Memin pinguin

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jul 08, 2005 12:00 AM

We haven't seen this much strain between the United States and Mexico since Davy Crockett and a band of 189 volunteers bravely defended the Alamo against a Mexican army numbering in the thousands.

On the heels of Mexican President Vicente Fox insulting U.S. civil rights groups by opining that Mexican immigrants in the United States - legal or otherwise - are filling jobs "not even blacks" want to fill, along comes Memin Pinguin.

And once again, the Mexicans don't know what all the fuss is about.

Ever since the 1940s, Memin Pinguin, with his thick lips and flat nose, has been a favorite comic-book character south of the border. So popular, that the Mexican government recently issued a set of postage stamps honoring the cartoon figure.

"Memin Pinguin is a character with a long tradition in our culture," boasted Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.

Enter Jesse Jackson, who - fresh from his defense of pop star Michael Jackson - is demanding the Mexican stamps be pulled from circulation. They have "no place in today's world," he said.

NAACP interim President Dennis Courtland Hayes agreed. So much so that he is calling for a summit between Fox and black Americans.

"It is inexplicable that the Mexican government would not comprehend the insensitivity of the negative depiction of blacks on this stamp," the NAACP leader said.

Even the White House is weighing in.

"It is an internal issue for Mexico," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "With that said ... racial stereotypes are offensive, no matter what their origin. The Mexican government needs to take this into account."

Don't count on it.

"He is loved by all Mexicans," Derbez said of Memin Pinguin, "and it shows a complete lack of understanding of our culture that people are translating this to their culture with no respect for ours."

CROWNS ARE OUT

These days, you never know a crown prince when you see one.

A White House pool reporter who accompanied President Bush to Denmark's Fredensborg Palace, a French baroque structure built by King Frederick IV in the 1720s, saw fit to observe:

"Among the onlookers outside the palace was a young man wearing black jeans cut off at mid-calf, a striped green polo shirt and suede moccasins. He snapped photos as the president's motorcade left the estate. Our bus driver, a Dane, identified him as Crown Prince Frederik."

POLL CRAZY

On the heels of President Bush declaring Wednesday that too much emphasis is put on political polling, Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg released a poll they say supports the belief that "the Republican revolution, deeply entrenched in Washington, has lost its hold on the American people, who are looking for change."

"All the moorings have been loosened: Iraq, Bush's frontline in the war on terrorism, is deeply unpopular; Bush's economy, led by tax cuts, is seen to leave most Americans stuck with limited opportunities; his supporters' partisanship and religious zealotry, most think, have gone miles too far; and his efforts to 'reform' the New Deal welfare state, Social Security privatization, are supported by only a third of the country," the pair of strategists writes.

They cite three Democracy Corps surveys taken in three months, showing only 41 percent of the country wants to continue on Mr. Bush's course.

While in Denmark this week, Bush commented that too many people "chase opinion polls."

"I don't know if you poll this much in Denmark," Bush mentioned to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "We poll way too much in America, seems like to me."

HIRED HELP

The Legal Affairs Council is calling on conservative groups to stay home and not spend their money if President Bush appoints "a moderate or judge of questionable commitment" to fill retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court.

The right-wing group goes so far as to state that "conservatives are treated like the hired help by most Republican presidential candidates, on the theory that conservatives have nowhere else to go and would not want to see a Democrat like Al Gore elected instead of a Republican president.

"And why? Mainly because conservatives fear a liberal 'President Al Gore' appointing the next Supreme Court justice. Now is the time when that difference matters," the council states. "Yet, inexplicably, conservatives are being expected to hold their nose and support President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, even if the nominee is not a good choice in their view, such as Alberto Gonzales or some politically correct moderate judge."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Bush spent "a good couple of hours" on his flight to Denmark going over "comprehensive materials on potential nominees," who number a half-dozen or so.

"He's going to hone in on a handful of potential nominees over the next few weeks," said McClellan, adding that the president plans to consult with key White House staff and Capitol Hill lawmakers before making a final decision by the beginning of the next court term in October.

RECORD DEAL?

As New York publishing giants try to gain ground in a conservative book market once dominated by Washington's leading trade-book publisher, Regnery Publishing, comes word that Regnery has signed its most expensive book deal ever.

Reached this week, Regnery President Marji Ross would not disclose details of the contract with terrorism investigative reporter and author Richard Miniter, a deal that with best-seller bonuses and other incentives is said to be worth $450,000.

This is Regnery's "most expensive deal ever," says one source close to the deal.

Ross did confirm that Miniter "has signed a two-book contract, with the first book out this fall." The deal was handled by Mel Berger, at the William Morris Agency.

Miniter has written two recent New York Times best sellers, "Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror," and "Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror."

His newest title, due for release in October, is "Disinformation: How Media Myths Are Undermining the War on Terrorism."

Regnery is coming off a record year, with 11 New York Times best sellers, including the No. 1 best-seller "Unfit for Command," which dealt with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record.

ALONE EITHER WAY

Here's one highlight of President Bush's interview with foreign journalists in advance of his departure Wednesday for the Group of Eight summit in Scotland:

Bush: "Give me your name again."

Reporter: "Olivier. You can call me Mr. Knox, that's fine ... ."

Bush: "Final question, Olivier."

Reporter: "Thank you, sir. Sir, you're coming back stag -- from Europe, stag. Your wife is going on to Africa."

Bush: "That's an accurate statement. ... Interesting way to put it. You could have said, 'You're coming back alone from Europe.' ..."

Reporter: "Oooh."

Bush: "But you say, 'You're coming back stag.'"

POPULAR SENATOR

Congratulations to Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, who has received the highest constituent-approval rating of all Republican senators.

The Survey USA poll (600 adults in each state were surveyed) found that 71 percent of Maine residents approve of Snowe's performance on Capitol Hill.

SEWING HISTORY

After stitching American flags for almost 65 years, through national heartache and triumph, Frances R. Major is giving her eyes and hands a well-deserved rest.

"I consider (her) the Betsy Ross of today as she retires her sewing needles with the Valley Forge Flag Company," noted Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican.

Major began working at the Womelsdorf, Pa., flag company in 1941. And as Weldon puts it, she has truly left her mark on history.

"Not everyone could go to Pearl Harbor or ground zero, but Mrs. Major faithfully sewed our Stars and Stripes as our country's major historic events unfolded," he said. "Many flags were sewn through her tears, but it was always a labor of love and her patriotic honor to do something personally for America."

On that note, the congressman quoted Major, a great-grandmother, as saying: "Each time something bad happened, it only made me sew that much faster."