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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.

Bush and Blair's Secret Pact

A new memo leaked to the British media last week asserts that George Bush and Tony Blair agreed in January 2003 to go to war in Iraq--not March 2003, as they insist. It also suggests that the leaders knew there was no legitimate case for war, and that Blair told Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality. Most shocking, it reveals that Bush was so desperate to provoke a war that he proposed painting US planes to look like UN aircrafts and flying them low over Iraq in hopes of inciting an Iraqi attack. (Bush to Blair: "The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.")

As with the Downing Street Minutes last spring, international media are covering this story thoroughly, while US counterparts are sitting on their hands. (Click here to see a collection of media commentary to date.)

Public education and outrage have forced the US media to pay attention before. Let's do it again! Check out David Swanson's useful how-to guide for garnering media attention and then click here to email your local newspaper editors and talk-radio hosts, asking them to look into this story.


Hansen Speaks Out

My last post was about the gagging of scientist James Hansen by the Bush Administration. This Friday, February 10, at 10:00am Hansen will speak out publicly at the New School in Manhattan (66 West 12th Street, First Floor). Click here for info and watch The Nation online for a report from the talk.

It's Ken (Mehlman) Who Has Anger Management Problems

GOP Chairman, Ken Mehlman, made the talk show rounds on Sunday in order to dismiss Hillary Clinton as a woman who "seems to have a lot of anger." And what was Mehlman's evidence of Clinton's deep-seated anger? Her assertion that the Bush Administration is one of the worst in history and clearly out of step with mainstream America. Hmmm.... Do Clinton's conclusions reflect anger, or an accurate assessment of an administration which has gutted the treasury, eroded the environment, added millions to the rolls of those without health insurance, botched this medicare prescription drug plan, increased those living in poverty, divided our society, rolled back our hard-earned civil rights and liberties, ruined our reputation, frayed our military, undermined our security, and overall weakened America? Perhaps, Mr. Mehlman, the Senator's onto something. I think there are a lot of citizens who are mad as hell about what's happening to a nation they love. Have you checked out the polls on how many folks believe this country is heading in the wrong direction?

Mehlman's crude remarks are ridiculous in another way. He claims that the senator has "a very leftwing record" and that it does not reflect the values of most Americans. Hillary Clinton is against setting a timetable for withdrawal from the disastrous occupation of Iraq, and she hasn't fought for universal health care. These two issues, as Paul Krugman points out in his strong column in yesterday's New York Times, are majority positions. It is this extremist administration which is out of step with the values of most Americans. But, instead of tending to the nation's needs, this White House sends out lockstep attack dogs like Mehlman.

It's Ken (Mehlman) Who Has Anger Management Problems

GOP Chairman, Ken Mehlman, made the talk show rounds on Sunday in order to dismiss Hillary Clinton as a woman who "seems to have a lot of anger." And what was Mehlman's evidence of Clinton's deep-seated anger? Her assertion that the Bush Administration is one of the worst in history and clearly out of step with mainstream America. Hmmm…. Do Clinton's conclusions reflect anger, or an accurate assessment of an administration which has gutted the treasury, eroded the environment, added millions to the rolls of those without health insurance, botched this medicare prescription drug plan, increased those living in poverty, divided our society, rolled back our hard-earned civil rights and liberties, ruined our reputation, frayed our military, undermined our security, and overall weakened America? Perhaps, Mr. Mehlman, the Senator's onto something. I think there are a lot of citizens who are mad as hell about what's happening to a nation they love. Have you checked out the polls on how many folks believe this country is heading in the wrong direction?

Mehlman's crude remarks are ridiculous in another way. He claims that the senator has "a very leftwing record" and that it does not reflect the values of most Americans. Hillary Clinton is against setting a timetable for withdrawal from the disastrous occupation of Iraq, and she hasn't fought for universal health care. These two issues, as Paul Krugman points out in his strong column in yesterday's New York Times, are majority positions. It is this extremist administration which is out of step with the values of most Americans. But, instead of tending to the nation's needs, this White House sends out lockstep attack dogs like Mehlman.