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Death and Taxes


That cliché in modern America should get re-worded: “Taxes Equal Death.” In 2010, unique in the world, the US military budget absorbs the lion’s share of the federal budget, under the aegis of security but actually to wage seemingly permanent war.  The amount spent on the military equals approximately what all other nations together allocate for “defense.”

Each year, led by deficit-haters, Congress hands the Pentagon its annual spending money (about $1 trillion counting intelligence and nuclear weapons).  For the last nine years the mention of “9/11” provides the only phrase necessary to get this outrageous sum passed by both Houses.

But the destruction of the twin towers and the damage to the Pentagon came from 19 fiends with box cutters and a death wish. So why combat this “threat” by funding the army, navy and air force and their high tech battlefield equipment? Well, they are fighting “militants” and insurgents” in Afghanistan and Iraq — places where the 9/11 sky-jackers were not.

Ironically, the loudest complainers about paying taxes become the most eloquent advocates of spending more on the military – the leading Republicans and their certifiably moronic Palinesque supporters.

One could argue that these deficit and war hawks belong to a secret society of ghouls who intimidate the rest of Congress and the public into funding devastation. After nine years in Afghanistan and 7 plus in Iraq the most obvious results of this trillion dollar plus effort are lots of dead and maimed people, many of them  civilians;  tens of thousands of houses turned into rubble and assorted damage to infrastructure and other public property. US tax-payers can rightfully claim a role in not only the killing, but for some of their burials (coffins and flags) as well.

Those dead people over there, of course, have relatives, some of whom will plot revenge on us — in very low-tech ways. (Recall the jerks who were fortunately foiled on airplanes before detonating their shoes and underwear!). Military spending has arguably increased not only the number of US foes around the world, but the federal deficit as well. And for tens of millions – not the rich– life has become worse. Remember Bin Laden the Evil swore he would bankrupt this country!

Well, we pay federal, state, local, sales, property, luxury, estate and you name it taxes. But we see less benefit from them. The country has dramatically declined in its levels of public education, health and transportation. Rights once won by unions like paid sick and parental leaves, decent vacations, and secure pensions have shriveled.  Costs for old age and child-care have rocketed upwards. Government-backed affordable housing? Forget it! Some wusses still think of these services as fulfilling basic needs.

Most Europeans of course get these benefits by paying taxes. But European and most people in other developed countries have small (realistic) defense budgets – they must feel so insecure – which allows them to fund citizens’ basic needs.

The Glen Becks, Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins charge anyone backing such “European” models  as traitorous — abandoning the hallowed “free market” and selling precious “individual liberty” for a few comforts. (Anyone ever see photos of any of the above advocates in anything less than sartorial comfort?) Should Americans receive such services from their government?  Why, we would lose our “special” qualities and becomes socialistically inclined!

The Republican congressional mountebanks and some rightist Democrats– among the few who receive European class benefits thanks to their jobs –believe the rest of the country should pay through their noses for HMOs and high priced assisted living facilities. The rich have stock in both.

High mortgage payments and fears of foreclosures (300,000 in July), worries about getting sick, not having money for the kids’ tuitions? All those anxieties build character.

The almost 50 million Americans who still lack health coverage and those denied coverage by HMOs may die earlier than they should but they show their grit, like the millionaire John Wayne – in the movies.

Americans spend three times more per capita on old-age care than Europeans. Sixty million American workers don’t get sick leave, parental leave is minimal following a birth. Europeans receive these benefits – and more –by paying taxes. “Americans,” concludes Steven Hill in the Guardian, “pay out just as much as Europeans – but we receive a lot less for our money.” (“What do we get for our US tax dollars?” (April 15, 2010)

The rich don’t want to pay taxes. They don’t use public schools, health facilities or transportation – so why should they pay for them?  Cops and fire departments of course keep thieves away and protect expensive things – worth paying for.

Democrats traditionally represented the poor and middle classes who didn’t complain about paying for good public education, basic heath services and smooth-flowing public transportation. The good old days — before taxes translated primarily into death.

SAUL LANDAU is the author of A Bush and Botox World.

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