Some two years ago, Congressman Brian Baird told constituents in Chinook, Wash., that if they were Iraqis he could help them. The project in question was restoration of the Chinook School, a community resource. The kind of money sought in Chinook is microscopic in the context of the federal budget. But Baird's observation was cruelly honest. Federal spending these days is about war and reconstruction of another country that might as well be our 51st state.

The congressman's logic can be extended to any number of other domestic needs. Amtrak, for instance, struggles to maintain an operating fleet of rolling stock. Meanwhile, ridership on corridors such as Seattle-Portland-Eugene is exceptionally high.

Whenever Amtrak is discussed, its budget is cross-examined as though it were an illegitimate government function. Its detractors even assert that it shouldn't have a federal subsidy - as though highways, airports and all forms of public transportation aren't heavily subsidized.

But the point is this: Unless your purpose is the Iraq War, your needs will likely be denigrated and nit-picked. In a Saturday editorial headlined "Budget Tough Talk," The New York Times summarized the process thus: "The Bush budget strategy boils down to never-ending tax cuts for the rich, big increases for the Pentagon and spending cuts for everything else."

The Iraq War and the president's obsession with rewarding the very rich have warped our national priorities. Any common citizen who believes that his or her needs are being served by this government isn't paying attention or is hopelessly naive.

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