay gets hammered

Could things get any worse for Republicans?

A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.

Somehow I don’t think it is going to be just a temporary absence from his leadership post.

Even though this was a long-time coming, it is still extremely satisfying for Democrats like myself who are still outraged about the shenanigans that DeLay and company pulled back then.
It remains to be seen whether the indictments will lead to a conviction, but the political damage is done none-the-less.

At the same time that the fire has been turned up on DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under scrutiny for a recent stock deal that reeks of insider trading.

And, of course, we still have Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the Valerie Plame outing scandal to look forward to with the possibility of indictments for Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and who knows who else.

And all of this is going down while Republicans in Congress are bashing Bush’s FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina.

In the past, Bush has been able to distract the nation’s attention from domestic troubles like this with his aggressive foreign policy antics. But warning about yet another upsurge of violence in Iraq is not the type of distraction he was hoping for, I’m sure.

The next question is whether or not Bush’s poll numbers can sink any lower.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Racial stereotypes in pop culture

I was listening to one of those old-time radio programs recently on satellite radio when I was struck by how casually racial stereotypes were inserted into the programming back then. It was an episode of a serial crime drama called The Fat Man about a portly private investigator that aired back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. I came into the middle of the program so I don’t know exactly what was going on, but the Fat Man was somewhere on the Mexican border investigating a murder when he had a brief encounter with one of the locals. I don’t recall what it was about but the exchange ended with the Fat Man saying:

“You can go back to your siesta now, Pedro, I’ll take it from here.” To which “Pedro” responded with a meek “Si, senor” before exiting stage right.

I remember just sitting there with my jaw hanging open thinking to myself, did I hear that right? Of course, back in the late 1940s when this program originally aired I doubt that anyone gave that particular bit of throw-away dialogue a second thought.

Then a few days later I was indulging my facination with old pop-jazz music and picked up a collection of Peggy Lee music at the local library. I fell in love with Peggy Lee’s voice after hearing her sing some duets with Bing Crosby on his old radio show and I wanted to get more of her music. But one particular song in the collection just bowled me over. It is an upbeat number called “Manana (is soon enough for me)” and features Peggy singing in an emphasized, almost cartoonish Hispanic accent. The lyrics are printed below and, as you can see, they wouldn’t go over very well in today’s age.

Mañana is soon enough for me (1948)

The faucet she is dripping and the fence she's fallin' down
My pocket needs some money, so I can't go into town
My brother isn't working and my sister doesn't care
The car she needs a motor so I can't go anywhere
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)

My mother's always working, she's working very hard
But every time she looks for me I'm sleeping in the yard
My mother thinks I'm lazy and maybe she is right
I'll go to work mañana but I gotta sleep tonight
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)

Oh, once I had some money but I gave it to my friend
He said he'd pay me double, it was only for a lend
But he said a little later that the horse she was so slow
Why he give the horse my money is something I don't know
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)

(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)

My brother took a suitcase and he went away to school
My father said he only learned to be a silly fool
My father said that I should learn to make a chile pot
But then I burned the house down, the chile was too hot
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)

The window she is broken and the rain is comin' in
If someone doesn't fix it I'll be soaking to my skin
But if we wait a day or two the rain may go away
And we don't need a window on such a sunny day
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)  Oba! Oba!
(mañana, mañana, mañana is soon enough for me)  Oba! Oba!

As I understand, the song was a big hit when it was released in 1948, but I imagine that any radio station that played it today would be burnt to the ground.

Of course, Hispanics weren’t the only minority group subject to this kind of treatment back then. African-Americans were the most frequent targets for abuse (when they weren’t being ignored altogether).
I know there are many examples of this kind of Jim Crow treatment in popular film and music, but it still shocks me today when I come across it.
As a huge Bing Crosby fan, I’ve long been troubled by a song that was a big hit for The Rhythm Boys in the 1930’s and ‘40s called “Mississippi Mud.” The song was written by Harry Barris, one of the original members of The Rhythm Boys that also included Crosby and Al Rinker. Oddly enough, you can’t even find the original lyrics to the song on the web today - only a sanitized version printed below:

Mississippi Mud Lyrics

When the sun goes down, the tide goes out,
The people gather 'round and they all begin to shout,
"Hey! Hey! Uncle Dud,
It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud.
It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud".
What a dance do they do!
Lordy, how I'm tellin' you...
They don't need no band...
They keep time by clappin' their hands...
Just as happy as a cow chewin' on a cud,
When the people beat their feet on the Mississippi Mud.

Lordy, how they play it!
Goodness, how they sway it!
Uncle Joe, Uncle Jim,
How they pound the mire with vigor and vim!
Joy! that music thrills me!
Boy! it nearly kills me!
What a show when they go!
Say! they beat it up either fast or slow.

When the sun goes down, the tide goes out,
The people gather 'round and they all begin to shout,
"Hey! Hey! Uncle Dud,
It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud.
It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud".
What a dance do they do!
Lordy, how I'm tellin' you...
They don't need no band...
They keep time by clappin' their hands.
Just as happy as a cow chewin' on a cud.
When the people beat their feet on the Mississippi Mud.

The original lyrics use the racial term “darkies” rather than the generic “people” as the ones making all the music down on the riverbank. It is really a catchy song and was quite popular in its time. The santitized version was later recorded by everyone from Dean Martin to Ray Charles and even The Muppets.

I don’t think this song is as offensive as the Manana tune. I don’t even think that Barris or Crosby meant the song to be negative towards African-Americans. I’m sure they felt at the time that it was a celebration of black music. However, it still represents a period in our history when racial stereotypes were readily accepted in our popular culture. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Not a drop

You would think with a Level 5 hurricane bearing down on you it might result in just a little bit of rain. But noooo, we got nary a drop here in San Antonio.
In fact, the only thing we got from Hurricane Rita, besides a flood of evacuees from the coast, was blisteringly record hot temperatures as Roscoe notes here, - 103 on Saturday, 104 on Sunday.