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Trigger Happy by David Atkins

Trigger Happy
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

As the default deadline approaches in two short days, the scrambling in Washington continues. The deal reportedly on the table involves $900 billion in cuts, followed by a Super Committee tasked with figuring out $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction--probably through a mix of mostly cuts but some revenues, at the discretion of the Super Committee.

That general outline seems to be the basis of every plan under discussion. The key negotiating point right now seems to be the so-called "trigger": namely, what happens if the Super Committee doesn't come to an agreement on the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, and/or Congress refuses to pass the Super Committee's recommendations. The "trigger" is designed to be very painful to both sides should they not agree to the Super Committee's suggestions. And what is that trigger as it stands now?

If the committee fails to reach $1.2 trillion, it will trigger an automatic across the board spending cut, half from domestic spending, half from defense spending, of $1.5 trillion. The domestic cuts come from Medicare providers, but Medicaid and Social Security would be exempted. The enforcement mechanism carves out programs that help the poor and veterans as well.

Basically, the trigger is designed to have Democrats wail about Medicare cuts, and Republicans wail about defense cuts. As anyone with an ounce of sense knows, however, Republicans will insist on taking more hostages when it comes time to approve the Super Committee's recommendations, and they will be just as intransigent against any revenue increases in the Super Committee's recommendations as they were to the revenue increases in the current fight. That is why Boehner is actively trying to scuttle the defense cuts in the trigger currently on the table.

But keep in mind that the Tea Party types that have given Boehner such headaches aren't actually all that scared of defense cuts. Many of them believe in cutting all government spending, military spending not excepted. These people hate every government program FDR used to pull us out of the Great Depression, including the massive government spending jobs program that was World War II. Which means that a great portion of Bachmann's House and Demint's Senate will happily take Pentagon spending hostage as a way to extract even more tax and spending cuts.

That is why John Kerry said yesterday that revenue increases must be part of the trigger, since taxes are the only thing that scare Republicans enough to actually let a hostage live:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) isn't saying why both sides aren't any closer to a debt deal after a day filled with feverish negotiations Saturday, but Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spelled it out during a floor speech Saturday night. ...

"You do not just cut, you also have to have the possibility of revenue," he said. "Because if you do not have the possibility of revenue, then the side that only wants to cut can wait for nothing to happen and the cuts take place automatically. There is no threat to them. There is no leverage for them to come to agreement on the other things."

So far, the "or else" has focused on a trigger that would slash spending across the board -- including for entitlement programs like Medicare, a near-sacred program for Democrats, as well as to defense spending, which Republicans historically have sought to protect. One of the models for the so-called trigger goes back to the Reagan era when, in 1984, Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act in 1984, which included a trigger imposing draconian across-the-board spending cuts unless hard-and-fast deficit reduction goals were met.

Back then, during the Cold War anti-communist fervor, Republicans were dead-set against cuts to defense spending so the threat of an across-the-board cut that included slashing defense spending was the equivalent of "shared pain." Fast forward to 2011, however, and that threat no longer packs the same punch. Tea Party conservatives are eager to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and don't believe that nation-building is helping efforts to combat al-Qaeda or international terrorism.

So Democrats want to ensure real leverage and are demanding that any so-called trigger include revenue raisers.


Within the confines of the already preposterous "deal" in which accepting the deficit recommendations of an unaccountable Gang-of-Six-style Super Committee is the "best" possible outcome, John Kerry is right. Revenues are an essential part of the whatever trigger is put in place.

But today's reports indicate that whatever backbone Kerry was suggesting Democrats might have, appears to have disappeared. None of the reports mentions anything about revenues as part of the trigger--which is fairly obvious since Boehner appears to believe he can get away with scrapping even the Pentagon cuts.

Or maybe not. Nancy Pelosi is suggesting the current deal may not pass the House:

"We all may not be able to support it," she said. "And maybe none of us will be able to support it."

Liberals in her caucus are set to revolt. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a leader among House progressives, blasted the deal in an official statement earlier Sunday.

""This deal trades peoples' livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it," he said.

And the details may become even less palatable for Democrats, as Republicans grit their teeth over potential defense spending cuts in the bill.


But no word on whether the lack of revenue provisions in the trigger have anything to do with House Democrats' revolt. Hopefully they do. Within the context of a horrible, no-good bill, insisting on such revenue as part of the trigger might be the best salvage Democrats can hope for at the moment. If Dems do stand up for this, the only question then becomes whether Wall St. will force enough of the GOP to the table, or whether we go forward with the 14th Amendment route.

In all likelihood, though, we'll get neither. The current "deal" already constitutes a series of Democratic caves to GOP hostage-taking, and the details of the trigger will probably be no exception.

