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Champagne and Pepper Spray Herald Bush Inauguration

by Katherine Stapp

Cancel The Inauguration Parties, Give The Millions To Tsunami Victims

(IPS) NEW YORK -- There is the Freedom Ball, the Patriot Ball and the Democracy Ball. Not tired yet? How about the Independence Ball, Liberty Ball, Stars and Stripes Ball, Texas Wyoming Ball, and Commander-In-Chief Ball.

But the Re-Coronation Inaugural Ball?

It is unlikely that newly sworn-in President George W. Bush will be making an appearance at that last one, whose dress code commands "yachting attire, fox-hunting finery, deposed Eurasian royalty, or international velvet equestrian."

The event's hosts, a satirical group called Billionaires for Bush, are among the thousands of protesters who are mingling with jubilant Republicans in Washington Thursday to jeer and cheer at the official start of the president's second term.

Addressing a large crowd of supporters outside the Capitol building where he took the oath of office, Bush acknowledged that "we have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes -- and I will strive in good faith to heal them. Yet those divisions do not define America."

Bush's first inauguration drew larger demonstrations, in part due to the protracted controversy surrounding the 2000 election, which he won by a slim 537 votes when the Supreme Court halted a recount in the state of Florida.

While the margin was much wider this time around, critics have complained of poll irregularities around the country, particularly in the state of Ohio, whose electoral votes clinched Bush's victory.

"I'm here because a majority of Americans did not really elect George W," said David Hopkins of Charleston, West Virginia, who braved the chill weather to stand with several thousand protesters along the parade route. "Many poor people didn't vote, the homeless didn't vote -- just because the election is over doesn't mean the struggle has to be."

Jorge Conejo from New York also believes it was a "false win", but he is especially upset at the U.S. military presence in Iraq and elsewhere. "The government is killing millions of people around the world for their rich friends," he told IPS.

A poll released today by the New York Times/CBS gave Bush an approval rating of 49 percent, with 46 percent against -- much lower than the 60 percent approval enjoyed by Bill Clinton at the start of his second term.

"We're reminding folks that Bush won by less than 4 percent," said Tim Carpenter, executive director of the Progressive Democrats of America. "You keep hearing about red states (won by Bush) and blue states (won by Democratic challenger John Kerry), but we see a lot of purple."

Carpenter's group has organized a "counter-inaugural" from Friday to Sunday, featuring speakers like Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, and James Zogby, founder of the Arab-American Institute.

"The progressive movement is not going anywhere," Carpenter said. "We're in a protracted struggle to rebuild the (Democratic) party at the grassroots level."

"In addition to demanding an exit strategy in Iraq, we've seen a real coalition of progressive African American and Latino groups come together around the issue of electoral reform, beginning with guaranteeing everybody the right to vote."

Protests outside of Washington include "Not One Damn Dime Day," a call for a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending to show opposition to the Iraq war, and more than 100 counter-inaugural events, ranging from an "inaugural primal scream" in New York City's Times Square to a "funeral for the American Dream" in Port Huron, Michigan.

In downtown Washington, demonstrators faced the tightest security of any inauguration in U.S. history, with 6,000 uniformed and undercover police and 2,500 troops guarding the 1.7-mile parade route. Surrounding streets were sealed off with security barriers, and the airspace over Washington was shut down to commercial jets.

Capitol police reported at least five arrests, including one protester who briefly interrupted Bush's inaugural speech, yelling: "Where are the poor? Did you ship them out of town?"

Others who tried to climb over security barricades were hit with pepper-spray, but no serious injuries were reported as of the early afternoon.

The public is footing the 20-million-dollar security bill, which reportedly included anti-aircraft missiles deployed within range of the Capitol.

Another $40 million is being spent on assorted brunches, balls and candlelight dinners, although Bush has emphasized that that sum was all raized from private donations.

So who is paying for the festivities? The most generous patrons, at $250,000 a pop, were mostly corporations and their chief executives. Financial services companies led the pack, writing cheques for more than $4 million, while energy firms and oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Occidental Petroleum gave another $2.7 million.

Defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also numbered among the top contributors, drawing criticism that the inaugural coffers provided an "end run" around legal limits on campaign fundraising.

The inaugural theme was billed as "celebrating freedom and honouring service", with several events dedicated to the 150,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the 18,000 in Afghanistan.

In an interview earlier this month, New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon questioned Jeanne Phillips, chairwoman of the 55th Presidential Inaugural Committee, about the propriety of throwing such a lavish party during wartime, especially when many soldiers have complained that they lack basic body armour and other protective gear.

"As an alternative way of honouring them, did you or the president ever discuss canceling the nine balls and using the 40-million-dollar inaugural budget to purchase better equipment for the troops?" Solomon asked.

"I think we felt like we would have a traditional set of events and we would focus on honouring the people who are serving our country right now -- not just the people in the armed forces, but also the community volunteers, the firemen, the policemen, the teachers, the people who serve at, you know, the -- well, it's called the StewPot in Dallas, people who work with the homeless," Philips responded.

"How do any of them benefit from the inaugural balls?" Solomon persisted.

"I'm not sure that they do benefit from them," Phillips conceded.

Additional reporting from Washington, DC by Julie Fry

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Albion Monitor January 20, 2005 (

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