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Reuters reported this (via TPM)

The Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said Tuesday.
The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.
Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Three hundred and sixty three tons. Of cash. Taking the numbers from here, and making some rough assumptions (say 1/3 of the weight was security seals, wrapping, and the like) you end up with around 200 million notes. Or we could assume that it was all in $100 notes (which wouldn't make a huge amount of sense, since the idea was to get the money into circulation, but nonetheless) which means 40 million notes. According to the site I just linked, that would be a stack of money between 4km and 20km high - if it was packed incredibly tightly, with no room for any wrapping at all. If piled into 1m high piles, it would fill somewhere between a 6m x 6m and a 14m x 14m space. Again, this is making utterly unrealistic assumptions that it could be packed completely tightly and with zero space between the notes. Realistically, it would probably be at least twice that size because of the tiny space between the notes, packing material and the like. Try and visualise that amount. It's just nuts.

So aside from the sheer "holy christ!" of this, there's another issue. One that highlights the advantages of having Democrats in charge of Congress, rather than Republicans. They are actually asking questions. Questions like this one:

"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what our government did," the California Democrat said during a hearing reviewing possible waste, fraud and abuse of funds in Iraq.

"Who in their right mind" is really very parlimentary speak for "what motherfucking evil bad crack were you tools smoking??"

But hey, the Iraqis needed the money to keep their government running. It's not like they were just pissing the money up against a wall, was it?

Democrats led by Waxman also questioned whether the lack of oversight of $12 billion in Iraqi money that was disbursed by Bremer and the CPA somehow enabled insurgents to get their hands on the funds, possibly through falsifying names on the government payroll.
The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said in a January 2005 report that $8.8 billion was unaccounted for after being given to the Iraqi ministries.

Oh. Never mind. Points to whoever it was that managed to make off with 2/3rds of the 363 tons of cash without the geniuses of the CPA noticing. That's a serious bit of theft.

Oh - I'm sorry? One of the Republicans on the committee has a point to make?

"We are in a war against terrorists, to have a blame meeting isn't, in my opinion, constructive," said Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican.

... shameless. I'd almost say unbelievably shameless, except I can believe it. By the way, Burton, you forgot to mention 9/11. Or demonstrate how it was Bill Clinton's fault - perhaps you can demonstrate it by shooting another watermelon. (No - really. He did this. And has since been re-elected multiple times. Cry for democracy.)

Purely for background - the aforementioned Stuart Bowen was a longtime crony of Bush's, appointed (so they thought) to help cover stuff up. Unexpectedly for them, he turned out to be extremely diligent and effective. So late last year the Republicans tried to fix this by killing off his position in the dead of night. After this was discovered, even the shameless scumbags in the Republican party agreed to pass an additional piece of legislation reinstating him.
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After a US Congressman David Wu compared advisors in the White House to Klingons instead of Vulcans, as he'd prefer, The Daily Show got a couple of special commentators to help analyse the speech.

Click on the link, or see the embedded video below the cut.

after the cut... )
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How's this for a new strategy in Iraq?

Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.”


Completely unrelated: I've posted a shortish review of the new project by the Kazaa/Skype folks "The Venice Project" over at my other blog. TVP is an attempt to bring on-demand streaming TV-quality video to the internet. It's pretty impressive from a video quality perspective, at least.
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From Think Progress (amongst other places):

Best-selling novelist Michael Crichton is a vocal critic of global warming science. His 2004 novel State of Fear depicts global warming as a hoax concocted by environmentalists to raise money. In January 2005, Crichton spent an hour talking with President Bush; the two were “in near-total agreement,” according to Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes.
Last March, New Republic senior editor Michael Crowley wrote a cover story called “Jurassic President: Michael Crichton’s Scariest Creation.” It highlighted Crichton’s junk science and the danger posed by President Bush adopting it.
Crichton’s response was to smear Crowley in his latest novel, Next, by writing in a character named “Mick Crowley” who rapes a two-year-old boy.

jesus fuck. what is it with wingnuts? I hope Crowley sues Crichton for millions.


Dec. 15th, 2006 08:13 am
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Some things leave you so stunned that no comment is necessary. Here's one:

Here's how Bush opened his remarks yesterday: "I thank these men who wear our uniform for a very candid and fruitful discussion about the -- about how to secure this country, and how to win a war that we now find ourselves in."

via the invaluable Froomkin
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Geeky fun: Whose Side Is Your Favourite Superhero On?

