Sunday, July 31, 2011

McConnell: $3 Trillion Debt Deal in the Works

Updated at 6:3e0 a.m. edt

Democrats and Republicans yesterday agreed to a $1 trillion deal for starters to settle the debt crisis that threatened to tank the global economy.

The Congress and White House are expected to vote today for the deal that will raise the $14.3 trillion federal debt limit.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. edt

The Senate killed a Democratic debt reduction bill on a procedural vote this afternoon, but do-or-die talks jump-started overnight has leaders on both sides cautiously optimistic a deal can get done to avoid a default by a Tuesday deadline.

A 50-49 vote failed to end a GOP filibuster, as Democrats fell 10 votes short of the 60 needed to move Senate Democratic Harry Reid's bill to a final vote. It was seen mostly as a symbolic vote, since it was expected to fail.

All hope of beating the clock and raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit comes down to $3 trillion in spending cuts being negotiated by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and President Obama.

"Despite all the reporting, no deal has been reached, there are still (important) issues to work out, and a lot of bad info is floating out there," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in an early afternoon Twitter dispatch.

Democratic leaders from both chambers huddled in House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's office to plot their strategy. Outside that session Reid told reporters, deal is "a lot closer than yesterday but we still have a ways to go."

Some House Democrats were concerned that Obama would give away too much in his negotiations, and then ask them to help pass a lousy deal. "We've carried his water before, but sooner or later we'll drop the bucket if he keeps playing us like a patsy," said a senior House Democratic staffer.

Some Demnocreats are still miffed at Obama for deciding against letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire in the budget negotiations last December, arguing that it would help spur the economy by continuing to give the richest Americans a free ride. Those Democrats note the economy is worse now than it was then.

On the morning talks shows, McConnell explained the framework of a deal would include two waves of spending cuts, but would avoid a messy vote and replay of this ordeal over the holidays, as House Speaker John Boehner had wanted. 

The first wave of cuts would include $1 trillion in set-in-stone reductions to discretionary spending, but a bipartisan "super congressional committee" would need to determine the second round of cuts by Thanksgiving of 2012.

There would be automatic "trigger" with cuts to the Pentagon and entitlements if Congress does not act on the super committee's recommendations.

end update

With a Tuesday deadline looming, Democratic and Republican negotiators made strides overnight on a potential $3 trillion debt-reduction deal, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said this morning.

"We're very close," McConnell said on CNN's "State of the Union" program, predicting a deal could be reached "soon."

The framework includes cuts in discretionary spending and caps on spending increases over 10 years, McConnell said. It calls for creation of a bipartisan debt-cuttting committtee made up of lawmakers, and includes a provision agreeing to a separate vote on creating a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution, he said.

The White House has said a deal must scrap the House GOP plan that calls for another debt debate and a vote in six months. "We're working on the accommodations that will get us there," McConnell said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, cautioned that there is no deal as of yet, but he is very optimistic that the U.S. will not for the first-time ever default on its loan payments.

An apparent breakthrough came after Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid agreed to delay a 1 a.m. edt vote on his debt-reduction resolution in order to give negotiators time to see if they could move their talks forward. Reid rescheduled the vote for 1 p.m. today, but if a deal is close he may be persuaded to back up the vote again and amend or replace his legislation.

The hard part may come after a deal is reached. Even if the leaders have an agreement they still have to sell it to their rank and file, including the obstructionist Tea Party faction and contentious House liberals.

Rebels Promise Answers in Death of General; Islamist Militia Suspected

Updated at 7:15 p.m. edt

The Libyan rebel government is now claiming the rival group its forces overpowered in a long battle overnight at a Benghazi license-plate factory was a secret pro-Gadhafi sleeper cell that had been operating under its nose for months.

A TNC official contends the Al-Nidaa Brigade was responsible for a pair of prison breaks Friday in the rebels' capital Benghazi as chaos erupted over the execution of commanding Gen. Abdel Fatah Younes.

Some 200 to 300 inmates, among them pro-Gadhafi fighters and loyalists, escaped, according to the rebel's deputy interior minister, Mustafa al-Sagezli.

"These people took advantage of the chaos that resulted from the killing of Younis and entered and attacked the military prison and the (civilian) Kuwaitiya prison," al-Sagezli told the Associated Press.

