by Eli Andersen
I was going to write about this a while back but the opportunity sort of fell through the cracks, I suppose. Instead of a 2010 recap or even a 2011 motivational speech, I couldn’t help thinking about a number of things that haven’t been addressed as much as I think they should be—things that have been steadily bubbling on my backburner(s) for quite some time. As a new year steps into focus, yet again, it’s pretty obvious that we have waded through some serious muck to get where we are today—especially over the course of the last few years. A lot of that muck can be directly linked to corrupt people, groups, and companies that are in positions of power and influence in this country. To say it’s a shame that we’ve become so placated to such a fact is, well, the grandest of shames. Our country has found a way to divide itself severely along political lines, and it stands to ruin us. Combine that with the mountain of corporate corruption that has permeated the very fiber of our daily lives, and everything in it, and the future of America isn’t looking so stable. But even with that in mind, I was still somehow a little stunned over something I heard last summer—and I can’t seem to shake it. Taxes—though not in the way the word by itself suggests. I actually thought of taxes when I was listening to NPR and heard an alarming piece of news about how much money (my money—your money—our money) in Iraq has gone completely unaccounted for (Iraq, of course, being as hastily shoved into the shadows as is bureaucratically possible). With the utter mess of the auto bailouts proving that, once again, our hard-earned money is a joke to the people who call themselves our leaders (including the many CEOs who are just as powerful or more so than many of the politicians), this report on Iraq did more than just disturb me—it enraged me.
Last summer an audit performed by the U.S. Inspector General found that, of the $53 billion that had been spent in Iraq on “reconstruction,” $9 billion was completely unaccounted for. One of the lovely explanations given by officials at the Department of Defense is that the money gets allocated to so many different groups, so many different people, on so many different levels, that it’s hard to track—that there’s so many people in charge, that no one’s in charge. What! That’s the best you can do? Thousands of people have died defending this concept! Of the $9 billion, fully $2.6 billion was handed out without any paperwork at all. No one’s in charge—so you just give them my money? Bear in mind, these are the people who are running this mess, and the one in Afghanistan (and likely the one in Korea soon)—quite startlingly, the people in charge of pretty much everything: politicians, CEOs, military brass, and, well, terrorists.
Nine billion dollars. Think about that for a minute. Our money—yours and mine. Gone. I wonder where it could be? Wait, I know—um, let’s see—in the hands of anyone and everyone wandering around the Middle East—likely in the hands of people and groups who are plotting, this second, to do harm to Americans and American interests—plots and plans that will cause even bigger messes that will in turn need cleaning up with, again, our money, and, unfortunately but likely, the lives of soldiers and/or innocent people. Kind of makes you feel like picking up another shift, a little overtime, doesn’t it? On a side note: I guarantee you if I moved over to Iraq, or anywhere in the world for that matter, and forgot to pay my property taxes on my twenty-five- year-old motorcycle, they’d find me in a week—I’d be sitting in a hut somewhere, drinking goat’s milk and sweating, and a skinny teenager, having run thirty miles, would hand me an envelope. On the outside it would say: Dept. of Revenue. On the inside it would say: $43.75 due to the state of West Virginia, or some derelict class clown who got in trouble and now has his name on the board. And we’re so desensitized by everything as a culture that no one even really notices this colossal perversion happening right out in the open—probably because corruption has become a consistent part of our national ethos, starting from the top down, as well as the ever-evolving worship of all things money related (status, image, possession, control, worth). All the while, we hear the number nine billion and it goes in one ear, out the other. If I went on vacation for a million seconds, I’d be gone for about eleven days. If I went on vacation for a billion seconds, I wouldn’t return for thirty years. That’s the difference.
You know, every person or group in this world is subject to inspection; you can only be associated with certain philosophies and events for so long before the world starts to read between the lines. Sort of like the idea of being able to choose where your taxes go. Not literally all of them, but maybe what percentages go in what directions. See if a hammer keeps costing a hundred dollars in the Army then. See if we’re so quick to jump into futile causes then, or get involved in thousand- year-old religious conflicts that only have something to do with us because of oil. See if our government doesn’t start thinking like it asks Americans to think—with measure and restraint, with common sense, and an actual concern for the greater good. Let’s see how loose everyone in Washington is with our money when we determine where some of it goes for once. It’s a thought, a theory—not a solution by any means, but a worthwhile debate. I’ve been working mostly on 1099s for years and it gets harder and harder every year to convince myself that sending that big check to the government is the right thing to do. I mean, I wouldn’t go hand it to some idiot on the street who I know is going to immediately waste it, give it away, lose it, or launder it. It just feels more and more like that’s what I’m doing when I give it to the government. Yeah, I’ve got my freedom, and I couldn’t be more proud or thankful for it, but I also work very hard and have given a ton of money to my government, since I was fourteen, to honor and protect all of my freedoms and luxuries. If I’m going to hold up my end of the bargain, I want to know that my government is holding up theirs, and it just doesn’t seem like they are—which is very distressing and altogether awful for the future of this nation. And yes, we all know that the Articles of Confederation didn’t work because it gave states the option to pay taxes. Well, what do you think happened? Shocker. Of course you have to have a steady supply of taxes in order to sustain a modern, productive homeland— especially over the long term. But that’s not what this is about; it’s about having a say in the matter. I mean, if Washington can take my hard-earned money and lose it in the dessert because too many morons are in charge, then why can’t I have a say in where it goes? This plan can’t possibly be worse than what they’ve already done with it—which is LOST it (or likely gave it away like naïve little kids wading in waters of corruption much deeper than what they’re even used to at home). Just raising a question. Of the thirty percent, or more, that you take from me every year, can I have a choice as to where fifteen percent of it goes? You can do whatever you desire with the other fifteen percent, but I’d like to choose where my fifteen percent goes. Maybe there’s a national list of ten or twenty areas where my chosen taxes can be allocated—a realistic list. Perhaps if we forced the government to tighten its belt a little like us citizens, then we might see who the really crooked ones were/ are; maybe the crap would rise to the top. You have to wonder and/or hope that, within a model similar to this, or somewhat close in theory, economic and national security decisions across untold levels would be arrived at with much greater responsibility, measure, and ethical oversight.
Social programs and education funding in America is an absolute abomination. Salaries for policemen, firemen, teachers, social workers—a slap in the face compared to the responsibility and/or scrutiny associated with each. Think about it; could you come up with a dozen or so things that would benefit enormously from an injection of funding—things that are worthwhile and relevant to the progression of something good for people, for the country? I bet you could. There could even be an “app” that I can follow that tells me where my taxes are going and gives me real-time updates as to how they are being used, etc. A guy can dream, can’t he?
And how about some of that tax money, my tax money, going towards a massive national recovery program for all of our wounded soldiers—something that runs the full spectrum of patient care and loops back to include all veterans. I’d put my taxes towards that, especially when many of these poor kids are getting sent out today to places and situations that have “futile” written all over them, but they still go, and risk their lives—mentally and physically. Why should any of them ever worry about medical or health care again? Who’s answering that question? Who’s addressing that concern? This entire script needs to be flipped in the most profound way imaginable—but I don’t know that we’re even concerned enough, collectively, to give it the attention it needs—a definite topic for future discussions in this, the year 2011.