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You can actually get a few things done with $87 billion, the amount that President Bush has asked Congress to appropriate for expenditures related to the military occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.

For example:

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN bodies estimate the cost of providing treatment and prevention services in developing countries for tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria at $12 billion a year.

The WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health estimated that donor investment of $27 billion a year, including expenditures on TB, AIDS and malaria, as well as to eliminate death and suffering from other infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies, could save eight million lives a year. That’s eight million lives. A year.

The UN Development Program estimated in 1998 that the annual additional cost of achieving basic education for all was $6 billion.

Prefer to spend some or all of the money at home? Even in the United States, where the dollar doesn’t go as far, $87 billion can perform some pretty impressive feats.

For example, according to Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, it would only cost $6 billion a year to provide health insurance to all uninsured children in the United States. You can provide Head Start and Early Head Start to all eligible children for $8 billion annually. You can reduce class size to 15 students per teacher in all first-, second- and third-grade classrooms for $11 billion a year.

For $87 billion, you could eliminate the backlog of maintenance needs at national parks nearly 15 times over. You could cover more than half the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-estimated 20-year investment needs to ensure safe drinking water throughout the United States. You could more than double the annual capital expenditures needed to improve public transportation in the United States, according to estimates of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. You could provide almost half of the overall funding EPA says is needed to provide clean watersheds in the United States, including through wastewater treatment, sewer upgrades and nonpoint source pollution control.

It just so happens, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out, that $87 billion is almost exactly what all departments in the federal government combined spend annually on education, training, employment and social services. So you could fund that for a year.

If you looked at the $87 billion as found money, and wanted to do something unorthodox, you could eliminate California’s state budget deficit two times over.

And, you would still have enough left over to enable the Detroit Tigers (baseball’s worst team) next year to field a team full of Alex Rodriguez’s. (Rodriguez, at $25 million a year, is baseball’s highest-paid player. A full roster — 25 players — of Rodriguez’s would cost $625 million.)

We accept that having imposed devastating economic sanctions on Iraq for a decade and twice waged war on the country, the United States has a major obligation to support reconstruction in Iraq. But three-quarters of the president’s request is for military expenses, not reconstruction, the request follows a previous $79 billion appropriation, additional requests are certain to follow, and much of the money being spent on reconstruction is being funneled as poorly scrutinized corporate welfare to Bush and Vice President Cheney’s buddies at companies like Halliburton and Bechtel.

If one steps back for a moment, it is evident that there is a long list of expenditures that would do more to improve the world, and more to improve U.S. security if reasonably defined, than what the president proposes to do in Iraq.

A strange circumstance has evolved in the United States. Military expenditures can be justified at almost any level. (“Whatever it takes to defend freedom.”) Politicians don’t say, “Whatever it takes to make sure every child in this country has a decent education.” Or, “Whatever it takes to deal with the worst health pandemic in the history of the world (HIV/AIDS).” When it comes to the military, there is neither a sense of proportion, nor of trade offs.

This state of affairs is a tribute to the military contractors and political leaders who have ridden to power by instilling fear in the populace. It can be traced in no small part to campaign contributions and lobbyist influence, but the problem runs much deeper than that. Fear has penetrated deep into the culture.

But the administration’s overreach in Iraq now offers an opportunity to create a new sense of priorities. It is now even more apparent than it was before the war that Iraq posed no security threat to the United States. And the sums of money requested by the administration — and more will be coming — are so extraordinary that they practically demand consideration of alternative expenditures.

After all, you really can do quite a bit with $87 billion.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.)

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