Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last Call

There's a tentative deal on the table as of tonight.

After an intense day of direct and shuttle negotiations, and after a tentative agreement nearly fell apart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the floor of the Senate late Sunday to announce an agreement in principle.

"The compromise we have agreed to is remarkable for a number of reasons, not only because of what it does, but because of what it prevents," Reid said.

"This is an important moment for our country," McConnell noted in response. "I can say with a high degree of confidence that there is a framework in place to assure a significant degree of cuts to Washington spending."

Both men announced the intent to meet with their caucuses Monday morning, to sell the plan, and round up votes for what will have to be rapid legislative action if both chambers are to pass the plan before the country's borrowing authority expires late Tuesday.

President Obama discussed the framework in a public statement at the White House Sunday evening, and urged members of both parties to support the plan. He also criticized Congress for touching off this crisis, and for being unable to arrive at a single grand bargain to improve the country's fiscal situation (with spending cuts and tax increases) and raise the debt limit as well.

The problem is the sell to the House.

House Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republicans on Sunday that he aims to bring a debt-ceiling deal up for a vote "as soon as possible" even though it is not perfect, his office said.

"My hope would be to file it and have it on the floor as soon as possible," Boehner said on a conference call, according to excerpts released by his office. "This isn't the greatest deal in the world. But it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town."

The Tea Party is being told now they are avoiding the "job-killing default" when voters know damn well that the Tea Party wanted to default in the first place because it was "no big deal" to default.  Now they are going to be furious.  There's a very good chance this deal falls apart.

But even if it does manage to pass as it is right now, President Obama still holds the power over the Bush tax cuts.  That's his weapon and the GOP knows it.

[UPDATE]  White House's fact sheet on the deal is here.

Mechanics of the Debt Deal
  • Immediately enacted 10-year discretionary spending caps generating nearly $1 trillion in deficit reduction; balanced between defense and non-defense spending.
  • President authorized to increase the debt limit by at least $2.1 trillion, eliminating the need for further increases until 2013.   
  • Bipartisan committee process tasked with identifying an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, including from entitlement and tax reform. Committee is required to report legislation by November 23, 2011, which receives fast-track protections. Congress is required to vote on Committee recommendations by December 23, 2011.
  • Enforcement mechanism established to force all parties – Republican and Democrat – to agree to balanced deficit reduction. If Committee fails, enforcement mechanism will trigger spending reductions beginning in 2013 – split 50/50 between domestic and defense spending. Enforcement protects Social Security, Medicare beneficiaries, and low-income programs from any cuts.    

Getting Randy About The Debt Ceiling

Arguably the least useful single legislator in this entire debt ceiling mess is Kentucky's own Sen. Rand Paul, who has basically been nothing but a Tea Party apologist trying to pretend he's "compromising".  CNN's Don Lemon takes him out back behind the woodshed.

“Let’s just do the interview without talking points– let’s just talk to each other,” Lemon began, though followed up with a barbed question: “Democrats and Republicans are both pointing fingers at you. What will make you and the Tea Party happy?” Sen. Paul immediately made a correction to his introduction: “In your lead, you said I rejected both plans. I actually accepted both plans… with an amendment.” Sen. Paul had proposed a balanced budget amendment which gained no traction in exchange for his vote. “I think that’s a very reasonable position,” he offered.

The launched an uncomfortable back and forth in which Lemon repeated asked how he had voted on the House bill, until Lemon moved on, with another tough question– whether Sen. Paul worried that voting against the bill would be “overreaching” that would make him “lose respect and clout.” At this point the conversation gets heated enough that Lemon has to remind the senator to “please be respectful here,” while an indignant Sen. Paul later argued that “there is no reason to default” and that the President “should have taken default off the table” rather than promote it. Either way, “we have plenty of tax revenue to pay the interest on our debt.”

