(UPDATED FROM AN EARLIER VERSION)
As the clock ticked toward (and past) the fiscal cliff, the Senate reached a deal with President Obama and quickly brought the 157-page agreement to the floor for a vote.
Just past 2 a.m., after only about 10 minutes of debate, it passed 89-8. At least 60 votes were needed to send it to the House.
“Each of us could spend the rest of the week discussing what a perfect solution would have looked like, but the end result would have been the largest tax increase in American history,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote. “…So it took an imperfect solution to prevent our constituents from very real financial pain. But in my view, it was worth the effort.”
The “no” votes were from Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) tweeted 20 minutes away from midnight.
“Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members — and the American people — have been able to review the legislation,” House GOP leadership said in a statement.
“When a final agreement is reached and passed by the Senate, I will present it to the House Democratic Caucus,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier in the evening.
The deal includes on a $400,000 ceiling for individuals ($450,000 for families) for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts (those above will be taxed at 39.6 percent) and a two-month delay on budget cuts to be offset in part by new tax revenue. That was a Republican concession. Long-term unemployment benefits are also extended for one year.
On the White House’s part, Joe Biden gave in on the estate tax in a deal to spare estates worth as much as $15 million.
“We’re going to save 99 percent of the people. We’re going to make those tax rates, permanent, which is what I’m hearing, which is good,” Paul said on CNN.
“The only thing that kind of confuses me is if it’s good to protect 99 percent of people from a policy akin to drowning, then why is it good then to go ahead and throw the 1 percent overboard and raise the taxes on those? Maybe because they can afford it?” he said. “Well, the problem is that a lot of us work for rich people.”
“This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the many GOP “yes” votes, said. “But the Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us, which is why Senator Corker and I have a proposal to deal with the out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills. If we don’t deal with this during the debt ceiling debate, we are on the road to becoming Greece.”
The US House of Representatives adjourned at about 6:30 pm eastern and will not take up any new business until noon on New Year’s Day. That means that we’re going over the cliff, folks, no matter what the Senate and White House do. Like Marshall, Will and Holly.
I just watched Democrat Kirsten Powers on Fox opine that President Obama doesn’t want to go over the cliff because he has no vested interest in doing bad things to the economy. Evidently she has been asleep for four years. Obama has done nothing but bad things to the economy, and it drove up dependence and helped get him re-elected. The fiscal cliff with its deep defense cuts and tax hikes was his White House’s idea, and the Republicans were dumb enough to fall for it, the media covered for him when he lied about it. Going over the cliff gives him everything he wants and then some, and gives the Republicans nothing.
Happy New Year everyone! Your taxes are going up, at least temporarily, while fraudster dinosaurs like Charlie Rangel and Joe Biden work out our economic future. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes the Mayans might have been right.
Paris, France is about to turn out the lights.
French President Francois Hollande and his energy minister Delphine Batho are considering turning out the lights in and outside public buildings, offices and shops in the early hours of the morning.
If the scheme goes ahead, late-night revellers in the city would be advised to carry torches if they venture out between the hours of 1 and 7am.
The rules will also apply to other French cities, villages, and towns.
Batho said the measure would save energy and money, and show ‘sobriety’, although the plan has proved unpopular with traders.
It follows on from a new rule last July which states businesses must turn off neon lights between 1 and 6am. The measure was introduced as part of the French government’s bid to improve its energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020.
Not sure what he means by “sobriety.” People visit Paris to enjoy the day and the night. Making people stumble about in the dark just isn’t a nice or sober thing to do.
Cities didn’t light up the night merely because Edison’s invention — legislated to death in the USA in 2013 — allowed them to. Cities put up lamp posts to make it more difficult for the criminal element to prey on everyone else.
What do the wise socialists of France expect to happen to the crime rate when they turn off the lights? What’s likely to happen to some of the 81 million tourists who visit Paris each year?
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to blast President Obama’s mid-day speech on the fiscal cliff. He said that Obama’s actions were “no way for a president to lead.”
In that speech, the president surrounded himself with supporters who applauded when noted that he would be president for four more years, and laughed when he nearly said he would not allow the Republicans to “shove spending cuts down…” before balking at finishing his sentence. He also drew laughs when he joked about spending New Year’s in Washington rather than Hawaii. Some in his support group also applauded when he noted that the agreement being hammered out between Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden would raise taxes on the rich. The president’s advisers clearly framed his remarks visually to emphasize the gender and race divisions he routinely plays upon to build his power base.
The president also decried politicians devoted to advancing special interests, after noting that he hopes the Congressional fiscal cliff plan maintains tax breaks for “green” energy companies, firms to which Obama’s government has sent billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans, and which have tended to be run by his political supporters, and which have tended to go bankrupt.
All of this was too much for Sen. McCain, who on Fox News this afternoon built upon his remarks in the Senate. He said the president had no business “joking around, and saying things that can’t be conducive to sitting down across the table and getting these things accomplished.”
McCain also said that whatever deals eventually emerge must deal with the sequestration cuts that will hit the Department of Defense hard if they are allowed to kick in. “I can’t support any proposal that would devastate national security in the view of our Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff.” He called for a delay of a “couple of months” for a vote on those cuts.
McCain was about to head into a GOP Senate members meeting on the Hill after his Fox interview, at which he said he expected to hear the details of the deal that Sen. McConnell and Vice President Biden have worked out. He said that the likelihood that that deal would include meaningful spending cuts is “about zero.”
The House is planning to leave tonight without taking a vote on the fiscal cliff.
The Senate is still very much in session, and lawmakers in floor speeches this afternoon have referenced an imminent deal despite persistent differences on taxes and spending.
“The kind of things we’re hearing about the agreement, we might be able to go forward,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) just said on the floor.
“It looks like all of the tax things are going to be made permanent, but all of the other things that the middle class and America really depends on is extended for one year, maybe two years — one year or two years at the most, but the tax system is made permanent,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said earlier. “Well, I just think that’s grossly unfair — grossly unfair. As I’ve said before, no deal is better than a bad deal and this looks like a very bad deal the way this is shaping up.”
“I’ve been talking with people in the cloakroom and on the Senate floor, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told CNN. “…I think they’re going to get an agreement that’s something that can pass the Senate. And I would hope it would be in a bipartisan way. But no senator is going to say yes right now until they actually get a chance to see what’s in the agreement.”
House Republicans are holding a caucus meeting at 5 p.m., with one series of votes on measures not related to the fiscal cliff afterward.
So unless the caucus hears something at that meeting that makes leadership schedule a late-night vote, the U.S. is formally going over the cliff at midnight.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) spokesman Doug Heye tweeted, “Attn Capitol Hill reporters: It is impossible for the House to schedule a vote on a deal that does not exist. Thank you.”
Consensus on the Hill has been that there’s a day of padding to wrap up negotiations as markets are closed tomorrow for the holiday.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told MSNBC earlier in the day that “giving up is not an option for us.”
“If we can reach agreement, if we can have a unanimous consent in the Senate, I think there is still time to act. But, of course, it’s running out very, very quickly,” he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) echoed what lawmakers were hearing about negotiations finally falling into place.
“I certainly think I’m pleased that there may be a deal, bring some certainty to the American people,” he said on CNN. “I’m disappointed that the president took the eve of what might be a bipartisan deal to take a swipe at Congress once again.”
“I’ve said repeatedly that ultimately I’ll find a way to support something that brings certainly to the American people,” Issa added. “But I think that this likely bill is going to have too few cuts and it’s going to depend on a relatively small amount of people that candidly don’t represent enough money to bring a real fix to our trillion dollar deficit.”
Republican lawmakers were united in their disgust of President Obama’s early afternoon speech, backdropped by “middle-class taxpayers” in the Eisenhower office building and punctuated multiple times by quips and laughter.
“If Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we’re just going to try to shove only spending cuts down — well — shove spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera — if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming,” the president said.
“That’s not how it’s going to work. We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way. And if we’re going to be serious about deficit reduction and debt reduction, then it’s going to have to be a matter of shared sacrifice — at least as long as I’m president. And I’m going to be President for the next four years, I think.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) tweeted, “What the President did today set us back in civility, leadership and in deal making.”
