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Don't Panic! 

Your war questions answered

How is the $87.5 billion aid package for Iraq going to be spent, and why are some people upset about it?

To give you an idea of just how much $87.5 billion dollars is, reach into your pocket right now and remove a one-billion-dollar bill. It would take 87.5 of them to equal what we're about to spend in Iraq. For $87.5 billion, "Trading Spaces" could redecorate three rooms for every Iraqi and leave enough money left over, based on White House estimates, to start rebuilding the country's transportation, oil, telecommunications and electrical infrastructure.

The bulk of the $87.5 billion we're spending, though, isn't to fix Iraq. It's to keep our military running. The annual "non-invading-and-occupying-other-countries" military budget of $400 billion is simply not adequate to pay for all this Iraq biznass. Sixty-five-billion dollars from the soon-to-be-passed (if it hasn't already by the time you read this) spending package is going directly to the military. Our tanks need new tracks, our helicopters need new rotors, our planes need new smart bombs, our Navy needs new "Mission Accomplished" banners for the president to pose in front of, etc.

And not even all of the remaining $22 billion is for Iraq. A full $1.2 billion is going to Afghanistan; $244 million will aid Liberian peacekeeping; and $500 million is going to the strangest, most dangerous foreign country of all: California. More precisely, the money is going to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the state recover from this year's wildfires in time for next year's wildfires.

That leaves about $20 billion for Iraq. The bulk of that will be spent on Iraq's physical infrastructure (roads, airports, oil equipment, telecommunications, electrical grid, etc.), a working government with buildings and (how's this for a regional novelty) a judicial system, and national security (police, border patrols and a smartly dressed but non-regionally threatening little army).

It wouldn't be the U.S. government without some stupid expenses thrown in, such as the $100 million to build 3,524 new homes and $150 million to begin (but for some reason, not to finish) construction of a children's hospital in Basra. Iraq is an enormous country with 25 million people -- a small suburb and a half-spital don't even begin to address housing and medical needs. The spending request acknowledges the various projects lack of real value, but says they have symbolic value. Translation: They'll look good on American TV.

The primary complaint about the spending package is the size of it. Add in the $79 billion extra that Congress approved last April, and we're poised to spend over $160 billion in Iraq this year on top of our regular military budget. Not only did the White House never hint that the war would cost this much, they and their media lackeys demonized those who suggested (or even publicly worried) that it might.

The war was sold to us an effort to make us safer, but as the lack of WMDs has confirmed, Iraq was not an immediate danger to the U.S. We had plenty of time to play nice with the U.N. and our allies -- so we could've shared this huge cost. With the money saved, we could've addressed real national security issues, such as securing our ports against cargo-born attacks (what many smart people consider our Homeland Security Achilles heel). We might also have been able to buy enough machines to screen all passenger luggage and air cargo. Maybe we could hire some decent airport security. It took our supposedly new, improved and alert security apparatus weeks to stop 20-year-old college student Nathaniel Heatwole from smuggling box-cutters and chemicals onto planes, despite the fact that he e-mailed the Transportation Security Administration to say he was doing it. (For fuck's sake, he gave them his phone number!)

The other major bone to pick about the spending package is how the White House's closest corporate buddies are making a mint. That's a whole column's worth. Tune in next week for that.

andisheh@creativeloafing.com

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