Cruel fun: This picture (and note the matching dress on the girl and the doll - fucking hell, there's going to need to be years of therapy there).

Just Fun: The Mac OSX version of rumsfeld's sacking, Pelosi is in ur house investigating ur doods (both Boing Boing)
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Ok, so at the moment, the Democrats have the US House of Representatives, and look likely to have the Senate (albeit 51-49 - the slimmest of margins). I've seen a number of "Woo! Impeachment!" messages from people since the election, so I figure it's worth giving a little post explaining some things.

First off, as it stands today, impeachment Will Not Happen. There needs to be an absolute smoking gun for this, and like it or not, there isn't one. The way impeachment works is that the House has to draw up and pass motions for impeachment. Once thats done (and that would be a massive political shitfight), it moves to the Senate for judgement. Once there, you need 2/3 of the Senators to vote in favour. That is just not possible. Not now, and quite probably, not during the lifetime of the Bush presidency. The Republicans are far, far too wedded to their president to even consider anything else.

The other thing to consider is that short of something incredibly damning being brought to light, impeachment would be an utter disaster for Democrats. It would make them look like hacks, like sleazy politicians,.... well, like Republicans, to put it simply. The Clinton impeachment led to considerable midterm election losses for the Republicans in 1998. The Dems know this, and know it's not smart.

What they will do is hold hearings, and investigate. Now that they're in charge of the House, they get to call hearings and issue subpoenas for information. This will lead to all sorts of rocks being turned over. Expect the White House to fight any and all requests for information under the broadest of "Executive Privilege" claims they can make. Legal eagle Orin Kerr writes at the right-wing/libertarian Volokh Conspiracy:
I would guess, on the whole, that this isn't good news for proponents of strong executive power. I think it's fair to say that the Executive Branch's credibility on executive power claims is relatively low these days among the folks with Article III appointments. For better or worse, this isn't the most friendly judicial environment in which to push a strong Article II. Of course, a single retirement might alter the balance at the Supreme Court; the Hamdan Five might become four. However, the confirmation process to fill an open seat would need to go through the new Senate first.

(Article III refers to Federal judges, and Article II is the White House (aka the Executive Branch). These are the sections of the constitution describing these parts of the US government. "Hamdan Five" refers to the 5 US Supreme Court justices who rejected the White House's extreme claims of executive privilege in the recent Guantanamo case)

The list of things that are likely to be examined is huge.

The other thing the Dem house (and Senate, if Montana and Virginia stick to the existing razor thin margins for the Democratic candidates) is pass legislation, and reverse unpleasant right-wing legislation. Sure, President Bush can veto any bills - this veto can be overridden with a 2/3 majority vote. While 2/3 against him might seem unlikely, there's a whole pile of very popular things that can be passed-- Bush could veto them, but it would put an incredible amount of pressure on Republicans to oppose him. Things like a minimum wage, reappointing the inspector general for oversight of corruption in Iraq, passing much needed ethics reform, the incredible abuse and suppression of science and the like. These didn't come up in the last couple of years because the Republican leadership in both houses refused to let them be brought to a vote. If this sort of thing came to a vote, they'd have to go on record as opposing it. That's not good politics.

Finally, a Democratic Senate can block Bush's more insane choices for appointment to the bench. Federal judges have lifetime tenure (this is why both Bush and Howard have been appointing younger rightwing judges). In Bush's case, he's also been ramming through some insane rightwingers. No more of that for you, bucko.

So in summary: No impeachment. Sorry if you had your heart set on it. On the other hand, it would be a fucking circus, and the US (and the rest of the world) deserve actual government for a while.

I think I covered all the bits here. If something's unclear, post a comment and I'll try to clarify it.

No, I don't have any special knowledge about US politics - I've just read far far too much about it in my lifetime. (And Australian politics, but at the moment, that's less relevant)

And yes, it's far too late at night to be awake. Blame sinus pain.
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Once upon a time Pennsylvanian Republican Senator Rick Santorum warned against allowing gay marriage because it would lead to, amongst other things, "man on dog sex". In the just-completed elections, lil Ricky suffered a curb-stomping 60%-40% defeat (or thereabouts). This song seems appropriate. It's a lovely little ballad by the Doug Anthony Allstars. Caution: Lyrics are not work-safe.