“What did the President of the United States just do? Well, he kind of made fun – he made a couple of jokes. Laughed about how people are going to be here for New Year’s. Sent a message of confrontation to the Republicans,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the floor. “I guess I have to wonder – and the American people have to wonder – whether the president really wants this issue resolved, or is it to his short term political benefit for us to go over the cliff. I can assure the president, I can assure him, that historians judge presidents on their achievements.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the back-room negotiations were leading “to a lot of intrigue and dysfunction.”
“This place is so dysfunctional. You should bring the House bill to the floor and let every senator have their say about what they would like to see happen. There are 80 votes to avoid the fiscal cliff,” Graham said on Fox.
“But here is the number one issue for me: whatever money is raised between now and tomorrow I hope all it goes on the deficit and none of it goes to grow the government. And if any of it goes to grow the government, count me out.”
UPDATE: House Republicans have been told to stay close to the Capitol tonight just in case a deal comes through, and to take it easy on the New Year’s Eve cheer in case they are sent a bill by the Senate. If they’re not called back tonight, lawmakers have been told to be at the House by noon tomorrow.
Is Obama blinking here? Or is he trying to kill whatever deal gets struck?
My read all along has been that he reaches Democrat Nirvana just by doing nothing before the new year. Taxes go up, defense gets slashed to the bone, entitlements remain mostly untouched. He even has the media systematically failing to report that sequestration was his own White House’s idea to begin with. After we go over the cliff, he’ll have more leverage to force the Republicans to cut taxes on the middle class back to the 2012 level, and gets to pretend that they’re the Obama tax cuts, not the Bush tax cuts. He has had to pretend to negotiate in good faith at this point, but maybe Vice President Biden is making the mistake of actually doing that and now Obama is looking at the possibility that some sort of deal could actually happen.
So there is or was a deal on the tax side of the fiscal cliff, according to Robert Costa at NRO. That tentative deal moves the rate hike up to the $400,000 level for individuals and $450,000 for couples, permanently patched the AMT and a couple other things. McConnell and Biden struck the deal, after sidelining Reid and allowing Obama time to write another speech. It did not address spending. Then at 1:30 eastern, President Obama came out and delivered a little speech that may have scuttled even that deal.
The scuttling may have been intentional. At the height of tense negotiations on the last day before we all pitch over the cliff, Obama punched Republicans in the face with a warning that he’ll circle back to tax hikes again: “If Republicans think I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone … then they’ve got another thing coming.” That’s what he said this afternoon, while McConnell and Biden are hammering out some kind of micro deal that’s not going to be popular with anyone. With no spending cuts, it’s not even a very serious deal. Obama is either a terrible negotiator or he isn’t interested in striking a deal. Liberals in the Democrat caucus opposed moving the tax rate hike an inch above $250,000 and are threatening to walk away. Such an act would have left Obama without a party and without the total victory he could get by simply going over the cliff. But if he enrages Republican enough that they walk away, well, we’re back to him getting everything he wants and then blaming Republicans for all the downsides. Maybe Biden is looking at his own 2016 future now that he’s center stage, and sees a deal working in his favor long term? Beats me, honestly. But if he and Obama are not really on the same page, it puts the GOP’s own divisions in some perspective.
But the deal isn’t scuttled entirely yet. It just doesn’t do very much. We have a spending problem, driven by mad entitlement spending. The deal doesn’t address that. It just moves the tax rates around. And liberals like Tom Harkin aren’t even on board with that much, at least publicly.
The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.
Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.
People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.
One of the items found is so powerful it necessitated the evacuation of several nearby buildings. In other words, it was quite a bit more powerful than a Bushmaster .223.
If they were Tea Partiers and they were busted in, say, Dallas…the media would stir up a mass panic and Democrats would drop their fiscal cliff posturing to demand that something be done.
The two arrested are rich kids, so poverty doesn’t answer their lean toward violence. In fact, they come off as Bill Ayers 2.0. Leftists who think radicals such as Obama just aren’t doing enough to break the system.
God bless ‘em, right, Nancy?
On Sunday’s Meet the Press, President Obama promised to put the “full weight” of the presidency behind measures to infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has already proposed a new gun control law that would, among other things, renew the expired “assault weapons” ban and force fingerprinting of Americans who own certain types of firearms. There’s talk of new laws to ban “high-capacity” ammunition magazines as well.
Republicans control the House and, thus, could be expected as the party of Second Amendment rights to be ready to stop whatever the president and the Democrats come up with in the Senate. But the Doc Thompson radio show has posted what it is says is correspondence with a source in one of the Republican congressional leaders’ offices. The emails were apparently exchanged between December 27 and 30. Click to enlarge.
The crucial email is the one sent at 3:06 pm on the 27th. The source notes that Newtown would not have been prevented if Feinstein’s bill had been law, but allows that the Republicans may assist in banning “high-capacity magazines” and move on background checks, along with mental health and enforcement of existing law.
The fact is, we already have a background check regime in place. The National Instant Background Check System (NICS), run by the FBI, gets called up for criminal background check anytime anyone purchases a firearm from a licensed retailer. The process differs somewhat from state to state. “Assault weapons” are already banned in Connecticut, where the Newtown massacre occurred. The Newtown killer may have been stalled by the NICS — some reports say that he attempted to buy a gun at a sporting goods store but failed — but he clearly was not stopped. He apparently stole his guns from his mother, killed her, and then went on his rampage. His mother had no criminal background and owned the guns legally. The Webster, NY shooter was a known career felon and could not have bought his guns legally. So, as criminals do, he found a way around the system. He either stole the guns he used from his neighbor, or he used her as a straw purchaser to get the guns for him. His neighbor, Dawn Nguyen, has been arrested and charged with being his straw buyer two years ago. She reportedly says that Spangler stole the guns, but he was with her when she bought them, and she never reported them stolen.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) lashed out at the upper chamber today as a symbol of government’s runaway power in Americans’ lives.
“It’s an alternate universe. No, this — this place is a joke. I mean, bottom line, this is an absurd process,” Johnson said on CNBC. “It certainly proves the genius of our founding fathers that government should be limited. I mean, the fact that we have this place having such an enormous effect on our economy, on people’s livelihood, is wrong. It’s simply wrong.”
“So, I’m the manufacturer. I’m always looking for the cause of problems. The cause of the problem is that government is far too large. It’s far too intrusive into our lives. It exerts way too much control over our economy, but that’s where we’re at. And, you know, I have no — I don’t know too many people that really think government’s effective or efficient. Why would they think the governing body of that government would be particularly effective or efficient as well?” he continued. “This is a mere symptom of the overall problem in a system of government that has become too large and too intrusive in our lives.”
Johnson also slammed the reign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as “a one-man dictatorship.”
“And under his leadership, the Senate has been a charade while I’ve been here for two years. I serve on the Budget Committee. You know how many times we’ve voted on a budget in the Budget Committee? Zero. We haven’t even marked one up,” he said.
The senator also decried the shady negotiations. “We’re here at the end of the year, a couple of elected officials with their unelected staffs, are doing these deals behind closed doors,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happening behind there. Am I all of a sudden going to get a product sometime in the middle of the day and say, ‘you’ve got to vote on it right away’? I mean, that is an absurd process.”
“We’ve turned the Senate from a legislating body into a deal-making body, and that’s just wrong.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) predicted that working through the last-minute sticky issues would put a fiscal cliff deal past the midnight deadline.
“I can tell you that the original contours that we talked about really present a problem in reaching an agreement. But, I understand the conversation is going to continue, as it should, between the leaders in the Senate on both sides and the president,” Durbin told CNN.
“I understand the Republican senate caucus backed off of the including Social Security on this conversation. That is a positive step. I hope now that we can find other ways to find some common ground. We got to solve this problem.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached out to Vice President Joe Biden to negotiate when talks with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were going nowhere. There has reportedly been some progress on the tax cuts, but not yet on spending cuts.
“I think President Obama is right, that those making less than $250,000 should be protected. The Republicans, of course, want to raise that level so there it will be some higher income categories that receive the same protection from tax increases,” Durbin said. “As part of a package, overall package, I’m willing to sit down and talk about that personally, only one element. The whole question mark then is what’s fair, what will reduce the deficit, what’s something we can live with as a nation?”