Three TNC regulars were killed and eight injured, while the militia group had four dead and at least 12 injured in what amounted to about eight hours of small-arms warfare.

There were other signs the TNC was  having trouble with more rivals tribes and militia. Some Western journalists reporting the deep cracks in the opposition ranks the weekend turmoil over the assassination of the rebel commander resulted in some heavy-handed treatment by TNC leaders, The New York Times reports.

Ahmed Bani, a spokesman for the TNC defense minister, even suggested journalists could be aligned with Moammar Gadhafi, the Times reported.

"We don’t know if anybody here is a fifth column," he told a room full of reporters at a Benghazi news conference. "It is very difficult to determine who is with you and who is against you in a time of conflict, because you don’t necessarily have to hold a weapon. With a word or a rumor they can cause a lot of deaths."

end update

Updated at 9:15 a.m. edt

Forces loyal to the Libyan rebel government and a rival militia clashed for five hours this morning in the opposition capital Benghazi after allied factions were ordered to come under Transitional National Council control.

As part of a crackdown on militia resulting from the murder of commanding Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes late last week, TNC forces took control of the Al-Nidaa brigade camp after a bloody small arms battle left four fighters dead and at least 30 others injured, the Financial Times reported.

The fighting erupted after the Al-Nidaa Brigade refused to lay down it arms. 

end update

The Libyan rebel government in Benghazi overnight blamed a militia leader for the murder of commanding Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes and two of his senior military advisers, claiming the suspect confessed.

The militia leader, who apparently commands the Islamist-leaning Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, is in custody. The men, who riddled the three bodies with bullets and then partially burned the remains, have not been apprehended.

"The head of the militia is imprisoned now," said Ali Tarhuni, minister of economic affairs for the rebel National Transitional Council told reporters in Benghazi. "It was not him. His lieutenants did it."

Many questions remain, including who at the TNC approved a judges' arrest warrant for Younes, a former defense minister for Moammar Gadhafi, who was at the Libyan dictator's side when he first came to power in 1969.

Fawzi Bu Kitf, head of the Union of Revolutionary Forces, a federation of armed militia operating in the east, named the suspect as field commander Mustafa al-Rubh. 

"He is a member of the Union as an individual," Bu Kitf told reporters, hoping to silence critics who have pointed the finger at him in the killing "Whatever was done was done through his own idea."

The militia leader was tasked with retrieving Younes from the frontline near the oil town of Brega to discuss “a military matter,” Tarehuni said at a news conference.

Younes also had a sometimes public feud with rival Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who defected and lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades before he returned to Libya earlier to join the rebellion. Khalifa has been accused by detractors of having ties to the CIA. 

Younes had been under fire for the slow progress the army was making under his leadership, and some rebels questioned whether he had truly ended his loyalty to Gadhafi.

The only rebel force on the move is in the west, where tribes of the Nafusa mountain region have had success defeating  Gadhafi forces. The Nafusa army has no particular loyalty tgo the TNC in far-away Benghazi, other than their opposition to Gadhafi.

The mysterious execution offered a look into Libyan tribal and factional differences -- one of the biggest concerns why many Western nations refuse to arm the rebels even though they have recognized their  government.

Younes' Obeidi tribe were livid at the killing, accusing the TNC of playing a role in what they believe was a sanctioned assassination.

The Obeidi tribe -- one of the largest in eastern Libya -- set up barricades and closed roads around parts of Benghazi for a while after it learned of the death of Younes.

The TNC claims it will disband militia groups and bring them into the fold of the stalled eastern army. That may be easier said than done, given tribal pride and egos.

Western governments backing the rebels are sweating out the episode, calling for unity in order to reach a swift end to the now five-month-old war. The rebel government has promised a thorough investigation and would release its findings to the public.

"Everything is under control. This is just a rough stage we are going through and me and my brothers in the TNC are sure we will get over it,"  Tarhuni said.

NATO warplanes, meanwhile, bombed three satellite dishes yesterday in Tripoli, but Libyan state TV remained on the air.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

GOP & Dems Talking, But No Closer to a Debt Reduction Deal

The fate of raising the $14.3 debt ceiling will be decided behind closed doors now as the Democratic and Republican leadership engage in a final attempt to reach a deal that will keep the U.S. from defaulting on its loans for the first time in its history.

