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Posts from 2011 July

By Brendan Loy

Well, the House GOP has finished wasting the better part of a week on fantasy-land legislation so unrealistic and irrelevant to the final (necessarily bipartisan) resolution of this crisis, they might as well have tied a debt-ceiling increase to Frodo casting the Ring into the Fire. Obviously, the Senate immediately voted down the House’s non-starter of a ridiculous, designed-to-fail bill. So, that’s that. Our last full week before national default, completely wasted on political posturing and partisan nonsense! Congratulations, guys! And it now appears there may not be enough time left to prevent disaster:

Here is advice from veterans of past budget battles in Congress that went to the brink: This time, be afraid. Be very afraid. …

Democrats and Republicans with legislative experience agree that even if both sides decided Saturday to raise the $14.3 trillion borrowing ceiling and to reduce future annual deficits, it would be extremely difficult for the compromise measure to wend its way through Congress before Tuesday’s deadline, given Congressional legislative procedures.

But such a bipartisan deal seemed virtually impossible on Friday, as House Republicans approved their bill and dug in deeper against compromise with President Obama.

In a word, #PANIC! Of course, this assumes that August 2 is the “real” deadline, which some experts have questioned, but Treasury has not yet backed away from. Anyway, the Washington Post offers more details on the legislative timetable:

The Senate is driving toward a climactic and dramatic vote at 1 a.m. Sunday that could determine whether a bipartisan deal to raise the nation’s legal borrowing limit is possible or a government default is likely.

What that deal might look was still deeply uncertain Friday, but talks were underway between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate about methods to circumvent some of the chamber’s most cumbersome procedures to allow the Senate to act more quickly if a compromise is reached. …

Senate rules require a full day in between Reid introducing the measure Friday night and a vote to cut off debate, leading to a key vote early Sunday.

Closing debate will require the approval of 60 senators, meaning Reid will require at least seven Republican votes to clear that hurdle.

If the measure cleared that hurdle, the final passage would require a simple majority of senators to send the bill to the House. Without unanimous agreement, however, it would require an additional 30 hours of debate for that final vote, meaning 7:30 a.m. Monday would be the earliest a final vote could happen.

Then, the measure would return to the House on Monday, where it would face a final critical vote — with the outcome deeply uncertain, as world markets watch nervously.

[UPDATE: More from Politico:

Reid and the White House do not have a deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Talks ground to a halt as House Republicans moved forward with their own plan that Democrats oppose. That means Reid may file cloture on his own plan to raise the debt ceiling without GOP support.

Even if a bipartisan accord is reached when the Senate is in the cloture process, Reid would need unanimous consent to swap in any compromise measure, an unlikely scenario given the passions in the fight.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and senior White House officials have been talking with lawmakers across the Capitol this week, but Republicans put the talks on ice in recent days until the House took up the Boehner bill, according to Democratic officials familiar with the negotiations.

As a matter of fact, Reid filed for cloture on a modified bill designed to attract GOP support. But it wasn't a "compromise" so much as a unilateral attempt by Reid to compromise with himself, because he was out of time -- because the GOP wasted a week on the Boehner plan.]

Meanwhile, Treasury is finalizing its contingency plans.

There is no curse in Elvish, Entish of the tongues of Men for the reckless, indefensible irresponsibility of the various fools, idiots and cynical bastards who have brought us to the brink of this utterly unnecessary disaster. They are a f***ing disgrace to the nation they purport to lead.

51 Comments  |  Categories: Uncategorized

By Brendan Loy

Seriously? Seriously? We’ve wasted three whole days, with national default* on our legal obligations mere days away, for this?!?

House Republicans will link passage of a balanced-budget amendment to Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) last-ditch debt-ceiling plan, which GOP lawmakers said would move the measure to passage in a high-stakes vote later on Friday. …

Republican lawmakers say the Boehner framework would still pave the way for the debt limit to be raised through the 2012 election in two chunks. But it would also mandate that the second hike of the ceiling could only occur after a balanced-budget amendment passed both chambers of Congress and went to the states for ratification.

Mind you, that would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress. In a divided government. And “if” that doesn’t happen, then we default in a few months. F***ing brilliant.

This is completely insane, and does not represent a remotely serious attempt to resolve the debt-limit crisis. This “revamped” Boehner bill has, by design, literally zero chance of success. Any journalist who reports this development in a way that credulously treats it as a serious attempt at pertinent legislating is deceiving his or her readers. This is sheer nonsense. But don’t believe me; believe Paul Ryan, yesterday:

What I never really agreed with is the idea that we would expect Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to deliver 40 [and] 15 votes from Democrats for our version of the Balanced Budget Amendment. You know, I just never thought that was realistic, to demand Democrats vote against their conscience for our version of the Balanced Budget Amendment. So I just never thought that would work.

Or, if you prefer, John McCain:

I will take back seat to none in my support of the balanced budget amendment. Thirteen times I voted for it. I will vote for it tomorrow. But what is really amazing about this is that some, some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation, and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving. …

That is not fair to the American people, to hold out and say we won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It’s unfair, it’s bizarro. And maybe some people who have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that. Others know better. Others know better.

