As we stare down tax day, we shouldn't just be scrutinizing our ailing bank accounts, we should also be scrutinizing the government that is spending our hard-earned money. After all, just as your money is your mouth, your government's spending should be representative of your values and ideals.
How is the federal government repping you, oh loyal citizen?
Leading economists estimate that we will end up spending $3 trillion dollars on war that 66 percent of Americans current oppose and 71 percent think is one of the reasons for our nation's poor economy (according to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll).
The $30.9 billion that we've spent on "homeland security" last year has led, as far as I can tell, to stricter scrutiny of breast milk in airports and a lot of people walking around in public with mismatched socks. Not exactly testament to our improved reputation globally, the real measure of how safe we are in the world.
The public education system continues to fail the students most in need despite the fact that over $400 billion is spent on it annually -- usually about half of that going to improving instruction. America's Promise Alliance, an education non-profit, just announced comparative graduation rates for the 50 biggest cities across the nation and found wild disparity; 77 percent of students earn a diploma in Mesa, Arizona, the city with the highest rate, while only a quarter of high schools students in Detroit walk across the graduation stage.
I don't mind paying taxes on principle. I like the idea of sharing my wealth -- or what little of it there is -- to support those in my community. In fact, I'm a devotee of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that with rights comes responsibility, that a polity must reflect our interconnection in its infrastructure.
But our own government is taking our hard-earned effort at practicing community ethics and funneling it into violent, ineffective, and inconsistent policies and programs. It's like the opposite of Robin Hood -- steal from the middleclass, kill the poor, and give to the rich (in the form of private military contractors).
Anti-war women, as part of Code Pink, have launched a campaign for those who object to the seemingly never ending war to withhold a proportion of their taxes -- 7% for the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, 31% for current military spending, or a whopping 51% for total military expenses.
I challenge them to go one step further and give those withheld monies to failing schools. If the government won't represent our civic values, maybe we have to take our country's spending into our own hands.
Courtney E. Martin is a Brooklyn-based writer who already paid her taxes before stumbling upon Code Pink's campaign. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.