Ochenski: Week of travesties

How low can Bush go?



It’s been a week of travesties for the nation under the dubious leadership of the Bush administration, from environmental disasters in the making to the on-going disaster of the war in Iraq. In one short week, the American government’s credibility at home and its image abroad has been trashed. Meanwhile, our bobble-head president continues to tell those still inclined to listen—and the even fewer who still believe him—that everything is just hunky-dory all the way around and all we need to do is “stay the course.”

First there was the infamous Bush-Cheney meeting with the 9-11 Commission. Held in strict privacy, the no-recordings, no-transcripts, and no-public-record requirement demanded by Bush set a new low for the leaders of our so-called “free” country.

But then came the announcement that the administration would now count millions of hatchery-raised salmon as part and parcel of Pacific salmon runs for Endangered Species Act decisions. In other words, a fish raised in the cement raceways of federal hatcheries will now be considered the same as wild salmon that survive ocean predators and make their way up the Columbia River to spawn in the streams in which they were born.

Simply put, the Bush administration wants to avoid the tough decisions on habitat degradation and the dozens of hydroelectric dams that now make it virtually impossible for wild salmon to follow their eons-old spawning patterns. The endless series of dams presents insurmountable walls of concrete as spawning salmon battle their way upstream. For the dwindling few that manage to find their birth streams in good enough shape to successfully spawn, the vast lakes behind the dams turn what should be a massive river rushing to the Pacific into a series of dead-water reservoirs that trap and confuse the salmon fingerlings trying to find their way down to the sea.

Bush’s “solution” is to count hatchery-raised fish, which now comprise nearly four of five salmon in our rivers, as part of the wild salmon population, and hence avoid all the unpleasantness required to restore the natural spawning runs. What to do about the dams, the quality and quantity of water in spawning streams, and how to “flush” young salmon down to the sea may be moot. Soon, the Bush administration can just count ’em all and remove the Pacific salmon from any and all Endangered Species Act or Tribal treaty protections. If we need more, we’ll just build new hatcheries (cheaper than real solutions), and dump them into our rivers en masse.

Here in Montana, our wild, naturally reproducing fish populations are internationally famous and drive a significant part of our economy. Rather than deal with the problems of habitat, instream flows and crossbreeding, will we just farm-raise whatever fish seem incompatible with the Bush administration’s rape and scrape policies? Will Montana’s rivers soon be stocked with hatchery-raised cutthroat and bull trout? How about some nice farm-raised grizzlies, specially bred to be docile? Given the vacuous Bush administration logic, why not?

Although this environmental travesty probably has longer-term consequences—since extinction is permanent—the real headline grabber around the world last week was what the U.S. and its ally Britain have been doing in Iraq.

First there was the unveiling of the new Iraq flag, approved by the U.S.-appointed Governing Council without any input from Iraqi citizens at large. As a symbolic gesture toward the “new” Iraq, the old flag’s design and the green, black and red common to Arab nations was replaced by a dressed-down version that included a blue crescent moon with blue and yellow stripes at the bottom.

As soon as was it released, however, the Iraqis went nuts. Why? In a seemingly idiotic move, the American-backed design replaced the black and red stripes common to Arab nations with, of all things, the blue stripes of the Israeli flag. Furthermore, it completely removed the green stars of the old flag (green having been the favorite color of the prophet Muhammad), and, in yet another insult to the country’s Muslims, removed the words “Allahu akbar,” which mean “God is great.”

To put it in perspective, think how Americans would feel if an occupying army decided it was time to replace the stars and stripes with something they, not our citizens, decided was right.

But last week’s real blow to U.S. standing in the world came when CBS aired grisly photos of captured Iraqis being tortured by American troops. As The New York Times editorialized: “The American military made a strange and ill-starred decision when it chose to incarcerate Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, the prison that had become a byword for torture under Saddam Hussein and a symbol of everything the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end.”

As the pictures of prisoners being beaten, urinated on, hooked to wires, and stripped naked in front of laughing female soldiers flashed across television screens, reports of additional travesties claimed headlines around the globe. Stories of men forced to masturbate, piled up naked, and sodomized with broomsticks added horror upon horror as American standing in the civilized nations, and especially in the Arab world, collapsed.

The New York Times ended its editorial with this: “Abu Ghraib was an enormous victory for them, [the terrorists] and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this.”

That’s how it appeared last week, but as this week begins, further investigations into the torture and humiliation are turning up even greater nightmares. A new story by veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hirsch says the responsibility—and knowledge of the abuses—goes much higher up the chain of command.

The next travesty will likely be to justice, as we see just who winds up getting blamed—and who takes the fall.

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


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