However, with a little more than two days until the default deadline, there was plenty of evidence of political gamesmanship in play, particularly between the GOP and Democratic leaders of the Senate.

GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell reopened the negotiating channels with President Obama in the past 24 hours, ending a stalemate created when Boehner walked away from the table.

McConnell spoke to Obama shortly before the President summoned the House and Senate Democratic leaders to the White House this afternoon.

"We are now fully engaged, the Speaker and I, with the one person in America out of 307 million people who can sign a bill into law," McConnell said. "I'm confident and optimistic that we're going to get an agreement in the very near future and resolve this crisis in the best interest of the American people."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid accused McConnell of grandstanding by saying both sides were close to agreement, saying they were no closer to a deal after meeting along with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi at the White House with Obama.

"Republican leaders still refuse to negotiate in good faith," Reid said.  "The process has not been moved forward during this day."

In the only action today in the public eye, the GOP-controlled House voted 246 to 173 to reject a plan by  Reid that would cut the deficit by more than $2.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt limit automatically in three stages, but without further votes in Congress.

There still may be a Senate vote on the Reid measure at 1 a.m. tomorrow just to get it into the record as a negotiating point.

The Republicans, led by its powerful extremist Tea Party wing, passed a bill in the House yesterday that would require Congress hold another debt ceiling vote over the Christmas holidays. The Senate rejected the measure.

Democrats charge it is a purely political move meant to embarrass President Obama and boost GOP presidential candidates ahead of the 2012 elections.

Obama and the Democrats call that idea, along with a nearly impossible provision requiring passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution, a non-starter.

Pelosi accused Boehner of selling out a  $4 trillion grand bargain offered by Obama by abandoning negotiations to pander to the obstructionist Tea Party Republicans.  

"He chose to go to the dark side," Pelosi said to boos from the GOP on the House floor, which only prompted her to repeat the line. "He chose to go to the dark side."

Top Military Brass Resign in Turkey (NATO's Second-Biggest Force)

Call it the uncoup d'etat -- at least for now.

Turkey's conservative civilian government appeared today to prevail over the secularist generals who stepped down in protest of the arrest of scores of military officials accused of plotting a coup dating back to 2003.

Gen. Isik Kosaner, Turkey's equivalent of the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs, stepped down last night along with the commanders army, navy and air force commanders.

The mostly symbolic resignation, as all four generals were slated to retire in the next year,  was to protest the jailing of about 250 officers on charges of conspiring against the civilian government.

The government alleges the initial coup was to be disguised as war games known as "Sledgehammer," but the military contends the evidence against them and their compatriots was trupomed up and meant to strip the military of its standing in Turkish society.

"Along with losing their freedom, 14 general-admirals and 58 colonels lost their right to be evaluated in the upcoming Supreme Military Council and were punished beforehand even though there have been no definitive judicial decisions against them," Kosaner said in his resignation statement.

The civilian government stressed continuity for Turkey, which boasts of being NATO's second-largest military, after the U.S. The only top commander who did not resign, Gen. Necdet Ozel, who heads the military police, was appointed acting chief of general staff after Kosaner stepped down.

"Nobody should view this as any sort of crisis or continuing problem in Turkey," said President Abdullah Gul. "Undoubtedly events yesterday were an extraordinary situation in themselves, but everything is on course."

Gul added the government "asked Gen. Kosaner to stay, but he wanted to retire of his own volition... As you see, everything proceeds on its own course and there is no gap in chain of command."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants a constitution he argues reflects a democracy in a civilian-run era, not a document overshadowed by four coups since 1960, including the overthrow of an Islamist government in 1997. The current constitution was drafted after a 1980 military-driven coup.

Critics of Erdogan, who has served as prime minister for eight years, claim he will rewrite the constitution to strengthen his already strong position. He and his conservative -- and some would say budding Islamist party -- cleaned house in elections in June, giving three straight victories to the Justice and Development Party, better known as AKP.

Anthony Shadid in The New York Times highlights what may the end to another end to a military culture that is presumed to be above the law. "The days of the military calling the shots are over," said Turkish newspaper columnist Cengiz Candar.

