Ochenski: Rays of hope 

A healing light illuminates government secrecy

Like fighters shaking off a punch, some members of Congress are finally beginning to question just where Bush’s so-called “global war on terror” is going, how the hell we’re going to pay for the exponentially escalating costs, and when we might extricate ourselves from the multitude of countries into which President Bush is sending our forces. Closer to home, a secret political operation headed by Gov. Martz that used state resources for political purposes has recently been exposed. Just as our lengthening days portend the promise of spring, these new developments bring hope to those who would see a return to open government, reinstitution of political checks and balances, and reasoned debate instead of the secrecy, illegality, and back-room influence peddling of these benighted administrations.

In a sign that the wheels may be coming off President Bush’s War Wagon, Sen. Robert Byrd (D–W.V.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, finally asked some long-overdue questions: “We went to Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists. We don’t know where Osama bin Laden is or whether he is alive or not. We don’t know where Mullah Omar is hiding. When will we know we have achieved victory?” In referring to Bush’s proposal to increase defense spending by $600 billion over the next 10 years, Byrd asked, “If we expect to kill every terrorist in the world, that’s going to keep us going beyond doomsday. How long can we afford this?” Byrd was joined by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D–S.D.), who now openly questions Bush’s plans to expand military operations around the world. “We really don’t know what the direction is, frankly. We talk about going into Yemen. We’re talking now about going into the Philippines and other places. Before we go into a lot of these other locations, I think it is important for us to better understand what our purpose is, how long will we be there, how many troops will be there, how does it affect our efforts in Afghanistan.”

Predictably, congressional Republican leaders are screaming bloody murder. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) called Daschle’s and Byrd’s remarks “disgusting” while Republican Leader Sen. Trent Lott (R–Miss.) wrapped himself in the flag to question how Daschle could “criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field?” But Sen. John Kerry (D–Mass.), a veteran of two tours in Vietnam and the recipient of three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star, called bullshit on the two Republicans—both of whom avoided Vietnam military service. “Let me be clear tonight to Senator Lott and to Tom DeLay: One of the lessons that I learned in Vietnam, a war they did not have to endure, and one of the basic vows of commitment that I made to myself, was that if I ever reached a position of responsibility, I would never stop asking questions that make a democracy strong. Those who try to stifle the vibrancy of our democracy and shield policies from scrutiny behind a false cloak of patriotism miss the real value of what our troops defend and how we best defend our troops. We will ask questions and we will defend our democracy.”

Perhaps sparked by the revelations that President Bush had secretly put a “shadow government” in place without notifying or consulting Congress, this return to active debate on our nation’s military and budgetary policies and priorities is extremely encouraging. In a similarly encouraging sign, Senate Majority Leader Daschle pronounced Bush’s plans to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge “dead,” while touting the overwhelming benefits of conservation and raising mileage standards for cars and trucks.

Meanwhile, here in Montana the Martz administration is living up to its reputation for a scandal a week with revelations that Martz and those in her office have used state phones to set up functions and raise almost $200,000 for the Montana Majority Fund—an industry-backed, political slush fund. In Martz’s own version of a “shadow government,” those involved include Betti Hill, wife of former Rep. Rick Hill and Martz’s “project director;” Shane Hedges, Martz’s campaign manager and policy director who resigned after pleading guilty to killing House Majority Leader Paul Sliter in a drunk-driving accident; and Leo Giacometto, former executive aide to Sen. Conrad Burns, and Martz’s appointee to the Northwest Power Planning Council, who was intimately involved on the night of Hedge’s fatal accident.

When reporters contacted Betti Hill in California (where she is spending the winter), Hill said she was only performing her assignment from the governor and had been told the Montana Majority Fund was a non-political economic development group. Why anyone with her familiarity with politics would believe that a non-partisan economic development group would be called the “Montana Majority Fund” remains a puzzle. Meanwhile, Gov. Martz, caught with her hand in the cookie jar—or more appropriately, with her finger on the buttons of taxpayer-financed phones—has taken the bold step of announcing the slush fund will repay any phone charges to the state. But here’s the catch: Using state-owned phones for political purposes is against the law, and once again, Gov. Martz finds both herself and her administration mired in ethical controversy. Somehow, the governor thinks that if you get caught buying land from ARCO at below-appraisal prices, or using state phones for politics, all you have to do is say you’ll pay up and everything will be OK. She just doesn’t get it. This latest caper, however, has outraged even mainstream media like the Billings Gazette who demanded Martz “clean house,” saying the “dialing for dollars” activities should be independently investigated, “a complaint filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices,” and calling for Hedges to get “a new job, one that doesn’t involve the governor.”

Rays of Hope? You bet. When Congress demands accountability and responsibility from President Bush and mainstream media put Martz’s shady political practices up against the wall, there’s a good chance the citizens of our state and nation may finally see a new day dawning—and not a moment too soon.

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