I know what the right-wing chorus will say: “Well, at least the Republicans have passed a bill! Where is the Democratic bill?” But both of the Republican bills — Cut, Cap & Balance, and now this — are completely meaningless as actual attempts to legislate and govern, because they were passed with 100% certain knowledge of failure. They are the equivalent of the Democrats passing a debt-ceiling bill that would cut the deficit by way of a carbon tax, and tie future increases to the passage of a constitutional amendment confirming that the individual mandate is permissible. Imagine if a Democratic House, responding to a request by President Romney and the Republican Senate to raise the debt ceiling, passed such a bill as a condition of raising the ceiling. Would you be impressed? Or would you recognize it as total baloney? Such a bill would obviously have no chance of becoming law in a divided government, and would not represent an actual attempt to govern, but rather, pure political posturing and pandering. This bill is the same way. So, yeah, there’s a “Republican bill,” and there will soon be two of them — both designed solely to score points with to a radical base that lives in an alternate universe. If you think the raw number of bills passed by each party is significant, ask yourself: would we be materially closer to a resolution if there was a “Democratic bill” along the lines I just proposed? Of course not. It would be a pointless, if not counterproductive, piece of legislation. So is this. The House GOP is not even attempting to govern at this point. These people are a joke, and a disgrace.

F*** you, Washington. F*** you, Tea Party.

P.S. *Or “semi-default,” or whatever you want to call it. I realize we wouldn’t immediately default on our debt, presuming Treasury can & does prioritize payments, and the markets don’t freak out so badly that we’re unable to “roll over” short-term debt. But we will certainly “default” on legal obligations of one kind or another, not making payments that are required by law. (What ever happened to conservative respect for the rule of law, by the way?)

P.P.S. Via the indispensible Megan McArdle, center-right economics writer and noted RINO (I kid!), here’s more on what a failure to raise the debt ceiling would actually look like.

UPDATE: Don’t believe Ryan or McCain? How about arch-conservative commentator Bill Kristol?

Last night, Speaker Boehner toyed with adding a gimmicky balanced budget amendment provision to the Republican budget bill in order to try to get the final handful of votes he needs for passage. He thought better of this last night, and didn’t do so. He should continue to avoid pointless and embarrassing gimmicks to try to secure a last-gasp victory on the House floor. Such a tainted “win” would truly be dead on arrival in the Senate. And it would do nothing to increase McConnell’s leverage, or Boehner’s own, if and when a Senate-passed bill comes over to the House this weekend.

RINO. [/sarcasm]

By Brendan Loy

As if the increasing odds of a debt-ceiling disaster weren’t bad enough, now there’s this:

The U.S. economy came perilously close to flat-lining in the first quarter and grew at a meager 1.3 percent annual rate in the April-June period as consumer spending barely rose.

The Commerce Department data on Friday also showed the current lull in the economy began earlier than had been thought, with the growth losing steam late last year.

That could raise questions on the long held view by both Federal Reserve officials and independent economists that the slowdown in growth as the year started was largely the result of transitory factors.

Growth in gross domestic product — a measure of all goods and services produced within U.S. borders – rose at a 1.3 percent annual rate. First-quarter output was sharply revised down to a 0.4 percent pace from a 1.9 percent increase.

Economists had expected the economy to expand at a 1.8 percent rate in the second quarter. Fourth-quarter growth was revised to a 2.3 percent rate from 3.1 percent.

“The second quarter disappointed, but the first-quarter downward revision is more disturbing. It advances the pangs of concern. The debt ceiling nonsense is not going to help us. We’re already in an economy that is subpar,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I for one welcome our new Texan overlords. (Well, not really.)

#PANIC!

By Brendan Loy

Today’s debt ceiling developments, summarized in a single tweet:

Standard & Poor’s downgrading US credit rating to WTF.Fri Jul 29 03:05:50 via TweetDeck

Oh, and I also had a little (more) fun with a Drudge mockup:

Continue reading »

By Brendan Loy

The Republicans are feverishly rounding up supporters ahead of this afternoon’s dramatic Boehner-bill vote on the House floor. The Speaker is cautiously optimistic his bill will pass. (We’ll know he’s really confident if he schedules a vote before the markets close.) Oh, and there’s a Notre Dame angle:

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a bulky former Notre Dame football player, gave a rousing football-themed speech and said he would vote for the bill. He told colleagues they needed to do three things: put on your helmet, put in your mouth piece and tighten your chinstrap. He gave out signs with the Notre Dame football saying: Play like a champion today.

“Let’s kick the sh*t out of them,” Kelly said in the meeting, according to several sources.

Heh. Nate Silver thinks it’s all over but the face-saving. I think the bill will pass by a vote or two. (But if it fails, it’ll be by a dozen or more, because of yes-to-no switches once it becomes clear it’s gonna fail.)

By Brendan Loy

Heh:

What none of [the Boehner bill's conservative] critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner’s plan. The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor. This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.

