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The numbers racket A few stray facts from Iraq and California
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
October 10, 2003

The White House released some of the figures from the budget request for $87 billion for Iraq the other day, and there are some pretty interesting numbers in it.

For example, $20.3 billion is for the reconstruction of Iraq. The rest, presumably, is to provide targets for Iraqis who are, for some reason, displeased that their country is crawling with foreign invaders.

$20.3 billion to rebuild a country doesn't sound like much. Iraq has about as many people as Texas, and Texas spends more than that every year on the state budget. And this is a state that believes "the Government ain't got no business spending no money on nobody, no how, no way." I think they even have that on their state flag or something.

Still, labor is cheap in Iraq, as are many materials. Oil is incredibly cheap, running roughly twenty-five cents a gallon, a price I haven't seen since independent gas stations had price wars back in the 60s. So one might expect that a lot of infrastructure rebuilding would be taking place, especially the stuff we blew all to hell while invading their country.

In fact, nearly $700 million is going toward rebuilding civic sewer systems, which are sort of nonexistent. Seems that only 6% of homes have sewer service among the major cities. The admin is hoping that with that $700 million, they can get that number all the way up to ...

... Eleven percent. Why anyone thinks it's worth spending $700 million to bring sewer lines to just another 5% of the Iraqi population is a bit perplexing.

The US wants to spend $153 million to construct 50 landfills, and buy 40 garbage trucks at $50,000 each. $165 million is earmarked for civil aviation, including getting the two main airports, which we bombed, reopened. $150 million goes to border guards, because neither the Americans nor the Iraqis quite trust Iran. The railroad system gets $303 million, which is more than what the GOP wants to spend on Amtrak. $150 million for a new children's hospital in Basra. $240 million for road and bridge construction. The admin wants to train 9,000 Iraqis in "market- oriented computer skills," which presumably means taking telephone orders for US companies that want to outsource to take advantage of cheap labor. Or maybe the GOP will put their fundraising phone banks there after the Indians decide the work isn't worth the lousy pay.

Most of the stuff on the list seems fairly sensible, and if anything, the problem is that more money is needed. But there are a couple of items that are really strange.

The US wants to spend $400 million to INCREASE the capacity of the Iraqi prison system. Currently at 23,700, this money would add room for 4,000 more prisoners at a mere $10,000 per prisoner. Why America thinks it will be imprisoning more people than Saddam did makes for some intriguing speculation.

To put it in perspective, that $400 million is more than the US wants to spend on highways, railroads, hospitals, or education. Granted, anyone from Texas wouldn't see anything strange about that, but for the rest of the world, it's a weird set of priorities.

Even weirder is the witness protection program the admin wants to set up. They've allocated $100 million to relocate 100 snitches and their families. That works out to one million dollars per snitch, which leaves you wondering if they're relocating them to MARS or someplace as easy to get to. Harry Potter only THINKS he knows what a Golden Snitch is. By way of comparison, the Bee reports that domestically, the US shells out an average of $3,263 per snitch (and family) for the domestic witness protection program. One has to assume that Iraq produces a much higher quality of snitch than one finds in the American Mafia, or in corporate board rooms.

It will cost $13 million to inflict zip codes and area codes on the Iraqi people. If that doesn't win their hearts and minds, nothing will.

They are blowing $100 million to get 500 experts to investigate "crimes against humanity." At $200,000 per expert, we should expect to see some pretty gaudy crimes. No word on whether they will be investigating the defunct Saddam regime, or the US Army.

Strangest of all is $100 million earmarked to construct 3,528 homes in seven communities. Each community would have roads, schools, a place of worship (hopefully a mosque and not a Baptist church), a supermarket, and a clinic. Sounds like the deal of a century. It works out to $28,344.67 per home, which is probably not unusual in Iraq, but getting all the rest of it tossed in for free sounds incredibly good.

Of course, that probably doesn't include sewage. That would probably save money.

Even Congress is skeptical about some of those items. $50,000 for a garbage truck really upset them, I'm told. Their brother Luigi can get you one slightly used for less than that.

The American equivalent of Iraq, of course, is California, and here we had that recall election. You may have seen it mentioned at one point or another. Like the budget for Iraq, it had a lot of numbers that made sense, and some that were just plain strange.

The Sacramento Bee ran exit polls, and there were some interesting results. Support for recall decreased with educational status. Nearly a quarter of Arnie's vote came from Democrats. One in four Democrats voted for the recall. One in eight Republicans voted against it. Arnie's support climbed with family income, while Bustamante's dropped. Green Party candidate Peter Camejo got most of his support from families making $15,000 a year or less. Nearly half of voters reported problems voting. Most were minor. Only 42% of Arnie's supporters considered positions on the issues to be more important than "leadership qualities." 19% of voters who thought the recall was a colossal waste of money voted for it anyway, while 6% of those who thought it was really worthwhile voted against it.

For some people, it just didn't matter if they thought their candidate was worth a damn or not. Ten percent of the people voting for the recall approved of the job Davis was doing. Four percent of Arnie voters disapproved of the man they voted for, and eleven percent of Bustamante voters similarly held their noses. McClintock voters were the most rational about this, with only one percent of his support coming from people who disapproved of him.

Of course, we had a situation where Republicans enthusiastically supported a candidate who is pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights and who has a tawdry sexual history. And the right wing is enthusiastically hailing an election in which a measure to conceal racial preferences in hiring and admissions was defeated by nearly a 2 to 1 margin.

The answer to all this is straightforward enough: we send Arnie to Baghdad to build sewers.

Why didn't you think of that?

Topplebush.com
October 13, 2003

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