Friday, March 7, 2008

You Can Get With This Or You Can Get With That

Editorial columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote an interesting piece discussing the true cost of the Iraq War. According to a Nobel prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz and the vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Robert Hormats the Iraq War will cost at least 3 trillion dollars. This figure includes cost which are never reported by the media or discussed by politicians. The truth is that the cost of a war is more than the money spent on men and material, as if it were some business venture that can be tallied with a nice spreadsheet and budget. In today’s world, war is packaged like a corporate enterprise complete with sanitized videos and reporting to make it more palatable to the disinterested masses.

Said Mr. Stiglitz: “Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion.”

There should be a Constitutional Amendment that states, “no President can declare war without instituting a draft”. The problem today is that so many of us are unaffecting by the war in any personal and meaningful way. Oh sure we know people are dying, but they are strangers for the most part. Many of them who have received the least from this society are being asked to sacrifice the most. Yes, they are volunteers, but make no mistake about it for many in our society the choices are so limited that it is no longer a choice. For many of them it is a roll of the dice for maybe a better future and some better choices. Because they are brought home in secret we are never confronted by their deaths. I have never understood why we honor “our bravest” by secretly sneaking them back into the country following their greatest sacrifice. Is this how we honor our fallen heroes? This amendment would at least force the politicians who are tough on security to consider the fact that their children would be subject to the same opportunity to be heroes as those they so flagrantly send into harm’s way. It would also force us as a nation to debate the merits of any action being contemplated in our name, knowing that these decisions would affect all of us in a very personal way.

Instead of pouring 2 trillion dollars down the black hole that is Iraq, here are a few things we could have done right here in the good ole USA. We could have put an end to the partisan debacle that is Social Security for 50 years or more. And based on the Senate committee’s own spending calculations we could have enrolled 58,000 more kids into Head Start for a year with just what we are spending on one day of the war. We could also have enrolled an additional 160,000 low income students into college through Pell Grant funding for a year. Not in the calculations is how many of our fellow citizens we could have provided with healthcare insurance using this money.

Here is what I don’t understand we fight and we argue over providing support for those among us who are less fortunate and yet we spend this ungodly amount of money without batting an eye. What does it say about a country that spends trillions of dollars to kill people, but won’t spend any money to insure the healing of its own people. And to make matters worse one of the nominees for the next President considers the money well spent and wants to spend more. I don’t even blame Bush, McCain, or any of the other warmongers they are only doing what they do. I blame the American public for putting up with this crap. We have an economy that is in recession because we have allowed Bush to fight a war by mortgaging the future of our kids. We have allowed the politics of fear and false patriotism to trump democracy. In modern America war is good. Universal healthcare is bad. Free education is bad. Laying the groundwork for the neediest Americans with pre-school funding, tax credits and college grants, or employment training all bad.

Why is war good? It is good because it fuels the transfer of wealth from the middle-class to the wealthiest. It fuels the military-industrial complex and the war profiteers who in turn feed the lobbyists, who in turn purchase the politicians. You can’t spend all that money on war material and preparation and not use it. We must begin to cut our defense budget. We have spent all of this money on defense and it could not nor can it prevent 9/11 or any other terrorist type of attack regardless of the lies being spread to the contrary. This isn’t about look at all the wrong that America has done, it is about look at all the good America could do with a change in focus.

Of course there is also the toll that war takes on people’s lives through absences, injuries, and deaths. How can one calculate those costs? The loss of a parent, a brother, or son does not fit tidily into a balance sheet. The loss of a limb, a mind, or the trust in one’s government cannot be found in the defense budgetary process. How long will we continue to justify these types and sizes of expenditures for death and ignore the suffering going on right next door with our neighbors. You can get with the war or you can get with life, the choice belongs to all of us.


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