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The Nation

'Leave No Child Behind'?

President Bush can't seem to tell people enough times, in enough ways, about his self-proclaimed determination to "leave no child behind." The most recent occurrence came, predictably, during his State of the Union address, when he offered this bit of faux-wisdom, "If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world."

He then promptly cut Department of Education funding by $2.1 billion and shortchanged No Child Left Behind by $15.4 Billion. He froze Pell grants for the fifth straight year, despite the fact that average tuitions and fees at public universities have risen 40 percent since 2001, pricing more and more young people out of college every day. 19,000 children face elimination from the Head Start Program as his funding fails to keep pace with inflation.

Arlen Specter called the cuts "scandalous." One wonders what the President might say if he dropped the platitudes and actually spoke the truth about his values when it comes to young people. How might that read exactly? I welcome submissions.

Fightin' Dems

Those critics who systematically caricature the Democratic Party as "soft on defense" should've headed down to the National Mall in Washington on this brisk Wednesday morning. Against the backdrop of the US Capitol, 40 of the 55 veterans running as Democrats for Congress in 2006 assembled "to take the flag out of the hands of Karl Rove and his political assasins," said Eric Massa, a 24-year Navy Officer vying for a seat in upstate New York.

These "Band of Brothers," including nine Iraq veterans, saluted their country but implored the need for a "change of course" on the war, Congressional corruption, VA health care and basic bread-and-butter issues.

The Fighting Dems include:

** Bill Winter, a 10-year Marine Corps and Navy vet who's running against the vile immigrant-basher Rep. Tom Tancredo in suburban Denver, Colorado.

** Jim Nelson, a self-described "military veteran, Methodist minister and moderate Democrat" who's seeking the Georgia seat of Rep. Jack Kingston, one of Tom DeLay's closest allies in the House.

** Joe Sulzer, a Vietnam vet and mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio, who wants to oust the soon-to-be-indicted Rep. Bob Ney.

** Mishonda Baldwin, a Desert Storm vet who's trying to become the first African-American woman elected to the House from Maryland.

GOP attack dogs may have been able to swift boat the hapless John Kerry. Let them try and do it to over fifty vets. As Tim Dunn, an Iraq war vet from Fayetteville, North Carolina, put it: "It's time to take the Hill."

A Healthy Dose of Reality for Mr. Bush

Just as they did following the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, Republican operatives and their acolytes in the media are now claiming that there was something inappropriate about the manner in which those who knew Coretta Scott King best mourned her passing. So great is the determination of the spin doctors for a White House that seeks to protect George Bush from even the mildest expressions of dissent that commentators rushed Tuesday to television studios even before the service for Mrs. King was done to denounce former President Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for expressing sentiments not usually heard by this protected president.

But don't think that anything untoward actually took place in the Atlanta suburb where thousands gathered to celebrate the life, the work and the politics of Mrs. King. The service provided the president with a healthy -- if all too rare -- dose of reality. Bush's policies are not popular, particularly with the African-American community, and the president needed a gentle reminder of the fact. Indeed, the president was far more graceful in the receipt of the dissenting messages that were uttered at the service for Mrs. King than were those who rushed to condemn his critics.

What got the Republican spin machine humming Wednesday?

The see no evil, hear no evil, acknowledge no evil crowd was furious that several speakers used their brief portions of the six-hour remembrance service for the widow of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to pointedly echo the anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-racist themes that were so central to Mrs. King's life and work. The event featured no direct attacks on President Bush, who seated himself prominently on the stage of the vast New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in an Atlanta suburb. Instead, there were the sort of knowing, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, prods that often are heard at memorial services of this kind.

Atlanta Mayor Franklin, whose address followed that of the president, made reference to Mrs. King criticism of "the senselessness of war" and recalled, correctly, that the late civil rights activist's voice was heard "from the tin-top roofs of Soweto to the bomb shelters of Baghdad."

That did not sit well with those who believe the president's precious ears must be protected from the sound of any and all dissents with regard to the quagmire that is Iraq.

Even more unsettling to the critics were the words of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who worked for decades with the Kings. Of Mrs. King, Lowery recalled, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here." As the crowd cheered, Lowery boomed: "Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."

Ultimately, however, it was not Lowery but Carter who took the hardest hits for daring to dissent. Noting the slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, Carter pointed out that, "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."

For this comment, and for recalling the historical fact that the Kings were victims of "secret government wiretapping and surveillance" -- a sore point for a president who is under fire for ordering warrantless wiretaps -- Carter was denounced as "shameless" by the New York Post and ridiculed by Republican commentators.