LOL! Of course, the same editorial also claims that Boehner’s plan “may not prevent a U.S. national credit downgrade, but it has a better chance of doing so than Mr. Reid’s” — which is the opposite of what the credit agency folks themselves are reportedly saying. Still, I love the Tolkien reference, and the Tea Party smackdown.

Incidentally, on the rating downgrade issue, Megan McArdle has another must-read.

By Brendan Loy

Jon Stewart captures the national mood, taking on both Congress (Monday night) and the President (last night):

 

By Brendan Loy

Some commentators and politicians have been suggesting, based on a variety of rationales, that Social Security payments will definitely, without question, be made on time next month, even if the debt ceiling isn’t raised — and that any suggestions to the contrary by the Obama Administration is a lie. Those folks appear to be incorrect.

By David K.

Last week, dissatisfaction with a plan to air high school games on the Longhorn Network led to reports that Texas A&M and Oklahoma were pondering moves to the SEC. That talk has died down for the moment. But if such moves ever do happen, they would certainly doom the Big 12, and likely lead to further shifts. The Pac-12 would be left in a bit of a bind under such circumstances, however, assuming the creation of an SEC-16 makes expansion to 16-team superconferences feel like an imperative for everyone. Larry Scott’s grand gamble of last summer to expand to 16 schools involved both Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Without both schools, the options for Pac-12 expansion are more limited. Even more so if Oklahoma State is taken along with Oklahoma.

Texas is the obvious target for any expansion scenario, but the Longhorns might be just as willing to strike out on their own. Texas Tech is also an option, and the last remaining of the three major Texas schools. Baylor is less likely given its religious affiliation, something that was presumed to be a large part of the reason BYU wasn’t offered a spot in the Pac-12.

The next likely set of schools would be the remaining members of the Big 12: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State. All four schools are research universities like the rest of the Pac-12, ranked in the highest category of the Carnegie Classification system, and ranked at the same level as many of the existing Pac-12 schools by US News and World. Kansas and Missouri are also members of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious collection of major research universities which 8 of the 12 current Pac members also belong to.

What would the downside of such additions be? The obvious one would be the lack of presence in Texas, a major television market with a huge recruiting base to draw from. But outside of the Big 12 Texas schools, what other options are there? SMU and TCU both have the same problem Baylor and BYU have, they are both religious schools. UTEP, North Texas and Houston aren’t even close to academically or athletically on par with even the lower end of the Pac 12. Rice perhaps is an option, as an academically highly ranked, non religious school. Perhaps, despite their lack of prowess in athletics, they could be worth considering for academic and media-market reasons. But I think it’s unlikely.

Who else is there? The WAC schools are certainly out–neither academically or athletically appealing and largely overlapping with existing Pac-12 media markets. Outside of Colorado State and Hawaii, none of the Mountain West schools are academically strong either. Obvious football powers like Boise State and Fresno State aren’t even research universities.

If Larry Scott is unable to convince Texas or Oklahoma to join the Pac-12, I think the likely alternatives would involve the Kansas schools, Texas Tech, and one other. Perhaps Baylor or Rice for a second Texas school, Perhaps Missouri if they don’t go to the SEC. Certainly the Pac-12 won’t be without options for further expansion, but it won’t be the home run that many of us expected last summer.

By Brendan Loy

This brief article by James Surowiecki is a must-read. It says just about everything I’ve been trying to say about the debt ceiling situation, but more succinctly and with less rage. It also includes a useful history lesson:

The truth is that the United States doesn’t need, and shouldn’t have, a debt ceiling. Every other democratic country, with the exception of Denmark, does fine without one. There’s no debt limit in the Constitution. And, if Congress really wants to hold down government debt, it already has a way to do so that doesn’t risk economic chaos—namely, the annual budgeting process. The only reason we need to lift the debt ceiling, after all, is to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we’ll face an absurd scenario in which Congress will have ordered the President to execute two laws that are flatly at odds with each other. If he obeys the debt ceiling, he cannot spend the money that Congress has told him to spend, which is why most government functions will be shut down. Yet if he spends the money as Congress has authorized him to he’ll end up violating the debt ceiling.

As it happens, the debt ceiling, which was adopted in 1917, did have a purpose once—it was a way for Congress to keep the President accountable. Congress used to exercise only loose control over the government budget, and the President was able to borrow money and spend money with little legislative oversight. But this hasn’t been the case since 1974; Congress now passes comprehensive budget resolutions that detail exactly how the government will tax and spend, and the Treasury Department borrows only the money that Congress allows it to. (It’s why TARP, for instance, required Congress to pass a law authorizing the Treasury to act.) This makes the debt ceiling an anachronism. These days, the debt limit actually makes the President less accountable to Congress, not more: if the ceiling isn’t raised, it’s President Obama who will be deciding which bills get paid and which don’t, with no say from Congress.

Read the whole thing. And also read Felix Salmon’s take. And then weep. And #PANIC.