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Inhabitat’s Week in Green: photovoltaic trees, a mind-reading Prius bike and solar-powered garb

The summer sun shined a light on several breakthrough solar technologies this week at Inhabitat as Semprius unveiled a powerful micro photovoltaic cell that can fit on a pinhead, and MIT developed a solar power system that can produce energy without sunlight. We also spotted plans for a shape-shifting solar home with a perforated facade, a series of luminous photovoltaic trees that grow real plants, and Nuon unveiled its super aerodynamic Nuna6 solar-powered racer.

Speaking of green transportation, this week President Obama set a goal of 54.5 MPG for all US automakers, BMW unveiled its breakthrough i3 and i8 electric vehicles, and Toyota unveiled a mind-reading Prius bike that can shift gears with just a thought. We also showcased several incredible examples of vehicular architecture - including a prefab house made from recycled Hummers and a shipping container pool set on a barge that purifies water as it floats through france.

As temperatures continued to soar this week we brought you seven solar-powered wearables guaranteed to give you a charge, and we saw Japanese citizens turn to air-conditioned clothing to beat the heat during power shortages. We were also relieved to hear a Swiss study announce that cell phone use is not linked to brain tumors in kids, and we showed you the dizzying view from the world's tallest tennis court, which is set atop the Burj al Arab in Dubai.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: photovoltaic trees, a mind-reading Prius bike and solar-powered garb originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 31 Jul 2011 19:32:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Leaving this all behind

It's still my feeling that Democrats will end up backing this deal rather than allow Armageddon --- one of the points of letting it go down to the wire is to make it very difficult to fall out. But at least one progressive is saying no:
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Representative Raul Grijalva, who heads a group of liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives, said on Sunday that he would not back an emerging debt-ceiling deal crafted by Republican and Democratic leaders.

"This deal trades peoples' livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals, and I will not support it," Grijalva said in a statement. Grijalva heads the 74-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.

I would expect that both sides will be whipping this pretty hard. it will be interesting to see if the progressives fall behind Grijalva or if Boehner has enough votes to cobble together a majority without them. (I suspect not.)

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Never satisfied

Meanwhile on Planet Teabag:

Tea party activists are bracing for disappointment as negotiations on the debt ceiling move closer to a deal, but sending a clear signal to congressional Republicans that they are even less willing to tolerate compromise and more likely to seek retribution against anyone who has not fully supported their agenda.

They are focused in particular on the fate of the concession they extracted from House Speaker John Boehner in order to get his debt ceiling bill through the House last week - a provision making a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution a prerequisite for raising the debt ceiling again that they regarded as a huge victory.

“If the final bill is passed by establishment Republicans and House Democrats and does not include a balanced budget amendment as a requirement, it will be completely unacceptable and will be seen as a violation of the mandate that the tea party and likeminded people gave Republicans in 2010,” said Ryan Hecker, the leader of a crowd-sourced tea party effort called the Contract from America.

“The tea party didn’t help elect Republicans because they liked Republicans. They elected Republicans to give them a second chance. And if they go moderate on this, then they have ruined their second chance, and there will be a real effort to replace them with those who will stand up for economic conservative values,” said Hecker, who helped conservative House Republicans rally support for the amendment.

I think it's great that these people are calling the shots in the most powerful nation on earth, don't you agree?

Of course, we have the Concord Coalition upset that they haven't slashed entitlements up front, so they aren't the only bozos in town.

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Midday update

ABC:

Sources from both parties tell ABC News that the major potential roadblock in deficit negotiations-- the triggers -- are now essentially agreed upon. The plan is for the House to vote on this tomorrow, assuming all goes according to plan.

The agreement looks like this: if the super-committee tasked with entitlement and tax reform fails to come up with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction that passes Congress, the “neutron bomb” goes off, -- as one Democrat put it -- spending cuts that will hit the Pentagon budget most deeply, as well as Medicare providers (not beneficiaries) and other programs.

If the super-committee comes up with some deficit reduction but not $1.5 trillion, the triggers would make up the difference.

So it’s a minimum $2.7 trillion deficit reduction deal.

And the debt ceiling will be raised by $2.4 trillion in two tranches: $900 billion immediately, and the debt ceiling will be raised by an additional $1.5 trillion next year – either through passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which is unlikely, or with Congress voting its disapproval..

Two items still being negotiated:

1) The exact ratio of Pentagon to non-Pentagon cuts in the trigger – Democrats want 50% from the Pentagon, Republicans want less;

2) Democrats want to exempt programs for the poor from the cuts.

Also Democrats say –- if tax reform doesn’t happen through the super-committee, President Obama will veto any extension of Bush tax cuts when they come up at the end of 2012, further creating an incentive for the super-committee to act.

All sides hope this will be enough to convince the markets and ratings agencies that the federal government is serious about deficit reduction -– in order to avoid default.

