Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! I have a few interesting reads for you today, and they aren’t all about the idiotic debt ceiling debate. I’m going to lead off with a few excellent blog posts about that idiocy, and then I’ll move on to something else.

First up, Scarecrow compares the movie Cowboys and Aliens to the events in DC: In Cowboys and Aliens, Humans Win; In Washington’s Zombies Vs. Pods, They Lose. In the movie, Scarecrow writes:

humans of all types realize they have to join together to defeat the rapacious creatures who are looting the planet and turning humans into zombies and pod people. There’s hope for our species!

Back in Washington, D.C. there are no heroes and no upbeat ending. Instead, the looting, muggings and beatings will continue until morale improves.

In our “real” world, there is a radical extremist group driven by zombies and zombie beliefs who successfully blackmail the nation into strangling its own economy. The supposedly “sane” group that is supposed to stop this madness has become cowardly and turned into mindless pod people, who assure the nation that the gutting of American government and essential services and safety nets won’t occur in one step but in several, whose outcome is locked in by an undemocratic Super Congress and the next debt limit blackmail in 2013.

It’s a terrific post.

On a more serious note, Emptywheel asks, Is Mark Warner the Designated Social Security Killer? It’s all about what may happen if the so-called “Super Congress” comes to be. Read it and weep.

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy argues that the debt ceiling bill is all smoke and mirrors.

In removing the immediate threat of a debt default, the agreement…signals that the U.S. government still satisfies the minimum standard of financial functionality: it pays its bills on time. That should be enough to head off an immediate downgrade in the nation’s credit rating, and it explains why Wall Street bounced at Monday’s opening bell.

Beyond that it is hard to see anything very positive about a deal in which President Obama finally persuaded the Republicans to accept a Republican plan. Putting on my ethicist cap, I agree with Bernie Sanders that the deal is wrongheaded and immoral. To be sure, America has a long-term fiscal challenge that needs to be confronted. But at a time when fourteen million Americans are unemployed, and many millions more have been forced to work just part-time, the government should be focussing on job growth rather than cutting the budget….

As I’ve said before, headlines such as “Democrats and Republicans agree on $2.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years” are virtually meaningless. The United States, like every other country, budgets on an annual basis. What really matters for the economy, and for the unemployed, is how much cash the federal government will spend in the remaining months of the 2011 fiscal year and in fiscal 2012, which begins October 1st. A pledge to cut spending in 2016, say, is just that: a pledge. Between now and then, we will have another bipartisan spending review (that’s also part of the deal), a Presidential election, and who knows how many budget battles. The actual 2016 spending outcome will almost certainly bear little relation to the figures in this agreement.

Also at the New Yorker, Hendrick Hertzberg has a funny piece about Louie Gohmert, looney Texas Republican Congressman quoting Communist Leon Trotsky. I don’t want to ruin it for you by pulling out a quote. It’s not long, so go read the whole thing.

Susie Madrak has a great post at Crooks and Liars: This Year We’ve Broken Or Tied 2,676 Heat Records – So Far. Think We Could Talk About Climate Change Yet? Be sure to check it out.

Do you realize how many people go missing in the U.S.? A lot. And most of them seem to be women and children. Here is a slide show of 64 people from the FBI’s kidnapped and missing persons list.

The little girl whose photo comes first is 11-year-old Celina Cass, from West Stewartstown, NH. Her body was found today in a river near her family home. Sadly, when a child disappears, a family is often responsible. In this case, I have a feeling her stepfather had something to do with Celina’s death. I hope I’m wrong. At least she was found fairly quickly.

Many missing people aren’t found for years, if at all. Indiana University student Lauren Spierer disappeared from Bloomington, Indiana on June 3. Despite intense searches by hundreds of volunteers and a large reward offered by her parents and IU, she has not been found. It looks like people whom Lauren thought were “friends” may have had something to do with her disappearance, because just about everyone who was with her before she went missing has lawyered up and isn’t talking to police.

A Denver woman, Amy Ahonen, disappeared without a trace a few weeks ago. Her car was found parked unlocked along the highway with her purse, ids, cell phone, and keys inside. What happened to her? No one knows and the police have stopped looking. It so happens that a budding serial killer was on the loose in the area at the time of her disappearance, but the police don’t seem to be making that connection.

There are many more stories like this breaking every day in this country. Why do we accept that women and children will disappear daily and in most cases, they will be found murdered and often raped?

Speaking of missing people, a legendary missing person has resurfaced in the news. From the LA Times: D.B. Cooper hijacking mystery is revived with ‘promising lead’

D.B. Cooper, the infamous airplane hijacker who vaulted into urban mythology by parachuting out of a jetliner over the Pacific Northwest with a $200,000 ransom, is back on the FBI’s radar screen.