I know that magnanimity is supposed to be a good thing - but with Bush's eager enablers losing the House of Representatives, and looking pretty sure to lose the Senate as well, all I can say is "buh-bye now, don't let the door hit your arse on the way out, you corrupt and useless pricks".

The way it's looking right now, the Republicans not only lost, but have failed to take a single House of Reps seat, Senate seat or state Governor position off the Democrats. According to James Carville, this is the first time in history a party's suffered a complete shut-out like this.

Bush is scheduled to have a press conference later today (US time). Spencer Ackerman suggests an excellent first question:
"Mr. President, you said last week that 'However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.' Did the American people just vote for the terrorists last night?"


Nov. 8th, 2006 05:27 pm
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President George W. Bush, disappointed at the Democrats' seizure of the House of Representatives, will hold a news conference on Wednesday to urge his opponents to work with him, the White House said.

Sheer bloody chutzpah and arrogance. His party has lost one house, and still stands a chance of losing the other (as I type, there are three Senate seats outstanding, the Dems need all three, and are ahead in all three). In the House, the only question is just how many seats the Republicans are going to lose. Last projection I saw was somewhere over 30. That's a pretty solid "fuck you" from the voters. But no, he wants people to "work with him". Right.

If you're in the US - invest in shredder companies. I suspect they're going to be busy.

Oh, and by the way, Republicans? LOSERS. Suck on it.
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For the love of everything you care about, please, please vote. Everyone else in the world is affected by what the US government does, but (unlike you) we don't get a say in it.
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From USA Today:

The [US] federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it's a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.

"They've stepped over the line of common sense," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that supports sex education. "To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex is in essence to lose touch with reality. It's an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health."

Abstinence education programs, which have focused on preteens and teens, teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on birth control or safe sex.

The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.
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Jon Stewart interviewing John Ashcroft, former US Attorney General. Watching Ashcroft sweat as Stewart calls him on his rubbish talking points is wonderful.

behind a cut )
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President Bush and his aides are annoyed that people keep misinterpreting his Iraq policy as "stay the course." A complete distortion, they say. "That is not a stay-the-course policy," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared yesterday.
Where would anyone have gotten that idea? Well, maybe from Bush.
But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course." A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.
Bush used "stay the course" until recent weeks when it became clear that it was becoming a political problem. "The characterization of, you know, 'it's stay the course' is about a quarter right," Bush complained at an Oct. 11 news conference. " 'Stay the course' means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is: Don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change. 'Stay the course' also means don't leave before the job is done."
By last week, it was no longer a quarter right. "Listen, we've never been stay the course, George," he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. "We have been -- we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting the tactics. Constantly."

read the rest.
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There's a big long feature in this weekend's Washington Post about Doonesbury and Garry Trudeau. It's fascinating reading.

For those who don't know, Doonesbury's been going since the early 1970s - an amazing run. And while it's had ups and downs, the last year or so has had some sensational and touching moments - Trudeau had one of his main characters lose a leg in Iraq, and has been exploring what the impact of this is. It's been extraordinary, and it becomes clear partly why from this piece:
What happened next was unusual, to say the least. Within a day or two of B.D. lying broken on that stretcher, Garry Trudeau, bane of every presidential administration since Nixon's (particularly the current one, which he has absolutely lacerated), got a call from the Pentagon. The brass was offering to help him figure out where to go next.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Doonesbury (and of comics, generally), so I found this a really interesting article.
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Imagine what post-Katrina New Orleans is like. Imagine you're a journalist or columnist working there - a year's worth of tales of misery and despair. The local paper (The Times-Picayune) has a columnist, Chris Rose, I've checked out occasionally over the last year, and it's been really quite depressing. Not suprisingly, all this had an impact on him - he finally realised he needed help. He's written his tale of depression and seeking help down, and it's an excellent piece. If you're not sure about seeking help for depression you might have, read this. I wish I'd had something like this back in the time where I was too stubborn to see a doctor about how I was coping (or not) with the world.

Anyway, it's a good piece. Go read.

(And why o why isn't the state of New Orleans a campaign issue in the US? Here's a free slogan for the democrats: "It's The Competence, Stupid")
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Here's an ad Michael J Fox has cut, promoting a democrat who's running for congress on a pro-stem-cell reasearch line. It's really quite awkward to watch - we've all seen Fox for many years, and seeing what Parkinsons has done to him hurts. It's almost impossible to link the person in this advert with the star of the Back to the Future movies.

behind a cut )


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