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Editor's Note: Forsythia, Taxes, and Tomahawk Missiles 

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Ah, April. If I were in a despondent state of mind—and who would blame me for being so, watching unexpected snow blanket the crocuses in late March—T. S. Eliot would be invoked here: April is the cruellest1 month, etc. And yet oddly, as I age, I become more optimistic. I take comfort from John Ashbery’s “Grand Galop”: Hugely2, spring exists again. It hasn’t happened yet, of course, but it will. April is always good for two things: forsythia and taxes. (If you have forsythia3 planted in your yard, as I do, you should know that it’s not native to New York. In “Going Native,” garden expert Carolyn Summers explains some of the biotic repercussions of nonnative flora.)

And while we can ditch the forsythia, taxes ain’t easy to dodge. (Just ask Wesley Snipes.) As I was signing off on my federal tax forms last month, it occurred to me that I didn’t know, specifically, to what purpose my taxes were being put. On the local level, I know where my school taxes go (duh!) and my property taxes fund the municipal services I receive here in Kingston. On the state level, as with everything to do with New York State politics, it is perhaps better to let where the money goes remain a mystery. (It funds retirement benefits for state workers, for one, I know that. But as we note in While You Were Sleeping, the hue4 and cry over budget-busting worker benefits is political theater, not financial reality.)
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Before asking what I was getting for my federal tax money, I checked to see what I was paying in. Turns out about a quarter of my income goes to the Feds. (New York State gets approximately eight percent of it as well.) As I have no investments, no children, and only one home, my taxes are fairly straightforward. What does this get me? Well, I’ve included a handy chart from the Congressional Budget Office via the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (This chart is from 2010, so it’s a year behind, but as Congress has yet to pass a budget for 2011, it’ll have to do.)

Note that 60 percent of the federal budget goes to defense, social security, and health care for those who can’t afford it/don’t have health insurance. Looks like the biggest benefit to me, personally, is the satisfaction in knowing that we’re giving the terrorists hell in the dirty backwaters of the world so we won’t have to fight them here (price tag of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far: $3 trillion; 4,400 dead American soldiers, 70,000 injured). And although my prediction5 last month that Qaddafi was going to be either dead or in exile by March 1 was incorrect, our tax dollars are hard at work to make it so. The price of one Tomahawk missile, $569,000, is roughly equivalent to what I will pay over the course of my life in federal taxes. Take that, Muammar.

And while education only gets three percent of the federal budget, I have no doubt that it is probably going mostly to overpaid administrators and underworked teachers who summer by the pool while the rest of us toil ceaselessly to get this economy back on track. One item not noted in the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis: the tremendous savings possible if the House bill to cut $60 million in NPR funding becomes law. That money would buy another 105 Tomahawk missiles. Who’s next? Hugo Chavez? Bring it on.

1. The odd spelling is Eliot’s. He stretches “cruellest” into three syllables—cru-ell-est—at once prolonging the agony and creating a more mellifluous flow; a trick not unfamiliar to Jay-Z and Kanye. I know how Eliot sounds from a 1935 recording of him reciting “The Waste Land” in a dusty-depth-of-the-British-Museum tone, as if he himself were impersonating the Sybil of Cumae, blessed with eternal life yet damned without eternal youth. (The Cumeans, cut-ups that they were, stuck the tiny and decrepit oracle in a basket and displayed her in a public square.)

2. The only remainder of my Queens accent emerges when pronouncing words where the long vowel sound of “u”, preceded by an “h”, begins a word—I turn the “h” into a “y”. Thus, hubris is pronounced you-briss. This dialectical peccadillo is particularly troubling in multi-person conversation with someone named Hugh; everyone believes I am addressing them when I am, in fact, talking to Hugh.

3. Forsythia, that riotous yellow wonder that erases the very memory of winter, is surely what Ashbery is referring to in “Grand Galop.”

4. See footnote 2.

5. I also predicted, back in 2003, that we would never invade Iraq, as that country had no part in 9/11. The reasoning was so ill-founded as to be farcical. Veteran correspondent Ray Suarez shares his thoughts on the media’s poor performance post-9/11 in The Forecast.

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