Ochenski: Winter of discontent 

Inside the Beltway, it’s slop time at the corporate trough

After five weeks of continuously bombing Afghanistan, it looks like Bush’s “war on terrorism” is going nowhere fast. At first, it seemed kind of funny that, on day two of the undeclared “war,” we had already run out of targets. For those of us who find the idea of massively bombing some of the poorest people on earth repugnant, there was a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the campaign would come to an early end. But of course, that didn’t happen. After all the hype and adrenaline pumped into us by networks and politicians, when “America Strikes Back,” here in the land of instant gratification we expected to see some bad guys go down. But that didn’t happen, either. Despite the cheerleading efforts President Bush will conduct this week, it seems evident that “the war” has bogged down. Nor is “the war” the only thing bogged down.

Here at home, the U.S. economy continues to slide into full-blown recession as a desperate Congress searches for a way out. Perhaps heeding President Bush’s admonitions to “return to normalcy,” the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, including our own Denny Rehberg, passed an economic stimulus bill that illustrates the true depths of corporate greed and the control corporations wield over lackey politicians. With the nation suffering and Americans apprehensive about the future, citizens are being asked to sacrifice everything from civil liberties to a free press so we can “win” an amorphous “global war on terrorism.” But when it comes to House Republicans and their corporate buddies, “sacrifice” is a word they neither hear nor understand. Instead, they have, as always, decided to let normal citizens sacrifice while some of the largest corporations in the nation rake off obscene amounts of money from the federal treasury.

Wrapping themselves in the flag, House members like Rehberg voted for provisions to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax law and provide billions in tax rebates to those who need it least. A recent ad in The New York Times (check it out at http://institute.ourfuture.org/ads/ad.html) provides these estimates of the largesse “patriotic” House Republicans want to dole out in tax rebates:

IBM: $1.4 billion. Ford: $1 billion. General Motors: $833 million. General Electric: $671 million. Texas Utilities: $608 million. Daimler-Chrysler: $600 million. Chevron-Texaco: $572 million. United Airlines: $371 million. Enron (Racicot’s client, currently under formal investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission for cooking its books): $254 million. Phillips Petroleum: $241 million. And, sit down now, this will be a shocker: K-Mart gets its own $102 million patriotism bonus. If you’re asking yourself what the hell these billions in tax giveaways have to do with patriotism, “the war,” or economic stimulus, you’re not alone. Maybe Rehberg will take the time to send a free-postage flyer back home to tell Montanans why he voted for these pork-barrel measures and explain how giving IBM or Ford a billion bucks will help the Montanans he’s supposed to be representing.

While the outrageous, out-of-control feeding frenzy at the federal trough is bad enough, that’s not all that’s going on under the cover of Old Glory these days. The same Repub majorities in the House recently passed an airlines safety bill in direct opposition to the Senate version, which would federalize airport security functions and ensure that the folks doing the checking aren’t simply the lowest bidders. The House Repubs, fearing that the Senate measure would add 30,000 or more new government employees—who are likely to be unionized and might even vote for Democrats once in a while—decided to kowtow to their free market ideology and endorse a Bush plan to stick with private security services. Together, these measures pit the House Republicans squarely against a Senate that finds both bills unacceptable. So now we’ll get to watch Congress squabble over how to resolve these diametrically opposed pieces of legislation while neither takes effect.

And still, that’s not the end. The unbelievably greedy energy conglomerates, and their bosom buddies in the White House, continue to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (under the guise of “energy independence”), mining and logging remaining roadless areas (like the Rocky Mountain Front), and rolling back environmental standards for refineries (under the cover of “energy security” measures). Not only do we lose the wildlands legacy for future generations, but we get to subsidize it with our tax dollars, trash the environment, and speed up global warming to boot. Will “patriotism” provide air cover for these incursions, too?

What it all boils down to for John Q. Citizen is anything but good. For every dollar given away in tax rebates/breaks/subsidies for megacorporations, there is one less dollar that can be used for education, health care, unemployment (which is rising at the fastest rate in 20 years!), environmental cleanup, and a host of other needs. What it means here at home is not yet clear, but a recent comment by a Montana official with the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of cleanup options at Helena’s mine-ravaged municipal watershed may give us a clue to what’s coming. Given the extensive federal funding and priorities shifting, he noted, the mining waste cleanup may have to “wait in line” for funding. If this means getting in line behind the likes of IBM, Ford, the notorious Texas energy conglomerates, and K-Mart, it could be a long time before we get the leaching piles of poisonous tailings out of our watershed.

We’ll get to see President Bush do his song and dance for us this week to explain how well “the war” is going, how strong the international coalition remains, and what steps he is taking to deal with homeland security and the economy. But until the president and Congress get the corporate monkeys off their backs and start concentrating on the very real needs of America’s citizens, the Bush administration is likely to experience a long winter of discontent—not just in Afghanistan, but here at home, too.

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

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