JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Take 5: Justice in America, The Best Government Money Can Buy? (Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce, Nelson George, Razan Ghalayini, Sheldon Candis, Rachel Lears, Francis Megahy) - October 30, 2016

Take 5: Justice in America, The Best Government Money Can Buy?

4.5 4.5
101 min.

Cautionary tales indeed

Here are six films that paint a disturbing picture of life for many in the land of the free.

Take 5: Justice in America
25 min., 2016
Four and one half stars

A recipe for the return to greatness?

This five-part collection from AMC Network’s SundanceNow Doc Club should be required viewing for candidates and electors alike before heading to the ballot box in November.

In a “Hug From Paul Ryan,” Tianna Gaines-Turner is the articulate “voice” of all those who need food stamps when the combined household income falls short of a living wage for her hardworking family of five. Her appearance before the House Budget Committee, then chaired by Paul Ryan, produces a momentary glimmer of hope from the collection of lawmakers who have never walked a step in her shoes. But one year later, there’s less “food” on the nation’s table than before.

Ryan, the photo-op-conscious chairman, readily acquiesced to Gaines-Turner’s request for a hug rather than a handshake, but her obvious warmth and understanding of how life really is failed to get beyond Republican’s custom-made suit.

In “The New Fight for Voting Rights,” voting rights appear to have come full circle. North Carolina has adopted changes and restrictions to early voting, same-day registration and voter IDs. State apologist Jay Delancy brushes off the notion that it is now harder than it used to be for many citizens to vote by raising the spectre of voter fraud (all-time convictions numbering 2) and the desire to have similar regulations as other “progressive” states. Donald Trump’s fear mongering about a “rigged” election may actually be truer than he lets on. Just so long as “those people” are robbed of their dignity and rights.

Limbo, (n) a place or state of neglect or oblivion.

The premise of “innocent until proven guilty” in this “Limbo” is a sad joke for the approximately 500,000 U.S. prison inmates whose only provable crime is poverty. Unable to pay a judge-imposed money bail, there is no other choice but to remain a “guest of the state” until their trial begins.

What was missing gives this film a less than satisfying conclusion. Surely there are statistics as to how many charged, affluent Americans easily pay their bail and then skip the country or—much more importantly—how many of those being held on bail are eventually found innocent. Thoughtful viewers want to know.

“Who Will Survive America” is succinctly summed up by filmmaker Sheldon Candis in his own words: “None of it [gun ownership, currently estimated to be ~80 million people] makes sense to me.” Not surprisingly, chronicling his own gun purchase in Van Nuys California goes without a hitch. Now he is one of “them”; every 17 minutes one of “them” sends another to his/her grave.

Ah freedom, there’s nothing like it—provided your weapons are comfortingly close at hand. (Nuno Lalo’s original score is poignantly at one with Candis’ marvellously understated tone.)

This quintet of mini-films concludes with a study on the effects of a growing problem in city neighbourhoods: urban colonialism—a.k.a. gentrification. Greedy developers, ambitious politicians and those with growing affluence (in some cases the pipe dream of being amongst their number) have combined to create a perfect storm for those who have rented space for decades only to be faced with impossible monthly increases or paid off to vacate their homes.

Consequently—as highlighted in “Degentrify America”— organizations such as the Crown Heights Tenants Union in Brooklyn, New York have sprung up in defence of those who have built up their communities only to be pushed aside by new up-and-comers. JWR

The Best Government Money Can Buy?
Unites States, 76 min., 2010
Four and one half stars

Six years after it was released, it’s also instructive to review Francis Megahy’s sobering portrait of money buying power in Washington, DC, where many “underpaid” (currently a paltry $170,000 per year) members of Congress and the Senate (and quite a few of their longsuffering staff members) set up shop on K Street rather than “go back home” and resume their previous lives once out of office.

None better than one of the self-described “pests” to succinctly sum up what lobbyists do: “I crank out a lot of memos [some of those, or frequently larger documents form the basis of legislation, instead of bothering the actual lawmakers with such a tedious task] and shake a lot of hands,” (Aaron Houston).

Perhaps “grease a lot of hands” would be closer to the truth. With well over 14,000 registered lobbyists and many more staying off the official radar by plying their skills as purveyors of “strategic advice”—keeping Democrats and Republicans alike on their legislative toes (then returning the favour when it’s campaign contribution time)—a whole different meaning to the trending term, “rigged elections,” comes to ugly light. Reforming this backscratching system, of course, is not going to happen so long as incumbents are determined to be re-elected at any cost. JWR

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