AUSTIN -- We had one of those "What was he thinking?" moments with Gov. Rick (Goodhair) Perry the other day. The only governor we've got decided to bring back that old bone of contention: prayer in the schools. Nice timing, guv.

The very first clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes freedom of conscience. The majority does not rule anyone's faith. If we wanted the state to coerce faith, we would have voted for the Taliban. Look, as we all know, the religious majority in Texas is hardshell Southern Baptist. Splendid people, the Southern Baptists, but the fact is, if the rest of us had wanted to join their church, we would have done so. Our next biggest faith is Catholicism, and if the governor wants to spend the rest of his term convincing Baptists to say "Hail Mary," that's fine by me. As is obvious to all but those of the most limited intelligence and the governor, by the time you get the Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Methodists, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Church of Christers, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers and the County Line Salt of the Earth Church of the Predestinarian Faith to sign off on one prayer, it begins "To Whom It May Concern, If There Is a Whom." Prayer in school is quite perfectly legal, and is especially common before algebra exams. Mandatory prayer organized by, led by and broadcast over the public address system by paid agents of the state is unconstitutional.

Matthew 6: 5 and 6.

And now to the less sublime, those heroes of the House are about to pass a bill that would help wreck the economy in the name of boosting it. Even the Bush administration is against the pointless tax cuts -- what we need is a temporary stimulus. Eliminating the corporate alternative minimum tax does nothing to stimulate investment, and it will cost $25 billion next year.

Another bad idea is lowering tax rates on capital gains, which also does nothing to create jobs. According to the New York Times, 80 percent of the benefits would go the top 2 percent of households, not the kind of people who need to rush out and buy the baby shoes. The Republican-sponsored bill also speeds up tax cuts to the wealthy by $54 billion, all of it going to the richest 30 percent, half to the top 5 percent. Out of $100 billion package, just $2.3 billion goes to help unemployed workers, the back asswards of what is needed. Since what we need is short-term stimulus, it is particularly dimwitted to make the tax-related initiatives extend past 2002. Then we're right back in the old soup of driving up interest rates, thus stunting economic growth.

Jamie Galbraith, the LBJ School economist, gave succinct advice recently for both foreign policy and the economy: "Lay rail." It seems to me expanding unemployment insurance should top the list of government spending, but as others have noted, intercity, high-speed trains are desperately needed and are an excellent investment of public money. Repairing the schools, many of which are falling apart, would be a splendid cause for G.W. Bush, who had tried to make education his signature issue.

If Bush thinks he's getting good economic or political advice from Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and rest of the right-wing in the House, we'll have to go back to wondering how bright he is. His daddy made exactly the same mistake.

The enormous gap between sensible public spending and the Republican plan for more tax cuts for the rich is such a painful example of how money perverts our political decisions. I do not for a minute believe elected officials would have the same priorities if it were not for campaign contributions from special interest groups. The Nation recently quoted Bob LaFollette, "Wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism." Sad to say, the special interests "hitch-hikers," piggy-backing their own selfish purposes on the pressures of a national crisis, prove the late LaFollette right again.

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