By Brendan Loy

I have one additional thought on the debt ceiling, which I meant to include in my previous post, but which probably deserves its own post, so here goes:

I think politicians on both sides of the aisle — and more broadly, partisans on both ends of the ideological spectrum — are vastly underestimating the political downside risk of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and the resulting default or semi-default. The political consequences for the current powers that be, Republican and Democrat alike, are potentially catastrophic. I don’t just mean suffering dips in approval ratings, or losing the 2012 elections. That’s small potatoes. Worst-case scenario, this could go much deeper. With unfavorable ratings for both major parties already nearing record highs, and vulgar anti-Washington hashtags making waves on Twitter, things are already approaching a boiling point. As I tweeted a few days ago, in the spirit of Harry Potter, the politicians engaging in this debt-ceiling brinkmanship aren’t just playing with fire. They’re playing with Fiendfyre.

If a deal is reached, or if a short-term semi-default happens but is quickly remedied and the negative economic consequences are relatively tame (and/or indistinguishable from the already poor economic climate), the current bout of voter anger will largely fade into the background noise of standard-fare anti-Washington sentiment. But if there’s no deal, and default or semi-default happens, and there are severe (and easily identifiable) economic consequences — real-world economic pain hitting voters, and flowing directly from the total dysfunction of our federal government — there is almost no ceiling to the potential political fallout.

If such a thing were to happen, all the back-and-forth talking points of the present negotiations would appear totally childish and ridiculous in retrospect; the only salient fact would be that Washington’s inaction caused a recession or depression. Voters’ rage would be unmeasurable, and rightfully so. To quote from another fantasy movie, their wrath would be terrible, their retribution swift. At a minimum, I think you would see a credible, and maybe successful, third-party candidacy in 2012 — I’ve already predicted a third-party victory if unemployment exceeds 13% in the wake of a failure to raise the debt ceiling — but that could be just the beginning, if things get bad enough. If a severe second recession, or even a depression, can be traced to a specific, identifiable failure of both parties to govern the country in a defensible way, it could conceivably be the end of one or both of the major parties as we know them.

I recognize that pronouncements of “OMG THE DEATH OF THE MAJOR PARTIES!!1!” are a dime a dozen from squishy No Labels-ish centrists like me, folks with a history of political love affairs with Lieberman and Bloomberg and their ilk. But this is different, I think. I’m not talking about a third-party (and perhaps fourth- and fifth-party) movement led by coastal, technocratic centrist elites, self-styled Good Government Types who think There Must Be A Better Way. I’m talking about a broad-based rage against the current governing parties that would awaken the sleeping giants of American politics: the largely unengaged, uninformed, low-information voters who don’t really know or care much about politics, but who would easily understand and care about such a simple, basic — and, in this scenario, true — storyline as, “You personally have been directly f***ed over by an abject failure of your entire federal government. We are now in a recession/depression because they, all of them, didn’t do their damn jobs.”

If you think the Tea Party was an example of the grassroots waking up and rising up, just wait until you piss off the Great Middle in this fashion. The momentum of the awakening I’m describing would be unstoppable; all nuance would be lost; everyone would be blamed. Even if the actual proximate-cause equation were to become complicated — for instance, if the downturn following a default is worsened by unrelated factors like, say, a collapse of Italy next month or whatever — too bad. These voters, once roused to anger, won’t care about excuses like that. They’d be mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore, and who knows what our politics would look like by the time they’re done?

Nobody does. And I’m not sure this is a risk that anyone in power — Obama or Boehner or McConnell or Reid or Pelosi or Cantor or anybody else inside the Beltway — really appreciates adequately. The scenario I’m describing is unlikely to come to pass, but I’d say it’s more plausible than at any previous time in my lifetime to date. And if it does happen? Hold onto your seats.

By Brendan Loy

The “debate” between Democrats and the Anti-Arithmetic Right over whether or not the nation should be economically ruined now seemingly boils down to three options:

1) John Boehner’s utterly disastrous plan, which I hereby dub the Omnibus Kick-The-Can-Down-The-Road Act of 2011, to pass a short-term debt ceiling increase, then re-run this entire charade in the middle of an election year, when it will surely be much easier to put aside naked partisanship and reach a mutually acceptable bipartisan deal (!?!?!) … really, we should call this the “Make Obama Veto A Debt Ceiling Bill So He Can’t Blame Us For The Crisis We Caused” plan, since that’s all it’s intended to accomplish;

2) Harry’s Reid’s plan to cut $2.7 trillion in spending without any revenue increases, which is such a complete capitulation to the Republicans’ core demand that it will undoubtedly be rejected by hardline Republicans and Tea Partiers, who wouldn’t know a favorable deal if it smacked them in the face and dumped tea on them while waving a Gadsden flag and reading aloud the collected works of Ayn Rand;

3) Default. Or technical default. Or “semi-default.” Or whatever you want to call it if the United States government is unable to make payments required by law — probably not including debt interest or principal, though that can’t be guaranteed because it depends in part on how the markets react, which cannot be confidently predicted because this is a completely unprecedented circumstance brought about by fuzzy math and right-wing nutters — and is forced to operate on a daily (not monthly! not yearly!) cashflow basis and shut down 40+ percent of its operations instantly, including a wide variety of services that everyone regards as essential.

