Activists highlight war’s cost to taxpayers

by Jordan Green

by Jordan Green

Rep. Howard Coble’s Aug. 15 visit to Family Service of the Piedmont in High Point was part of a whirlwind schedule as he made the rounds through the 6th congressional district. Earlier in the morning he’d presented a check to a boys and girls club in Thomasville. And following his stop at Family Service, he’d have lunch, and then tour the facilities of Transportation Systems Solutions, a local truck paneling company.

When the Republican lawmaker took his seat at the head of the table in the conference room, a round of introductions began, with each person describing their specific roles in a coordinated effort to help child survivors of sexual abuse. The High Point police lieutenant went first, followed by the hospital nurse responsible for forensic exams and the police detective assigned to sexual offense cases. Then came the staff therapist, followed by the child victim advocate who coordinates services among the various participating agencies.

Help for child survivors of sexual abuse is only one program covered under the broad umbrella of Family Service of the Piedmont, whose activities also include credit counseling, adult substance abuse treatment, counseling for people in troubled marriages, shelters for domestic violence survivors and outreach to homeless people.

“All these services are kind of intertwined because if they’re homeless they may have had a substance abuse problem in the past; there may be some mental health issues,” Counseling Services Director Theresa Johnson said. “So you try to catch them on the downhill slope.”

Coble commended the nurse, the police officers and the social workers for their teamwork, and then turned to the subject of funding, even though his hosts had not specifically requested federal funding. The program for child survivors of sexual abuse receives some funding from United Way and the non-profit National Children’s Alliance.

“Unfortunately, money is tied to everything in life,” Coble said. “A friend said to me, ‘If you want to know the value of a dollar, find yourself without one and it becomes painfully obvious what it’s worth.'”

A nascent national network of local activists aligned with made that point in a different way, simultaneously releasing reports disaggregating the costs of the war in Iraq by congressional district. Members of the Greensboro Operation Democracy Council of MoveOn dropped off a copy at Coble’s Greensboro office on Aug. 14. Based on data compiled by the Massachusetts-based National Priorities project, the report states that the war has cost taxpayers in North Carolina’s 6th District $1.04 billion.

“The 1.04 billion being spent on the unwinnable civil war in Iraq should be put to better use for American taxpayers where we need it most – in our backyard, fixing our aging bridges and roads or improving the lives of our residents,” the 6th District report argues. It goes on to trumpet a list of alternative priorities that might have received more funding had federal tax dollars not been poured into the war. The report states that war spending might have funded healthcare coverage for 214,915 people in the 6th District, 22,142 new elementary school teachers, 9,847 affordable housing units or 27,370 public safety officers, among other possible uses.

The Greensboro Operation Democracy Council opposes future funding of the war in Iraq, said council member Faith Hawes.

Standing outside of Family Service of the Piedmont, Coble was hard pressed to disagree with the anti-war group’s broad premise, if not their ultimate conclusions.

“I’ll admit that the cost of the war has been extremely costly,” he said. “I’m waiting for the report from General [David] Petraeus. If you recall, I was one of seventeen Republicans to vote against the surge. It would be good to be able to spend the money on other things.”

Despite his criticism – beginning in early 2005 – of the Bush administration’s lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the war and his opposition to escalation, Coble joined all but two Republicans in voting for $100 billion in supplemental funding for the war in May. While most Democrats voted against the measure, the support of 86 breakaway members allowed it to pass the House.

“We’re there; I’m not comfortable pulling the plug,” said Coble, explaining his support for continued funding of the war. “I’m glad we took Saddam out. He was an international terrorist. Has [the war] been without mistakes? No, it hasn’t. I wish we’d had a post-entry plan for reconstruction.”

Kathe Latham, a doctoral student and teaching student at UNCG who is a core member of the Greensboro Operation Democracy Council, indicated that anti-war activists are becoming impatient with elected officials in both parties. The Greensboro Operation Democracy Council, she said, is “in the infancy stage of becoming a functioning group,” but many of its members, like her, have been active in the anti-war movement since the invasion in 2003. Other anti-war groups active in Greensboro have included the World Can’t Wait, NC Labor Against the War and the NC Peace & Justice Coalition.

“I would say that people who are coming together now under this Operation Democracy banner are people who are fed up with politicians on both sides,” Latham said. “This particular group is trying very hard to be nonpartisan and to hold all our elected representatives accountable. People are starting to feel that the Democrats are talking out of one side of their mouth and acting a different way. We’re very concerned about the Democratic Party’s ability to move this issue forward, and to take a vote on ending funding for the war – which is really what it comes down to.”

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