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Stopping Orwell's Nightmare

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The God of War doesn't dine on raw shank bone or bellow orders quite like he used to. When he talks to Congress, say, it goes more like this:

"And, oh, while you're up, I'm going to be needing, uh (cough, cough)... $159 billion this go-around, you know, for the troops. Thanks."

It works.

With the war on terror in its ninth year and disappearing from even the pretense of national debate, let alone outrage and protest, and with the President of Hope prosecuting it so quietly most of us no longer notice, we could be at an eerie national transition point, beyond which war is no longer controversial or a big deal but just the way things are: "normal," like background noise. And the enormous transfusions of cash it requires -- well, nice people don't talk about it.

Oh Lord.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

Then along comes Alan Grayson, freshman congressman from Florida, who has some fresh ideas about how to forestall this Orwellian transition. He introduced one of these ideas in the House last week. It's called H.R. 5353: The War Is Making You Poor Act. It's steeped stunningly in common sense and common knowledge, appeals in a blatant, teabagger sort of way to self-interest and everyman's taxation phobia -- and strikes me as the focal point, almost Gandhiesque in the clarity of its outrage, of a reborn movement to end our wars in Asia and halt the spread of American hubris.

"The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars," Grayson wrote. "War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore."

H.R. 5353 directly addresses the war's current "emergency" spending bill, which is about to come up for a vote and will -- of course! of course! -- pass as usual, with little debate, with perfunctory media mention. The current White House request, part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2011, is for $159.3 billion.

The War Is Making You Poor Act plucks that number out of anonymity and screams, "Wait a second!" This is an enormous amount of money, almost beyond calculation, and we must not make a decision about it transfixed in financial numbness.

The bill mandates that our operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan be funded out of the regular Department of Defense budget, which in 2011 is $549 billion. The $159.3 billion in special funds would be used instead to eliminate the federal tax on every American's first $35,000 of income (or $70,000 for married couples). And that still leaves $16 billion for paying down the national debt.

Yeah, I know, it's crazy. You can't mess with the system like this. The War God's funding machine grinds with bipartisan inevitability. I've watched the process over the years in mounting despair. Our elected reps are, at best, helplessly polite in the face of this inevitability. Dissent is token. We're on a permanent war footing in this country and will be till hell freezes over. Thus it is written. Read the New York Times.

Grayson's bill comes from so far outside the Beltway consensus I felt instant enthusiasm for it. My guess is that others will, too. Within a few days of the bill's introduction, nearly 24,000 people had signed the congressman's online petition endorsing it. For starters, I'd like to see that number hit six figures. Why not seven?

The bill right now has seven co-sponsors: Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Bob Filner and two Republican mavericks, Ron Paul and Walter Jones. Call your rep and urge him or her to support it as well. This is the only way it's going to happen, folks -- we have to make our numbers felt on Capitol Hill. We have to break the unwritten rules that make even honest debate over these hellish wars impermissible.

Mainstream coverage of Grayson's bill has been skimpy and dismissive. The big news outlets crossed over long ago into Orwell's nightmare and, at their privileged remove, fully embrace it. As Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes:

The decree that we are 'at war' has been repeated over and over for a full decade, drummed into our heads from all directions without pause, sanctified as one of those Bipartisan Orthodoxies that nobody can dispute upon pain of having one's Seriousness credentials immediately and irrevocably revoked.

I submit that it's time to reclaim our country -- $159 billion at a time.

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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.)

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