Victor David Hanson warns today on National Review online that there may be longterm political, diplomatic and military concerns from the downfall of Turkey's generals, especially for Greece, Israel, the EU and U.S. 

"Turkey has emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions. Whether it is moving toward an era of European-style freedom or simply trading one form of authoritarianism for another is unclear," journalist Stephen Kinzer observes in The New York Review of Books.

Friday, July 29, 2011

House Passes Doomed Debt Legislation; Boehner Fights for Political Life

Updated at 8:45 p.m. EDT

As promised, the Senate rejected a GOP House debt-reduction bill tonight, just hours after Speaker John Boehner pulled off a legislative victory he needed to re-ignite his leadership over his party and its stubborn Tea Party wing.

The Senate voted 59-41 to defeat Boehner's hard-fought legislation, which twice was delayed this week from being brought to the floor because the Speaker had failed to garner enough support to ensure it would pass.

The GOP-led House had passed in the House early this evening. There were 22 Republicans who opposed Boehner and voted down his measure (Politico takes a glance at who they were). A couple of hours later the Democratic-led Senate killed it.

"The bill passed today in the House with exclusively Republican votes would have us face another debt ceiling crisis in just a few months by demanding the Constitution be amended or America defaults. This bill has been declared dead on arrival in the Senate," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement issue just before the Senate vote.

"Now that yet another political exercise is behind us, with time dwindling, leaders need to start working together immediately to reach a compromise that avoids default and lays the basis for balanced deficit reduction," Carney added.

Boehner's bill would have required another debt debate at the end of this year and passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution, or else the U.S. would default on its bills. A constitutional amendment requires the support of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states.

Experts say it could take up to a decade to complete the process of adding a constitutional amendment.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans this weekend to bring his own bill to the Senate for a vote. If it passes, the House GOP may return the favor and reject his debt reduction measure.

And then comes the real negotiating process, where both sides may have only a matter of hours to find a compromise on how to draw the country's $14.3 trillion debt, or at agree to at least a framework that they can use to extend the talks beyond the deadline Tuesday.

"It's time to be adults," Reid said after the Senate tabled the Boehner measure.

But with three days to go before the U.S. defaults on paying some of its bills, some lawmakers think Washington is cutting it too close.

"It is very dicey at this point. I never thought we would be three days out from driving over the cliff," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). told MSNBC.

end update

The House GOP resuscitated the political life of Speaker John Boehner, passing his dead-on-arrival partisan debt ceiling measure as the Tuesday default deadline moved dangerously closer amid fears stonewalling in Washington already cost the U.S. a nearly century-old blue ribbon AAA credit rating.

The House GOP voted 218 to 210 in favor of Boehner's two-tiered measure that would guarantee the exact same debt fight at the end of the year, and calls for a balanced budget amendment in the constitution -- two measures that the White House and democrats say are deal-breakers.

Boehner tweaked the measure and scrambled for an additional 24 hours, shaking down House GOP members trying to reach the 216 votes threshold needed to pass the measure. The delay called into question Boehner's leadership and further elevated the prominence of the Tea Party Republicans in the GOP.

In his final remarks before the vote, Boehner took aim at President Obama for failing to put on paper his own debt celing plan, but the Speaker's words easily could have been meant for his detractors in the Republican ranks.

"I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the President of the United States. I stuck my neck out a mile, and I put revenues on the table in order to try to come an agreement to avert us being where we are now, but a lot people in this town can never say yes," Boehner said on the House floor.

Boehner's bill will fail to get through the Senate, but even if it did pass, Preesident Obama would veto it.

For the sixth straight day, the financial markets continued their decline amid the debt standoff, increasingly blamed on the unwavering Tea Party faction which threw down the gauntlet and opposed wiping out corporate tax loopholes or restoring the tax levels paid by the richest Americans during the 1990s.

Some Tea Party leaders, like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, oppose raising the debt ceiling at all.

Obama, meanwhile, urged Americans to weigh-in on the debt debate by contacting their elected officials. His campaign put out on Twitter the contacts for House lawmakers.

"If you want to see a bipartisan compromise -– a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and that I can sign -- let your members of Congress know. Make a phone call. Send an email.  Tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington, and we can get past this," Obama said. "We are now running out of time."