Well yes. And then "the market" will smoke a cigarette and roll over and go to sleep.

And I thought the president had promised to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy no matter what?


'Whatever we agree on, we are still going to have plenty to argue about in 2012,'" a senior administration official said, paraphrasing the president. "'I've said I'm not going to renew the tax cuts for the top two percent. We might agree on tax reform or simplification, but on the upper-income tax cuts we are just going to have to agree to disagree.'"

There have been varying reports that the Bush tax cuts were part of discussions, but I haven't seen them thrown in in exchange for "tax reform", that fabulous abstraction in which everyone gets lower rates and the government collects more money (and nobody feels a thing.) I had been hearing that the Bush tax cuts expiring would be the big liberal achievement that would make all this worthwhile. Looks like there's a possibility even that was too optimistic.

Just keep in mind that progressives should want to do all this.

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Voice of Empire, Ctd.


This week at The Mouse Circus, David Gregory continued to perform his indispensable function as the mouthpiece of the Oligarch Empire to which he has sworn complete, obescient and lucrative fealty. A function best described by Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” as that of…
"...an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill"

When Obama spokesman David Plouffe suggested that our current national nervous breakdown is a “healthy debate”, Gregory wanted to know “What is healthy about [it]?" Greggers was pissed that "nobody is yet making the hard choices" about screwing over poor and working class people in sufficient numbers to protect hiss tock portfolio.

Greggers: My broker An unnamed financial person of my acquaintance called me. You could smell the fear-shit in his pants. This is a Code Red Day, people. Code Red!

John Thune then brought his awesome bilateral symmetry to the “debate”, because he is "in play".

At that moment, somewhere in a very nice gated community in America, David Brooks involuntarily jizzed himself with excitement.

(Said Bobo of Thune back in this embarrassing mancrush of a column from 2009:

He is a gracious and ecumenical legislator, not a combative one. When you ask him to mention authors he likes, he mentions C.S. Lewis and Jeff Shaara, not political polemicists.


He doesn’t have radical plans to cut the federal leviathan. He just wants to restrain the growth of government to bring deficits down. He doesn’t have ambitions to restructure the tax code. He just wants to lift burdens on small business.


But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.

And yet, less than one month ago, Mr. Brooks also made this assessment of the mental and moral health of his Republican Party:

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
...

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.


Got that? David Brooks’ definition of unacceptably nuts is a Republican who refuses to “to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard” and by this refusal shows their unwillingness to “accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities”.

I wonder what would happen if Bobo's “gracious and ecumenical“ John Thune failed Bobo's own "Crazy or Hot?" test on exactly these issues?

Ruh roh...

David Gregory: John Thune, as a Senator who is still “for sale” "in play", what will it take to get you to “yes”.

Thune: First, no taxes…There will be some who want to see taxes as part of their approach. I certainly don’t, and I don’t think most Republicans do. just ruled out a tax increase.

Somewhere in a very nice gated community in America, David Brooks just tore his tiny Johnson out by the roots.

“Why, John Thune? Why have you done this to meeee?!”

Later, to a question about whether his billionaire paymasters should maybe pay one dime more in taxes, Greggers shot back: “But shouldn't Medicare also be shoved into the wood-chipper to make sure Democrats are also blah blah blah.”

It wasn’t Gregger’s mindless, reflexive mouthing of the “Both Sides” mantra that had me yelling “Fuck you, you vonce!” at the teevee. I'm used to that by now. It was his triumphalist smirk that put me over the top.

Gregory: Hey, Thune. My portfolio is about to take it in the neck. My broker An unnamed financial person of my acquaintance wants to know how many poor people can you head-fake the Democrats into sacrificing?

Yeah, it was that bad.

Greggers called in Clare McCaskill -- this week’s Obligatory “Meet the Press” Blue Dog Democrat flunky -- to make the “Left” argument as follows:

We have a lot of volume from the two extremes.

We need that Fucking Awesome Middle to rise up!

It is not about the Tea Party, or about the Far Left.
Senator McCaskill was unsurprisingly non-specific about who makes-up this imaginary "Far Left" contingent, and why their non-existent list of fictional demands was just as bad as the teabagger's very real threat to destroy the global economy. Obviously Senator McCaskill, needs to be primaried into extinction, but of course that will never happen.

Tom Brokaw -- this week’s Obligatory “Meet the Press” Beltway Establishmentarian Sage -- was also on hand to obediently and predictably toe the corporate line:
  • Both sides do it.
  • Both sides did it.
  • And now we have to shovel a lot of weak and sick and powerless people into early graves to make the world safe for the oligarchs who pay my salary
Raul Labrador -- this week’s Obligatory “Meet the Press” Teabagger – was there hand trowel on his prepared list of falsehoods virtually unchallenged:

David Gregory: The American people are idiots.