Regarding option #3, it’s not clear that next Tuesday, August 2, is the actual date on which this would happen, as we’ve been hearing for months. That was Treasury’s estimate back in May of when the money would run out, but we may have an extra week or so:

In a note published Friday, the Barclays Interest Rates Research team wrote that “the date on which the Treasury will run out of cash to pay its obligations might not be August 2; it might be around August 10 instead.”

Why the change? The note explains that previous projections showed the Treasury running out of money on the morning of Wednesday, August 3. On that day, it was predicted, the Treasury would need to spend $32 billion, including $22 billion in Social Security payments — and it was only projected to have $30 billion at its disposal.

That projection was made on July 13. But since then, the researchers say, the Treasury has taken in about $14 billion more than expected, and paid out about $1 billion less than expected. Hence, the deadline date might actually be August 10, a week later than previously believed.

Other reports suggest August 9 might be the “real” deadline. Either way, August 2 is Treasury’s story, and it’s sticking to it, presumably for the rather obvious reason that if you tell Congress that it has an additional week to dither, delay, grandstand, posture and bloviate, Congress will proceed to dither, delay, grandstand, posture and bloviate for an additional week. I imagine Treasury will announce this “extra week” at the moment it becomes clear Congress is going to miss the August 2 deadline, and not a second sooner.

Anyway, I have a question, and it’s an honest one — I’m not trying to make a rhetorical, partisan point here; I really don’t know the answer to this. But it’s been perplexing me for a while now. The debt ceiling is a federal law saying Treasury can’t borrow more than X amount. But there are also lots of other federal laws saying Treasury must spend money on various things — paying prison guards, funding air traffic control systems, sending out Social Security checks, etc. If the money runs out, and Treasury can’t borrow any more money because of the debt ceiling, then it can’t do some of the spending required by law. So, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, Treasury will be required (by arithmetic) to violate federal law, one way or another. Why does everyone assume that Treasury would necessarily violate the various federal laws requiring it to spend money? Why is that any more justifiable than violating the debt ceiling law? They’re all federal laws, presumably of equal weight, right? Mind you, I’m not talking about the 14th Amendment argument, which I believe is bunk. Rather, I’m merely talking about conflicts among federal statutes. It’s not like there’s 40+ percent of federal spending that Treasury can just discretionarily choose, without violating the law, to stop overnight. (Or is there?!?) I’m not advocating one course of action or another, I’m just saying I don’t understand why the debt ceiling is presumed to take priority over the countless other federal laws that I imagine Treasury would necessarily violate by failing to make required payments (of various sorts; I’m not just talking about debt interest payments, I’m talking about everything Treasury does, all of it pursuant to laws passed by Congress). What am I missing here?

P.S. For the record, among the three options listed above, my order of preference is: #2, then #3, then #1. Yeah — it’s a close call, but ultimately, I’d rather risk the consequences of a brief semi-default (and hope those consequences finally set the Republicans straight before things get too bad) than go through this nightmare again next spring. Partly because I suspect the market consequences of such a punt would be pretty bad in and of themselves. And partly because, at some point, you have to stop giving ever more power to economic hostage-takers. They cannot be allowed to pull this stunt again so soon, and certainly not in the midst of a presidential election, when everyone will have more motive than ever to be intransigent and inflexible. Really, it’s insane that anybody is even proposing such a ridiculous option. But then again, this whole situation is insane, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

[Cross-posted from Pioneer Pulse.]

By Brendan Loy DU

Okay, so it’s not, er, quite as momentous as the birth of our third child. But I’m still irrationally excited about the arrival this afternoon of #tigerballz, part of my Mid-Majority Season 8 membership packet. As is Loyabelle, apparently, judging by this picture:

Heh.

Continue reading »

No Comments  |  Categories: Pioneer Pulse

By Brendan Loy

CNN Breaking News:

House Speaker John Boehner has ended debt talks with President Barack Obama, telling fellow Republican House members in a letter that he will “begin conversations with the leaders of the Senate in an effort to find a path forward.”

The president said his administration had offered “an extraordinarily fair deal” to cut expenditures and raise revenues, in return for Congress agreeing to hike the nation’s debt ceiling. [Per a Washington Post breaking-news alert, Obama added that "if it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue."] But he said that Boehner “left (him) at the altar.”

Obama says he called congressional leaders from both parties to the White House on Saturday morning to “explain to me how we are going to avoid default” on the nation’s debt.

“We have run out of time,” Obama said.

We are so screwed.

P.S. Couldn’t the talks have broken down before the markets closed for the weekend? A drop of, oh, I don’t know, 500 points in the Dow in the final hours of trading on a Friday might have gotten Congress’s attention heading into the weekend…

By Brendan Loy

Norway has been hit today by terrorist attacks — one or more massive, Oklahoma City-style bomb blasts that ripped open buildings in downtown Oslo, followed by an apparently related gun attack on a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya — and at least 7 16 87 people are dead. BBC has live coverage. So does CNN.

