‘Boston Globe’ Asks Readers How Iraq War Money Would be Spent Elsewhere

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By: Joe Strupp

The Boston Globe Web site, Boston.com, decided to put some perspective on the growing bill for the Iraq War, and the latest congressional financing authorization, by asking online readers to submit their alternatives for spending $456 billion, the estimated cost the war is expected to reach in the coming months.

“While there is some disagreement on the idea of troop deadlines for US soldiers in Iraq, all sides seem to be on board with the amount included in the bill to fund the war,” a statement on the site explained. “Including the $124.2 billion bill, the total cost of the Iraq war may reach $456 billion in September, according to the National Priorities Project, an organization that tracks public spending.

“The amount got us wondering: What would $456 billion buy?” Web editors asked. “With the U.S. taxpayers’ commitment at $456 billion so far in Iraq, Boston.com asked readers how would they rather spend the money.”

More than 400 readers responded, with ideas ranging from the humorous to the angry to, often, the practical. “Our view?” editors wrote. “You can laugh or you can cry.”

Among the ideas posted:

— Wind Power: The local Cape Wind power project, at $700 million for 130 turbines, could be replicated 651 times, one reader wrote. “Take advantage of the tremendous wind resources off New England’s coast: the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” the reader claimed, adding that the energy produced would be enough to power New England.

— Solar Energy: “How about investing $9.1 billion into developing a low cost way of manufacturing multi-junction solar cells?” asked one reader. “We would no longer need foreign oil.” Another reader linked to an essay by blogger Dave Jarvis, “who argued that the money spent in Iraq could buy enough solar panels to generate 5.6% of the annual U.S. electric bill.”

— Junk Food: “456 billion cheeseburgers off the dollar menu,” wrote one reader; “1.14 trillion White Castle sandwiches, no cheese,” for another; while others included; “3.12 trillion Bazooka Joes at 5 cents a pop,” “256,179,775,280 cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee,” and “9.3 trillion Twinkies.”

— Space Travel: “228 space shuttle orbiters,” wrote one Webbie. “Since the space program is often depicted as large and costly, I thought it would make for an interesting comparison.” Another stated, “It cost Charles Simonyi $25 million to get blasted into space. So $456 billion could blast 18,240 people into space. I have a long list of people I’d like to see blasted into space, but not that long.”

— Give It to The Iraqi People: “The population of Iraq is 27 million, so that’s over $16,000 per person,” wrote a reader. “With a per capita income of $3,600, $456 billion would pay each person in the country their usual income for just about the duration of this war.”

— Remember The Soldiers: “Just the new spending bill of $120 billion could give over $42 million to each of the 3,000 dead soldiers’ families,” wrote one reader.

Boston.com Editor David Beard said the idea was simply to get readers involved in a controversial subject. “That is what interactive is,” he said. “To say, ‘Here is what we came up with, but what do you think?'”

Editors are matching the ideas with related photos, forming a gallery of submissions that Beard says has drawn more than two million page views since it began several weeks ago. “It was a natural for us to ask for ideas.”

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