Got an odd piece of e-mail the other day. It was written by
Melanie Hunter for CNSNews.com, whatever that may be, and its opening
sentence was this:
"President Bush and the current administration have borrowed more
money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 presidents
combined, a group of conservative to moderate Democrats said Friday."
The source of that bit of news was a group called "Blue Dog
Coalition." I almost never read pieces that claim to have been written by
dogs. Not that I have anything against dogs, but I don't quite trust
humans who try to make you think they're canines.
But I pushed on to the next paragraph which said that "according
to the Treasury Department, from 1776-2000, the first 224 years of U.S.
history, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a combined $1.01 trillion from
governments and financial institutions, but in the past four years
the Bush administration borrowed $1.05 trillion."
I yawned again.
I had a dim sense that I ought to be indignant over that news, but I
couldn't get my indignation tap turned on. That's because I find it
almost impossible to get indignant about a number ending with a whole
of zeros. You know, something like "The governor was indicted for
confiscating ten bazillion dollars from the aid-to-the-homeless fund."
I have no idea how many zeros there are in $1.05 trillion either. So
when I read on the internet that President Bush has borrowed $1.05
when all the previous presidents combined borrowed only $1.01
just doze off because I have no idea what such numbers mean.
I was an English major.
But then my older sonthe math-physics-computer jockforwards
some e-mail to me. It's from my son's friend, a guy named Robert
Heckendorn, and he's come up with a way of giving new meaning to large
amounts of money we're spending on the war.
What Heckendorn does is talk about the intersection of money and time
and place. (Don't feel inadequate; I didn't know there was such an
intersection either.) He proposes that "we look at money in terms of an
'Iraq-minute' to get a feeling for at least the monetary cost of this
That quest, he says, started when he flew to Washington, D.C. He
asked the lady at the airport desk if he could take the Metrothe D.C.
subwayinto downtown. She said the subway hadn't been built out to the
airport because it would cost about $1 billion (however much that is) to
extend the subway that far.
And, Heckendorn says, that's where he got his idea: "It occurred
to me, if we are spending billions a year in Iraq, perhaps we could
Iraq a couple of days early and pay for the entire subway extension
The Truth, Mainly
In fact, what could we pay for if we even left Iraq just a minute
So he did the math. He wasn't an English major.
He says that according to the National Priorities Project, we'd
spent more than $204.5 billion on the war by Sep. 30, 2005.
Rounding the total out to $200 billion, he figures that since
March 1, 2003, we've spent $6.45 billion per month, $215 million per day, $8.9
million per hour, and $149 thousand per minute.
Get that? One hundred forty nine thousand a minute? More than my wife
and I paid for our house, but still an almost recognizable number to me.
What boggles my mind is that we may be spending that amount every
In order to avoid overstating his case, Heckendorn concludes that
"one Iraq-minute equals $100 thousand."
And he goes then to the heart of his numbers:
"Next time someone says to you, 'If only we could get $2 million
to fix that road,' you say 'Why, all we would have to do is leave Iraq
20 minutes early to pay for that.'"
And if a new school is going unbuilt because of its $24 million cost,
'you say: 'If we left Iraq four hours early, we could pay for that.'"
He goes on: When someone complains about some new and needed public
facility that government says it can't afford, "put it in Iraq-minutes
That billion-dollar subway extension in D.C.? Come back from Iraq
five days early and we've saved enough money to pay for building it.
I'm still not sure how all that adds up to the Blue Dog assertion
that President Bush has borrowed more than a trillion dollars in the
last four years.
But how much the president is spending on things we don't
needand thereby not able to spend on things we do needis suddenly
coming into sharp focus.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail