Ochenski: Age of uncertainty 

Whither the nation, whither the state?

It seems like political leaders at both the state and national level are having a tough time elucidating a clear message to citizens about just where they want to take the state and the nation. On the national level, President Bush seems ready to defy the world in waging war on Iraq—no matter the cost or impacts to our country, global stability, or long-standing international organizations like the U.N. On the state level, Gov. Martz seems confused about many things in her flailing attempts to keep the ship of state upright. Neither of these so-called “leaders” is inspiring confidence in a population battered by a collapsing economy, threatened by unseen foes, and living in the new Age of Uncertainty.

Last Monday the Dow Jones closed at nearly 7,500. To put that in perspective for those who don’t keep an eye on such things, it was only a few short years ago that news- casters routinely talked about “the psychologically important 10,000 mark.” What that meant is that when the market fell below 10,000, the “psychology” of investors became less sure and more nervous. Today, no one talks about the 10,000 mark anymore. Battered investors, who have watched nearly a third of the market (and their investments) vanish into thin air, have no “psychologically important” marks. Instead, they are bunkered up, wrapped in duct tape, and hoping to survive the next round of bad news brought on by President Bush’s latest escapades.

Similarly, the national budget had a surplus when George W. Bush was appointed president. That surplus was “psychologically important” because it meant we were digging our way out of the hole left behind by Presidents Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, whose defense spending proclivities created trillions in debt. Having a surplus meant we would not be loading those debts onto the future, meant we would not be burdening our children’s generation with the grim task of taking care of their parents while simultaneously picking up the tab for our overspending. That, too, is now gone, and the national debt is conservatively estimated at $300 billion and growing fast—and that doesn’t count the cost of Bush’s dirty little war.

Meanwhile, as the country falls deeper into debt and depression, the oil barons who put Bush in office are having a field day. Gas prices have skyrocketed above the $2 a gallon mark nationwide, adding yet another tremendous burden to an already strapped population. And guess where all the extra money being generated by those high prices goes. Yep, directly into the pockets of the oil barons who are also selling fuel by the boatload to Bush’s war machine.

Perhaps these horrible circumstances, and their equally horrible consequences might be tolerable if there was some vision of where we are going, some light at the end of the tunnel. But there isn’t. No one can or will definitively say what is likely to happen in the aftermath of an Iraq attack.

The world justifiably fears that the actions of our power-mad president may catastrophically destabilize the Middle East, sending tidal waves of violence and discontent around the entire globe, and plunging the world into the darkness of religious war, famine, disease, and poverty. No one knows if these fears are justified or not because the level of debate coming from our “leader” in Washington simply refuses to address these concerns. Bush is on a mission from his god, and woe to those who might disagree or stand in his way.

Closer to home, the situation is not so very different—it’s just on a smaller scale. Gov. Martz seems addled by the situations challenging her administration. One day she vows to veto all new tax bills. The next day she pushes her own new tax. In attempting to explain her logic for raiding the Coal Trust for on going expenditures of government, she makes a twisted analogy that compares the state to a sick parent who wants the kids to pay for treatment. Many in the Capitol were left shaking their heads and wondering what the hell she was talking about, since robbing the Coal Trust just as surely steals from the future and just as surely requires the kids to pay for today’s expenses.

Nor is Martz alone in her confusion. Minority Democrats are being constantly assailed to “work with Republicans” on fixing the state’s budgetary woes. OK, for the sake of discussion, let’s say the Ds wanted to work on solutions with their Republican counterparts. With whom, exactly, would they work?

Martz says “no new taxes” whatsoever—except her new sales tax that will be “revenue neutral.” In other words, Martz’ plan does nothing to balance the budget, but simply further shifts the tax burden onto the backs of the citizens. Speaker of the House Doug Mood says the budget is already balanced and the Legislature can go home at any time (which begs the question: “So why don’t they?”). President of the Senate Bob Keenan says there are other revenue measures that deserve consideration and should be part of the mix with cuts to state spending in balancing the budget.

While Keenan’s position is by far the most reasonable and most likely to be embraced by Demos seeking to work with Republican “leadership,” it runs headlong into Martz’ “no new taxes” wall. Thanks to overwhelming uncertainty, there is simply no cohesive Republican plan, and no single “leader” who speaks for the Republicans and with whom the Demos can work.

With the clock ticking down for both Bush’s war and the Montana legislative session, tremendous amounts of energy and materials are being exhausted with every passing day. At a time when we should be using our resources sparingly to take us in the direction we need to go, we are doing just the opposite—squandering them blindly as we grope through the darkness of uncertainty with which our failed Republican “leaders” have blanketed the nation and state.

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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