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posted December 29, 2006

Iraq is no place for our troops

Thanks for the editorial “Study time is over” (Dec. 15). If you recall, in early November, an editorial calling for Donald Rumsfeld to be replaced as secretary of defense showed up simultaneously in the Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, and Marine Corps Times. Distributed to members of the U.S. armed forces throughout the world, these publications stated that Pres. George W. Bush must “face the hard bruising truth [that] Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress, and with the public at large.”

Only days earlier, Bush stated that he wanted both Rumsfeld and Vice Pres. Cheney to remain in their posts for the remaining two years of his administration. As he spoke, more troops were being killed and wounded in a war that has degenerated into a civil conflict between Muslim factions competing for power.

Then, one day after the Republicans suffered what Bush himself called a “thumping” on Election Day, Rumsfeld’s resignation was announced. To replace him, Bush turned to Council on Foreign Relations veteran and former CIA Director Robert Gates, a move that does not bode well for the troops caught in a civil war between Islamic factions. Iraq is no place for U.S. forces no matter who is secretary of defense.

Frank M. Pelteson
Las Vegas, NV

How much is $1 billion anyway?

I never really gave much thought to just how much $1 billion is, or what one could actually purchase with that amount.

However, the president and members of Congress are entrusted with the responsibility to scrutinize expenditures and deficits in the billions almost daily. Before I go any further, ask yourself how much is $1 billion, or more specifically how many millions of dollars equals $1 billion? Two years ago I decided to conduct an informal survey of people I came into contact with either personally or professionally. I ended up polling approximately 50 people of varying educational and professional backgrounds, from high school graduates to people with doctorates, retail salespeople to lawyers. More than two-thirds of those surveyed had no idea how much a $1 billion is. They were surprised to learn that is as much money as it actually is — a thousand million — a figure most indicated was difficult to comprehend or put into any sort of perspective they could relate to.

To understand just how much $1 billion is, imagine if you will a $100 bill. If you have 10,000 of them, you would have a $1 million, but if you have 10,000,000 $100 bills you would then have a billion dollars. Now, try to imagine what you could purchase with $1 billion. For example, armed with $1 billion you could purchase 50,000 automobiles at $20,000 per vehicle. You could also provide 500,000 people with $2,000 per person for health and/or dental care. Or, you could build 20 schools or hospitals with a price tag of $50 million each. Finally, at $200,000 per house, with $1 billion, you could purchase 5,000 homes.

We are currently spending $2 billion per week in Iraq. Considering the examples above, with this $2 billion expenditure approved by Congress, every week we could provide one million people with $2,000 worth of health and/or dental care, and every week we could build 40 new hospitals or schools, or a whopping 10,000 new homes.

Our federal budget for FY 2006 was in excess of $2.5 trillion. Our budget deficit for FY 2006 alone was $248 billion. Our trade deficit for September 2006 was $64.3 billion, and will total more than $700 billion for the year.

However, the most sobering figure is our national debt, which is currently $8.6 trillion and increasing my more than $2 billion per day. In order to pay off the national debt, every man, woman, and child would have to kick in approximately $28,600. The culprit is ongoing deficit spending, or spending money we don’t have. What is particularly disturbing about our national debt is that for FY 2006 the federal government spent $406 billion in interest payments alone to the holders of this debt. Japan and China, collectively, hold almost $1 trillion of our national debt.

For further information regarding these billions and trillions, I refer you to the president and our congressional leaders. They have no doubt given the billion and trillion dollar figures some thought, and are well versed in how these dollar amounts will actually impact you, your children, and grandchildren.

At the very least, if they know that you know how much $1 billion and $1 trillion are they will, perhaps, be much more prudent when spending your money.

Jeffrey Quittner

Jeffrey Quittner is a practicing attorney in Burlington and an adjunct faculty member at Burlington College in the Legal and Justice Studies Program.