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Ochenski: Command and control

Bush's push to privatize resource decisions

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President Bush may be getting his butt kicked in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there can be little doubt his “homeland” offensive is in high gear. Fueled by Republican control of both chambers of Congress, the efforts to command and control democracy in the interests of the energy cartel that fills the GOP’s coffers with ill-begot gold are stunning in the sweeping changes they are bringing to our lives. From “outsourcing” government jobs to opening the Rocky Mountain Front for oil and gas exploitation, the “let’s roll” administration is steamrolling the foundations of democratic decision-making. While few would expect Montana to be the point state in Bush’s attacks on democracy, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Take last week’s news about the Forest Service decision to dump Missoula’s Content Analysis Team in favor of “outsourcing” to private contractors. Most folks, busy with raising families and beset by the pressures of modern life, probably don’t have a clue what a Content Analysis Team does. Perhaps, as the name might suggest, they simply analyze the Table of Contents in Forest Service publications to make sure the page numbers and chapters are correct. If that was what they did, no one would be terrifically upset at the news that these government jobs would be shopped out to contractors.

But that’s not what they do. The Content Analysis Team is essential to the workings of democracy in public resource decision-making because they analyze the hundreds, thousands, or millions of comments sent in by citizens, industries, and groups on everything from timber sales to bison, roadless areas to energy development projects. These folks have the very tough job of sifting through the reams of comments on proposed federal actions and deciphering what the public does or doesn’t want done.

Isn’t it convenient that Montana’s Content Analysis Team, right here in good old Missoula (a known bastion of progressive thinking), was one of the first to be “studied” for outsourcing under a directive from the Bush administration? Or that, despite costing half a million more taxpayer dollars per year, the Bushies concluded that privatizing public lands decision-making in Montana was worth the extra money? Could there be any connection to the tidal wave of controversial, exploitive projects proposed for Montana’s public lands?

When George Bush was campaigning for president, one of his loudest gripes was that the Clinton administration had run roughshod over the states by issuing edicts establishing national monuments and roadless areas. Bush promised that if he was president, by God, there would be an end to this top-down rule, and local input would be honored.

As we all know, George W. Bush went on to become president—not by God, but by the machinations of the political hacks (including then-Gov. Marc Racicot) put in place to ensure his election. His brother Jeb, the Governor of Florida, promised to “deliver” the state to Bush. To make sure that’s the way it turned out, he launched an effort the likes of which haven’t been seen in the South since segregation was abolished. Black voters were harassed on their way to the polls and many of those who made it were told they couldn’t vote, or had their ballots disproportionately voided. But even with the tossed ballots and premature proclamations of victory, this corrupt campaign had to call in its chits from Daddy Bush’s Supreme Court appointees to halt the recounts and ensconce the rascal in the White House.

The stakes in the Bush Game have been high from the beginning and they are no less so now. Bush’s campaign promises have turned out to be lies on the order of his claim that Iraq was poised to attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction. His promise of “no new nation-building” has given way to not one, but two, international disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which we are losing at the cost of billions of American taxpayer dollars and hundreds of lives. The promise to avoid “top-down decision-making” has given way to the Washington edict to outsource federal jobs—especially, it would appear, those that may be critical to ensuring that decisions are made the way Bush and his energy cartel want them made.

And so Missoula loses its Content Analysis Team, and a million bucks in federal payroll, too. Soon, the comments on drilling the Rocky Mountain Front, protecting our roadless areas, turning the saws loose on the national forests, and a thousand other decisions will be “analyzed” by some contract outfit from who knows where. They will no longer be local government employees, but most likely, if Halliburton and its ilk are any indication, some company with a record of large donations to Bush’s campaign fund.

The raw data, i.e., the public comments, will go directly to the private contractors, and they will decide what it is that we were trying to say, what we wanted protected, and where we did or didn’t want them to drill, log, mine, or cut a new transmission corridor. And thanks to new guidelines and agency rules coming out of the Bush administration, the mandate to “expedite” environmental and social impact review will ensure the public won’t be able to go back through the raw data and determine whether it was accurately “analyzed” or not—there simply won’t be time for a recount, err, I mean, review, of the data before the final decisions are made, the permits issued, and the bulldozers begin to roll.

Montana now gets its very own chance to experience being treated like a Third World nation by the corrupt political and corporate cabal running America. We, too, will get to see the wishes of our people ignored, watch our laws rendered meaningless and have our resources plundered before our very eyes.

The first to go is our Content Analysis Team. But before Bush’s command and control administration is finished, Montana and our nation stand to lose much, much more.

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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