Still, Durbin wouldn’t quote a tax threshold that he could live with. Dems reportedly sent a $450,000 offer for family tax rates to the GOP.
“It will be difficult to put it together this evening — even if we reached an agreement it is more likely to come tomorrow, if we reach an agreement. I think we need to keep working at it; the American people know what’s at stake here,” he said.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) told CNN there’s difficultly in going for the compromise rate being floated.
“I could support that but on the other hand, we want to make sure as well not raising taxes on small businesses and there are some audits in the tax code currently between 250,000 and 400,000 that would disproportionately affect those people as opposed to those who make more than 400,000,” she said. “They would end up — paying more in taxes than those earning over 400,000.”
Snowe tied the fiscal cliff to her frustration with the upper chamber that led her to decide to retire.
“On both parties, both branches of government. We are not engaged, wasted time, had recess upon recess, didn’t have full workweeks. I mean, the list goes on,” she said. “…It is a sad truth in terms of where we stand today in terms of our inability to get together and even the most routine let alone the magnitude of the issues that we are attempting to address today and will have to address tomorrow.”
NBC News chief health correspondent Robert Brazell is puzzled by the government’s statement regarding the health of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
“All we have is a statement from her office. The hospital isn’t saying anything and the statement from her [office] says that she had this blood clot that stemmed from the concussion and she’s being treated with blood-thinning drugs,” Bazell continued. “The problem is that usually when blood clots come from concussions, they can’t be treated with blood [thinners.] So either it’s not really related to the concussion and she’s got a blood clot in her leg or something, or there’s something else going on that we’re not being told. And right now, we’re just sort of seeking that clarification and hoping for the best as she’s being observed.”
If the clot is in the leg, how can it be related to the concussion, as the State Department says? If the clot is related to the concussion, supposing the concussion itself isn’t a delaying tactic to keep pushing Clinton’s Benghazi testimony down the calendar, it can’t be treated as the State Department statement says it’s being treated.
Clinton may well be ill — she did have a blood clot in her leg in 1998 — but there is no reason to suspend our experience and believe her at this point. The Clintons collectively and Hillary Clinton herself have not earned the benefit of assumed truth-telling. They have earned the suspicion due from a career of telling lie after lie in any and every circumstance. From the Rose law firm records that mysteriously turned up in the White House residence after being missing for years, to making a killing on cattle futures, to Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman…I never asked anyone to lie” riff to Hillary’s “I remember landing under sniper fire” lie, straight to Chelsea Clinton’s becoming a “journalist” at a national network despite having neither experience nor a personality, there is simply no reason to take any statement from any Clinton or anyone who works for them at face value.
In Hillary’s case, the pattern of evading her obligation to testify about Benghazi had been long established before the latest health scare. She blamed a movie for what was obviously a terrorist attack, with the bodies of the slain resting behind her. She set up a committee of hand-picked apparatchiks to “investigate,” and that committee quite conveniently determined that mistakes were made, just not by any actual people. Four people were supposedly fired over their roles in the Benghazi attack, but surprise, they’re still on the job and they owe their paychecks to Clinton who has kept them around. Through State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, Clinton floated the possibility that she may never testify along with floating the idea that she had no legal obligation to testify (she does, if Congress says she does, but her Accountability Review Board was set up so that she was not required to testify on its findings). All of that was before the flu, which became a concussion, which is now a blood clot.
Update: The doctors explain:
Doctors treating Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday said that she suffered a blood clot in a vein between her brain and skull behind her right ear but predicted that she would make a full recovery.
University of Graz (Austria) professor Richard Parncutt has no training in the hard sciences. He’s a professor of systemic musicology. He also claims that he opposes the death penalty for murderers, on the logic that killing killers does not bring the dead back to life.
But on his university’s website, he wrote out a lengthy and quite logical argument proposing the death penalty for those who hold an opinion that differs from his, on the subject of global warming. Or climate change. Whatever they’re calling it this week.
Parncutt wrote the piece, then heard from critics and lawyers and probably from his employer, the University of Graz. So he retracted it, and replaced it on the university’s web site with an apology intended to make the professor sound harmless as a kitten. His university surely called him into the dean’s office for a chat.
Too late, Professor Parncutt, the Internet is indelible. You may read his proposal to wield the power of the state to kill people over their scientific opinions here. It’s chilling for its cheery call to kill. Parncutt writes:
If my argument is correct, it has clear political consequences. Here is a scenario for what might happen if my argument is broadly accepted, both democratically and politically.
- The universal declaration of human rights and every national constitution would be amended to include the rights of future generations. Incidentally, that would also make national debts illegal, because they oblige future generations to pay them. Getting rid of national debts would in turn solve an important aspect of the “global financial crisis” (more), which currently belongs to the list of common excuses for not investing money in the prevention of GW.
- The proposed legal change would be announced and widely publicized for an extended period before it came into force. During that time, GW deniers would have a chance to change their ways and escape punishment.
- The police would start to identify the most influential GW deniers who had not responded to the changed legal situation. These individuals would then be charged and brought to justice.
If a jury of suitably qualified scientists estimated that a given GW denier had already, with high probability (say 95%), caused the deaths of over one million future people, then s/he would be sentenced to death. The sentence would then be commuted to life imprisonment if the accused admitted their mistake, demonstrated genuine regret, AND participated significantly and positively over a long period in programs to reduce the effects of GW (from jail) – using much the same means that were previously used to spread the message of denial. At the end of that process, some GW deniers would never admit their mistake and as a result they would be executed. Perhaps that would be the only way to stop the rest of them. The death penalty would have been justified in terms of the enormous numbers of saved future lives.
After logically working through the numbers of dead he believes global warming “deniers” will be responsible for, and therefore why said “deniers” deserve to die, Parncutt concludes that future generations will regard him as a hero.
Right now, in the year 2012, these ideas will seem quite crazy to most people. People will be saying that Parncutt has finally lost it. But there is already enough evidence on the table to allow me to make the following prediction: If someone found this document in the year 2050 and published it, it would find general support and admiration. People would say I was courageous to write the truth, for a change. Who knows, perhaps the Pope would even turn me into a saint. Presumably there will still be a Pope, and maybe by then he will even have realised that condoms are not such a bad thing! And by the way 2050 is rather soon. Most people reading this text will still be alive then.
I don’t want to be a saint. I would just like my grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the human race in general, to enjoy the world that I have enjoyed, as much as I have enjoyed it. And to achieve that goal I think it is justified for a few heads to roll.
All this from a gentle music professor. If Parncutt does nothing else with his life, he has solved the question of how the Nazis and the Islamists and the Communists and the eugenicists all became such systematic and successful mass murderers.
The WSJ reports that it’s beginning to look a lot like Cliffmas, and no one has any idea what sort of gifts to put under the nation’s burning tree.
Illustrating the gravity of the cuts, the Pentagon plans to notify 800,000 civilian employees that they could be forced to take several weeks of unpaid leave in 2013 if a deal isn’t struck, and other agencies are likely to follow suit.
The cuts, which members of both parties have referred to as a “meat ax,” are the product of a hastily designed 2011 law that required $110 billion in annual spending reductions over nine years to reduce the deficit. Their severity, representing close to 10% of annually appropriated spending, was intended to force Democrats and Republicans to come together on a broader package of deficit-reduction measures, which would replace the cuts. That effort failed, raising the prospect of the cuts’ taking place.
Complicating matters, the White House hasn’t informed federal agencies or contractors of precisely how the cuts might be administered, leading to confusion about the potential impact. Several federal agencies referred questions about the cuts to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. OMB didn’t respond to questions.
OMB, who leads that now? Looks like it’s Jeff Zeints, an alum of Bain & Company, and his unenviable job is to dodge questions about what the splatter pattern will look like after we lurch over the cliff and hit whatever boulders and beasties are down below.
Meanwhile talks started up again this morning, then went into recess, and have started up again. “Progress,” they report. Boehner’s tack of skipping over Harry Reid’s head to talk directly with Biden seems more than a bit desperate. You’ve moved up the chain a link, but all that’s done is gotten you closer to chatting with Capone. You’re no closer to actually nabbing him, you’re just hearing what he wants from the guy right next to him instead of the guy who sits around the corner of the table from him.
