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The Real Death Tax

Now that the rush to file our income tax returns has come and gone for another year, it’s only natural to wonder what all that money’s paying for.

These days, the money we’re sending to Washington is buying a lot more war and a lot less economic security.
In the current White House budget request, Pentagon spending would rocket upward, with a $29 billion increase. If you include military portions of the budgets of Homeland Security, Energy, and other departments, US taxpayers would fork over $563 billion for military spending in the coming fiscal year.

But wait! (as they say on infomercials) There’s more! That $563 billion doesn’t even include the cost of the war in Iraq! President Bush has submitted a supplemental budget request for $74 billion, of which $61 billion will fund that continuing military occupation.

The Iraq war has cost $273 billion so far. But to account for the total cost of the war, according to Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, we should project the future costs of fighting and withdrawal, added veterans’ costs, the cost of lifetime care for brain-injured troops, the added interest on the national debt, and other expenses.

Do that, says Stiglitz, and the price tag of the Iraq war will be between $750 billion and $1.3 trillion. That’s trillion with a ‘t’, and even that figure, says Stiglitz, is “highly conservative”.

To pay off an extra $1.3 trillion would require every dollar of federal individual income taxes paid by every working American for a period of one year and seven months! That’s impossible, so much of it will be borrowed money.

Then there are the costs of the war that can’t be counted in dollars. There are the lost lives of 2364 US troops, 208 other foreign troops, 314 private contractors, 4435 US-backed Iraqi police and military, and 86 journalists.

And of course, there are the 34,000 to 38,000 Iraqi civilians who have died as the direct result of military violence. Respected estimates put indirect civilian deaths–caused by war-related environmental hazards, declining sanitation, child nutrition, etc.–in the hundreds of thousands.

The number of Iraqi civilians wounded during initial US invasion in March-April 2003 has been estimated at 20,000. The number wounded by fighting in the three years since is unknown but huge.

The Pentagon reports that about 17,500 US troops have been wounded in Iraq. However, that counts only those wounded in combat, not the many thousands injured by war-related accidents or other causes.

By any reckoning, the numbers of American wounded are not declining. In the February-March period of 2004, there were 473 troops officially wounded in combat. In 2005, it was 785 for the same period. This year, 829.

An estimated 6000 US troops have suffered serious physical brain injuries so far. Psychological trauma is even more widespread. Of the 500,000-plus men and women who have served in Iraq to date, the Pentagon estimates that 175,000 have required psychological treatment.

Largely because of the hunger for more military spending, the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2007 would eliminate or slash 141 domestic programs, many of them crucial to the economic survival of many Americans.

Non-military domestic programs (not including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) stand to lose $15 billion. That’s a 4.4% cut in real dollars.

War spending has hurt us. But has it helped the citizens of Iraq? Hardly.

For a second year running, Baghdad has been named the worst city in the world to live in, doing only about half as well as the next worse city, Brazzaville of the Congo Republic.

Almost 5 million fewer Iraqis than before the invasion have access to clean drinking water, and 1.3 million no longer have working sewer connections.

The US Embassy rates only 3 of Iraq’s 18 provinces as militarily “stable”, with 7 in “serious” or “critical” condition. Largely as a result, Bush’s latest Iraq war funding request cuts almost all construction money for rebuilding in the war-ravaged nation, leaving only $100 million, and that’s for building more prisons.

Paying taxes has never been anyone’s idea of an enjoyable activity. But does it have to be so deadly and destructive?

STAN COX is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas. He can be reached at: t.stan@cox.net