Where The Money Goes

Early this winter, the PBS "NewsHour with
Jim Lehrer" interviewed the medical director at a community clinic in
Northern California. He recalled the sight of military equipment moving
along railroad tracks next to his office. "I've joked with my
colleagues," Dr. David Katz said, "if we could just get one of those
Abrams tanks we could probably fund all the primary care clinics for a

The comment didn't make it on the air - it was only included in
video on a PBS Web site - and that was unfortunate. We need more public
focus on what our tax dollars are buying.

As medical providers and patients struggle with low funding and
high barriers to adequate health care, the nation's largesse for war
continues to soar. Every day, the U.S. Treasury spends close to $2
billion on the military. Such big numbers are hard to fathom, but it's
worth doing the math.

In Yolo County, for instance, where Dr. Katz watches Abrams tanks
roll by his beleaguered clinic, taxpayers have already provided the IRS
with $449.8 million to fund the Iraq war. That's enough to provide
health care to 168,154 children for a full year.

Those figures come from the National Priorities Project, a
nonpartisan group with a nifty - and often chilling - online calculator
(www. nationalpriorities.org). Type in the name of your locality, and
huge military costs suddenly hit close to home.

More than 40 percent of federal tax dollars go to military
spending. The outlays buy a mighty war machine while depleting our own

In San Francisco, taxpayers have already sent the U.S. government
$2.2 billion for the Iraq war - enough to provide health care to
828,378 children for a year. In Oakland, the figure is $826.7 million,
costing out to a year of health care for 309,036 children. In San Mateo
County, taxpayers' tab for the war in Iraq has reached $2.6 billion,
enough to cover a year of health care for nearly 1 million kids.

To make matters worse, this money wasn't just squandered. It
financed warfare that damaged - often fatally - the health of Americans
and Iraqis.

When the National Priorities Project crunched the numbers for the
entire Bay Area, it found that taxpayers have already sent the IRS a
total of $22.6 billion for the Iraq war. In retrospect, other options
for that money are heartbreaking. For a full year, it could have
provided 9,284,504 people with health care. Or it could have paid for
67,522 affordable housing units.

In pursuit of green goals, the Bay Area's share of expenditures for
the Iraq war could have provided upward of 10 million homes with
renewable electricity for four years.

Mostly, the dividing line between foreign policy and domestic
economy has narrowed to the vanishing point. As we know from our
personal lives, priorities - whether openly examined or not - are
pivotal. And government budgets tell the tale of social priorities writ

Here's a fact worth pondering: If the money that taxpayers in the
state have already provided for the Iraq war - $83.1 billion - could
somehow be magically rerouted to the state government's coffers, the
lawmakers in Sacramento would now be faced with the problem of what to
do with a massive surplus.

We shouldn't expect that a reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq will do
much to slow the rocketing costs of America's global military ventures.
The Obama administration plans to double U.S. troop levels in
Afghanistan by early 2010, which will set a new deployment baseline in
that country for years to come. And a significant boost in the overall
size of the U.S. armed forces is on the bipartisan agenda in Washington.

Meanwhile, along the railroad tracks near Katz's clinic in Yolo
County, the Abrams tanks are likely to keep rolling. Each one has a
price tag of $4.3 million. And we're paying for it.

What a community could buy for the cost of a war

To use the National Priorities Project calculator, visit: https://www.nationalpriorities.org

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