Brokaw: Yes they are!

Labrador: The Ryan Budget is still awesome! It proposed to close loopholes.

What were a few things that Greggers could have asked The Labradoodle but never did?

"Didn't the "Ryan Suicide Pact" actually take the money from those closed loopholes and plow them back into tax cuts for billionaires?

"Isn’t it true that the "Ryan Suicide Pact" never gets anywhere close to solving the deficit?”

"Isn’t it true that the "Ryan Suicide Pact would itself require the dept ceiling be rasied over and over again?”

But these questions are inconvenient and so, instead…

Hey, here's an article from Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal that explains that while Republicans may have spiked the deficits every time they got anywhere near the levers of power, both sides are to blame!

Let's talk about that!

Hey, here's another article from Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal from sodden, mossy bint Peggy Noonan calling Obama a "loser".

Let's talk about that!

Brokaw: The Baggers did it old school. Got organized. Got elected. That's how you do things!

No mention of the Koch brothers money that paid for it.
No mention of Dick Armey.
No mention of the Entire Murdoch Empire working overtime to making an electoral silk purse out of the sow’s ear of the GOP base out of thin air and pushing the Hell out of it around the clock.
No mention of the complicity of clowns like David Gregory every inch of the way.

Because these are inconvenient facts that fly square in the face of the "Both Sides Do It" goon squad doctrine.

And as such, they will remain in enforced exile until the monopoly of the "Both Sides Do It" goon squad is forcibly broken.

Over on “The Chris Matthews’ Show”, I learned that “this is still a "Center-Right" country”, while on “This Week…”, the soulless, Himmler-faced Grover Norquist was invited to appear on to provide the rat's perspective on the bubonic plague.

On “This Week…”, Paul Krugman continued to do heavy lifting on behalf of the Silenced Majority by calling Grover Norquist a liar to his face - twice - and pointing out that the debt ceiling is no less than a hostage crisis precipitated by radical.

Krugman: The 2010 elections were run on two issues: Jobs and the Democrats are gonna cut your Medicare. Since then, the president as worked hard on jobs and tried to give the GOP political cover on Medicare…The GOP, meanwhile, is extorting policy changes they could never have gotten past the legislative process and never gotten past the voters.

All of it true, and all of it too late.

My only advice to Republican Obertaxenfuhrer Norquist is the same advice Katherine Hepburn gave to Anthony Hopkins in "The Lion in Winter":
"Don't look sullen, dear. It makes your eyes go small and piggy...and your chin look weak."


Grover Norquist: Regulations are the real problem. Next week the EPA might try to shove a liberal light bulb up your ass!

Krugman: Guy's a liar. Also a moron. Also, a liar.

This week's black-and-white differences between Amanpour's show and Gregger's Carnival of Beltway Bukkake are clearly visible and, I think, easy to understand.

Gregger's audience -- like David Brooks and Tom Friedman -- consists of a few thousand insider players in D.C. and a few hundred plutocrats who own property and keep homes in New York.

Amanpour is trying for a more international audience, and the America where David Gregory is considered the gold standard of journalist and Grover Norquist has not been flogged into the streets by mobs of sensible humans is a foreign land indeed.

After that I watch Mitch McConnell lie in a single, continuous stream all over Gloria Borger's face on "State of the Union" (CNN).

It was this exchange…

Borger: But can you absolutely positively, 100% guarantee...

Yertle the Minority Leader: I am lying to you now.

Borger: Can you at least tell us what's going on in the Wingnut Clubhouse?

Yertel: Fuck you.

Borger: But can you absolutely positively, 100% guarantee...


…repeated over and over again.

Borger took it like a pro.

Then I watched John McCain lying on the floor of Senate or awhile.

Watching a man that old and morally rotted-out spryly reversing himself, spinning to contradicting himself, and leaping like Najinski to lie about things that he himself had said years, weeks or even hours before should be an inspiration to octogenarians and sociopaths everywhere.

And when you consider that, of all the Senators from Arizona, McCain is actually the lesser crazy, the voters of Arizona must be so very proud right now.

For Brutus is an honorable man;

So are they all, all honorable men.







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Winners and losers

On CNN just a few minutes ago:


Gloria Borger: it looks like the Republicans are getting an awful lot of what they wanted

Wolf Blitzer: The Senate Republicans are going to be on board. Harry Reid's going to have a lot of Republican support in the Senate.

The problem's going to be in the House of Representatives where there's going to be a lot of opposition. There were more than 20 House Rep that voted against the Speaker John Boehner last week. And there are going to be a lot more Republicans voting against any deal this time.

But here is the key difference. Most of the Democrats will vote in favor of what the President supports.

Borger: So the question is going to be what's the balance? What does the balance have to be between Democrats and Republicans?

Blitzer: Boehner does have 40 moderate Republicans. And it's interesting. He was meeting with that, what is it called "first Tuesday" group yesterday, the moderate centrists Republicans in the House of Representatives, they will be on board with Mitch McConnell and the president of the United States. But a lot of conservative Republicans won't.

And normally, the Speaker doesn't like to have a vote unless he or she is guaranteed more than a majority of his or her own caucus. 50% percent. He might not get it because he's going to have more than enough Democrats to get this passed.

Borger: And that's what gives Nancy Pelosi a little bargaining power as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week, the tea party Republicans are actually giving Nancy pelosit more leverage in cutting a deal because they need her votes now.

Blitzer: They'll get a lot of Democratic votes to support it. If the president of the United States -- he is not only the commander in chief but he's also the leader of the Democratic Party --- if he comes out on television sometime today or tomorrow or whatever and says "this is a good deal, it's not perfect but it averts default,economic catastrophe for the country, all that entails," he'll get a lot of Democrats.

Borger later said that the GOP Senate hawks were likely to complain about ever having to cut defense spending in any way and that the House Republicans will have a good cry over failing to get their balanced budget amendment signed sealed and delivered in time for labor day, so it's not as if the GOP is getting a good deal.

In the final analysis it's the way things have to be:

"When you look at the overall picture, we're starting to put together you could say, ok, the president gets his deal into 2013, which is what he wanted. The House gets promises of substantial budget cuts and Mitch McConnell gets his commission or committee which he wants to absolutely enforce those budget cuts.

Kind of left out of this are the base of the Democratic Party, they're not going to be happy about budget cuts to programs like Medicare for example. And what about conservative Republicans who don't want to put defense in this mix even if they get a promise of no revenues?

So you're right, there's something for everyone to hate in all this

"Conservatives are saying it's imperfect, to which one must say, the Sistine Chapel is probably in some sense imperfect." George Will


So you've probably heard about the Big Deal that's (surprise!) congealing today, at the very last minute. Plouffe and McConnell and the rest are all over TV this morning talking about it. I'm a little surprised at how shocked people seem to be. I'ts about what I expected: trillions in cuts, no revenue, a Super Commission with a mandate to cut even more and an up or down vote requirement, and a trigger with mandated cuts if that Commission vote fails.It's pretty much a combination of the worst aspects of all the Republican plans that have been floated.

This is all they still have to fight over:

As noted here, the issue under contention was the design of a so-called "trigger," -- a penalty written into the bill meant to encourage Congress to pass further bipartisan deficit reduction legislation, authored by a new Special Committee, later this year. Here's what they've reportedly come up with, pending approval from Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

From ABC News, the key detail: "The special committee must make recommendations by late November (before Congress' Thanksgiving recess). If Congress does not approve those cuts by December 23, automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect, including cuts to Defense and Medicare. This 'trigger' is designed to force action on the deficit reduction committee's recommendations by making the alternative painful to both Democrats and Republicans."

The Medicare cuts would supposedly fall on Medicare providers, not beneficiaries. The trigger would also include a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment -- but no requirement that it be sent off to the states.

So Medicare is definitely on the chopping block. (Medicaid too -- that will be part of the other trillions in discretionary spending.)

But this part is just funny:

on CNN, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the final trigger must include incentives that don't simply allow Republicans to draw a line in the sand over revenues. "What is the sword over the Republican?" Schumer asked.

Well it has to be equal -- the one thing we are certain of, it has to be of equal sharpness and strength. The preference would be some kind of revenues, on wealthy people, on tax loopholes that would be in that. But another alternative, possible, being discussed, no agreement has been reached, would be defense cuts of equal sharpness and magnitude to domestic cuts.

In the past, when the trigger has had significant defense cuts, it's brought the parties to the table and they've come up with a balanced agreement that had both revenues and cuts.

Perhaps he's right and some mandated defense cuts will be what finally brings the Tea Party around. Sure.

Unfortunately, the trigger means there will be "entitlement cuts" in the next round:

Under the new proposal, if the new legislative body composed of 12 members of both parties doesn't come up with a bill that cuts at least $1.8 trillion by Thanksgiving, entitlement programs will automatically be slashed.

The Super Congress will be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans from both chambers. Under the reported framework, legislation the new congressional committee writes would be fast-tracked through the regular Congress and could not be filibustered or amended.

The parties are negotiating the outlines of the super panel's mandate, deciding roughly how much in cuts must come from defense spending, how much from seniors, how much from veterans, etc.

Last weekend, HuffPost reported on the extraordinary powers being delegated to the emerging Super Congress, but beltway media largely reacted by dismissing it as just another Washington commission. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to disabuse anyone listening of that notion.

"Let me emphasize the joint committee," McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. "In the early stages of this discussion, the press was talking about another commission. This is not a commission. This is a powerful, joint committee with a equal number of Republicans and Senate -- equal number of Republicans and Democrats, and, to make a recommendation back to the Senate and House by Thanksgiving of this year for an up or down vote. Think of the base closing legislation that we passed a few years ago for an up or down vote in the Senate."

The sticking point, said McConnell, is that Republicans are insisting on "triggers" that would automatically fire at beneficiaries of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare if the Super Congress doesn't act. "The trigger issue has been the one locked us in the extensive discussions. I thought we were very close to an agreement a week ago today, and then went off to our separate corners and had volleys, and now we are back into the position where we will let you know when we agree to something," said McConnell.

Republicans rejected tax increases as a trigger incentive, and the White House has responded by proposing automatic defense cuts -- which should have the consequence of enlisting defense lobbyists to push for entitlement cuts to stave off their own reductions.

For me this isn't a shocking disappointment. I have felt that this whole process was a disaster from the beginning and it really doesn't matter to me if the Democrats eke out a couple of concessions about defense cuts or close a few loopholes "in return" for these cuts. That isn't "shared sacrifice," it's asking the poorest, oldest and sickest among us to give up a piece of their meager security in exchange for the wealthy giving up some tip money and the defense industry giving up a couple of points of profit. It's stripping the nation of necessary educational, safety and environmental protections while the wealthy greedily absorb more and more of the nation's wealth and the corporations and financial industry gamble with the rest.

The idea that they are even talking about this at a time of nearly 10% official unemployment with the economy looking like it's going back into recession (if it ever left) makes this debate surreal and bizarre. To cut the safety net and shred discretionary spending in massive numbers at a time like this is mind boggling. That it's happening under a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate is profoundly depressing.

But it's happening. And sadly, I still think it will be mostly Democrats who end up voting for it.

And by the way, David Plouffe and The President really, really need to stop saying that progressives should want to do this bullshit. It's insulting ... and blindingly infuriating.

Update: Ezra's funny this morning:

Next year’s deadline offers Democrats their only chance to negotiate from a superior strategic position. Republicans will still be able to refuse to raise taxes. But if they do, it won’t matter. The only way they can succeed in keeping taxes from rising is if the Obama administration and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to extend the Bush tax cuts.

Lol. Like that could ever happen.

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High, Higher, Highest Frontiers [Universe]

livinginspace.png

In the mid-1970s, the U.S. State Department prohibited the internal use of the term "space colony," due to the global bad reputation of colonialism. Instead, the government opted for "space settlement." Of course, as Stewart Brand pointed out at the time, the last thing you do in space is settle. Quite the opposite! Making the decision to explore space -- and live there -- is just about the most unsettled act a human can commit.

There have always been two camps on this issue. First, the unsettled, like Brand: the science-fiction aficionados, capitalists, rocketry geeks, macrocosmic thinkers, and Whole Earthers for whom space travel represents a profound philosophical commitment to the outward longevity and dissemination of the species. For these, the jump from Gaia to Cosma is logical. Second, the settled politicians and pragmatists who see the very idea as a folly, particularly considering that we, as a species, seem incapable of tending to our home planet. Let the universe come when it is ready, this latter group proposes (still a third is unaware of the question).

Where do I stand? Somewhere in between. Of course, I dream of seeing, from a distant planet, three moons rise over the horizon at night. Of course, my pace quickens at the thought of a radical change in vantage -- the Earth a blue marble at my feet. And yet I believe our patronage of the Earth, and the cultures which populate it, is lacking. I'm not entirely sure we can have nice things.

colony.jpg

Perhaps, however, like a child entrusted with a family heirloom, our nice things might change us. Much has been written about the "overview effect," the altered perspective induced by perceiving the Earth as a whole. Astronauts return changed, with a sudden, universal insight: the Earth is a tiny system, impossibly fragile in the void of night. To wit, the first image of the Earth from space -- "Earhrise," taken in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission -- is often credited with kickstarting the environmentalist movement of the 1970s.

If this image alone can wield such power, imagine seeing it each morning out your window. Yes, living in space. Why not? The provocative futurist Gerard O'Neill, whose book The High Frontier serves as the catalyst for this particular rant, suggested massive colonies of human habitation in space -- self-sustaining environments capable of hosting hundreds of thousands of people. These colonies, housed in massive spinning wheels called O'Neill cylinders, would float in space at Lagrangian points, points of stable gravitational equilibrium located along the path of the moon's orbit. O'Neill's surreal habitats were seriously considered in the 1970s -- he held a ten-week study of space habitats at NASA Ames in '75 and testified before the Senate subcommittee on Space Science and Applications in '76 -- largely because of his emphasis on the colonies' ability to gather direct solar power and shoot it down to Earth.