The fact that Reid could not even get a counter proposal out to offer shows that the Democrat caucus is as divided as the Republicans’, despite the fact that going over the cliff gives the Democrats on the left their fondest hearts desires: divided opposition, weaker defense, mostly untouched entitlement spending, and higher taxes on “the rich.” The recession that’s sure to follow just drives up the rate of dependency. Heads Obama wins, tails the Republic loses.
The disagreement between and within the parties is a fundamental one. For all the president’s talk of “putting politics aside,” we can either move toward a government that starts spending within its means, or we can continue to have a government that doesn’t even bother to pass budgets and keeps spending at a rate that will eventually crash the entire system. Obama and his Democrats prefer the latter — no budgets, and pouring buckets of money on our fiscal fire. They’re using the current crisis to advocate for more spending, not restraint. That’s their politics, and Obama, Reid and Pelosi have no intention of putting them aside. The Republicans prefer to have some kind of controls on how much the government spends. They’re not putting those politics aside. But they blew their chances when they got Obama to renew the Bush tax cuts and when they struck the deal that created the fiscal cliff in 2011. The American people blew their chance when they re-elected Barack Obama to the presidency. That vote was essentially a vote to put economic reality aside. Good luck with that.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said this morning on CNN that he believes fiscal cliff negotiations have progressed to a point where “the revenue issue is no longer a question.”
“I think we stand close to a deal,” the senator said.
“The question is making sure any new revenues go to debt spending reduction and deficit relief rather than new spending. It’s deficits that got us into this problem. It’s only reducing deficits that get us out of this problem,” he added.
Democrats this morning offered $450,000 as a deal on the tax-hike threshold, but Isakson wouldn’t confirm if that’s the level that’s been accepted.
“No, that’s not my best information, but it’s my best belief that they’ve reached an agreement on revenues. What that level is, I don’t know, but the question now is where those revenues go,” he said. “If they go to new spending, we’re going to have a problem making a deal because spending has been our problem. But if they go towards deficit reduction, which ultimately will be debt relief, that will be a good thing, and we probably will have a deal.”
Isakson described negotiations as “a lot of back room operation going right now, making sure all the i’s get dotted and the t’s get crossed.”
“I’m sure a final deal hasn’t been agreed to, but as long as Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden are talking — remember they are the two that last August made the budget control act possible that got us the postponement to get this deadline now,” he said. “So we’ve got our best two negotiators at the table.”
“There will be temporary patches, I’m sure. This is not going to be a macro deal. This is probably going to be a micro deal. We’ll be back at work, when we come back after swearing in, working on those items.”
There’s been no word from the White House on how negotiations are going from Biden’s point of view.
McConnell reached out to Biden yesterday after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) showed a “lack of urgency” in responding to GOP cliff offers.
“There is no single issue that remains an impossible sticking point – the sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest, or courage to close the deal,” McConnell said on the Senate floor at about 2 p.m. on Sunday. “I’m willing to get this done but I need a dance partner.”
According to a report compiled by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the security situation in Benghazi, Libya in the months leading up to the 9-11-12 attack was “flashing red,” but the US State Department failed to respond adequately. That attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The Senate report noted the “large amount of evidence” in the months preceding the attack that Benghazi was “increasingly dangerous and unstable,” with an attack on Americans becoming “much more likely.”
“While this intelligence was effectively shared within the Intelligence Community (IC) and with key officials at the Department of State, it did not lead to a commensurate increase in security at Benghazi nor to a decision to close the American mission there, either of which would have been more than justified by the intelligence presented,” the report said.
The objective of the final Photo Caption Contest of 2012 was to improve upon this Washington Post caption:
December 24, 2012 — President Obama waves from the window of his motorcade vehicle as he returns from a workout at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kailua, Hawaii.
Thanks to all who made this contest very competitive.
To help judge the winning caption we are privileged to have a Previously Important Person (PIP) as our celebrity guest judge.
(This PIP is one of our New Year’s weekend house guests, so asking him to judge our contest was a gesture of hospitality.)
Our PIP served a past President of the United States and trust me when I tell you he is totally overqualified to judge our contest.
Here are the winning captions he selected.
“Ignore the fact that this limo is not electric powered.”
“See that smudge on the window? Bush’s fault!”
Both submitted by Chris Henderson (one of this year’s contest all-stars)
They took my jacket or I would be using it to cover my face. Submitted by William L. Gensert
Mr. President, Miss America could give you a few pointers on your wave.
FDR would’ve worn a tie.
“See? I told you my administration would be transparent.”
All three submitted by RockThisTown (another contest all-star)
“Help, I’m being held hostage by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.” Submitted by Paleo-Conservative
Two weeks of personal training, and still can’t do any of the heavy lifting.
Submitted by Kimbly (another former winner)
The last time I raised my hand was in grade school, and I didn’t know the answers then or now.
Submitted by Don Henderson
Obama Workout Regimen: a) he lifts your wallet; b) he runs from scandals; c) he skips briefings; d) he cycles old speeches; e) he benches the press; and, f) he spends most of his time in spin class.
Submitted by cfbleachers (King of the contest all-stars)
And the Grand Prize Winner (chosen by our PIP and the lovely Mrs. PIP) is:
It’s easy to spot the Republicans, they only wave with one finger.
Submitted by Don Henderson (Your star is rising fast!)
Congratulations to Don and all who submitted winning captions.
Extra special thanks to every one of our loyal caption contest participants who helped make our contests so successful.
Happy New Year and see you all next time a photo is worthy of a Tatler Photo Caption Contest!
Retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Sunday that the Troubled Asset Relief Program was his toughest moment as a lawmaker in his more than three decades in the House.
“Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and said look, America is on the verge of a collapse, and you have got to help us. One, that is an awful responsibility to have, and it was then putting together the TARP, which I think will go down in history as the most highly successful, highly unpopular program in American history,” Frank said on CBS’ Capitol Gains of the Bush administration move in 2008.
“But that period of the stakes were very high, that we could have serious long-lasting economic damage, and we had to get people to do what most politicians knew was not going to be good for them. That was tough.”
Frank said the TARP experience explains “what happened to bipartisanship.”
“And what happened to bipartisanship is Barack Obama won, and the Republicans moved to the right, and they did not extend to Barack Obama the cooperation we Democrats gave to George Bush,” he said. “…And when the votes came, [the Bush administration] got much more support from the Democrats than the Republicans. The Republicans kind of waffled out on them.”
The congressman also said Wall Street should warm up to Dodd-Frank regulations.
“I think the financial community made a very grave error in this last campaign in their own interest. They got angry at us because we did financial reform and because the president hurt their feelings. He said that they should pay more taxes and that they weren’t always doing the best thing,” he said.
As far as the incoming Financial Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Frank called him “a throwback to the days of irresponsibility.”
“I’ve never agreed with him on an issue. He is a very decent, reasonable guy. From time to time, he would be sitting in the minority leader chair when I was there. We always were able to work very well together, but he is very, very far to the right, and I don’t think sustainable,” Frank said. “…He is a decent man. He’s an honorable man, he’s pleasant to work with. And I think quite extreme.”
Not only is he bowing out of Congress, but isn’t interested in a job in an administration Obama’s second term, either.
“My energy level isn’t what it was. I got married in July, late. I was 72 when I got married. I am very much in love with Jim,” Frank said. “I want to write. I think the time has come. I want to still contribute to the public policy debate, but in a somewhat different way now.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital today after the discovery of a blood clot linked to her recent concussion.
Clinton reportedly suffered the concussion when was ill with the flu and fainted. That kept her from testifying on Capitol Hill about the Benghazi report as scheduled before Christmas.
The blood clot was discovered during a follow-up check today, according to the Associated Press. Clinton has been scheduled to return to work this week.
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said she is being treated with anti-coagulants and monitored at the hospital for the clot and “other issues associated with her concussion.”
She has been recuperating from the flu/fall for three weeks, and doctors banned her from air travel for an even longer period for fear that she could develop a clot.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) tonight introduced his 11th-hour effort to keep the worst tenets of the fiscal cliff from going into effect.