It’s not yet clear whether the attacks were carried out by domestic or foreign terrorists. On the one hand, an Islamist group has claimed responsibility (but such claims are sometimes shown to be spurious). On the other hand, The Telegraph reports that the Utoya shooter “apparently infiltrated the party gathering on the pretense that he had been sent by police as a security measure in the wake of the Oslo explosion. As such, it is likely he was ethnically Norwegian.” Other reports corroborate this. “This could indicate the involvement of a far-right group rather than an Islamist group, though it is also the case that the Labour Party would be a favourable target for Islamist groups due to its role in authorising Norwegian military deployments in Afghanistan.”

Regardless, this is obviously a shocking calamity in Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize. My heart goes out to the whole country, and to everyone personally affected by this vile atrocity. Also, may the subhuman bastards responsible for it, whoever they are, rot in hell.

P.S. Unconfirmed reports indicate up to 30 people may have died in the Utoya shooting rampage. Ugh. Pray that isn’t true. But if it is, this could rapidly approach “Norway’s 9/11″ territory, in terms of population ratios. If the toll reaches 50 dead in this country of ~5,000,000, that would be roughly equivalent, percentage-wise, to 9/11’s death toll of almost 3,000 in a country of almost 300,000,000.

UPDATE: At least 80 dead in the Utoya shooting?!? Jesus Christ.

13 Comments  |  Categories: War and Terrorism

By Brendan Loy

STS-135 Landing (201107210002HQ)

Space Shuttle Atlantis, which launched four days before Loyabelle was born, landed safely this morning at Cape Canaveral, ending NASA’s 30-year Shuttle program.

It was the 135th mission for the fleet, which has covered an astonishing 542million miles and circled Earth 21,150 times. …

The five shuttles have carried 355 people from 16 countries – and here were the last four astronauts safely home to cheers and tears.

As Commander Christopher Ferguson eased Atlantis on to the runway, he radioed: ‘Mission complete, Houston’.

‘Job well done, America,’ replied Mission Control. …

‘The space shuttle has changed the way we view the world and it’s changed the way we view our universe,’ said Commander Ferguson. ‘There’s a lot of emotion today, but one thing’s indisputable. America’s not going to stop exploring.

‘Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship Atlantis. Thank you for protecting us and bringing this programme to such a fitting end.’

The first Shuttle flight launched in April 1981 — when my mother was roughly 3 months pregnant with me. The last one launched when my third daughter was exactly 9 months along in utero (i.e., on Becky’s due date), and landed when she was 9 days old.

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

UPDATE: This is awesome.

No Comments  |  Categories: Spaceflight

By Brendan Loy

To take the edge off my latest rant against GOP debt-ceiling fanaticism — really, this issue gets me angry like nothing in politics since the emergence of Sarah Palin — here’s a post about a different kind of fanatic: video of the Phillie Phanatic getting hit by a foul ball.

Ha! (Hat tip: Jim Kelly. Apologies to Marty West. Well, not really.)

2 Comments  |  Categories: Baseball, Funny Stuff

By Brendan Loy

Mitch Daniels, back when he was George W. Bush’s budget director, on Meet the Press, about the debt limit:

We’re going to raise it, as a reasonable government must. This is really housekeeping, Tim. This has nothing to say or do with future spending. This simply reflects decisions made in the past, and it ought to be treated as the housekeeping matter it is.

“The housekeeping matter it is.” True then (and shame on Senator Obama and other Dems for behaving otherwise), true now. Yes, the numbers are much bigger now, for a variety of reasons, some of them President Obama’s fault, many of them not. But regardless of that, the core fact that Daniels articulated remains the same: “This has nothing to say or do with future spending. This simply reflects decisions made in the past.” The debt ceiling is not a policy decision; it’s a math problem. The relevant policy decisions are made in the budget. That’s the time to take a stand. Not now. This whole charade is completely bats**t insane, totally wolf-face crazy, utterly indefensible on its face.

I know I’m repeating myself. But this whole negotiation process is a total farce, and a dangerous one at that. Few in the media seem capable of recognizing or articulating this point, but it cannot be made enough. I blame Obama for buying into the GOP’s transparently fraudulent framing of the issue (and, separately, for not seriously addressing the debt sooner, though that’s really a separate question); I blame the GOP for said fraudulent framing, for its utter demagoguery, its willingness to hold the economy hostage, its complete disregard for the good of the country and the global economy; I blame the media for its total and inexcusable failure to do its job and inform the public of the basic facts at issue: what the debt ceiling is, what the actual consequences of not raising it would be, which “opinions” are factually supportable, and which are not (included in the latter category, of course, would be the mathematically and factually illiterate stance of leading GOP presidential contender Michele Bachmann, who, in a sane and functional republic, would be hounded and/or laughed out of public life for her facially indefensible stance that the debt limit should not be raised no matter what); and I blame the voters, We the People, for allowing this transparently bogus bulls**t to continue, indeed encouraging it, nay demanding it, of our so-called “leaders.”

