Thursday, February 08, 2007

363 Tons of Cash

Can you imagine having so much money that you couldn't count much money that you had to weigh it?

According to testimony in Congress on Tuesday as reported by CNN, between December 12th, 2003 and June 25th, 2004, the United States government shipped more than $5 billion (yes, that's billion, with a b) in cash to Iraq to finance the initial days of Iraqi sovereignty. $5 billion in cash weighs approximately 363 tons, and must be shipped on pallets in Air Force transport planes. It was, according to one member of Congress, the largest payout of U.S. currency in the history of the Federal Reserve.

Three hundred sixty-three tons of dollars. Seven hundred twenty-six thousand pounds of greenbacks. And in a January, 2005 report, the Special Inspector for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said that nearly $9 billion was unaccounted for after being transferred to Iraqi ministries.

What on earth are we doing? More important, what are the Iraqis doing? When there's so much money available that it's counted by weight, the temptations are obvious. Three former Army Reserve officers and two civilians stand accused of rigging bids to steal about $8.6 million in Iraqi reconstruction funds, but this is clearly the very smallest tip of the iceberg.

According to the Cost of the Iraq War website operated by the National Priorities Project (, the cost of the war as of February 6th is approximately $378 billion, of which the share for the state of Virginia is $10.2 billion. And what do we have to show for it? Iraq is a bloody shambles, billions of dollars have been squandered, more than 3,000 American service men and women are dead, we still don't know exactly who we're fighting, and our hopes are pinned on a surge in forces that might have helped a few years ago but is of questionable value now.

What could we have purchased at home for $378 billion? How many failing schools could have been improved? How much crumbling infrastructure repaired? How many improvements in our health care system? Instead, we have graft, corruption, and violence on a scale difficult to imagine.

363 tons of cash, with $9 billion unaccounted for. As I write this, I'm looking at the blue plastic folder that contains my tax preparation records for this year. If I make a hundred-dollar mistake on my taxes, the Internal Revenue Service will come down on me like the proverbial ton of bricks with draconian interest and penalty charges, and the threat of going to jail for cheating Uncle Sam, even accidentally. But who is going to go to jail over the loss of $9 billion in Iraq? Who's responsible? L. Paul Bremer says he's not. Military commanders were busy fighting a war. The Iraqis are busy murdering each other. So far, only five low-level scam artists stand accused...and were I a betting man, I'd say they'll probably end up being acquitted.

Where is the outrage? I'm furious beyond words at what my grandchildren won't have because my government squandered so much cash that it had to be measured by the ton, and no one is accountable.

363 tons of cash. Think about it. And be outraged.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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