When Republicans arrive in Manhattan for their convention next week, they'll be greeted by a giant billboard reminding them how much the Iraq war is costing the country. Modeled after the Times Square national debt ticker, the Cost of War billboard debuts Wednesday on the corner of 47th and Broadway. It's opening LED display puts the price America is paying for Iraq's occupation at $134,480,645,161, a figure that will increase by $122,820 a minute. The ever-escalating tab for the Iraq debacle will be displayed in midtown for several months courtesy of Project Billboard, a non-profit whose founders include Bay Area celebrity chef Alice Waters and big-time Democratic donor Deborah Rappaport.
The numbers on the billboard come from the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank that calculated them based on figures from the Congressional Budget Office and the Pentagon. "The point is this is a conflict with a real cost, in terms of sacrifice by our troops but also in terms of a significant amount of money that could have been spent in ways more directly related to al-Qaida and the homeland security programs that would have a more tangible effect on the threat we actually face," says P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow at the Center.
Though the billboard serves as a kind of rebuke to the invading Republicans, the timing is partly coincidental. Initially Project Billboard wanted to erect a sign in July. Its original design had a red, white and blue bomb with the slogan, "Democracy is best taught by example, not by war." Like so many other venues, though, the space that the group leased was owned by right-wing media monolith Clear Channel, which rejected the billboard. Project Billboard sued for breach of contract, and got the new spot as part of an out-of-court settlement.
Even if Project Billboard didn't have the RNC in mind when it decided to takes its message to Times Square, there's a special savor in knowing that the people responsible for the war will be confronted with its escalating cost as they tour the city. "New York is such a heavily Democratic city," says Rappaport. "I'm really happy so many Republicans will be there to see it."