His “Cliff Alleviation at the Last Minute,” or CALM Act, would phase in the tax hikes over the next three years instead allowing all of them to hit immediately. It would also allow the Office of Management and Budget to prioritize which programs will be cut, rather than apply an across-the-board sequestration cut.
“If we’re determined to go over the cliff, we’ve got to do something to soften the landing, because at the bottom of the fiscal cliff are immediate and massive tax increases, deep and indiscriminate spending cuts, and the risk of another recession,” Manchin said in a floor speech to introduce the legislation. “So as we come down to the final hours, we have two choices – to do nothing and cause an unbelievable amount of hardship for our fellow Americans or to do something to reduce the suffering inflicted on our citizens by an inflexible political system. I choose to do something.”
Manchin said his bill “is not something that I am excited about or proud to offer.”
“This is not a great plan, merely a better plan than going over the cliff,” he said. “It should never have come to this.”
Manchin’s bill also encourages Congress and the White House to work toward a “big fix” based on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction framework — which President Obama has already rejected.
“Every provision of the CALM Act is familiar to the Senate. In fact, at one time or another, nearly every feature of this plan has been offered by both Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama and Speaker Boehner,” he said. “All I’ve done is pull them together to offer them as a compassionate alternative to what happens if we go over the fiscal cliff.”
“I’m not so naïve as to believe everybody is going to check their politics at the door, even at this late hour. But this is not a time for political bickering or partisan games. To allow the country to plunge over the fiscal cliff, without any alternative plans to soften the landing, is completely unacceptable. …Something has gone terribly wrong when the biggest threat to the American economy is the American Congress.”
Manchin’s bill isn’t likely to be the only version of a stopgap measure to be floated in the coming hours. In a town where continuing resolutions are periodically passed to keep the government running, it’s reasonable to expect that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden will come up with a can-kicking deal in their negotiations tonight and tomorrow.
With no fiscal cliff deal yet and mere hours away from the Jan. 1 deadline, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced early Sunday evening that the upper chamber will reconvene at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
“Roll call votes are possible tomorrow,” the majority leader’s office said in its schedule.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters on the Hill this afternoon that Republicans advanced a proposal last night and “there was an indication that we would have received that by ten o’clock this morning” — but it hadn’t been received.
But Thune indicated that the ever-obstinate Reid may not be as much of a factor in talks by this point.
“Senator [Mitch] McConnell and Vice President Biden are continuing to discuss this and we think there perhaps still could be a path forward,” Thune said of the minority leader.
One sticking point appeared to be a chained consumer price index (CPI), an alternative measure of inflation. Democrats contend that will hit Social Security recipients.
“Chained CPI to us is not just about replacing the sequester today,” Thune said. “It’s putting in place a policy that will help save and protect Social Security in the long-term. But that being said, if Democrats don’t accept that as an offset, then come up with something else.”
Snippets floated out about the dollar figures on the table for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. Reid was reportedly willing to make the threshold as high as $360,000 for individuals, and the GOP countered with an offer of $450,000 as the cutoff for tax hikes.
“The latest unacceptable Republican offer would mean more pain for the middle class, poor & seniors – and more giveaways to the wealthiest,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) tweeted.
“What [Reid] will more than likely do, if history is any guide in this, is take a bill and fill the amendment tree and prevent Republicans from having an opportunity to offer amendments,” Thune said. “I think we would welcome the opportunity to have an open debate on the floor of the United States Senate that the American people could observe and be a part of.”
Republican reactions with the Senate adjournment were anywhere from guarded to pessimistic.
“I’m incredibly disappointed we cannot seem to find common ground. I think we’re going over the cliff,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “CPI has been taken off the table for the fiscal cliff negotiations. Should be part of entitlement reform package.”
Republicans admitted that they didn’t expect the chained CPI to be part of the deal but wanted to “start big,” in the words of Lone Star State Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), going into last-minute negotiations.
Graham said the Democrats put forth a proposal that increased spending by $600 billion. “Revenues generated from higher taxes were spent and not one penny went toward deficit reduction,” Graham said.
After the internal State Department review of the deadly terror attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, President Obama is chalking up the four deaths and administration double-speak to “just some sloppiness.”
On this morning’s Meet the Press, Obama said he thought the Accountability Review Board report led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen was “very thorough” in identifying weak points in diplomatic security.
“My message to the State Department has been very simple. And that is, we’re going to solve this. We’re not going to be defensive about it; we’re not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem. And we’re going to implement every single recommendation that’s been put forward,” he said. “Some individuals have been held accountable, inside of the State Department.”
Obama said diplomats understand that they sometimes venture into dangerous areas, but the report revealed “what we had already seen based on some of our internal reviews, there was just some sloppiness, not intentional, in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies.”
Like in the days after the attack, the president stop short of blaming terrorists.
“With respect to who carried it out, that’s an ongoing investigation,” he said. “The FBI has sent individuals to Libya repeatedly. We have some very good leads. But this is not something that you know, I’m going to be at liberty to talk about right now.”
Obama decried the “politically motivated attack” on UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who withdrew her name for consideration as secretary of State due to outcry over her appearances on Sunday news shows days after the Sept. 11 attack to point the blame at protests over an anti-Muhammad video.
“I mean, of all the people in my national security team, she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi,” he said. “Why she was targeted individually for the kind of attacks that she was subjected to, is, it was puzzling to me. And I was very clear in the days after those attacks, that they weren’t acceptable.”
“So you know, the good thing is that I think she will continue to serve at the U.N. And do an outstanding job. And I think that most Americans recognize that these were largely politically motivated attacks as opposed to being justified.”
As far as another controversial cabinet choice looming, Obama said he doesn’t see anything to disqualify former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) from filling Leon Panetta’s job at the Pentagon.
“First of all, I haven’t made a decision about who to nominate,” the president said. “My number one criteria will be who’s going to do the best job in helping to secure America.”
President Obama was asked by the clip-wielding host of NBC’s Meet the Press this morning if he has “the stomach for the political fight for new gun control laws” after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
“I think anybody who was up in Newtown, who talked to the parents, who talked to the families, understands that something fundamental in America has to change. And all of us have to do some soul-searching, including me as president; that we allow a situation in which 20 precious, small children are getting gunned down in a classroom,” Obama said, adding that he has “historically supported and will continue to support” an assault-weapons ban, ban on high-capacity magazines, and background checks.
“But can you get it done?” host David Gregory pressed.
“I’d like to get it done in the first year,” Obama responded. “I will put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that Joe Biden’s task force is putting together as we speak. And so this is not something that I will be putting off.”
Vaguely, Obama said he’d meet with stakeholders on gun control: “I will meet with Republicans, I will meet with Democrats. I will talk to anybody.”
“I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can’t have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high- capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gunned down our kids. And yes, it’s going to be hard,” he said.
When asked about the National Rifle Association recommendation to post armed guards in schools — the interview in which Gregory whipped out a high-capacity magazine for NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre last week — Obama said he would not “prejudge.”
“I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem,” said the president, who, like Gregory, sends his kids to the private Sidwell Friends School that boasts several armed guards to protect its well-heeled students.
“Look — here’s the bottom line — we’re not going to get this done unless the American people decide it’s important. So this is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things that you learn, having now been in this office for four years, is you know, the old adage of Abraham Lincoln’s that with public opinion there’s nothing you can’t do and without public opinion, there’s very little you can get done in this town,” Obama continued. “So I’m going to be putting forward a package. And I’m going to be putting my full weight behind it.”
“Will there be resistance? Absolutely there will be resistance. The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here.”
It certainly is possible to see 100,000 dead over the next year in Syria, but what ever “diplomacy” the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria envisions won’t get the two sides to the table anytime soon.
The rebels are adamant that they won’t talk until Assad leaves power. Assad says he won’t talk until the “terrorists” are defeated and lay down their arms. This is a recipe for stalemate unless backers for the two sides — Russia for the regime and Gulf States like Saudi Arabia for the rebels — put pressure on their clients to make peace.