More here (PDF) on the actual consequences of not raising the debt ceiling (which must be judged with an eye on daily cashflow, not just monthly or yearly aggregate revenues and expenditures), and why a literal debt default, while unlikely, is not impossible and cannot with 100% reliability be prevented by Treasury (hint: it’s the markets, stupid). Also this, from center-right economics writer Megan McArdle:

[Hardline conservatives often] retort that there’s plenty of money for debt service, military payrolls, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that therefore, people like me are just scaremongering about the consequences of refusal to raise the ceiling. … I don’t think people are really thinking this through. They’ve got this big “spending” basket in their head, but they’re not focusing on the line items.

Let’s say that we refuse to raise the ceiling. Does…prioritization…mean that we don’t need to cut politically untouchable programs?

No. Let’s think through what would happen if we tried to use this plan:

* You just cut the IRS and all the accountants at Treasury, which means that the actual revenue you have to spend is $0.
* The nation’s nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained
* The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity,etc.
* The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don’t have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.
* All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.
* Our embassies are no longer operating, which will make things difficult for foreign travellers
* No federal emergency assistance, or help fighting things like wildfires or floods. Sorry, tornado people! Sorry, wildfire victims! Try to live in the northeast next time!
* Housing projects shut down, and Section 8 vouchers are not paid. Families hit the streets.
* The money your local school district was expecting at the October 1 commencement of the 2012 fiscal year does not materialize, making it unclear who’s going to be teaching your kids without a special property tax assessment.
* The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn’t going to college this year!
* The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn’t need to buy or sell a house!
* The FDIC and the PBGC suddenly don’t have a government backstop for their funds, which has all sorts of interesting implications for your bank account.
* The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don’t worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too. Hope you don’t have a vacation planned in August, much less any work travel.
* Unemployment money is no longer going to the states, which means that pretty soon, it won’t be going to the unemployed people.

These are just the very immediate, very theatrical outcomes. Obviously, over any longer term, you’d have issues from bankrupt vendors stopping work funded with federal highway money, forgone maintenance on things like levees and government buildings, and so forth. Averting any of these things would require at least small cuts in Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid spending, or military payrolls.

McArdle then proceeds to offers this bit of political advice to conservative purists:

Now, maybe you look forward to these outcomes. There are certainly some on this list that I would be okay with. But because I am not delusional, and I did not fall off of a turnip truck last night, I recognize that the American public does not agree with me, and that if any of these things happen, they will freak out and besiege their local representatives. …

[If GOP hardliners] hold out, the only thing that would happen is that they would be unelected in 2012. The tea party is not a majority. If you piss off every single other constituency in the United States, they will gang up against you, and they will win. Welcome to representative democracy. …

Over and over I am beseiged with people saying, “So, what, are we just supposed to give in”, as if convincing me of the moral righteousness of their plan will somehow produce a political coalition that can deliver what they want. But the universe is not here to please us. Being right in some metaphysical moral sense will not make the government any smaller unless you can also deliver the votes.

By David K.

Thought all the conference change drama had finally hit the back burner for awhile? Think again! According to Sporting News, Texas A&M and Oklahoma are so pissed off at the prospect of Texas’s Longhorn Network airing live high school games of potential recruits, they are threatening to jumping ship to the SEC, a move that would all but sink the numerically challenged Big 12.

My first reaction: Um, Aggies and Sooners? What the hell did you expect when you agreed to the sweetheart deal for the Longhorns in not only the TV network, but also getting a larger portion of the conference’s money pie? Of course they are going to want more and more. You all had the chance to call the shots last summer, but you turned down the Pac-12 and SEC, and went crawling back to the Texas-and-the-nine-dwarves conference otherwise known as the Big 12.

Apparently Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is paying attention, though, and has said that any plans to allow Texas such an advantageous move are off the table. After all his last-minute machinations to save his conference that was on the brink of dissolution last summer, I’m not surprised he took this step, even if it risks upsetting the big dog in the room.

I hope the NCAA is paying attention too, because if what Texas was planning wasn’t a recruiting violation, it sure as heck should be. Boise State is in trouble because they let prospective recruits sleep on players’ couches, but it would have been okay for Texas to showcase potential recruits on their TV network? Really?

Oh, and Larry Scott? You should be burning down the telephone wires with calls to Norman, OK and College Station, TX to give the Pac-12 the best chance possible of landing some, if not all, of those teams should Texas drive them away [or decide to go independent, a la Notre Dame and BYU, which would just as surely end the Big 12 -Brendan]. The alternatives, even if it means no Texas in the Pac-12, are not promising if Oklahoma and A&M both go elsewhere.

P.S. (by Brendan) The Big Lead had a post from back in January, shortly after the Longhorn Network was announced, discussing the likely domino effect if A&M were to join the SEC’s perpetual war. Excerpt:

Pretend [Texas A&M to the SEC] happens. The SEC then would need at least a 14th and potentially a 15th and 16th team to complete that deal. Looking for natural targets, the big Florida schools, Georgia Tech or Clemson, could be tough politically. Raiding the Big 12 for further targets would be more palatable.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would make sense geographically, financially and competitively. They could easily pry away one more team, say Missouri, which would have leapt for the Big Ten if offered, to provide the 16th team. Sweetened with improved TV contracts, that would make an even more fearsome, geographically congruent conference that would look like this.

