17 January 2007

Enough to give one some serious pause...before writing the check

In case you haven't seen it or am not a regular reader (as unfortunately the latter applies to me), a tremendously sobering article appears in today's New York Times Business section. Entitled "What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy" (ed: in USD) by David Leonhardt, it gives some stunning numbers as to what a trillion actually costs to me, the American taxpayer. Even with the population here now just over 300 million, when you see what he's talking about here...especially when he compares all the multi-million dollar items that could be paid for and then some...you can't help to start to look at the end game 'final bill' and really, really worry. I mean, I've long since accepted that Bush & Company has put my generation and the immediate one after mine in an economic quagmire...what I was not particularly aware of was just how badly he was cutting into the generations even beyond those that will ever remember this mess of a Presidency. I know why the liberals have so vehemently hated him and voted against his policies last fall...at long last, this sheds some light on how much the fiscally-responsible conservatives here have a reason to hate, too.

Some numbers about what could be done:
For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

Later on in the article, Mr. Leonhardt provides some breakdown about the above programs:
Treating heart disease and diabetes, by contrast, would probably cost about $50 billion a year. The remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations — held up in Congress partly because of their cost — might cost somewhat less. Universal preschool would be $35 billion. In Afghanistan, $10 billion could make a real difference. At the National Cancer Institute, annual budget is about $6 billion.

And some numbers as to the cost and items of the war in Iraq, by relation:
The operation itself — the helicopters, the tanks, the fuel needed to run them, the combat pay for enlisted troops, the salaries of reservists and contractors, the rebuilding of Iraq — is costing more than $300 million a day, estimates Scott Wallsten, an economist in Washington.

That translates into a couple of billion dollars a week and, over the full course of the war, an eventual total of $700 billion in direct spending.

The war has also guaranteed some big future expenses. Replacing the hardware used in Iraq and otherwise getting the United States military back into its prewar fighting shape could cost $100 billion. And if this war’s veterans receive disability payments and medical care at the same rate as veterans of the first gulf war, their health costs will add up to $250 billion. If the disability rate matches Vietnam’s, the number climbs higher. Either way, Ms. Bilmes says, “It’s like a miniature Medicare.”
Lord knows, we Americans who will never see a dime of the Medicare and Social Security monies we've had to force in all these years know just how well those two programs work.

And, finally, the corker that reminds us the initial total estimates of the war were pinned at between $20-50 (USD) billion:
Whatever number you use for the war’s total cost, it will tower over costs that normally seem prohibitive. Right now, including everything, the war is costing about $200 billion a year.
(ed: emphasis mine for clarification)

No wonder a petition of more than 1,000 signatures from active, reserve, and US Coast Guard personnel is gathering steam to cut off funding for the war. In a throwback to a demand for supplies, food, and basic necessities harking back to the pre-nationhood of this country under General George Washington, the Appeal for Redress submitted yesterday to Congress shows a glimpse that even Bush et al is losing/has lost its most ardent supporters of this Iraq intervention: the military. Maybe somebody will listen...if not this term, at least in the months to come. Totally ignoring the costs of this endeavour, if we had a plan that could resolve this in a timely fashion and save more American lives, I'd be all for it and would write an additional check myself to make it happen (bad enough the local church here has bake sales to buy the protective body armour some National Guard reservists called up could not get from their own government). The problem is...and to me it seems even more so the more President Bush makes the rounds on TV interviews this past week...is that we don't have a real plan. No one does.

Meanwhile, on an equally disturbing note, last week it was revealed that 744,000 Americans were homeless in 2005 in the United States. Theoretically, we are the richest country on Earth and nearly 1 million of us are without a home...41% of this study's numbers are members of a family. And, interestingly, other reports indicate these numbers are not inclusive of the Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast. While I appreciate our desire to give freedom to other families throughout the world, perhaps we should focus a bit more on providing more security and 'the pursuit of happiness' to more of our own here. After all, locally it only costs $1.79 USD a day to feed a hungry person, close to almost $4 USD to feed and provide them a warm cot and blanket to sleep in each night. In November 2006, the local rescue mission here had 31 veterans staying there due to homelessness and/or hunger...and, that, folks, is a travesty, regardless of how those individuals got there. We, as citizens, owe them as least as dependable and safe resources after retirement as they enjoyed when enlisted.

Geez, wonder what we could do with any leftover from that $200 billion this year?

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