Cooper, whose case remains the only unsolved airline hijacking in U.S. history, became the stuff of legend on the night of Nov. 24, 1971, when he jumped from a Boeing 727 into the skies between Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He disappeared with the ransom he extorted — 10,000 $20 bills.

The case has remained open, but the trail has been cold despite hundreds of tips, thousands of theories and dozens of breakthroughs in scientific investigation. Now the FBI, which has previously said that Cooper is likely dead, is looking at fresh evidence, according to weekend reports in the media in Seattle, the epicenter of the story that seemingly can never die.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The man investigated as a suspect in the D.B. Cooper case – the nation’s only unsolved commercial airplane hijacking – has been dead for about 10 years, and a forensic check didn’t find fingerprints on an item that belonged him, an FBI spokesman told seattlepi.com Monday.

“There are also other leads we’re pursuing,” agent Fred Gutt said. “Some of the other names have been out in the public, some of the names have not come out.”

The name of a man not previously investigated was given to the FBI nearly a year ago by a law enforcement colleague, and an item that belongs to him was sent for fingerprint work at the agency’s Quantico, Va., forensic lab, agents told seattlepi.com.

“The nature of the material was not good for prints,” Gutt said.

He added agents are obtaining other items that may have the suspect’s fingerprints in hopes of matching them with prints taken from the Northwest Orient plane after Cooper jumped the night of Nov. 24, 1971.

The situation in Syria is escalating. There has been a great deal of violence there for some time, and it is not getting the same attention that Egypt, Iran, and Libya have gotten. But now the UN Security Council plans to take up the issue.

Reacting to new bloodshed in Syria, European powers relaunched a dormant draft U.N. resolution to condemn Damascus for its crackdown on protesters, circulating a revised text to the Security Council at a meeting on Monday.

Following the hour-long closed-door meeting, several diplomats said that after months of deadlock over Syria in the council, the fresh violence appeared to be pushing the divided members towards some form of reaction.

But envoys disagreed over whether the 15-nation body should adopt the Western-backed draft resolution or negotiate a less binding statement.

Germany requested the meeting after human rights groups said Syrian troops killed 80 people on Sunday when they stormed the city of Hama to crush protests amid a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 1600 people have been killed during the Syrian uprising.

From the Daily Beast:

You have to wonder if President Barack Obama ever rereads his speeches.

At the State Department last May, the president spoke at length of democratization in the Middle East. He chose his words carefully, dropping caveats and provisos. But Obama also bluntly declared that, “it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.” He justified the intervention in Libya by recalling that “we saw the prospect of imminent massacre … Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”

Yet precisely such sordid outcomes have come to pass, not in Libya but during the four-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Around 1,600 people are believed to have been killed, not mentioning some 3,000 disappeared, many of them presumed dead. Massacres have proliferated, and on Sunday, the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, the Syrian army entered the city of Hama, which had effectively escaped from government writ weeks ago.

Throughout, the White House has painstakingly avoided demanding that Assad step down, saying only that he must lead a transition to democracy or get out of the way. The Syrian dictator has, of course, done neither.

I’ll end with just one more link on the debt deal that Dakinikat sent me.

Reuters analysis – Debt deal unlikely to boost investor confidence

Rather than a relief rally, U.S. stocks ended modestly lower on Monday as ugly economic data and some lingering concerns about whether the deal would get through Congress dominated trading. But even when the House of Representatives voted to pass the plan late in the day there was little reaction from U.S. stock index futures.

The deal agreed to by Republican and Democratic leaders will raise the government’s borrowing ceiling while cutting spending by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. All of the burden could fall on spending cuts with no guarantee of steps to lift tax revenues.

Rather than perceiving it as a meaningful effort at tackling the United States’ huge debt problem, investors worried about the impact of austerity on an economy already hit by souring business and consumer confidence.

Plans for such a significant fiscal retrenchment, even though most of the impact will be in the latter years of the program, come at a vulnerable time for the world economy. Recession risks are rising in the United States, the European economy remains entwined in its own debt crisis, and China’s supercharged economy could slow.

“Risk markets may rally temporarily, but until economic growth and job creation is addressed, there can be no sustained rally,” Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of PIMCO, which manages more than $1.2 trillion, said in an interview.

Will Washington ever wake up to reality? I’m afraid they (and we) will have to hit bottom first. They are like alcoholics, except they are drunk on greed and power. So on that note, what are you reading and blogging about today?


Libya: UN Air Strikes Coming; Gaddafi Threatens to “Get Crazy”

Gaddafi’s radio address from earlier today:

I know you’ve all heard that the UN Security Council has approved international intervention in the Libya conflict. What does it mean? What will happen next? Your guess is as good as mine, but we might as well talk about it anyway, right? Here are a few links to get us started.

