Though it has only been two years since it made its live debut on national television, Janet Jackson's right nipple has already left an indelible mark on American society. Many thought that The Nipple's legacy would be limited to introducing the expression "wardrobe malfunction" to the English language, as well as the astonishing revelation that there exists a fashion accessory known as a "nipple shield." Thankfully, both inventions have failed to catch-on. Nonetheless, The Nipple's impact on culture and politics has been profound and deep.
First, ABC broadcast the entire Super Bowl tonight (pre-game, game, half-time show and post-game wrap-up) on a five-second tape delay. I'm not much of a football fan, but the idea seems to me a violation of the democratic ethos of sports and mass spectatorship. Now, the privileged few who are able to cough up the lowest ticket price of $600 will be living history, whereas the masses huddled over nachos in their living rooms will be merely watching history.
Second, in a nod to critics, Super Bowl planners booked the Rolling Stones for this year's half-time show. I am a huge Stones fan, and the apparent fact that Mick and Keith now constitute clean, family-fare is hugely disappointing.
Third, Nipplegate was exactly what social conservatives needed to ramp up the culture war on indecency. In its wake the Parents Television Council launched a campaign encouraging its constituents to flood the FCC with indecency complaints. The result: broadcasters were charged a record $7.9 million in fines in 2004 including $550,000 paid by CBS for Ms. Jackson's "nasty" exposure -- a mere flesh wound to corporate media, but perhaps a harbinger of things to come. The Christian Coalition vociferously lobbied Congress to pass legislation dramatically increasing indecency fines; the bill passed the House but has stalled in the Senate. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, head of the Commerce Committee, floated the idea of extending FCC jurisdiction to cable broadcasters. If he succeeds, you can kiss programs like "The Sopranos," "Sex in the City," "South Park" and "The Daily Show" goodbye. Finally, not content to harass the FCC from the outside, last year conservatives placed former Concerned Women of America board member and anti-porn activist Penny Nance in the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis as a special adviser.
Last week Bush nominated telecommunications lawyer and lobbyist Robert McDowell to the FCC. If confirmed by the Senate, McDowell would restore the 3-2 Republican majority and re-ignite attempts to gut media ownership regulations. It doesn't appear that Bush was thinking of Janet Jackson's right nipple and the family-values crowd when he made this choice, but if the Senate takes the confirmation hearings seriously, McDowell should have to answer tough questions on both censorship and media consolidation.
Must read article--by The Nation's very own sportswriter Dave Zirin--about the bacchanalia atmosphere of the Super Bowl set against the ravaged backdrop of America's most impoverished city, Detroit. Read Zirin before and after Sunday's Super Bowl. And instead of betting on the big game, give--as he suggests--to the Detroit Rescue Mission. (Give even if you bet.)
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Cal Anderson, Washington's first openly gay state congressman, spent each of his eight years in the legislature fighting for a gay rights bill which, at the time, he knew had no chance of passing. When Anderson died of AIDS in 1995, Rep. Ed Murray, Anderson's former campaign manager, took up the cause and spent the next decade as the bill's lead sponsor.
Twenty-nine years after the first gay rights bill was introduced in Washington, the tireless efforts of Anderson, Murray, and thousands of activists culminated in the passage of HB 2661 last week. The bill--which protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and lending--makes Washington the 17th state to add sexual orientation to anti-discrimination laws. (Maine, the subject of a recent Sweet Victory, also passed a similar law in November, becoming the final state in New England to ban anti-gay discrimination.)
"This victory is the product of decades of work by thousands of Washingtonians committed to equal treatment," said Fran Dunaway, executive director of Equal Rights Washington. "It really was a broad-based coalition of religious organizations, large and small businesses, civil rights groups, and concerned citizens pushing for change."
But an effort to overturn the bill is already underway. Conservative initiative sponsor Tim Eyman plans to collect a sufficient number of signatures to force a referendum at the ballots come fall. Dunaway says Equal Rights Washington and its allies are already mobilizing to protect the bill, and plan to "win again" in November. Click here to find out more about how you can assist the struggle for equality in Washington.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Nation readers don't need me to tell them how frantically the Bush Administration tries to avoid both transparency and accountability. On issue after issue, the Bushies have worked in secret to keep the public and Congress out of its policy-making loop and have dealt with bad news the same way every time: by trying to bury it.
