Perhaps the best indicator that things may be changing in the nation's capitol occurred last week when John Murtha, a former Marine colonel who has been called "the most influential Democrat on military issues," blew away the House of Representatives by saying it was time to pull the troops out of Iraq immediately.
"The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily," said the decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. "It is time to bring them home. The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."
As shown in the most recent polls, an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens now oppose the war in Iraq, which Murtha pointed out, saying: "The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress."
Predictably, Murtha's comments immediately brought scathing rebuttals from the Republicans. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney called Murtha "reprehensible." Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert considered Murtha's words "the highest insult" to the troops and part of a "cut and run" strategy. Some 14 Republican leaders held press conferences to blast back, and were even less kind, actually accusing the old soldier of "cowardice."
But Murtha still had a few rounds in his clip and fired back at Bush and his chicken-hawk administration point-blank. "I like guys who've never been there [to war] to criticize us who've been there...I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done." He could have added that, being "special turkeys," none of his White House critics have even a single family member in the oven of Iraq, since they've been "pardoned" by wealth, privilege and political connections.
Many consider Murtha's actions to be a "tipping point" in the debate on Iraq and we can only hope they are right. An honest debate on sending American soldiers to die to secure yet another corporate resource colony is long overdue, and Murtha's comments spawned a rancorous exchange that shook Congress on its last day before the holiday recess. In a scene reminiscent of governance in banana republics, House members assailed each other across the aisle, hurling insults and nearly coming to blows. We can only hope that some of those "special turkeys" who can't take the criticism for their bad decisions wind up facing some roasting of their own over the holiday.
Closer to home, Montana's D.C. turkeys are likely to face a little heat of their own when they return to the Big Sky state. Last week Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole representative to the House, ignored public opinion and longstanding tradition when he put his party before his constituents and voted for a budget bill with an onerous provision to allow the sale of public land to corporate interests under the guise of the hopelessly outmoded 1872 Mining Law. Originally intended as a means to "settle" the West, the law allowed anyone to stake a claim on federal lands, do minimal investment to show developable mineral deposits, and buy, or "patent" the land outright for one to five bucks an acre. Six years ago the government finally realized the West was "settled" and put a moratorium on the process.
Despite a hue and cry raised by Montana hunters, anglers, parks lovers and wildlife advocates over the potentially disastrous results, Rehberg voted to amend the old law to allow private parties to claim and buy public lands at a mere ,000 an acre-and they don't even have to develop minerals, simply stake the claim, pay their money and use the land for anything they want. If you don't like the idea of stuffing even more public resources into the pockets of the turkeys at the top, don't hesitate to turn up the heat on the gobbling Rehberg.
Speaking of Montana turkeys, how about Sens. Conrad Burns' and Max Baucus' votes last week to oppose repealing the Bush tax cuts for millionaires while simultaneously bloating the deficit with the approval of a budget-busting billion one-year military appropriations bill, complete with another billion for Iraq? While he was on a roll, Burns also voted to defeat an attempt to impose a windfall profits tax on the tens of billions of dollars that rolled into energy company coffers thanks to the recent spikes in gas and heating fuel prices.
And then there was Burns' vote to deny "enemy combatants"-such as those in Guantanamo Bay's notorious prison-access to U.S. courts. Burns also voted to suspend the longstanding right of habeus corpus for those same prisoners, denying them even the most basic opportunity to question whether or not they are being lawfully imprisoned. So much for protecting the reputation of the nation as the shining beacon of human rights and dignity under the law, eh?
Arundhati Roy is right about who gets roasted and who runs free. This holiday, don't forget to pause for a moment of thanks that maybe, just maybe, the bird might be starting to turn.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.