AUSTIN, Texas -- With so many delights on our political plate, it's hard to know where to begin. Take that knee-slapping joke by Education Secretary Rod Paige: He called our largest teachers' union "a terrorist organization." In fun, of course. Gosh darn, HEE-HAW! All over the nation, teachers are just chuckling away.
Paige is upset with the National Education Association because it is lobbying in Washington to give states more flexibility and more money in meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. If that makes the NEA a terrorist organization, what does it make the Utah legislature, where its House of Representatives voted 64 to 8 not to comply with any provisions of the law not fully financed by the federal government? And how are we to categorize the Virginia House of Delegates, which voted 98 to 1 to ask Congress to exempt Virginia from the law?
Ten other states have passed or are considering similar "terrorist" legislation. They include diehard Republican conservatives rebelling because the law is a monstrous unfunded mandate -- the very thing Republicans used to complain about. President Bush said in his campaign opener to the Governors Association: "I know in my heart of hearts it's the absolute right role for the federal government -- to provide money, but insist upon results. ... And (if the schools don't pass), there will be special help to make sure they do."
Except, as we find repeatedly with this administration, that's a bait-and-switch con job. For 2005, the administration has requested $9.4 billion less for No Child Left Behind than the bill supposedly ensures. Title I, the program to help poor kids, is underfunded by $7.2 billion, leaving 5 million kids without academic help. In all, Bush has underfunded the No Child bill by a total of $27 billion since he signed it with such fanfare.
Here's a lovely little item: The Bush campaign has a new category of top fund-raisers. The big deal used to be the "Pioneers," people who had raised $100,000 for Bush. There are already 245 of them, but they're mere pikers. Now come "Rangers," folks who have raised $200,000 -- 156 in this more exclusive category. The new "Mavericks" only have to raise $50,000, but they also have to be under 40 to qualify for this group. Youth power! And they'll all grow up to be Rangers! Anyone who knows the Texas Maverick clan, whence the word comes, has to wince every time the Bushies say the word.
The Public Campaign Action Fund helpfully sponsored a contest to give better names to the Bush fund-raisers. The finalists are: "The Cash Cowboys," "the Funding Fathers," "Profiteers," "Robber Barons" and "Weapons of Mass Corruption." FYI: One of the Pioneers is Stephen Burke, executive vice president of Comcast, the outfit that plans to buy Disney/ABC, thus creating the world's largest media conglomerate. Bigger than Rupert Murdoch's Fox. Gee, I wonder if they could possibly want something from the Not-Very-Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department.
My personal favorite among Bush's recent moves is the proposal in his economic report to Congress to reclassify fast-food restaurants, moving them from the service sector to "manufacturing." This is a concept. In case you're puzzled over why your burger-flippers should now be classified with autoworkers, it's so when the administration has to report the statistics on how many manufacturing jobs we've lost, they won't look so bad. While in college, I had a job at an Aunt Jemima's Pancake House sticking toothpicks with curlicue-cellophane through butterballs -- that's my background in manufacturing.
This administration is very clever about redefining its problems. For example, when the figures indicated the Bushies had lopsidedly benefited huge corporations as compared to small business, they just changed the definition of "small business" to include some of the biggest corporations in the country.
When Bush can't redefine, he occasionally has to resort to the outright lie. "We have been increasing Pell grants," he told the governors. Actually, they've frozen the top level of Pell grants at $5,400 a year despite all the tuition increases and proposed cutting off aid to 84,000 college students.
So here we are in the middle of an outsourcing, off-shoring, downsizing economy, full of temps and part-timers. The CEOs have increased their own salaries by tens of millions of dollars while cutting benefits for the workers. Burger-flippers aside, we are hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs in favor of Wal-Mart jobs -- low pay and no benefits.
So what is our only president doing about it? He's come out for a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage. On this issue, I'm taking the Dick Cheney position: Cheney doesn't think we need any federal laws on gay civil unions. "Different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate," said our only veep. Right, Dick.