Take the most recent example: the Administration is trying to gag NASA's top climate scientist--Dr. James Hansen--because he had the temerity to speak out publicly about the threats of global warming. Hansen made a speech last December 6 at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco calling for prompt action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions--a message that the Bush Administration does not want to hear despite the fact that 2005 was one of the hottest years on record, a finding that puts eight of the past 10 years at the top of the charts in terms of high temperatures. Since his SF speech, Hansen says that NASA's public affairs office has insisted on screening all material he presents to the public, and on one occasion an agency press officer even turned down a journalist's request for an interview with Hansen, which the doctor wanted to do.
NASA's political vetting might not be that uncommon, reports Nature.com, which writes that Steven Beckwith, a Johns Hopkins University astronomer and former head of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, says NASA has been known to "forbid its staff from talking to the press"; this includes at least one agency scientist he knows of who spoke out on the politically sensitive subject of whether the Hubble Space Telescope's life should be extended.
The Republican Chair of the House Science committee, Sherwood Boehlert, clearly isn't happy with NASA. Boehlert has ordered his staff to look into the matter, and issued his own statement last week charging that "NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen." As Hansen himself, no firebrand by the way, told the Washington Post, "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now."
To highlight, and hopefully combat, this increasing government censorship, the group Environmental Action is asking concerned citizens to let NASA head Michael Griffin know that you expect him to ease up on the global warming gag and stop censoring federal scientists. The group is aiming to get 4,000 people to send letters. Click here to send a letter today and then urge your friends and family to also speak out against the censoring of federal researchers.
For background on this story read recent reporting by Andrew C. Revkin in the New York Times. Revkin is the reporter who substantiated Hansen's assertions with quotes from gutsy career officials at NASA who typically make every effort to stay out of the limelight.
The Times science writer and author also wrote last Saturday that "Other National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists and public-affairs employees came forward this week to say that beyond Dr. Hansen's case, there were several other instances in which political appointees had sought to control the flow of scientific information from the agency. They called or e-mailed The Times and sent documents showing that news releases were delayed or altered to mesh with Bush administration policies." As Chris Mooney wrote in his blog, The Intersection, "Revkin has basically broken every major story about abuses of climate science, and climate scientists, by the Bush administration." So keep watching his work.
[BONUS LINK: For a sobering take on the stakes involved in the global warming debate, read my friend Juliet Eilperin's piece in last Sunday's Washington Post. Despite the Bush hacks who continue to dispute the reality of climate change, Eilperin writes that "Now that most scientists agree that human activity is causing the Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend."]
So, now, the Bush Administration has given an official name to the war on terrorism. "Long War." Who knows if this term will stick? Last August, Bush reached for his dictionary and decided that GWOT ("The Global War on Terror") should become the "Global Struggle against violent extremism." That term lasted all of two days. This "long war" sounds a like lot like endless war to me. And that got me thinking about the ramifications, the consequences for our freedoms and liberties. After all, there have been other periods in American history when illegal spying has been committed, habeas corpus has been suspended, innocent civilians have been imprisoned, torture condoned, unprecedented secrecy invoked in the name of national security, and when the President has broken the law. But have they ever all happened at the same time? I don't think so. And if they have, they've never come with the promise that this song will remain for the rest of our natural lives. And, most important, other chapters of excess and overreach in our history have been followed by a period of regret, and then reform. But if this administration claims that we are engaged in a war without end (aka "long war"), does that also mean the war on our fundamental rights and liberties knows no end? I say we combat the idea that this is a "long war," (aka: endless war), or even a war at all. Let's come up with a definition that is a true and accurate one for the times we are living in. I welcome submissions.
Newly-selected House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is getting some remarkably good press, considering his remarkably sordid political pedigree.
ABC News referred to the grizzled veteran of Capitol Hill, who was elected to the House when George Bush the Dad was president and Democrat Tom Foley was the Speaker of the House, as a "fresh face." The network's report on the House Republican Caucus vote to select a replacement for the indicted Tom DeLay was headlined: "New Leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Campaigned as a Reformer."
The Los Angeles Times announced, with no apparent sense of irony, that: "By choosing Boehner to fill DeLay's shoes in the House, the party hopes to move past scandals."
Newsday just went for it, declaring above its report on Boehner's election: "A promise of reform wins vote."
As they say in the newsroom: Don't believe everything you read in the headlines.
