AUSTIN, Texas -- The evidence just keeps stacking up that this administration intends to turn the entire country into a giant Texas. The hallmarks of Bush's governorship are everywhere, being reenacted on a grander scale in Washington, D.C. The favors and services for big corporations, ludicrously obvious pro-polluter policies advertised as something else, the occasional bone thrown to the right-wing and, above all, tax cuts that leave the government unable to carry out even its most basic obligations. Foreign policy is the only new element in the mix.

-- Bush offers something called the Clear Skies Initiative, arguing it would reduce pollution "better and faster" than the Clean Air Act now in effect. But the Energy Department already did a study in 2000 analyzing various enforcement strategies and concluded the approach wouldn't even work as well as what we already have, a law that the administration is very busily NOT enforcing.

-- Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who helped write Bush's energy policy, met with 36 representatives of industry, almost all of them in the energy business, and zero people speaking for consumers or the environment. The National Association of Manufacturers, the Independent Petroleum Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute and a whole pile of top people from individual utility, coal, nuclear and oil corporations got to meet the secretary to discuss energy policy. That's what they call "buying access," but in fact it is buying policy.

-- Forget the rhetoric from Bush, watch the numbers. Bush has been bragging about the great bipartisan compromise he forged with the "fabulous" (his new favorite word) Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kennedy and the Bushies slogged through long negotiations -- Bush got testing, Kennedy got more money from the schools, everybody was happy. Five weeks later, Bush's budget came out: There's none of the promised money to repair dilapidated schools or to reduce class sizes in poor districts. Great, now poor kids can sit in their rotting schools in huge classes and take standardized tests to see how well they're learning.

-- Ouch! What a dumb way to choose protectionism over free trade. Of course Bush is supposed to be a dedicated free trader, but he decided to go with protectionism on behalf of the steel industry in what everybody recognizes is a political move to protect jobs in swing states like West Virginia. We've all seen presidents make decisions for political reasons before, nothing new there. But the Europeans are predictably infuriated and are retaliating by hitting Bush back on industries centered in other battleground states. David Broder reports they will target Florida orange juice, Wisconsin motorcycles and Pennsylvania steel. When you sell out your principles, there's supposed to be a political pay-off for it. And when you play trade-war chess, you're supposed to be able to see more than one move ahead.

-- The "compassionate conservative" put $300 million into his budget to promote marriage. Now there's a concept. Imagine the TV ads: "Try marriage, it's refreshing!" Meanwhile, he cut funding for child care for women moving from welfare to work and for job training. Now, if you were a welfare mother trying to find and hold a job, which do you think would be more helpful to you?

-- As for foreign policy, OK, all the critics who kept muttering all last year that if Bush didn't do something about the escalating levels of violence in the Middle East, we would all live to regret it can now stand up and take a bow. We all agree on the goal: stop terrorism. A great deal of squawking is now being heard, not all of it from the right, that negotiating with Arafat is rewarding terrorism and putting us in a ludicrous position vis-a-vis our own war on terror. If we concentrate on what works, I think we can get past this theological dispute.

In the April 11 issue of The New York Review of Books is an article by Fintan O'Toole of The Irish Times about terrorism and the peace in Ireland. What finally worked there was changing the political context. What didn't work was hell's own repression of the terrorists (Israelis, take note). To the extent that negotiating can be considered "giving in" to terrorism, we need to think hard about whether it does, as in Ireland, stop terrorism. If that's what works, then that's what works.

Ireland, while only a single example, was certainly considered an intractable one until a few years ago. O'Toole argues the IRA was probably the most successful terrorist organization in the world. Actual known terrorists from both sides are now serving in the same government.

O'Toole recognizes the dangers: "To admit that these people can be bargained with tells them that they (SET ITAL) will (END ITAL) be bargained with. To accept that their behavior is the result of political conditions suggests that that behavior will ultimately result in the political changes they desire. This is not a message any democracy wants to send. And yet, the results of the Irish peace process speak for themselves." The political condition of the Palestinians simply has to be addressed.

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