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Sherwood Ross: Willie Sutton, Iraq & Joe Taxpayer

Willie Sutton, Iraq, And Joe Taxpayer

By Sherwood Ross

Asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Given its rich supply of oil, Sutton would have understood the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq. As you read this, new “sharing” agreements are being hashed out with the pliant Iraqi government to cut in U.S. and British oil producers for a bigger share of the flow. But Iraq is not the only country being looted. There’s more to this war than oil. To follow the money, as investigative reporters Woodstein did during Watergate, we find another target of the Bush aggression. And that, dear reader, is our own USA which, FYI, is Number One globally in terms of per capita gross domestic product at $10,980 per soul.

Yes, America may produce bumper cash crops of wheat, corn, and tobacco. But the Numero Uno cash crop gets harvested every April 17th. That crop is the American taxpayers, who could be the real reason for the war in Iraq, especially since the nuclear fairy tale President Bush spun turned out to be bogus. The annual income tax haul from chopping Joe Taxpayer down to size comes to about $1-trillion.

To put it all in perspective, the State of Virginia, a provider of needed public services ranging from medical care to highways, has run up a debt equal to $1,892 per resident, the Census Bureau says. But the sum each Virginian, (and every other U.S. taxpayer,) owes the Federal government is an astonishing $25,000+, up 25% in just the few short years Mr. Bush occupied the White House.

The military-industrial complex has never had it so good. Take away self-funding Social Security and Medicare, the real Federal budget is $1.8-trillion, of which the Pentagon gets a record $439. Toss in the outlays for the so-called intelligence agencies, the total "defense" bill jumps to about $500-billion --- more than all the rest of the world spends on armaments.

Let the good times roll! Knight Ridder news service reports the Pentagon is shelling out $20 for ice cube trays that retail for less than a dollar and $1,000 for popcorn makers. As Derrick Jackson wrote in the Boston Globe, Halliburton’s Kellogg, Brown & Root subsidiary “charged you and me $100 for a bag of laundry and $45 for a case of soda in Iraq.” And when Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps’ top contracting officer said the no-bid, multi-billion contracts to Halliburton were “blatant and improper”, she got demoted.

As for the Republican Party’s avowed belief in the free market system, it apparently doesn’t apply at the Pentagon. It’s an agency where competitive bidding is a sham. Willie Sutton was in the wrong business. He should have made weapons, not pointed them. Here’s what the Big Ten defense contractors reaped in billions from DOD last year: (1) Lockheed Martin, $20.7; (2)Boeing, $17.1; (3) Northrop Grumman, $11.9; (4) General Dynamics, $9.6; (5)Raytheon, $8.5; (6)Halliburton, $8.0; (7) United Technologies, $5.1; (8) Science Applications International, $2.5; (9) Computer Sciences Corp., $2.4; and Humana, $2.4. And much of this loot was obtained through non-competitive bidding.

Scores of American corporations are paying no income taxes whatever as a result of Bush’s tax breaks. Their total share of the income tax burden in 2004 was less than 19%. And according to Citizens for Tax Justice(CTJ), “82 of America’s largest and most profitable 275 companies, all “Fortune 500” entities, “paid zero or less in federal income taxes in at least one year from 2001 to 2003.”

The CTJ report noted, “Aerospace and defense companies enjoyed the lowest effective tax rate over the three years (2001-03), paying only 1.6 percent of their profits in federal income taxes.”

Somebody once defined government as “who gets what and how much.” That’s cynical. But while depressing the corporate burden, Bush has, according to Reuters, tried to save $15-billion “by trimming programs for cancer research,” among other domestic needs. And he recently “signed a measure to cut $39-billion over five years from the health care program for the poor, student loans, and other programs,” the wire service said.

Does any of this explain why President Bush hasn’t given the public an honest answer about why he invaded Iraq? Willie Sutton would have made a much better President, if only for two reasons: (1) He was refreshingly candid about his crimes. (2)He never killed nobody.


(Sherwood Ross is an American reporter and author of “Gruening of Alaska.” Reach him at

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