Like his father before him, George W. Bush has discovered Mars. In Greek and Roman mythology the red planet symbolized storms and turmoil in human relationships and hence became the Roman god of war. On the heels of his secret Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad and the capture of Saddam, W has decided to announce a mission to Mars. How appropriate.
W’s plans to explore Mars could cost taxpayers a bundle. Conservative estimates indicate a price tag of nearly a trillion dollars. But big numbers don’t intimidate the president from Texas. W is already spending billions per month on his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Vietnam war cost U.S. taxpayers about $111 billion for eight years of war. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about 500 billion in today’s dollars. So, in addition to some 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam, that war cost Americans almost $62 billion per year, a little over $5 billion per month in today’s money. W, who has prevented media coverage of the returning caskets of nearly 500 American service men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq thus far, more than were lost in Vietnam in the comparable period of that war, last year asked the Congress last for, and got, an $87 billion package to finance his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Far fewer service men and women are involved in W’s wars than were involved in Vietnam at the peak of that war, but the costs are higher in Afghanistan and Iraq because Vietnam-era soldiers were low-paid draftees whereas today’s all volunteer force is better paid and better equipped.
It remains to be seen how Americans will respond to rising local and state taxes, shrinking local and state budgets, and cuts in services in everything from fire and police protection to school programs, all a direct result of W’s undaunted enthusiasm for foreign wars and, perhaps, a trip to Mars. But observers here and abroad are already pointing out that the one trillion American dollars W would like to spend on Mars exploration would go a long way in the direction of solving real problems right here on our own troubled planet.
Americans, more than half of whom are overweight, spend about $30 billion on their pets each year–while an estimated one billion people in the world suffer from hunger or chronic malnutrition, that is, one billion people go to bed, if they are fortunate enough to have one, hungry at night. For about $40 billion per year, developing countries could adequately feed the hungry and achieve and maintain universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for all women, and safe water and sanitation for all.
According to The Hunger Site http://www.thehungersite.com/ about 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.
Famine and wars cause about 10% of hunger deaths, although these tend to be the ones we hear about most often. Most hunger deaths are caused by chronic malnutrition. Families facing extreme poverty are simply unable to get enough food to eat.
In 1999, a year of generally good economic news, 31 million Americans were food insecure, that is, they were either hungry or unsure of where their next meal would come from. Of these, 12 million were children.
Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics–$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.
Europeans spend $11 billion a year on ice cream–$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide clean water and safe sewers for the world’s population.
Americans each consume an average of 260 pounds of meat a year. In Bangladesh, the average is six and a half pounds.
The richest one-fifth of the world’s people consume 86% of all goods and services while the poorest one-fifth consume just 1.3%. The richest one-fifth consume 45% of all meat and fish, 58% of all energy used and 84% of all paper, has 74% of all telephone lines and owns 87% of all vehicles.
Since 1970, the world’s forests have declined from 4.4 square miles per 1,000 people to 2.8 square miles per 1,000 people. In addition, a quarter of the world’s fish stocks have been depleted or are in danger of being depleted and another 44% are being fished at their biological limit.
Our priorities are seriously askew. A large part of the problem is a lack of self-control that finds luxuriant expression in unrestrained militarism and rapacious consumerism. Modern advertising-driven consumerism is damaging the environment and increasingly fragile ecosystems stressed beyond our human ability to repair or even mitigate the damage. Our world cannot and will not support the extravagantly wasteful standard of living to which many of us in the affluent West have become so accustomed. Yet our vaunted economic/social/political system, in the name of continued economic growth and stock market profits, is busy globalizing Western consumerism’s unrestricted desire for ever more consumer goods and feeding run amok capitalism’s insatiable appetite for the limited supply of natural resources, despite the resistance of negatively impacted indigenous peoples, religions, and cultures and a growing number here in the West who are coming to their senses. All while our president proclaims that "they hate us because we are free" and suggests that we can bomb the rest of the world into understanding "how good we are."
And now he wants to go to Mars.
Well, even at a cool trillion, I suspect the price would be a bargain if W could be persuaded to leave next week or next month and take along his entire cabinet as well as Ariel "the Butcher" Sharon, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Saddam Hussein. The whole crew of war mongers richly deserve each other and a long vacation in a place far, far away.
Maybe then we could get down to the serious business of learning how to live together in peace and solve our common problems, while we still have time and something resembling a civilization.