Voice of America:
Speaking Sunday in Cairo, Brahimi said the warring sides are not speaking to each other, despite his recent intensified diplomatic efforts to promote a peace plan approved by world and regional powers last June in Geneva. The U.N.-Arab League envoy said “help is needed from the outside” to start a Syrian national dialogue based on that plan.
The Algerian says the situation in Syria is deteriorating and if the civil war continues, Syria will turn into a Somalia-style failed state ruled by warlords.
The Geneva plan calls for all sides in Syria to end hostilities, enter a national dialogue, and form a transitional government leading to new elections. It says nothing about the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, an omission that appears to have stalled its progress.
Rebels refuse to negotiate unless Mr. Assad steps down and leaves the country, while the Syrian president insists on fighting what he calls “foreign-backed terrorists.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday he believes Syria’s rebels will achieve victory soon with “God’s help.” He was speaking to a cheering crowd of Syrian refugees at a Turkish camp near the border with Syria. The head of the exiled opposition Syrian National Coalition, Moaz Al-Khatib, accompanied Mr. Erdogan on the visit to the Akcakale camp.
Turkey is one of the strongest regional opponents of Mr. Assad and has provided shelter to about 150,000 Syrian refugees.
Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s few remaining allies, appeared to be making more preparations to evacuate its citizens from Syria as the conflict escalates. In reports published Sunday, Russian media said Moscow is sending a third warship to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, joining two vessels already en route. The news agencies said the third ship, the Novocherkassk, is expected to arrive at Tartus in early January.
Events may indeed, overtake any efforts at mediation. But despite setbacks, President Assad’s military still has considerable resources to fight while the rebels lack air power, armor, and are still hampered by a lack of organization.
The organization may improve over the next year. But no nation in their right mind is going to give the rebels any major weapons when extremists have infiltrated their army and will have an unknown impact on a post-Assad Syria.
There’s always the chance Assad will be ousted by his own people, but there has been no reason to believe that his loyal inner circle is ready to turn on him. They are Alawites also and are fighting for survival just like Assad. It is doubtful they would give up the war even if they got rid of the Syrian dictator.
No western intervention, no Russian pressure on Assad, no UN action, and a Special Envoy who is fresh out of ideas.
And no hope for Syria’s civilians, caught in a humanitarian disaster that will only get worse over time.
With less than 48 hours to go before the fiscal cliff, President Obama claimed that his side has the backing of “the majority of the American people including close to half of Republicans” as it pushes a “sensible deal” to raise taxes on upper-income brackets.
“I think it’s important for the American people to understand exactly what this fiscal cliff is because it’s actually not that complicated,” Obama said this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. “…If we’re serious about deficit reduction, we should make sure that the wealthy are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long-term trajectory of growth.”
The president said the onus is on Congress to arrive at a last-minute deal.
“You know, we have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers,” he said. “Yesterday I had another meeting with the leadership and I suggested to them if they can’t do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reduction, let’s at minimum make sure that people’s taxes don’t go up. And that two million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance. And I was modestly optimistic yesterday.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a statement responding to Obama’s appearance, said, “Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame.”
“The president’s comments today are ironic, as a recurring theme of our negotiations was his unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party. Needed cuts and reforms that the president agreed to just last year were no longer on the table, as he cited an inability to sell them to Democrats,” Boehner said.
“We’ve been reasonable and responsible. The president is the one who has never been able to get to ‘yes,’” he added.
This morning on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he’d been in touch with negotiators, who have been working all weekend.
“There is no deal yet. I continue to hope for a bipartisan agreement today,” Barrasso said.
“What we’re seeing here is a monumental failure of Presidential leadership. The President is the only person with a pen to sign this, and it’s the President’s responsibility to work on something that the House will pass, the Senate will pass, and that he will sign, but he is outsourcing this,” the senator added. “He continues to campaign and lecture when he ought to be focusing on the number one problem that hurts us as a country, which is our debt.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on ABC’s This Week that there’s “a real possibility of a deal” even though there have been no breakthroughs yet.
“I’ve been a legislator for 37 years, and I’ve watched how these things work. On these big, big agreements, they almost always happen at the last minute. Neither side likes to give up its position. They eyeball each other until the very end,” Schumer said. “But then, each side, realizing that the alternative is worse, comes to an agreement. So while an agreement is hardly a certainty, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out at this last minute.”
Nothing like throwing in the towel when your fighter is still standing.
A top Republican senator is conceding defeat in the debate with President Obama over how best to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” accepting that tax increases now appear inevitable.
“Hats off to the president. He stood his ground. He’s going to get tax-rate increases,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“He won,” Mr. Graham said, a blunt assessment of the political environment on Capitol Hill now less than 48 hours before massive spending cuts and tax increases on most Americans go into effect on Jan. 1.
Mr. Graham also said that he’ll likely vote for a deal to avoid the cliff “even if I won’t like it,” stressing that GOP support for a compromise measure in the Senate will make it far easier for House Speaker John A. Boehner to rally his troops, something he was unable to do when promoting his “Plan B” solution to the fiscal cliff crisis.
As for specifics, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she and other Democrats would be willing to compromise on the income limit for tax increases. Most Democrats, along with Mr. Obama, have in the past drawn the line at $250,000, but Mrs. Feinstein and others — including the president — have bent on that figure in an effort to attract Republican support.
What purpose is served by congratulating the president before a single vote has been taken? Graham’s logic escapes me and most other Republicans. Won’t there be time enough after the votes to give Obama his due?
For whatever reason, Graham is groveling. What are he and other GOP senators who think like him going to do next year when the real negotiations to cut the deficit begin?
Might as well start waving the white flag now in order to get a head start and beat the rush next year.
The terrorists in Pakistan have been busy this holiday season and yesterday was a particularly gruesome day.
Pakistani militants, who have escalated attacks in recent weeks, killed at least 41 people in two separate incidents, officials said on Sunday, challenging assertions that military offensives have broken the back of hardline Islamist groups.
The United States has long pressured nuclear-armed ally Pakistan to crack down harder on both homegrown militants groups such as the Taliban and others which are based on its soil and attack Western forces in Afghanistan.
In the north, 21 men working for a government-backed paramilitary force were executed overnight after they were kidnapped last week, a provincial official said.
Twenty Shiite pilgrims died and 24 were wounded, meanwhile, when a car bomb targeted their bus convoy as it headed toward the Iranian border in the southwest, a doctor said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has noted more than 320 Shias killed this year in Pakistan and said attacks were on the rise. It said the government’s failure to catch or prosecute attackers suggested it was “indifferent” to the killings.
Pakistan, seen as critical to U.S. efforts to stabilise the region before NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, denies allegations that it supports militant groups like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.
Afghan officials say Pakistan seems more genuine than ever about promoting peace in Afghanistan.
At home, it faces a variety of highly lethal militant groups that carry out suicide bombings, attack police and military facilities and launch sectarian attacks like the one on the bus in the southwest.
Witnesses said a blast targeted their three buses as they were overtaking a car about 60 km (35 miles) west of Quetta, capital of sparsely populated Baluchistan province.
“The bus next to us caught on fire immediately,” said pilgrim Hussein Ali, 60. “We tried to save our companions, but were driven back by the intensity of the heat.”
Twenty people had been killed and 24 wounded, said an official at Mastung district hospital.
The government will give lip service to condemning the attacks on Shias, not really seeing this as a security problem. But the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has known ties to the Haqqani network that operates in both Afghanitsan and Pakistan, as well as the lethal Lashkar-e-Taiba, who carried out the deadly Mumbai massacre in 2008. And their relationship with the Afghan Taliban remains conflicted despite repeated US entreaties to assist in denying the terrorists safe haven in Pakistan.
Pakistan is sowing the wind by supporting terrorist groups who attack in the disputed Kashmir region along the Indian border, as well as targets in India proper. It is days like yesterday where they appear to reap the whirlwind when these same terrorists take out Pakistani citizens with equal fervor. As long as they see terrorism as a viable strategy to promote their interests, they will probably continue to be targeted and the innocent will die.
I was happy to see that the Audience Network is going to be rerunning the Fox TV series 24 on weekdays. And if congressional negotiators were smart, they could learn a thing or two by watching Jack Bauer, who always saved America just in the nick of time — usually by throwing out the rulebook and improvising a solution to the crisis.