Nice.  See, Rand Paul is perfectly happy for use to pay interest on our borrowing and not default, but to do that we would have to shut down the government and eliminate 25% spending immediately, including Medicare and SS.  Rand Paul figures "That's President Obama's problem, let him deal with it."  Then he whines about how Obama is a horrible person for mentioning default.

Useless.  So glad my fellow Kentuckians voted this clown into office where he can completely avoid doing anything to help Kentucky.

Arab Spring Becomes Slaughter Summer

Meanwhile, while we're all enraptured by this debt nonsense, Syria's government is sending tanks to quell its citizens and "scores" are reported dead all in the middle of a near press blackout situation.

Syrian security forces have launched a major assault on Hama, the country's third-largest city, a day before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The National Organisation for Human Rights, a Syrian activist group, said 136 people were killed in Hama and three other centres across the country on Sunday.

The activist group reported at least 100 deaths in Hama, after tanks and soldiers stormed the city and said that dozens of anti-government protesters died in Deir ez-Zor, Harak and Al Bukamal.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said that the number of deaths "are on the rise and the government seems adamant in wanting to crush the protests".

"We have seen that the government had intensified its effort to try and end the wave of protesters or contain it over the past two weeks using more severe measures, like mass arrests of activists as well as just regular people who took part in the protests, or sometimes never even went to the streets.

"So it seems that the government is expecting some sort of escalation in the protest movement during the month of Ramadan and they are trying to pre-empt it," our correspondent, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon, said.

The Syrian government has banned Al Jazeera and many other foreign media outlets from reporting from inside the country, making it difficult to verify reports of fighting.

Just some much-needed global perspective as we decry how awful our own political system could be worse.  A republic if you can keep it, and all that.  A gigantic chunk of the world never had a republic to try to keep.

What will the State Department's response be to this open slaughter?  I'd like very much to see Hillary Clinton go on record in some fashion.


A plane breaks in half and everyone survives, all 163 of them.  Check this out:

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Flight 523 from New York had just touched down and passengers were applauding the pilot's landing in the South American country Saturday when something suddenly went wrong.
The Boeing 737-800 slid off the end of a rainy runway, crashed through a chain-link fence and broke in half just short of a deep ravine. Yet all 163 people on board survived.
I'm sympathetic to plane crashes.  I can control myself, but I am painfully aware of being in the air when flying.  These guys weren't in the air, but when all hell broke loose they were still faced with the big scary monster that every flyer has faced.  They were helpless and at the mercy of a malfunctioning plane, in this case heading towards a ravine.  There's some serious pucker factor right there.

This gets a super good karma thumbs up.   

Today's WTH Is Brought To You By The Number Eight

drunk Mississippi man reportedly let his 8-year-old son drive on a Louisiana highway, reported the Associated Press.    
Louisiana state police said they received a call at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning of a green pickup truck driving erratically on the highway.  Moreover, it appeared that a child was driving.
When the police finally stopped the car, they discovered 28-year-old Billy Joe Madden sleeping in the passenger seat, his 8-year-old son at the wheel, and his 4-year-old daughter sitting in the back seat.
Madden reportedly fell asleep while he made his son drive the vehicle on their trip from Hattiesburg, MS to Dallas, TX.
Okay, I don't think there is a whole lot to say here.  This is one of those "I just had to share this" sort of tales.  The article goes on to cite other instances where parents had children drive, though all of them were older than eight.

EIGHT.  On a highway.  

Tell me this man is never allowed to be around kids ever again.  

Miss Scarlett, In The Conservatory, WIth The Box Of Wine

Because Jennifer Rubin hasn't been hacktastic enough on the debt ceiling fight for the Washington Post, because Peggy Noonan hasn't chugged all the booze for the Wall Street Journal yet, we complete the Obama Derangement Syndrome harridan trifecta with Maureen "Sweetie, darling!" Dowd in the NY Times this morning in full AbFab mode.

Ancient incantations and eye of newt — not that Newt — would be the only way to conjure up a less embarrassing group of leaders.