SEC West: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri

SEC East: Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida

That would leave the “Big 12″ with Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State.

Texas fulfills its destiny under this scenario and becomes an independent… The Big East possibly jumps for Kansas in this scenario. It makes about as much sense as TCU, it is not a terrible option for football and a great basketball move.

That would leave Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State, and Iowa State. Four teams that could slide into a 16-team Mountain West Conference. The BCS gives that conference an automatic bid, thus embracing every team beating down the door from outside and pacifying the Big 12′s discarded children. It will be a while before another Boise State emerges from the MAC, the Sun Belt or Conference USA.

Note how the WAC, alone among the Division I-A conferences, isn’t even mentioned as a possible source for the emergence of “another Boise State” — notwithstanding that the original Boise State came from the WAC. Heh. Even the Sun Belt gets mentioned, yet the WAC doesn’t! I guess The Big Lead has limited faith in the ability of schools like New Mexico State or Texas State–San Marcos to follow in the Broncos’ reverse-lateraling, fake-punting footsteps. I wonder if Karl Benson wrote an angry letter? Or, alternatively, invited The Big Lead’s editorial staff to join the conference as its eighth football member?

By Brendan Loy

Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve been a little busy, as you might imagine, what with a newborn, a 2-year-old and a 3 1/2-year-old at home. I’m still tweeting occasionally, but have just had no time for blogging. I’ll try to post something substantive about some topic or other at some point. :) But for now, here are my parents, Becky & me, and Loyabelle. Those of you complaining about my attire in the previous pic should be pleased…

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By Brendan Loy

Tropical Storm Dora has formed in the Eastern Pacific, south of Mexico, and is expected to become a major hurricane within the next three days. This has produced an amusing tweet exchange among those of us familiar with the storm’s Nickelodeon namesake (Loyacita’s favorite show in the universe by far):

Andy Glockner: “Can you say dangerously high winds? Say it! Louder! Board up your windows! BUENO!”

Me: “Map says we need to go over the warm water, under the upper-level ridge, and that’s how we’ll become un huracán!”

Andy Glockner: “What category are we going to become? (Insert arrows pointing at a 4). THAT’S RIGHT! Cuatro! ‘Nuestra vientos son fuertes!’”

Kraig Williams: “I’m the Doppler map- I’m the Doppler map- I’m the Doppler map- I’m the Doppler map”

Me: “Wind shear, no shearing! Wind shear, no shearing! Wind shear, no shearing!” “OOOHHH MAAAN!!”

Heh.

(Yes, these are the depths to which my once-famous hurricane-blogging have sunk. Ah, parenthood.)

P.S. Also, from my #IfDoraMetHarryPotter hashtag sequence yesterday — tweeted after watching Deathly Hallows Part 2, then coming home to watch part of a Dora movie with the girls…

• “Accio Sticky Tape!” #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• Defense Against The Dark Arts Lesson 1: the power of saying "Swiper No Swiping!" three times. #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• After Dumbledore dies, Death Eaters break into song on the Astronomy Tower: "We did it! We did it! We did it! Hooray!" #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• "NOT MY MONKEY, YOU WITCH!" #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• Death Eaters install Lou Dobbs as Minister of Magic, institute English-only education at Hogwarts. #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• Instead of dementors, Azkaban guarded by sneezing snakes & pirate pigs. #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

• “I’m the Marauder’s Map, I’m the Marauder’s Map, I’m the Marauder’s Map, I’m the Marauder’s Map, I’m the Marauder’s Maaaap!!” #IfDoraMetHarryPotter

By Brendan Loy

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P.S. For those who missed the arrival post, this is “Loyabelle,” born July 12, 2011 at 2:25 PM, weighing 8 pounds 6.1 ounces, measuring 21 inches, with brown hair. She’s perfect. Baby and mommy are healthy. Yay!!!

Loyabelle is, of course, baby #3 for Becky and me. Tomorrow is the 2nd birthday of #2, “Loyacita.” She and “Loyette,” 3 1/2, will meet their little sister tomorrow morning. (For the uninitiated, those are not their real names. They’re Internet nicknames.)

Here’s a video of Loyabelle yesterday, just a few hours after she was born:

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By Brendan Loy

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Born July 12, 2011 at 2:25 PM, 8 pounds 6.1 ounces, 21 inches, with brown hair. She’s perfect. Baby and mommy are healthy. Yay!!!

Unofficially, subject to verification, Keri Hyles wins date/time portion of Baby Pool (by just 3 minutes over Alasdair!) and Uncle Larry wins weight/length portion (in a tiebreaker over Mom herself, Becky).

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By Brendan Loy

On the eve of the big day, I went outside to install our infant car seat — and when I opened the garage door, I saw this:

Rainbow

Larger view here.

P.S. I’m not sure how much Becky or I will be updating our respective Twitter feeds tomorrow. Probably not too much. But to the extent we post any updates, you’ll be able to see them below:

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