As the world burns 

Slipping into a homeland quagmire

Say what you will, but as time goes by it sure looks like those who warned that George Bush, Judy Martz and the Republican right wing were taking this country to hell in a handbasket were right. Undoubtedly many Americans still don’t want to believe that things could, and have, gone so spectacularly wrong—especially when the combined power of corrupt politicians and corporate media tell us daily that everything will be alright if we just quash unpatriotic dissent. But the facts are stacking up on the wrong side of their equation. Sooner rather than later, even the staunchest backers of pre-emptive warfare, the vast expansion of America’s imperial footprint on the globe and our massive consumption and pollution profile are going to have to admit that they have been wrong.

Take this morning’s New York Times editorial titled “Diplomatic Bonfires,” which bluntly states: “Iraq is in a state of near anarchy. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is escalating again, and Islamic terrorists are on the attack in the Middle East.” Whoa, cowboys! I thought our man in the saddle—or should I say strutting on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier—was puffing out his chest because we “won” our war with Iraq.

As the only remaining superpower on Earth, it is nothing short of ridiculous that we should feel pride in our ability to crush the feeble army and non-existent air force of a nation that hasn’t even been able to move freely within its own borders for the last 12 years. But instead of a Pax Americana—in which the Middle East suddenly becomes Christian, loves everything about America, and watches Fox News 24-7—something has gone dreadfully wrong. Again.

For one thing, maintaining and employing the world’s largest collection of weapons of mass destruction comes with a steep price. Just yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle, in “Military waste under fire,” tells the tale of $1 trillion (yes, that’s TRILLION, as in $1,000 BILLION) for which the Department of Defense cannot account. A General Accounting Office report to Congress says the Army “lost track” of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, 36 Javelin missile command launch units and numerous financial transactions. To put this in perspective, a trillion dollars comes to more than three full years of the total “defense” budget. And how did Congress reward such disgusting management of the nation’s assets? As Rep. Henry Waxman said: “The Congress has increased defense spending from $300 billion to $400 billion over three years at the same time that the Pentagon has failed to address financial problems that dwarf those of Enron.”

Someone ought to whack Congress up-side the head with a 2-by-4 to get their attention on what’s going down out here in “the homeland.” Most states are struggling desperately, with some teetering on bankruptcy. Here in Montana, our college students are facing an estimated tuition increase of 24 percent per year for the next two years. Should they manage to somehow scrounge up the money to pay the higher tuition, they may well face, as did this year’s college graduating class, the worst job market in 20 years when they finally get their degrees.

Or how about the loss of freedom that’s occurring not in Afghanistan or Iraq, but here in the U.S. under the rubric of “homeland security”? What was once labeled “creeping fascism” is now in full stride, with Americans quickly becoming the most spied upon (by their own government) people in the world. With Bush in the lead, our government is collecting massive amounts of data on citizens without their knowledge, consent, or even a hint that they may have done something wrong. Who you call, what you say, where you go on the Internet, what e-mails you send or receive, how much money is in your bank account and where and how you spend it are all now being secretly tracked, recorded and shared among government agencies—including the Pentagon and the new, deep-shadow program known as the Total Information Awareness project run by convicted Iran-Contra scoundrel John Poindexter.

As we lose our privacy, we also lose our liberty. Many are now experiencing what really happens as “homeland security” measures are ruthlessly imposed on the populace—not just by the scores of federal and state bureaucracies, but by non-governmental corporations who may find the excuse of “homeland security” a handy tool for any number of their own reasons. Nor should we forget local governments. Helena, using a $70,000 federal grant, now boasts the state’s first city-level “counter-terrorism planner,” who points to “Ted Kaczynski, the Freemen, and Flathead County’s Project 7,” as reasons for Montanans to be more like Israeli citizens and be “aware of what is going on around them,” “seek out information,” and “join groups such as the newly-formed Citizens Corps.” It’s all part of what he says is “going to be a way of life.” But existing in a state of continuous suspicion and paranoia is not what most Montanans would consider “life.”

Gov. Martz is in Washington for Bush’s “Hack the Forests Initiative,” ensuring the maximization of corporate profit from our national forests, as Cheney and his big oil cronies push their next “homeland” attack on wilderness and wildlife refuges. The military, meanwhile, wants to be exempted from all environmental laws, including Superfund and the Endangered Species Act, just to make sure the mistakes of today live on to plague the generations of the future. We’re plundering our “homeland,” just as surely as we’re plundering the globe.

Daniel Shorr, National Public Radio’s venerable senior news analyst, recently deplored the rapidly growing list of countries Americans are being warned to avoid, and referred to the worsening situations in Afghanistan and the Middle East as “slipping into a quagmire.”

Shorr is right about Afghanistan and Iraq. But as time goes by, it’s becoming undeniably clear that our “homeland” is “slipping into a quagmire” too.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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