Getting the Blues | The Nation


Getting the Blues

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But the list of particulars runs far beyond energy.

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Peter Schrag
Peter Schrag, retired editorial page editor and columnist for the Sacramento Bee, has been writing for The Nation for...

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Vouching for vouchers; Elizabeth Warren for president; three kinds of Republican idiots; Borgesian grammar

As thirty-six states contemplate privatization measures, public schools are on the defensive.

§ House approval (still pending in the Senate) of the Administration's tougher work rules under TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Those requirements--to work forty hours a week rather than the current thirty--would be virtually impossible to meet for workers in the low-wage restaurant and hotel jobs in which many ex-welfare recipients find themselves. That would create a need not only for more state-funded public service jobs at a time when states are laying off thousands of workers but for billions in additional state childcare money. In California alone, according to the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, those changes would cost $2.8 billion over the next five years. If the rules go into effect, State Senator Raymond Meier of New York, a Republican, told a House committee, "it will force states to reallocate TANF funding away from creative and innovative services [to get people off welfare] and exacerbate the difficulties states face in providing childcare to those on welfare and poor working families."

§ A gap of at least $6 billion annually between what Bush promised and Congress authorized under NCLB to pay for the mandated education programs--"highly qualified" teachers in every classroom by 2005-06, intensive reading programs for at-risk children and the required yearly progress in test scores. One researcher in Vermont calculated that it would take more than $84 billion to comply with NCLB annual progress requirements. Bush has proposed $1 billion. Every state, from New Hampshire to Washington, is feeling that pinch; New Hampshire's school administrators say that for every dollar the state gets from the Feds, it has to kick in $7 to meet the NCLB requirements.

§ Ongoing underfunding of the costs of homeland security. According to federal formulas, the $2 billion that Congress is now providing gives states like Wyoming and South Dakota--those magnets for terrorists--between eight and ten times as much per resident as California or New York. And even that money hardly compensates for cuts in other federal law-enforcement assistance. A new study conducted for the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that tight state and local budgets had sharply reduced police manpower in many places and that federal funding for state and local security over the next five years fell short by some $98 billion--a huge figure but, in the words of study adviser Richard Clarke, "decimal dust" compared with the Defense Department budget.

§ The effects of the first round of Bush tax cuts, which Representative John Spratt of South Carolina, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, says has cost the states about $75 billion. The Bush Administration, he told the Times, is "just indifferent to the problem they're causing."

Those discrepancies are partly the result of formulas--and the clout of senators--that always give small states proportionally more money than populous states. But in this Administration and Congress, there's special relish in whacking the liberal states.

Maybe you can write off the Administration's double standard in agreeing to buy back oil leases off the Florida coast last year, but refusing to do the same in California. Since Governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother, was running for re-election, call that politics as usual. But what are we to make of the Justice Department's unprecedented decision to join auto makers (in this case, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler) in their lawsuit attacking state emission control regulations, as the Feds did last year in California?

What of changed EPA rules on so-called new source review, which, to please energy industry contributors--who kicked in some $44 million to the Bush campaign--allow factories, refineries and power plants to expand and build without installing the most advanced emission controls? Those changes came in the face of vehement protests and lawsuits from the Northeastern states, where ecosystems are being damaged by acid rain created by pollution from Midwestern power plants.

What of the move to allow the Pentagon, in the name of national defense, to get around all federal toxic-dumping rules on its military installations, despite protests from agencies like the California EPA, and regardless of the fact that a lot of the toxics leach into neighboring wells and groundwater? According to a study for the Environmental Working Group conducted by Texas Tech University, perchlorate, a rocket fuel component that can depress thyroid function and impede development in fetuses and newborn babies, has already contaminated water in nineteen states and has been found in lettuce at four times the level the EPA regards as safe in drinking water.

And what of the intense, relentless campaign launched by Attorney General John Ashcroft and drug czar John Walters to gut voter-enacted state medical marijuana laws? At a time when federal law-enforcement authorities are supposedly stretched thin by terrorism threats, what perverse passion would drive them to devote precious investigative and prosecutorial resources to that dubious purpose? Eight states, including Arizona, have approved such laws in the past seven years, all but one by voter initiative, but it's been California and Californians that have been virtually the sole target.

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