Where is Jack when we need him?
Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell have been locked in negotiations over the weekend, in an otherwise closed-down Capitol.
According to the Washington Post, they have set themselves a deadline of 15:00 local time (20:00 GMT) to reach a compromise agreement, after which they will convene caucus meetings of their members and decide whether the measure has enough support to be put to a vote.
The Senate could then vote on the measure and allow the House of Representatives enough time on Monday to consider it, said the paper.
This is the “Democratic Double Dare You” scenario where there will be an up-or-down vote in the Senate on maintaining middle class tax cuts, with Obama and the Democrats literally daring Republicans to vote against it in the House. Other tax-and-spending issues would be addressed after the new Congress is sworn in.
President Obama is scheduled to make a rare appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
He has urged negotiators to reach a deal, even if the resulting legislation is an unhappy compromise for both sides which defers resolution of some elements under discussion.
The country “just can’t afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy,” he said, warning that if they fail, “every American’s paycheck will get a lot smaller”.
“Congress can prevent it from happening, if they act now,” he said.
Some Republicans have pledged never to vote for increased taxes. There are some indications they could oppose any deal which included higher taxes.
Lest anyone think all the pressure is on Republicans, there are serious political concerns for Democrats as well:
But Reid faces his own competing pressures — from a White House that wants him to carry a deal through, moderate Democrats who face a tough 2014 reelection, and liberals who want him to hold firm against the GOP even if it means going over the cliff.
A number of Democrats — several of whom will face voters in 2014 — worry no one will be unscathed, including President Barack Obama. If taxes skyrocket and deep cuts take effect, Obama could preside over an eroding economy that could torpedo his second-term agenda as he tries to broaden his presidency to focus on issues like immigration reform and gun control. Voters, Democrats in the Senate fear, will take it out on them as well.
“I don’t blame people at home for wondering what in the heck is going on in the nation’s capital,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is up for reelection in 2014. “It’s hard to explain. … I don’t think it looks good for either party.”
The debate in Congress over the fiscal cliff has delayed consideration of a new farm bill. Because of that, an obscure 1949 dairy price support law would go into effect on January 1, sending milk and cheese prices soaring by the end of January.
Lawmakers and federal officials say Congress could still approve legislation blocking the 1949 law, or they could pass a temporary extension to the 2008 farm bill. “We are exploring all options to prevent the 1949 farm bill from taking effect, especially as it relates to dairy policy,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said. Most of the previous farm bill expired on Sept. 30, but the dairy section expires at year-end.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is preparing for the possibility that lawmakers don’t halt the 1949 pricing law. The department could spend months drawing up implementation plans for the higher-pricing policy, which would effectively delay the increase. But without any permanent legislation, the Department of Agriculture would have to begin buying milk at very high prices, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters earlier this month. That would mean shoppers would face “more costly milk products in grocery stores,” and food processors would likely turn to dairy substitutes, he said.
The International Dairy Foods Association, a lobbying group, wrote Mr. Vilsack Thursday asking him to take action. Dairy farmers would benefit temporarily from higher prices after a year of drought pushed feed prices to record levels. But higher milk prices could hamper U.S. exports, Mr. Wilson said. “Certainly they’d appreciate higher checks for a little while, but I think most of them appreciate that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Vilsack said imports to the U.S. could rise as foreign suppliers try to take advantage.
It is probable that many retailers will eat some or most of the increase in order to keep customers from fleeing to lower priced outlets. But they can only do that for so long before it seriously eats into their profits.
Congress will probably get something done early in January so the immediate crisis will be resolved. But some permanent mechanism for figuring dairy price supports must be in place soon for the sake of both farmer and consumer.
Seeking to avoid a bloody primary fight, influential Massachusetts Democrats have decided to back long-serving Congressman Ed Markey for the seat being vacated by Secretary of State nominee John Kerry.
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Senator, as well as Rep. Niki Tsongas, widow of a former Senator — both mentioned as possible candidates in the primary — declined to challenge Markey. Senator Kerry has also endorsed the far left congressman
Markey has served in Congress since 1976 and is regularly re-elected with overwhelming margins. But he’s never run a statewide race and is little known outside his district.
Kerry, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued statements Friday in support of Markey, the Boston Globe reported.
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, still faces Senate confirmation hearings but is expected to pass.
Markey, a 36-year House veteran, announced earlier this week that he would run for Kerry’s seat if the senator is confirmed.
His support sends a signal to other potential Democratic candidates, including Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch, to stay out of the race.
The potential candidates were reportedly upset by the perceived power play but don’t appear willing to step aside, a top Democratic operative told the newspaper.
Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas, considered a strong potential candidate, announced Friday that she would not challenge Markey for the party nomination.
The leading Republican candidate would likely be Sen. Scott Brown who lost his reelection bid last month by 8 percentage points to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. However, Brown has not said whether he would make another run in the heavily Democratic state.
If and when Kerry officially gives up his seat, Gov. Deval Patrick has 145 to 160 days to set a date for a special election. The Democratic governor will appoint an interim senator to fill the seat until the election results are counted.
Markey’s interest group ratings are among the most liberal in Congress. He receives scores of 100 from Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU, the gay organization Human Rights Campaign and numerous other liberal groups while getting a corresponding zero rating from many conservative organizations.
Massachusetts Republicans are almost giddy at the prospect of sending former Senator Brown into battle with Markey. If there is one candidate who may be too liberal for the state, it’s him. Both candidates should be well financed and well organized, which will set up a most interesting race in 2013.
Irony abounds in this decision by the French Supreme Court. The reason the 75% French tax rate on incomes above a million euros is unconstitutional is because it fails to guarantee “taxpayer equality.”
In short, it’s a fairness issue.
President Obama should love this decision, then, right?
President Francois Hollande’s 75 percent millionaire-tax is unconstitutional because it fails to guarantee taxpayer equality, France’s top court ruled today.
The tax, one of Hollande’s campaign promises, had become a focal point of discontent among entrepreneurs and other wealth creators, some of whom have quit French shores as a result. The ruling comes as the president seeks to cut France’s public deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product next year from a projected 4.5 percent this year.
“Politically, this has an impact because it was a symbol for French public opinion, and was considered abroad as the emblem of French tax excess, of French tax hell,” said Dominique Barbet, senior economist at BNP Paribas SA in Paris. “In deficit terms, it’s truly negligible.”
The court said Hollande’s plan would have added extra levies of 18 percent on individuals’ incomes of more than 1 million euros ($1.32 million), while regular income taxes and a 4 percent exceptional contribution for high earners would have been based on household income, an e-mailed statement shows.
As a result, two households with the same total revenue could end up paying different rates depending on how earnings are divided among members of those households. That runs counter to a rule of equal tax treatment, the Paris-based court said.
The constitutional court lowered a series of other tax increases, calling them excessive or saying they also violated equality of treatment for taxpayers. The tax rate on stock options and free shares was lowered to a maximum of 64.5 percent from a rate of as much as 77 percent. The marginal tax rate on a type of private retirement benefit, known as “retraites chapeau,” was cut to a maximum of 68.34 percent from a planned rate in 2013 of 75.34 percent.
Looking at France’s wealth tax, the court said that unrealized gains couldn’t be included in assessing the tax because it ignores the requirement to take into account a payer’s ability to meet his obligations.
Hollande called on the “patriotism” of the country’s rich to do their part during Europe’s more than three-year-old financial crisis.
A new tax proposal will be presented next year and will apply to earnings for 2013 and 2014, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on BFM television.
The government “will present a new proposal in line with the principles laid down by the Constitutional Court…” so chances are that some kind of tax on the rich will be implemented. But along with President Hollande’s other soak the rich schemes, it will probably realize far less in actual revenue than has been planned by the government. Those who earn just over or under a million euros will try their best not to reach that number in order to avoid the tax. And there will almost certainly be continued flight from France by wealthy and successful Frenchmen who don’t feel like handing over such a large segment of their income to a profligate, socialist government.
Will they ever learn?
Yes, but at least they have very strict gun control laws in Chicago that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. Oh, wait…
Chicago reached “a tragic number” today, according to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: Its homicide total for the year hit 500, the highest annual total since 2008.