The Guardian UK: Libya: UN security council backs no-fly zone and air strikes

British and French military aircraft are preparing to protect the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi after the UN security council voted in favour of a no-fly zone and air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

With Gaddafi’s troops closing in on Benghazi, the French prime minister, François Fillon, said “time is of the essence” and that France would support military action within hours of the vote. But US sources were more cautious, speaking of action in days rather than hours.

Fighter jets and bombers could take off from French bases along the Mediterranean coast, about 750 miles from Libya. Several Arab countries have promised to join the operation. Washington supported the resolution, a complete turnaround after weeks of resisting no-fly zone proposals, but has not yet said what role, if any, it would play in military action.

The 15-member security council voted in favour of a resolution authorising all necessary measures, other than occupation, to protect civilians under threat of attack, including Benghazi. Ten members voted in favour, with five, including China, Russia and Germany, abstaining. The resolution ruled out putting troops on the ground.

Reportedly, the opposition forces were heartened by the decision. I hope it won’t be to late to make a difference.

Simon Tisdall, Guardian: Libya finally forces Barack Obama’s hand as he goes for broke

With a boldness that the world had begun to believe he lacked, Barack Obama has gone for broke. The US wants Muammar Gaddafi’s head. It will not rest until he is deposed and there is regime change in Libya. And it will fight to get it.

Obama spent weeks pondering, prevaricating and posturing, infuriating Britain and France, arch advocates of military intervention. He used public appearances to prate professorially about plans, contingencies and downsides. He allowed senior administration officials such as Pentagon chief Robert Gates to give full vent to their doubts and misgivings about a possible Libyan quagmire.

Obama finally made his mind up. The US would intervene to stop him. And there would be no half measures. All steps short of boots on the ground, as the US under-secretary of state William Burns put it are now urgently contemplated, with a view to immediate implementation.

Whatever. My hypothesis is that Obama couldn’t take the criticism or the worldwide attention that Hillary has been getting during her recent travels.

Gaddafi is not happy.

Whoa! WTF?!

Muammar Gaddafi has pledged to retake the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and warned that any foreign attack on Libya would endanger air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean area, as the UN security council voted for military intervention.

In a defiant and menacing radio address, the Libyan leader sought to pre-empt the UN. “No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come,” he declared. “There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight.”

The defence ministry in Tripoli issued its threat of retaliation in the Mediterranean in the apparent hope of influencing deliberations in New York that approved an assault on Libya’s air defences and ground forces.

The Independent UK reports tough talk from the British and Americans:

After the vote, British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the case for the resolution. “We have said all along that Gaddafi must go,” he said.

“It is necessary to take these measures to avoid greater bloodshed, to try to stop… attacks on civilians and the people of Libya.”

His US counterpart Hillary Clinton took a similar stance, speaking during a visit to Tunis. “Gaddafi must go,” she said. Calling him a “ruthless dictator,” she added: “If Gaddafi does not go, he will just make trouble. That is just his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

Defence sources in London meanwhile indicated that the coalition’s first targets would be the tank convoys closing on Benghazi or ships attempting to bombard the city. Arab participation is likely to be provided initially by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, although there were already reports as the resolution was passed of Egypt shipping arms to the rebels across the border.

In the wake of the UN decision, Gaddafi has stepped back a bit: After pounding rebel hub, Gaddafi calls for truce as UN action looms

Libya’s army said it would halt operations from Sunday to allow rebels to lay down their arms, softening repeated threats by Muammar Gaddafi to crush them, as world powers edged towards adopting tough measures to shut down the strongman’s military machine.

Libyan troops pushed forward towards the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday and launched air raids on its outskirts as Washington raised the possibility of air strikes to stop the forces. The international debate on what action to take may have dragged on too long to help the anti-Gaddafi uprising, now struggling to hold its ground one month after it started.

What do you think? Is is too little, too late? Or are we getting ourselves into another Iraq?

UPDATE: Dakinikat called my attention to this article at the Foreign Policy blog: Inside classified Hill briefing, administration spells out war plan for Libya

Several administration officials held a classified briefing for all senators on Thursday afternoon in the bowels of the Capitol building, leaving lawmakers convinced President Barack Obama is ready to attack Libya but wondering if it isn’t too late to help the rebels there.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns led the briefing and was accompanied by Alan Pino, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, Gen. John Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues, Nate Tuchrello, National Intelligence Manager for Near East, Rear Adm. Michael Rogers, Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rear Admiral Kurt Tidd, Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several senators emerged from the briefing convinced that the administration was intent on beginning military action against the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi within the next few days and that such action would include both a no-fly zone as well as a “no-drive zone” to prevent Qaddafi from crushing the rebel forces, especially those now concentrated in Benghazi.