Boehner is an old-fashioned shakedown artist whose promise of "change" amounts to little more than a pledge that he won't get caught like DeLay did. The Ohioan may be smoother than the Texan, but only a fool, or a Washington pundit looking to cozy up to the new boss, would mistake a better haircut and the absence of the stench of bug spray as evidence of ethics.
The best take on Boehner's elevation to the top of the Congressional food chain comes not from the Washington press corps but from one of the city's more watchdogs: Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook.
Referring to Boehner victory over the presumed favorite, Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Missoui, in the House leadership contest as "a selection of Tweedle Dum over Tweedle Dee," Claybrook explained that, "The rejection of Representative Blunt shows that rank-and-file Republicans are aware the corruption scandal that has shaken Washington could put their majority status at risk. But the elevation of Representative Boehner, himself a product and proponent of the systemic problem of cronyism and influence-peddling that afflicts our nation's capital, is not a sign that business as usual will end."
Claybrook invites Americans to consider these facts about the man who, because of Speaker Dennis Hastert's obvious limitations, will now be the most powerful player in the House of Representatives:
* Boehner recently characterized Hastert's plan to ban privately funded travel as "childish" and dismissed the need for a ban on gifts from lobbyists to members of Congress. "If some members' vote can be bought for a $20 lunch, they don't need to be here," he said. Later, Boehner backed away from his characterization of the travel ban as "childish," but not the sentiment underlying his remark.
* Boehner's political action committee collected nearly $300,000 from private student lending companies and for-profit academic institutions from 2003-2004. Boehner has used his chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee to promote their pet causes - legislation that would make it more difficult to cut the fees on government student loans, which would cut into the private lenders market share, and legislation that would provide millions in subsidies to for-profit colleges and trade schools. (For more details on this, see a report in the Washington Post of January 28, 2006.)
* Boehner has taken more than $157,000 in free trips, placing him seventh among 638 current and former members of Congress, including senators, in the value of privately funded travel accepted between 2000 and 2005, according to American Radioworks. These included a $4,869 trip to Scotland in 2000 and a $9,050 trip to Rome in 2001, both of which were sponsored by the Ripon Educational Fund, a nonprofit group largely run by business lobbyists. Family members traveled with him for free on both trips.
* An exceptional number - at least 24 - former Boehner staff members have passed through the revolving door from government service to find work in the private sector as lobbyists or corporate public affairs specialists. (For more details on this, see a report in The Hill newspaper of February 1, 2006.)
* Boehner preceded indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as the head of the "K Street Operation," the Republicans' efforts to coordinate policy and fundraising with well-heeled lobbyists, which since has been dubbed the "K Street Project." But the Ohioan lost the job to DeLay in 1998 after he was voted out as head of the Republican Conference. (For more details on this, see a report in the Baltimore Sun of December 21, 1998.)
* Boehner caught a large amount of flack for handing out checks to his colleagues from tobacco company PACs on the floor of Congress in 1995. Although not illegal, it certainly showed poor judgment but was consistent with his role at the time as the party's chief liaison with K Street. (For more details on this, see a report in the New York Times of May 10, 1996.)
The indictment of Boehner that Claybrook has advanced explains why principled Republicans in both the conservative and moderate camps backed a third candidate for the Majority Leader post, Arizona Representative John Shadegg, who promised to "clean up" the House. Shadegg described his race against Boehner and Blunt as "a choice between real reform and the status quo."
With Boehner's election, the status quo has prevailed. And as Claybrook notes with her usual bluntness -- and accuracy -- that is an ugly result not just for House Republicans but for America.
"Elevating a leader of the current broken system to be majority leader is an affront to voters and a stain on the Republican Party," Claybrook argues. "If the past is any guide, Boehner will now use this key position to undercut ethics and lobbying reforms in the House of Representatives."
The antidote to President Bush's vapid and unrealistic repetition of increasingly dangerous delusions about everything from the continued occupation of Iraq to warrantless wiretapping to race-to-the-bottom trade policies did not come in the official Democratic response to the State of the Union address delivered by newly elected Governor Tim Kaine. (I teased blogger Ezra Klein about making fun of Kaine's looks, but I have to admit that I was slightly hypnotized by the Virginia governor's manic eyebrows and lullaby-like delivery. Ezra, good having that drink earlier this week to sort out our differences (few) and agreements (many)--substantive, aesthetic.)
