Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Last Call

The gang at Odyssey Marine Exploration have struck gold again in the increasingly high stakes and high-tech shipwreck salvaging department...or in this case, struck silver.

The company retrieved 1,203 silver bars, or about 1.4 million ounces of the metal, from the SS Gairsoppa, a 412-foot (126-meter) British cargo ship that sank after being torpedoed by German U-boat in February 1941, Tampa, Florida-based Odyssey said today in a statement. The metal, worth $38 million at today’s prices, is being held at a secure facility in the U.K.

Odyssey said the recovered silver represents about 20 percent of the bullion that may be on board the Gairsoppa, which lies about 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. The operation, the largest and deepest recovery of precious metals from a shipwreck, should be completed in the third quarter.

“With the shipwreck lying approximately three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, this was a complex operation,” Greg Stemm, Odyssey chief executive officer, said in the statement. “Our success on the Gairsoppa marks the beginning of a new paradigm for Odyssey in which we expect modern shipwreck projects will complement our archaeological shipwreck excavations.”

With the caliber of equipment that these guys can afford, with major investors and international backing, not to mention pretty good prices these days for precious metals, the Odyssey guys have a winning formula and have struck a number of major finds in the past.  Publicly traded on NASDAQ and everything, these guys.

They find the hard stuff that takes a serious investment and recovery effort, but that money pays off with finds of this level every year or so.  Kinda wish I could be running a company like this.

The Michigan Rag

If anyone's been absolutely staying on top of the nasty, corrupt, divisive and possibly illegal actions of Michigan's state Republican party, it's my good friend Chris Savage at Eclectablog.  Today he's got a doozy of a story involving Michigan's GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger in a tale of fraud, party-flipping, and what could be termed outright election rigging.

A press release from Kent County Prosecuting Attorney William Forsyth (pdf) has revealed a jaw-dropping level of corruption and fraud on the part of Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger and Democrat-turned-Republican Representative Roy Schmidt. You can read the back story on Schmidt’s last minute dick move switch from Democrat to Republican that effectively ruined any chance of Democrats having a viable candidate HERE and HERE.

Forsyth’s investigation reveals that Schmidt and Bolger conspired to hire the weightlifting buddy of Schmidt’s nephew, Matthew Mojak, to run as a Democrat but not actually campaign. This would have forced Democrats to run a REAL Democrat in the primary as a write-in candidate, virtually assuring they would lose and that Schmidt would essentially have no opponent in the November general election.

It gets worse.  Bolger's plan was pretty ugly, too.  he paid Mojak to run and lose on purpose and split the Dem vote, assuring Schmidt would win.

Prosecutor Forsyth, himself a Republican, is clear repulsed by what he uncovered, a position made more galling by the fact that none of it was actually, in a technical sense, illegal. He wrote in his conclusion, “Although this scheme by Rep. Schmidt and Speaker Bolger was clearly designed to undermine the election and to perpetrate a “fraud” on the electorate, it was nonetheless legal … Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a “dive” or a basketball player to “point-shave’, it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the “eleventh hour” and essentially pay them to make no effort to win … As a Republican elected official, I am embarrassed and offended by what transpired. "

Amazing stuff here.  Do read the whole thing.  Bolger has to resign as Michigan House Speaker, immediately.

Tax Return Of The King

Mitt Romney's running out of support for refusing to release his tax returns from the Bain years.  Over a dozen major conservative figures and politicians are calling for him to rip the bandages off and take the pain now, but it's become painfully clear that the returns are so awful otherwise this would have been done years ago when he ran for Governor.  He got away with that back then.  Today, not so much.

Ezra Klein argues the returns most likely show that Romney's tax gymnastics and offshore shell account games meant he paid little to no federal taxes in those years.

For what it’s worth — and, since I haven’t see Romney’s 2009 tax return, it’s not worth much — my guess is he paid some federal taxes in 2009. The sort of tax sheltering he would have needed to get to zero would be quasi-suicidal for a presidential aspirant. But his effective federal tax rate may only have been 3 or 4 or 5 percent, which would be nearly as bad as zero. Add in a couple of shelters that Romney fears would look particularly bad, and it’s probably enough to persuade him that enduring a bit of bad press for tax decisions people think he might have made is preferable to a media feeding frenzy over tax decisions he definitely made.

The question none of this answers is why Romney didn’t clean up his taxes in 2008 and 2009. But it’s always worth remembering that the people running for office are human beings who procrastinate and make bad decisions and get distracted by other things. And given that Romney moves in a world where aggressive tax planning is the norm rather than the exception, he might simply have failed to recognize what a priority simplifying his taxes really was. My hunch is that the person spending the most time wondering why Romney didn’t get his taxes in order in 2008 is…Mitt Romney.