After the energy crisis of that decade waned, so did big-money interest in O'Neill's ideas, leaving those he inspired -- Stewart Brand, science writers, astronauts, and future members of the L5 society -- to champion the cause largely as a philosophical idea. One can see why. Space colonies, O'Neill argued, could single-handedly solve the world's biggest problems "without recourse to repression:" no more pollution, overpopulation, or global warming when most of the human race lives in space!

Short of migrating the race to cosmic Bernal spheres, however, might a newly concerted effort into space, at this particular crisis point in time, force us to reevaluate our stewardship of the Earth? In attempting to replicate habitable environments in space, might Homo Spaciens be a gentler sort, more aware of the delicate tensile webs that keep our terrestrial ecosystems functional?

Possibly. But beyond our relationship to the home planet, we haven't yet discussed the ramifications of space travel on human culture. Carl Sagan, in the excellent Creative Quarterly tome "Space Colonies," makes a brief but excellent point: with room to breathe, space cities could provide an environment for human affinity groups to "develop alternative cultural, social, political, economic, and technological lifestyles." Not just an overview effect, but an effect of cultural mutation! This is something that science fiction has been dabbling in for decades; without the planet-imposed constraints of national boundaries, how might human beings fragment into groups? Conceivably, along religious, cultural, subcultural, or aesthetic lines; religious zealots in the United States already speak of themselves as a "Christian Nation." Why not a Christian planet?

Or, on a lighter note, space colonies for goths, Valley girls, cyberpunks, men? We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what space settlement would mean on a long-term cultural level. Periods of expansion into new territory have always triggered periods of synchronous intellectual fermentation. Then, cultural metamorphosis. The New World made Americans out of British people, after all. And, like high tea in the Wild West, doubtless even our most engrained cultural rituals would eventually seem absurd and useless when ported into space. They'd promptly be replaced with new ideas, new possibilities.

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Then again, we already live in space, so perhaps all we need is renewed awareness of our position in the void. Writes Frank White, the writer who coined the term "overview effect:"

"In asking the question of whether people living in space will think or act differently from those living on Earth, we must first begin with a definition of what we mean by "living in space." The truth is that we are all living in space right now. The Earth is in space, it has always been in space, and it will always be in space. When we talk about "going into space," or "living in space," we are really talking about leaving the Earth and seeing the universe from a different point of view, a non-terrestrial one.
xThose who leave the Earth and live in space habitats, on planetary surfaces, or in generational starships will not be different from those who remain on Earth because they are living in space, but more likely because they will be far more aware of that fact!"

Further Reading:

The High Frontier, by Gerard O'Neill
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, by Frank White
Living in Space, by G. Harry Stine
Space Colonies: A Coevolution Book, ed. Stewart Brand

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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The New Deal vs The Bad Deal

"Conservatives are saying it's imperfect, to which one must say, the Sistine Chapel is probably in some sense imperfect." George Will


So you've probably heard about the Big Deal that's (surprise!) congealing today, at the very last minute. Plouffe and McConnell and the rest are all over TV this morning talking about it. I'm a little surprised at how shocked people seem to be. I'ts about what I expected: trillions in cuts, no revenue, a Super Commission with a mandate to cut even more and an up or down vote requirement, and a trigger with mandated cuts if that Commission vote fails.It's pretty much a combination of the worst aspects of all the Republican plans that have been floated.

This is all they still have to fight over:

As noted here, the issue under contention was the design of a so-called "trigger," -- a penalty written into the bill meant to encourage Congress to pass further bipartisan deficit reduction legislation, authored by a new Special Committee, later this year. Here's what they've reportedly come up with, pending approval from Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

From ABC News, the key detail: "The special committee must make recommendations by late November (before Congress' Thanksgiving recess). If Congress does not approve those cuts by December 23, automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect, including cuts to Defense and Medicare. This 'trigger' is designed to force action on the deficit reduction committee's recommendations by making the alternative painful to both Democrats and Republicans."

The Medicare cuts would supposedly fall on Medicare providers, not beneficiaries. The trigger would also include a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment -- but no requirement that it be sent off to the states.

So Medicare is definitely on the chopping block. (Medicaid too -- that will be part of the other trillions in discretionary spending.)

But this part is just funny:

on CNN, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the final trigger must include incentives that don't simply allow Republicans to draw a line in the sand over revenues. "What is the sword over the Republican?" Schumer asked.

Well it has to be equal -- the one thing we are certain of, it has to be of equal sharpness and strength. The preference would be some kind of revenues, on wealthy people, on tax loopholes that would be in that. But another alternative, possible, being discussed, no agreement has been reached, would be defense cuts of equal sharpness and magnitude to domestic cuts.