The city’s latest homicide occurred around 9 p.m. Thursday when Nathaniel T. Jackson, 40, an alleged gang member with a lengthy arrest record, was gunned down outside a store in the Austin neighborhood.
As of Thursday night, homicides were up 17 percent over last year in Chicago and shootings had increased by 11 percent, according to police statistics. Earlier this fall, Chicago already exceeded the number of homicides that occurred last year, but this is the first time the city has had 500 or more murders since the 512 in 2008.
Helluva job, Rhambo. Why not blame the high murder rate on global warming?
Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.
Apparently, there was some dissension at police headquarters over whether this latest victim was the 499th or 500th murdered Chicagoan. They finally decided that the poor unfortunate was #500.
Incredibly, the police took credit for a decrease in violent crime at the same press conference they announced the 500th murder victim:
McCarthy issued a statement declaring: “The city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods.”
While saying every homicide is unacceptable, he went on to laud the department’s overall crime reduction.
He also said that gang violence reduction strategies the department adopted this year have slowed the increase in violence.
The murder rate is up 17% but, hey! At least the gangs are killing each other more slowly.
With so many illegal guns on the streets of Chicago and law abiding citizens largely prevented from legally purchasing a firearm for protection from the barbarians, one wonders why the murder rate wasn’t higher.
Mayor Emanuel proposed budget cuts last year of $190 million. He planned to close 3 police stations and hire 500 officers for the year – a number that barely kept up with retirements. The city did direct many officers who had been largely doing paperwork to get out and patrol high crime neighborhoods. This slowed the crime rate toward the end of the year, but hardly made much of a difference in the number of murders overall.
If strict gun control laws aren’t working in Chicago — and they aren’t — why would anyone think they could work nationwide?
Speaker of the House John Boehner has hinted that any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff on January 1 negotiated in the Senate by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid would be subject to amendments when it reaches the House.
In practical terms, this means that chances to conclude a deal before the January 1 deadline are remote.
At issue — the tax rate increase on “the rich.” It is likely that any deal coming out of the Senate would raise the income level for the tax rate increase to no more than $500,000 from the current $250,000. Even if there were enough House Republicans who would go along with any tax increase at all, that number would probably be unacceptable to a majority of those opposed to raising the rates. Boehner will have a hard time selling any increase to his caucus below $1 million — a figure that the president has indicated is off the table.
McConnell and Reid have promised to deliver a proposal to the Senate on Sunday.
If there is a Reid-McConnell deal, officials said, it would probably include these elements: an extension of current income-tax rates for most Americans; a measure to block a scheduled expansion of the alternative minimum tax; an extension of unemployment benefits and possibly a measure to prevent a scheduled cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
A wide range of other issues are on the table that could serve as sweeteners or stumbling blocks, potentially including elements of a stalled farm bill. Mr. Obama wants to include an extension of the U.S.’s borrowing limit, which will be breached in the spring, but that is unlikely, officials said.
The president also wanted to postpone the $110 billion in spending cuts due to take effect Jan. 2. Mr. Boehner said he wouldn’t agree unless other programs were cut to compensate. A GOP aide said it was “clear” the spending cuts wouldn’t be addressed this round.
Likely to be included is a measure blocking a Jan. 1 increase in the estate tax, an issue that divides Democrats and is make-or-break for senators of both parties. “I’m totally dead set on keeping the rates right where they are,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), guessing that 60 senators shared his position.
How the House will respond to any Senate deal is a crucial unanswered question. According to a spokesman, Mr. Boehner told the president the House would consider whatever bill passes the Senate, either accepting or amending it.
Are there enough bitter end Republicans in the House who could torpedo a deal? It would depend on two factors: whether almost all Democrats would vote for a Senate deal and just how much influence Boehner still has over his caucus. If all House Democrats support a deal coming out of the Senate, Boehner would be granted some leeway in herding Republicans to the finish line. The speaker could lose up to 25 members and still carry the day.
But given Boehner’s inability to convince Republicans to vote for his “Plan B” proposal last week, it is an open question whether he could hold enough of his own caucus to get a deal done. It didn’t help that Boehner purged some tea party members from influential committees — only to see the ideological compatriots of Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Dave Schweikert (Ariz.) stiff the Speaker when he needed them for his Plan B gambit. Are there any inducements or threats that Boehner could offer that would change that dynamic? It is not wise to underestimate the power of the speaker but Boehner has not been able to show that he has the fortitude to crack the whip to get reluctant members back in line. Even appeals to members that the GOP would suffer ruinous losses in the 2014 midterms if no deal is reached appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Given that time is running out, the Senate may not pass a deal until Monday — if they can come together to pass anything at all. At that point, with a matter of hours remaining before the deadline, Boehner may be forced into a straight up or down vote on the Senate proposal. Any amendments desired by House Republicans would have to be cleared in the conference committee — a remote possibility given the time constraints and the insistence by Senate Democrats in sticking with Obama’s plan.
It will take all of Boehner’s skills as a politician to convince his reluctant caucus that this stop-gap deal — with no amendments — is the best that can be achieved and that the GOP should accede to the president’s wishes.
Don’t bet the House on it.
How does a suspect obtain a gun after entering a police station in handcuffs? A tragedy of errors, perhaps. From ABC:
The man who “unleashed a barrage of gunfire” on three police officers this morning in New Jersey was an employee of the New Jersey Department of Corrections who had been arrested for allegedly stalking his ex-girlfriend’s home.
The suspect was arrested for stalking his ex-girlfriend and was taken to the police station for processing. At one point, he was left alone with the female officer on a room, and his handcuffs removed. (During fingerprinting? The police electronic fingerprinting system is like a large scanner/copier. Being a sensitive part of the booking procedure, this machine is often given its own room. In order to obtain a professional license, I’ve been through this.)
The local Gloucester Township Patch reported that the shooting occurred over four hours after the suspect was taken into custody. The suspect tackled Ruth Burns and grabbed her gun, after she removed his handcuffs. From ABC:
When the officer, identified as Ruth Burns, called for help, Sgt. James Garber and Sgt. Kevin Thyne, who were right outside the room, rushed in to help.
Burns was shot in the foot. Thyne suffered a laceration to his abdomen after a .40 caliber bullet ricocheted off his duty belt, and a gazing wound to his chin. Garber was shot in the chest (stopped by duty vest), and also in the abdomen below his vest. He’s in stable condition after surgery.
From the Patch:
The police chief noted the ongoing investigation will include a review to determine whether Burns should have been armed at the time she removed the handcuffs from Jones and was attacked.
Should a female officer with perhaps one year on the job be left alone with a man possessing potentially violent tendencies towards women?
Does one have to be an idiot to work in the mainstream media, or does it merely make one promotable to the corner office? Some have been in a fit because Los Angeles’ guy buyback program turned up a pair of “anti-tank rocket launchers.”
Los Angeles officials declared victory yesterday, after their gun buyback program managed to pull in 2,037 guns, including 75 assault weapons and two anti-tank rocket launchers, the LA Times reports. Yes, you read that correctly. Residents turned in the weapons for grocery store gift cards, no questions asked.
That’s just crazy! You know what’s crazier? You can buy that stuff online. Here’s a page selling some. Here’s more. And try not to faint, but here’s a military rocket. And a rocket-propelled grenade. It’s crazy, just any old person can buy those things. Scary, right?
The word that appears on all of those pages — inert — means quite a bit. Let’s see if anyone in the media looks it up.
This is how a company commits suicide.
It was a dealRussell Kellner of Flower Mound says was too good to pass up.
“It was a heck of a deal.”
Last month, on Black Friday, he says he and his wife bought three Troy Defense Carbine Semi-Automatic Rifles from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Kellner says the store advertised them for $799 each, a $300 dollar discount.
They got two of them, then received this letter from Dick’s on Christmas Eve, telling customers, it’s not fulfilling any more orders.
Dick’s is telling customers it will give them a full refund.
It also sent Kellner a $100 gift card for the inconvenience.
Now there’s talk of a class action lawsuit against Dick’s, and Troy, the manufacturer of that rifle, has to find another retailer. It had an exclusive deal with Dick’s to sell that rifle and says it poured millions of its own dollars into the deal.