A Shakespearean Tragedy, Intrigue Surrounds Rebel Commander's Death

The killing of the Libyan rebel commander, who was facing questions over the insurgent eastern army's failure to push west toward Tripoli, is stirring tribal tensions and is embarrassing the rebellion's political leaders.

But the murder of Abdel Fatah Younes also ends a dangerous and divisive rivalry among generals -- Younes accused of being a mole for Moammar Gadhafi, and his successor, Gen. Khalifa Hifter suspected of having ties to the CIA. 

"This underscores some of the challenges that the (rebel) Transitional National Council faces. This is certainly one more of them. They've had to overcome many challenges in their struggle. And I think what's important is that they work, both diligently and transparently, to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today.

"It's just important to keep that unified structure and to remember that they represent the Libyan people," Toner added. "The ultimate goal here is to lead a democratic transition and remove Gadhafi from power."

Hifter will now likely consolidate his control over the rebel armed forces with the slaying yesterday of Younes, who, along with two other officers was allegedly killed by a gang while he was on his way to answer questions about his army's shortcomings from members of the rebel Transitional National Council.

Like Younes, Hifter was a top military officer in the  Libyan leader in the Gadhafi regime until he sought refuge in the U.S. after a Libyan force he commanded in Chad in the late 1980s was decimated.

Hifter has lived outside of Washington, D.C. since the early 1990s, maintaining ties to anti-Gadhafi groups back in Libya. Hifter, who has been accused of having ties to the CIA, returned to Libya earlier this year to help lead the rebel army against Gadhafi.

Younes, meanwhile, switched sides in the Libyan revolution after Moammar Gadhafi sent him home to Benghazi to lead a attack there complete with Srebrenica-like mass executions, but he was distrusted from the outset by some in the rebel ranks. Some people suspected he was a double agent, still working for Gadhafi.

His inability to move the army on the battlefield contributed to a further falling out with some of his subordinates in the military and members of the rebel council.

The rebel government says it has already made one arrest in the killing of Younis, but it is not yet releasing the suspect's name or further details.

However, the TNC will have to be forthcoming, if it wants to hold together the tribal coalition fighting to unseat Gadhafi. The Obeidi, the armed and angry eastern Libyan tribe that Younes belonged to, wants answers to questions about the suspicious killing of the general.

The U.S. would like an explanation, too.

"He is a senior figure, and they've lost both his military expertise and his leadership, and again, it's very unclear who was at fault here. We've seen reports that this was an internal matter. We've reached no conclusions yet," Toner said.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

House Debt Vote a High Stakes Tally for Boehner

Updated at 11:45 p.m. edt

Speaker John Boehner failed to whip up enough votes tonight to pass his debt-reduction legislation, forcing the GOP boss to postpone a vote rather than see his measure go down in flames.

It was a blow to the lawmaker's reign over a House divided between mainstream Republicans and the slash and burn Tea Party faction that arguably controls the direction of the GOP at this point.

Boehner will assemble every GOP House member tomorrow morning to try to get the debt ceiling legislation back on track.

Word of a delay first came at 5:30 p.m. Washington time, some 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled House vote. A few hours later any hopes of a vote fell apart when Boehner's arm-twisting tactics behind closed doors failed to woo enough support for his measure.

Boehner was tweaking the measure late this evening, hoping that by slashing millions in Pell Grants that help poor and middle class Americans pay for college they could buy off the Tea Party.

The White House called the GOP "dysfunctional" because they refuse to compromise, labeling the delay in the vote "a pointless partisan exercise" because the bill will die in the Senate.

end update

Speaker John Boehner implored Tea Party Republicans today to back his debt-reduction legislation, ignoring Democrats' promise to put a stake in the heart of the measure if it makes it out of the House.

"After today, the House will have sent to the Senate not one, but two different bills that will rein in spending, increase the debt ceiling and bring an end to this crisis," Boehner said early this afternoon. "When the House takes action today, the United States Senate will have no more excuses for inaction."

The Speaker is applying pressure while he is under pressure. Throughout the debt wrangling, the Ohio lawmaker has had to negotiate with his own party's members as much, if not more, as he has had to parlay with Democrats. This vote is emerging as one of the biggest tests of Boehner's ability to hold his caucus together and pass legislation.

