MONUMENTALISM ON THE MALL

Jon Wiener writes: The week the movie Pearl Harbor opened, Congress and the President ordered construction to begin on the proposed World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, exempt from existing law and oversight. The new legislation nullified the lawsuits challenging the design and prohibited federal agencies from further deliberations about it. The House vote was a lopsided 400-15, and it zipped through the Senate without debate or objection. The courts had agreed to consider whether the plan violated the Environmental Policy Act and the Commemorative Works Act, which protects the Mall from ill-considered projects. The National Capitol Planning Commission had scheduled new public hearings for mid-June. Critics (see Wiener, “Save the Mall,” November 13, 2000) had argued that the site near the Lincoln Memorial would break up the nation’s number-one location for protest demonstrations where Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “I have a dream.” Others criticized the design for a grandiose, triumphalist style inappropriate for honoring the men and women who defeated Hitler. Now we’ll have a memorial with architecture more suited to Nazi Germany.

DUNCE GETS DOCTORATE

William S. Lin writes: When John F. Kennedy delivered the commencement address at Yale University upon receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1962, he observed: “A great university is always enlisted against the spread of illusion and on the side of reality.” Which side of reality, then, did the Yale Corporation subscribe to in conferring the same honor on George W. Bush during this year’s commencement exercises on May 21? Faculty members and students, at least, didn’t buy the illusion that Bush had earned the degree: 208 Yale professors boycotted the graduation ceremony in protest, calling the decision to grant the degree “premature.” Graduating seniors, for their part, sported stickers that read Got Arsenic? and “5-4,” and when Bush rose to speak, hundreds of them flashed yellow signs with slogans like Protect Reproductive Rights and Execute Justice, not People while booing and heckling the President. (Someone draped a banner featuring The Nation‘s portrait of Bush as Alfred E. Neuman from a dorm window.) But none of this stopped Bush from reverting to his tired routine as Comedian in Chief, alluding to his penchant for napping and partying during his bright college years: “To the C students I say, You, too, can be President of the United States.” Who knew that a belief in mediocrity, and a lifelong commitment to it, could someday lead to the highest academic distinction at Yale?

THE FEC–BUMBLING ENFORCER

Kathryn Lewis writes: As Congress squabbles over McCain-Feingold, campaign reform watchdog groups are calling for an overhaul of the Federal Election Commission. At a recent Capitol Hill conference sponsored by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and Common Cause, critics argued that the FEC has flunked its mission “to assure that the campaign finance process is fully disclosed and that the rules are effectively and fairly enforced.” A new report released by POGO shows that more than $12 million in campaign contributions during the 1998 election were unaccounted for, improperly listed or missing from the FEC’s databases. POGO charges that the FEC doesn’t check candidates’ reports against PAC reports to find discrepancies and that basic campaign finance disclosure cannot occur, because FEC databases are inaccurate. How can the agency enforce campaign finance laws when its numbers don’t add up?

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

Jennifer Berkshire reports on Alternet that genetically altered foods will be featured on White House menus. The inaugural GM meal will be dished up at a banquet for French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and will include genetically altered super-salmon and Star Link corn pudding. (Does M. Jospin approve of this culinary experiment?) It’s nice of Bush to give Frankenfoods the First Family test, but the demonstration smells like a paid political announcement for the agribusiness lobby.