And yes, considering how much damage he's taken from his 14% effective tax rate for last year,  if that number is something like 4% at the depths of the worst recession in generations, he's a goner and he knows it.  Ironically conservatives like George Will and the editors of National Review really are giving him good advice:  release the returns, take your lumps and ride it out.

Either way however, the Obama administration is winning this fight.  Either Mitt paid almost nothing in taxes, or they can say he's hiding something for the next 3.5 months.

Which makes me think there might even be something worse in there that happened after the McCain vetting in 2008.

A Special Place In Hell

Does hell have skillets, I wonder?

SENATH, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri woman is facing charges for allegedly striking her 2-year-old son in the head with a cast iron skillet.
The Kennett Daily Dunklin Democrat ( ) reports that 23-year-old Tameca Bryant of Senath is charged with first-degree domestic assault, armed criminal action and endangering the welfare of a child. She is jailed on $100,000 bond.
Authorities say the boy was injured on June 2, but Bryant waited until the next day to seek medical attention. Doctors discovered the toddler had many injuries including a broken arm, skull fracture, a brain injury, bruises and dried blood in his left ear.
I suppose we should be grateful that she got the child medical attention at all.  I cannot imagine how much pain he must have been in.  That's a hell of a thing to do to anyone, those things are freaking solid.  I grabbed one once when I thought there was an intruder, and I had no doubt at all that I'd cave in a skull if I tried.

Romney Admits Obama Is The Most Powerful Being Ever

Because apparently Obama can take hard numbers and turn them into lies.  That's the reason Romney states when refusing to give his tax information.

"In the political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy," Romney told Robert Costa of National Review. "And I'm simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about."
How can Obama lie when facts are there for the proof?  What is he so afraid that Obama can distort or lie about?  Surely it isn't the numbers, the only thing that can't be spun or filtered through bullshit.  Numbers don't lie.

It's for our own good, see.  Mittens is so complicated it would cause us to suffer from neglect if he supplied those pesky numbers.  He's doing us a favor by withholding the information and we're fools for not seeing it.

Jackass times infinity, plus one dipped in chocolate and covered with jackass sprinkles.

Getting Serious On Syria, Part 7

Things just got taken to a new level in Damascus this morning when a suicide bombing attack at a meeting of Assad regime ministers claimed the life of Syria's defense minister and his top deputy minister.

Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha and Deputy Minister Assef Shawkat -- who is al-Assad's brother-in-law -- were killed in the explosion during a meeting of ministers and security officials, state TV reported.

They are the highest-ranking Syrian officials killed in the uprising.

The bombing resulted in other casualties among attendees, state TV reported.

With the Syrian government restricting access to the country by foreign journalists, there was no immediate way to confirm reports on the blast.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said initial reports indicate a car bomb caused an "intense explosion" in Damascus.

More as this comes in.

Fiscal Cliff Hangers

Senate Dems are pressing their advantage on the Bush tax cuts this year, knowing that if there's no agreement, the cuts expire for everyone.  Republicans have always warned that the cuts need to be made permanent or else, and now it seems Harry Reid's boys are calling that bluff.

Senate Democrats — holding firm against extending tax cuts for the rich — are proposing a novel way to circumvent the Republican pledge not to vote for any tax increase: Allow all the tax cuts to expire Jan. 1, then vote on a tax cut for the middle class shortly thereafter.

The proposal illustrates the lengths lawmakers are going to in an effort to include new federal revenues in a fix for the “fiscal cliff,” the reckoning in January that would come when all Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs kick in. 

Virtually every Republican in Congress has taken the pledge, pushed by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, never to vote for a tax increase — a pledge both parties see as a serious impediment to a tax compromise. But if tax rates snap back to the levels of the Clinton presidency on Jan. 1, any legislation to reinstate some of those tax cuts — but not all of them — would be considered a tax cut. 

“Many Republicans are starting to realize something important: On Jan. 1, if we haven’t gotten to a deal, Grover Norquist and his pledge are no longer relevant to this conversation,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said this week in a speech at the Brookings Institution. “We will have a new fiscal and political reality.” 

That's a dangerous game, potentially.  Certainly if the GOP keeps the House and wins the Senate, the resulting legislation would be everything they want:  permanent tax cuts that favor the wealthy.   This plan only works if the Democrats keep control of the Senate, and both sides know it.

It's good however that the Democrats are at least willing to go to the mat on this.  We're going to have to back them up.  Numbers are starting to get grim in a couple of Senate races, most notably in Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and Virginia.  Should Florida, Nevada and South Dakota go all pear-shaped too, things could get bad fast.

Those Senate races are in a lot of ways more important right now.  Obama's holding his own for President, we need to worry about the Senate.


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