To his credit, Bush seemed to take the criticism is stride, even shaking hands with and embracing Lowery, Carter and other speakers. And that may be the most important point that can be made about this rare moment in which the president heard actual dissent -- as opposed to the manufactured applause that usually accompanies his stage-managed public appearances. As someone who covered Bush long before he took office in 2001, I have always believed him to be a more gracious and thoughtful man than his presidency has made him out to be. Bush and his presidency suffer from having been placed in the bubble to which his neoconservative handlers have consigned him. Indeed, despite the ranting and raving of the spin doctors who would have us believe that it was wrong to honor Mrs. King by echoing the dissents she made during her lifetime, both President Bush and the American discourse surely benefitted from a real moment in these surreal times.

A Real King, and a Pretend One

Ten thousand people mourned Corretta Scott King at her funeral yesterday. President Bush was also in attendance. The stark contrast between the life of Mrs. King, and the Man Who Would be King, is hard to miss.

In 2003, Mrs. King noted, ''A war with Iraq will increase anti-American sentiment, create more terrorists, and drain as much as 200 billion taxpayer dollars, which should be invested in human development here in America."

King George, on the other hand, has pursued a win-at-any-cost of lives and dollars war in Iraq, while slashing already meager funds aimed at alleviating growing poverty.

The disconnect between the real King and the pretend one wasn't lost on Mrs. King's friends. Rev. Joseph Lowery noted in his eulogy-- that literally made George Bush squirm, "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew… that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

Yesterday, Mrs. King's friends paid tribute to her, and let it be known that the struggle continues. No matter how much that makes the pretend king squirm.

George's Curious Tricks and Gimmicks

Despite his best efforts, George Bush's recent budget places his values in plain view for all of America to see. Mr. Bush plans to cut $65 billion from domestic spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, low-income housing, education, and food stamps, while extending his favorite petproject--tax cuts for the very wealthy. Even worse, in order to make the claim that he will cut the deficit in half before leaving office, Mr. Bush asks that Congress adopt a brand new approach to budgeting. Under this plan, Congress would not treat an extension of Bush's permanent tax cuts as having any cost!

As Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in the New York Times, "[This] is the most flagrant gimmick in the history of the U.S. budget. It's so flagrant," Greenstein added, " that I don't think even Congress will give it to them." (Here's hoping that we see some spine in these next days and weeks.) But there are some things Mr. Bush just can't hide: like not counting the costs of the war in Iraq; cutting food programs for the elderly; reducing spending in poor schools, job training, and on Pell grants that make college affordable. Even his pledge to end "our addiction to oil" seems to have slipped by the wayside as this budget actually cuts funding for energy efficiency. Let's keep this conversation going… find all the ways Mr. Bush betrays his so-called "values" in this budget, while also trying to slip real costs under the rug.

To Bash Or Not To Bash?

Los Angeles-based Gay Republican activist and blogger Scott Schmidt worries that his party –-in the run-up to the November elections-- is about to take a suicidal turn toward immigrant bashing. He remembers the Republican electoral disaster that ensued after then-Governor Pete Wilson tried to ride a xenophobic wave: Wilson got re-elected but the state GOP as much as imploded under a Latino backlash.

Currently, the national GOP seems split over what to do about immigration. President Bush and the more corporate wing of the party who have endorsed at least some tepid immigration liberalization, are under attack from their restrictionist right flank. While some analysts believe the Republicans are more interested in winning over the growing Latino vote than they are in pandering to xenophobes, Schmidt fears the opposite. He points to the virulent public comments made by L.A. GOP Chairwoman Linda Boyd to last week's State of the Union response offered in Spanish by Angeleno Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Schmidt writes:

Chairman Boyd's "scorecard" on Villaraigosa's record blamed illegal immigrants for the City's failing healthcare system, astronomical high school drop-out rate and prison overcrowding. As a member of Boyd's Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, I blushed in embarrassment when she compared Villaraigosa to the dictators Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

And if you doubt that immigrant-bashing isn't on the GOP Agenda in 2006, take a look at the agenda for this weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference. It's the first, second, third and fourth issue to be discussed.

Let's hope Schmidt is wrong and the temptation to immigrant-bash will be foresworn. More than ever, we need comprehensive immigration reform and for the first time in a long time a lot of Republicans – from John McCain to Jeff Flake are supporting the idea. Let's hope that in the internal Republican debate they prevail over the Minuteman-types.

Also, take a moment to check out my personal blog for a tribute to Neil Postman.