The world is watching in fearful — and sometimes gleeful — fascination as the Tea Party drives a Thunderbird off the cliff with the president and speaker of the House strapped in the back. The Dow is hiding under the bed with a glass of single malt. Can it get more excruciating? Apple has more cash than the U.S. government.

Amid the chilling anarchy, there’s not a single strong leader to be seen — not even a misguided one. All the leaders are followers. You have to wonder if President Obama at some level doesn’t want to lead. Maybe he just wants to be loved

Yes, because the problem with the Tea Party is that President Obama isn't assertive enough.  Boy if he just gave those Tea Party maniacs a good talking to from the bully pulpit, they'd just wither like hothouse orchids and we'd never hear from them again.  But nobody loves Obama, especially not the people who voted for him.

Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

As one Democratic senator complained: “The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent.” (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: “We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.”

Obama’s “We must lift ourselves to a higher place” trope doesn’t work on this rough crowd. If somebody at dinner is about to kill you, you don’t worry about his table manners.

More and more, 2008 looks like the tulip mania.

When Obama came before the cameras Friday to say that “any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan,” many Democrats wish he had just gone all unilateral and taken Bill Clinton’s advice to invoke the 14th Amendment. They yearned to see the president beat the political suicide bombers over the head with the Constitution. Impeaching a constitutional lawyer for saving the economy would be an even more difficult sell than impeaching a rogue for fibbing about a dalliance.

Boy she doesn't miss a single emoprog trope there, does she?  Obama is a bloodless wimp who has been emasculated, he's leading from behind, Clinton would have done better, he's a terrible negotiator, he's Jimmy Carter, why hasn't he gone all unilateral yet, yadda yadda.

Look, I want POTUS to consider the 14th too, but in order to do that and win the war that will come after, he has to do it as an absolute last resort.  He must make an abosolute good faith effort to negotiate.  And to do so, he has to show that absolutely nothing can pass the House and Senate and that compromise is impossible.

Then, and only then, can he "be all unilateral" against these clowns.  This "Obama has to be our daddy" thing is not healthy.  We shouldn't be insisting the President act unilaterally on anything, and here we are moaning about Obama doing exactly what we hated Dubya for doing.

And even then, the 14th would go to the Supreme Court.  No guarantee it would ever be allowed to be used.

We'll see what the Reid deal entails.

It's All The Horn Section

Black market rhino horns are going for so much in Europe and Asia right now that thieves are resorting to brazen daytime robberies of museums, science centers, and private collectors to get them.  The latest target?  The Belgian Natural History Museum in Brussels.

"For 80 years we took care of it and from one day to the next it's no longer there," said Georges Lenglet, vertebrate exhibit curator at the Brussels museum, who has little hope of seeing the head again.

The museum had never been robbed until the July heist, when it became the latest of a rising number of science museums in Europe targeted by thieves for rhino horns, which can fetch tens of thousands of euros on the black market.

"It's a nasty little piece of criminal activity," Patrick Byrne, head of the organised crime networks unit at the European police agency Europol, told AFP.

Europol suspects an Irish organised crime group is behind a spate of robberies that has hit not only museums but also zoos, auction houses, antique dealers and private collectors across the continent over the past 18 months.

The gang, known to use violence and intimidation, is involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of counterfeit products, but has seized too on a lucrative niche market in the sale of rhino horns.

Scotland Yard says the spike in museum thefts is driven by a significant increase in the value of rhino horns in Asia. Depending on its size, a horn can sell for 25,000 to 200,000 euros (34,000 to 288,000 dollars), according to Europol.

The horns are usually ground into powder and end up in the Asian market where they are prized for purported medicinal virtues to cure fevers, headaches, typhoid and smallpox. Their use for impotence is merely a myth.

What's not a myth is these horns fetch big money in Europe's floundering economy, and that it's depressing to see people resorting to stealing from science museums in order to get them.  I mean I understand that a quarter-million in a smash and grab operation is nothing to sneeze at, but...a museum?

Geez.  Where's a superhero when you need one.
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