In the past, when the trigger has had significant defense cuts, it's brought the parties to the table and they've come up with a balanced agreement that had both revenues and cuts.

Perhaps he's right and some mandated defense cuts will be what finally brings the Tea Party around. Sure.

Unfortunately, the trigger means there will be "entitlement cuts" in the next round:

Under the new proposal, if the new legislative body composed of 12 members of both parties doesn't come up with a bill that cuts at least $1.8 trillion by Thanksgiving, entitlement programs will automatically be slashed.

The Super Congress will be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans from both chambers. Under the reported framework, legislation the new congressional committee writes would be fast-tracked through the regular Congress and could not be filibustered or amended.

The parties are negotiating the outlines of the super panel's mandate, deciding roughly how much in cuts must come from defense spending, how much from seniors, how much from veterans, etc.

Last weekend, HuffPost reported on the extraordinary powers being delegated to the emerging Super Congress, but beltway media largely reacted by dismissing it as just another Washington commission. On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to disabuse anyone listening of that notion.

"Let me emphasize the joint committee," McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. "In the early stages of this discussion, the press was talking about another commission. This is not a commission. This is a powerful, joint committee with a equal number of Republicans and Senate -- equal number of Republicans and Democrats, and, to make a recommendation back to the Senate and House by Thanksgiving of this year for an up or down vote. Think of the base closing legislation that we passed a few years ago for an up or down vote in the Senate."

The sticking point, said McConnell, is that Republicans are insisting on "triggers" that would automatically fire at beneficiaries of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare if the Super Congress doesn't act. "The trigger issue has been the one locked us in the extensive discussions. I thought we were very close to an agreement a week ago today, and then went off to our separate corners and had volleys, and now we are back into the position where we will let you know when we agree to something," said McConnell.

Republicans rejected tax increases as a trigger incentive, and the White House has responded by proposing automatic defense cuts -- which should have the consequence of enlisting defense lobbyists to push for entitlement cuts to stave off their own reductions.

For me this isn't a shocking disappointment. I have felt that this whole process was a disaster from the beginning and it really doesn't matter to me if the Democrats eke out a couple of concessions about defense cuts or close a few loopholes "in return" for these cuts. That isn't "shared sacrifice," it's asking the poorest, oldest and sickest among us to give up a piece of their meager security in exchange for the wealthy giving up some tip money and the defense industry giving up a couple of points of profit. It's stripping the nation of necessary educational, safety and environmental protections while the wealthy greedily absorb more and more of the nation's wealth and the corporations and financial industry gamble with the rest.

The idea that they are even talking about this at a time of nearly 10% official unemployment with the economy looking like it's going back into recession (if it ever left) makes this debate surreal and bizarre. To cut the safety net and shred discretionary spending in massive numbers at a time like this is mind boggling. That it's happening under a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate is profoundly depressing.

But it's happening. And sadly, I still think it will be mostly Democrats who end up voting for it.

And by the way, David Plouffe and The President really, really need to stop saying that progressives should want to do this bullshit. It's insulting ... and blindingly infuriating.

Update: Ezra's funny this morning:

Next year’s deadline offers Democrats their only chance to negotiate from a superior strategic position. Republicans will still be able to refuse to raise taxes. But if they do, it won’t matter. The only way they can succeed in keeping taxes from rising is if the Obama administration and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to extend the Bush tax cuts.

Lol. Like that could ever happen.

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CDP Executive Board Meeting: Rules Changes and the Death Penalty

General session will feature debates over the death penalty and some controversial rules changes

By Brian Leubitz

CDP executive board meetings tend to be sedate affairs featuring more schmoozing than anything else.  But on occasion the closing general sessions feature a few fireworks, and today may be such a day.

First, a death penalty resolution that called for the commutation of all death penalty sentences to Permanent Incarceration passed through the Resolutions committee with only a minor tweak.  The resolution originally called for all sentences to be changed to life without parole, but it has been changed to permanent incarceration.  With Chairman Burton's support, it seems likely to pass.

On the other hand, as I discussed in an earlier post, there are a few potential rules changes to be discussed today.  First, there is that possibility of endorsing Dts voters in the top 2 primary system.  That change has dominated the conversation, but another change just might end up creating quite the stir as well.

Under the current endorsement rules, a Democratic candidate that loses  the endorsement in the regional caucus at the convention can gather signatures to bring the endorsement to the floor.  The change would instead allow the candidate to appeal to a board that would then decide whether the endorsement should proceed to a floor debate.  This would end the gathering of signatures, (as happened in the case of Mark Leno against Carole Migden) and the processing and the associated resource questions.  On the other hand, questions of stacking may still arise.  Whether this board would be as responsive remains to be seen.

The general session runs from 10 until noon this morning.


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