Bush, LBJ and Nixon

Despite retooled White House public relations efforts to sell the disastrous Iraq war and occupation, George W. Bush is looking more and more like the proverbial used-car salesman who covers up a car’s flaws with paint and polish, sets back the odometer, and tries to palm off a lemon on an unsuspecting customer.

In this case, of course, we’re not talking about a used car, but about an invasion and conquest that is costing thousands of lives, fanning the flames of terrorism, and draining the resources of both Iraq and our own country.

Emblematic of the lies and deceptions is Bush’s sleazy attempt, in his Oct. 28 press conference, to blame his May 1 “Mission Accomplished” claim on “members of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln,” – the aircraft carrier where he staged the photo op. White House press secretary Scott McClellan later claimed that “those on the ship” asked the White House to do the “Mission Accomplished” banner, and the White House merely complied. Does anyone believe this? We have all seen numerous Bush appearances before glitzy backdrops featuring the administration’s slogan of the moment, just in case we tuned out what he was saying.

When a reporter asked if he will follow previous plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq over the next year, Bush called it a “trick question, so I won’t answer it.” He vowed to “stay the course” in Iraq.

Bush’s press conference performance underscores the pattern of lies, cover-ups, stonewalling and scapegoating that characterize this administration. His officials now say they may shift intelligence staff in Iraq away from the search for weapons of mass destruction to beef up counterinsurgency operations. In effect, they are admitting the non-existence of their main justification for the war.

We remember how Lyndon Johnson vowed to “stay the course” in Vietnam. That disastrous policy led to the demise of LBJ’s presidency. Nixon lied, stonewalled and scapegoated. He was forced out of office.

Bush deserves the same treatment.

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Save Pell Grants

What to do when the economy is weak, unemployment is high, and a college degree is a prerequisite for many jobs? If you’re in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, it seems that the answer is to continue to shaft working-class families by making changes to the federal Pell Grant program. The changes will mean over 84,000 students will lose their grant money in 2004 and about 1.5 million others will see their grants reduced.

And in typical Bush administration fashion the changes are stealth – hiding behind the opaque, curtain of bureaucracy. The Department of Education is going to change a tax formula, untouched for a decade, in a way that denies families credit for state and local taxes paid. And this from an administration that claims to cut taxes (for the rich, that is).

The Pell Grant program, since its inception in the 1970s, has made it possible for millions of students to get a college degree. Currently, almost 5 million students receive Pell funding.

States are facing the worst budget crisis since WW II. More federal funding for college education is needed now more than ever. Tuition costs are rising, as they have been for years, much faster than inflation or incomes. But the Bush administration’s proposed changes will wind up putting higher education out of reach for many children of working-class families. The erosion of this and other need-based aid programs risks returning higher education to something only available to the rich.

Post-secondary education has become one of the quintessential American dreams and, for many of today’s jobs, it’s a necessity. Thanks to programs like Pell Grants, it has become an attainable dream for many more children over the past 30 years. While rising tuition rates are a problem that needs to be addressed, cutting the number of families eligible for Pell Grants solves nothing.

Congress should continue to block these changes and ensure that the Pell Grant program is fully funded.

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