I just read Ellen Goodman's recent column, about year-end philanthropic giving and how we can all do a little bit of good this time of year by thinking through our donations. She writes:
Maybe it's the series of disasters from tsunamis to hurricanes to earthquakes. Maybe it's the war in Iraq that costs $2,000 a second. Maybe it's another round of proposed budget cuts for the neediest. But this year it seems vital to make active and conscious decisions about what we give. Which doesn't make it easy.
The column and Goodman's advice are spot-on, but it's the "$2,000 a second" phrase that's sticking in my brain. When we hear that the war in Iraq has cost more than $225 billion so far, it seems abstract. My calculator only has nine digits, you know? But two thousand bucks a second really brings it home - literally. For my family, that's two months of housing, or 20 weeks of groceries and the occasional meal out, or about three times what we'll spend on Christmas.
Still, it's the war's cost to our communities that ought to make us think hardest. The National Priorities Project has an excellent website that shows what our national budget decisions - including endless war and repeated tax cuts for the wealthy - really cost in terms of lost spending on health care, education, public safety, and affordable housing. For example, Idaho's $590.8 million share of the war (so far) could've instead been spent on sending 77,260 kids to Head Start or putting an additional 14,836 police, fire, or EMT personnel on the job.
I am tired - really tired - of hearing George W. Bush tell me not to "give in to despair" over Iraq. How can we not despair when so much of our national treasure - in both human and economic terms - is being squandered for a muddled war in which no clear path to "victory" is visible? How can we not be pissed when our spending priorities are so clearly out of whack, and when we are saddling our kids and grandkids with ever-deepening debt?