I guess I now think the Dem leadership would have been better off tapping Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer if it wanted a "can-do-let's-work-together-solutions-oriented" governor.
The real alternative State of the Union address was delivered earlier on SOTU day by California Representatives Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) who gathered at an event organized by the caucus, The Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies to outline an ambitious agenda. It included a speedy withdrawal of troops from Iraq, universal health care, public financing of campaigns, earned amnesty for illegal immigrants, fair tax policies that actually create jobs and meet the needs of working Americans and the poor, debt relief for countries struggling with poverty or disease, and a real plan to end our addiction to oil.
The bluntness of the CPC members was refreshing. (It's worth remembering that if Dems retake the House, ten members of the Caucus would become chairs of committees. Think about Rep. John Conyers heading Judiciary.) Representative Jim McDermott, a Seattle Democrat, countered the president's empty promises on health care, as well as the only slightly more palatable proposals of Congressional Democratic leaders, by declaring that the "only" answer to a burgeoning crisis is universal health care. Pete Stark, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, called for Medicare for All. California Democrat Maxine Waters was equally assertive when she dismissed Republican and Democratic proposals for ethics reforms by asserting that nothing will change in Washington until special-interest money is squeezed out of politics by developing a system for publicly-financed elections. This was the kind of talk that Americans needed to hear and, as they prepare for a 2006 campaign in which control of both houses of Congress is up for grabs, we hope that Democratic strategists were listening to a CPC message that is far more likely to resonate with voters than the too-cautious approach adopted by Democrats in the dismal 2002 and 2004 campaigns. To listen to that transcript, go to the Institute for Policy Studies
President Bush may have tried to claim a little bit of the legacy of Coretta Scott King with a warm and generous reference to her passing at the opening of his State of the Union address this week, but it should be remembered that Mrs. King was a foe of this president and a frequent critic of his abuses of power.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mrs. King celebrated the anniversary of birth of her late husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by recalling that the slain civil rights leader had been outspoken in his opposition to unnecessary and unwise wars.
"We commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. as a great champion of peace who warned us that war was a poor chisel for carving out a peaceful tomorrow. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. Martin said, 'True peace is not just the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice,'" Mrs. King told a crowd that had gathered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. She continued, "May his challenge and his example guide and inspire us to seek peaceful alternatives to a war with Iraq and military conflict in the Middle East."
Mrs. King continued to speak out against the Bush administration's policy of preemptive warmaking during the last years of her life, and she always made it clear that she disagreed passionately with this president.
When Bush showed up to lay a wreath at Rev. King's grave in January, 2004, Mrs. King was polite but pointed in her remarks. Before greeting Bush, she told another event at Ebenezer Baptist that she sided with opponents of the war, and she lamented the fact that, "Those people are not in charge of making the policies of their nations."
"If they were," she added, "I think we would have more peace and more justice."
There will be many celebrations of Coretta Scott King's brave and inspiring life, as well as her rich legacy of activism.
But none will be so appropriate as those that recall her absolute opposition to this president's illegal and immoral warmaking.
I've been following the controversy over editorial cartoons published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper that show the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb under his headdress, saying that paradise was running out of virgins for all the suicide bombers, and holding a sword with his eyes blacked out. Since Islam forbids any visual depiction of Mohammed, and since these cartoons basically argue that terrorism is inherent to Islam, Muslims across Europe have taken offense, some countries have boycotted Danish goods and a few are up in arms--literally.
Armed gunmen surrounded the EU office in Gaza, and in Pakistan a crowd burned Danish and French flags as they shouted "Death to Denmark." (And while these violent demonstrations were tiny, of course, this isn't going to help dispel the images so many in the West hold of angry, teeming, violent Muslim masses.) And now the managing editor of France Soir, who republished the cartoons to demonstrate solidarity and freedom of expression, has been fired.
It's complicated, but I'm strongly in favor of supporting those who publish even right-wing, offensive cartoons, poor judgment or no. Editorial freedom, including satire, is a deeply prized and hard-won right that we shouldn't be intimidated into giving up. It's a slippery slope. Just as we can't allow Christian fundamentalists to prevent satirizing the church in American papers, or the Bush Administration from prohibiting protest, nor should we allow fundamentalists of any kind to rewrite the world in their image. Secular papers have the right, and the duty, to live by secular rules.