The Sacred and the Profane

Christine's last post on the American Family Association's successful scuttling of "anti-Christian" television programming makes an interesting counterpoint to much of the media coverage of the Danish cartoon demonstrations. Cast as "a contest between...immutable religious beliefs and uncompromising freedom of speech" (see Mahir Ali on Znet for the full critique), mainstream media have played the protests off as another "clash of civilizations." But freedom of speech is a poor framework for such a global and complicated story because "freedom of speech," however abstractly and absolutely put, is realized in local-national contexts. Critics have pointed to European and Canadian laws that prohibit varieties of "hate speech" (including bans on anti-Semitic and pornographic material). And as Christine's post reminds us, "freedom of speech" in the US doesn't mean media outlets are immune to boycotts and political protests, particularly from the Christian right. Think of the controversy over Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" or Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary."

One way to think of this all is as a struggle to define and control sacred texts and images (the Prophet Muhammad, the Virgin Mary, the crucifixion of Christ) whose religious power derive from their segregation from other cultural and political symbols. The Prophet is not drawn, and he most certainly does not carry out suicide bombings. Jesus does not endorse a cooking show or swim in urine for kicks. Such attempts at religious control are fraught enough in mono-religious cultures, but become tragicomic in multicultural contexts (as the brouhaha over Ofili's painting of the Virgin Mary made in part by African elephant dung reminds us). Secularism proposes to be that neutral ground that resolves the sacred and the profane (in part by censoring and limiting both), but the mainstream is having a hard time digesting this one.

Finally, I'll just point out that religious roots acknowledged, at least in Afghanistan, Christian Parenti writes that the protests are fueled both by anti-Western sentiment stirred up by occupation and by "specifically local political and economic grievances."

McCain vs. Obama

In case you weren't paying attention, since yesterday there's been a very public war of words between the Senate's two most hyped members, Barack Obama and John McCain, over lobbying reform.

Rather then tell the entire backstory, which you can read here and here, I'll make three points.

1. McCain's lobbying reform bill is incredibly weak compared to the Democrats "Honest Leadership Act." That's why only two Senate Democrats, Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson, have signed on.

2. As Josh Marshall noted today, it was McCain who assured anxious Republicans that his Indian Affairs Committee investigation of Jack Abramoff wouldn't touch any prominent elected officials in his own party, including Tom DeLay.

3. McCain's a political opportunist. He only became a "reformer" after he was implicated in the Senate's Keating Five scandal. And as my profile of him last November made clear, there's no greater opportunity than the Presidency in '08. Which helps explain why he's acting like such an ass.

Christians Dodge Spears

NBC has abandoned, in the words of the American Family Association website , its plans to "Attack Christians with Spears." Britney Spears, that is.

The pop sensation turned trailer trash baby momma was to guest star in an upcoming episode of Will and Grace as a Christian conservative with a cooking show on which she made "Cruci-fixins." (No question that Will and Grace has seen better days, but you have to admit it's not a bad pun.) She'll still be on the show, but the offending material has been written out of the script.

NBC had previously been in hot water with angry Christian viewers over The Book of Daniel which portrayed a doubting Episcopalian minister. The show only ever made it three episodes before the network yanked it.

The whole thing smells a bit like the fracas around ABC's reality show Welcome to My Neighborhood which the New York Times reported on in late January. The show featured a slew of oddball families--gays! Wiccans! people with tattoos! and gasp! non-Whites!--trying to win the hearts and minds of neighbors and a McMansion in their tony Austin cul-de-sac to boot. The two gay dads won, and in the process inspired one of the neighbors to make amends with his own gay son. But ten days before the first episode was scheduled to be aired, ABC cancelled the show.

ABC, the Times pointed out, is owned by Disney. The same Disney that was targeted by Southern Baptists for hosting Gay Days ; the same Disney that has raked in over $281 million dollars in Narnia box office sales. Some have surmised that Disney didn't want to risk losing any of those who had newly forgiven its policies by showing Christians and gays holding hands. As Paul McCusker, Vice-President of Focus on the Family said, "''It would have been a huge misstep for Disney to aggressively do things that would disenfranchise the very people they wanted to go see 'Narnia.'"

I never thought I'd say this, but Why can't more people be like Mandy Moore? She was a comic genius in Saved!, in which she--a real-life Christian--poked fun at evangelicals. She proved that it's possible to hold a belief and still be comfortable making a joke at its expense. All these boycotts and protests of network TV are driven by fear--fear that faith can be lost forever if it's challenged at all. I think it's kind of sad.

At least we still have HBO.