OP-ED: Big Bird Or Big Bombs?


In the wake of Mitt Romney’s declaration the other night that he would de-fund public broadcasting, we’d like to reprise our remarks on this matter and hopefully provide a little much-needed perspective. Every year, the Federal government budgets roughly $400 million dollars for public broadcasting, money that is spent for things like Big Bird and Ken Burns, All Things Considered and Fresh Air, A Prairie Home Companion and This American Life. The Republicans say we can’t afford such luxuries anymore — well, maybe they could find the money if only public broadcasting would be more like Fox News and less hung up on things like science and facts and objective reality. But we digress. The Republicans say we can’t afford Big Bird anymore. That $400 million is $400 million we don’t have. We would like to point here that we spend $300 million dollars a day in Afghanistan. Every day. And we have done so for more than a decade. In just two days in Afghanistan we burn through the equivalent of public broadcasting’s annual federal funding. In the first two days of bombing Libya we spent the equivalent of NPR’s annual operating budget. We ask you, what is the better use of taxpayers’s money: a year’s worth of Big Bird and Frontline, and Bert and Ernie and Terry Gross and Garrison Keillor and the Cookie Monster? Or a few days of bombing the shit out of some psychotic tyrant we were still calling ‘friend’ up until about 15 minutes before we started bombing the shit out of him and a decade-plus of trying to dispense freedom and modernity from the barrel of a gun to people who care not a whit about being modern or free. The choice pretty much comes down to This American Life or all this American death. We choose life.

WASGHINTON POST: Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration’s 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war. But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected. There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008. MORE

WASHINGTON POST: The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or health care for 423,529 children, or could outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity, according to the American Friends Service Committee, which displayed those statistics on large banners in cities nationwide Thursday and Friday. The war is costing $720 million a day or $500,000 a minute, according to the group’s analysis of the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes. MORE

WASHINGTON POST: A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred. MORE

AFP: The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will allow for a reduced US defense budget in 2012 but the war in Afghanistan still costs the United States close to 300 million dollars a day. MORE

CNN: Keeping one American service member in Afghanistan costs between $850,000 and $1.4 million a year, depending on who you ask. But one matter is clear, that cost is going up. During a budget hearing today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, asked Department of Defense leaders, “What is the cost per soldier, to maintain a soldier for a year in Afghanistan?” Under Secretary Robert Hale, the Pentagon comptroller, responded “Right now about $850,000 per soldier.” MORE


NEW YORK TIMES: The way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think instead about what you could buy with the money. When you do that, a trillion stops sounding anything like millions or billions. For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives. Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds. The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. MORE

RELATED: $1 trillion is more than the combined gross revenues of Wal Mart, Exxon, General Motors and Ford Motors. Assuming the United States consumes about 17 billion barrels of oil a year and assuming the cost of a barrel of oil is about $65, a trillion dollars will buy an entire year’s worth of oil for the USA. We could buy everyone on Earth an iPod. MORE

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