"Listen, for the sake of jobs, for the sake of our country, I'm asking the representatives in the House in a bipartisan way and asking my colleagues in the Senate, let's pass this bill and end this crisis," Boehner pleaded.

Boehner's debt legislation needs 216 votes to pass in the House.

Going down to the wire, the Speaker got a boost overnight from the Congressional Budget Office, which determined the Speaker's retooled legislation would reduce spending by $917 billion over 10 years, crossing the $900 billion needed to lift debt ceiling. CBO a day earlier said Boehner's plan would not cover the governments debt payments (CBO also said Senate Democratic plan fell short).

Wall Street, late to the fight, but now fully engaged, also stepped up its lobbying for a deal. More than a dozen leading American financiers also wrote to President Obama and the Congress, begging them to settle the debt deal ahead of Tuesday's deadline. They fear a defeault -- the first-ever in U.S. history -- would be a catastrophe for Wall Street and Main Street.

"A default on our nation’s obligations, or a downgrade of America’s credit rating, would be a tremendous blow to business and investor confidence -- raising interest rates for everyone who borrows, undermining the value of the dollar, and roiling stock and bond markets -- and, therefore, dramatically worsening our nation’s already difficult economic circumstances," the bankers wrote.

Boehner knows his bill is doomed no matter what happens with his House vote this evening. The Senate Democrats are going to kill it and Obama promised to veto it. Obama is adamant that the debt resolution not be a short-term incremental fix. The Boehner measure would force another debt showdown over the holidays at the end of this year.

"Republicans cannot get the short-term Band-Aid they will vote on in the House today," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "It will not get one Democratic vote in the Senate. All 53 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus wrote to the Speaker last night to tell him they will not vote for it."

Ultimately, in the hours immediately after tonight's vote lawmakers from the House and Senate will have to decide what they can pass, and they will be forced to make a deal, or potentially send the U.S. economy into an unknown abyss.

Gadhafi Propaganda Machine Produces al-Megrahi

From the despot who tried to quell an uprising by telling his people the rebels were all tripping on hallucinogens, the world gets an appearance at a rally by the only man ever convicted and jailed for the PanAm 103 bombing.

At a pro-Gadhafi rally in Tripoli, the regime rolled out a frail and wheelchair bound Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who doctors promised was supposed to be dead by now.

Al-Megrahi, 58, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and released in August 2009 after doctors convinced the Scottish government he had only three months to live. Britain and the U.S. protested.

The propaganda stunt yesterday outraged a top British government official,who scoffed at the medical evidence that freed the Libyan terrorist.

"I think the appearance of Mr. al-Megrahi on our television screens is a further reminder that a great mistake was made when he was released," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Al-Megrahi was shown live on Libyan state-run television in what was believed to be his first public appearance in 22 months. The announcer described his release a victory against the West.

"I think many people, particularly the families of those killed at Lockerbie, I think their anger and outrage at this release will be further intensified by what we have seen," Hague complained.

The 1988 bombing killed 270 people on the New York-bound flight and on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. 

The terrorist attack linked to the Gadhafi regime became relevant during the Libyan revolution when Gadhafi's former spy chief and foreign minister, Mousa Kousa, defected. Kousa was implicated by some to be a player in the Pan Am 103 plot.

In other Libya news, the U.S. reportedly has signed onto efforts to get Gadhafi and the rebel government to consider an exit plan that allows the fallen dictator and his family to remain in Libya, but his regime must be abolished.

A rebel spokesman in Benghazi says the offer to allow Gadhafi to remain is off the table, Reuters reported.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tea Party Resolute, but Wall Street Finally Freaks Over Debt Debacle

Wall Street and global financiers finally ended a schizophrenic stand on the debt shenanigans in Washington, soundly signaling with a nearly 200-point drop in the Dow Jones industrials today that a default will likely rip apart a weary American economy.

"Right now I'm pretty worried," said Howard Ward, a chief investment officer at asset manager GAMCO, quoted by the Associated Press.

Wall Street, like much of Washington, has been slow to catch up with the will of Americans, who for weeks have indicated in poll after poll that they want a debt compromise. They even would be willing to see revenues increase along with the slash and gut budget savings to get it done, surveys repeatedly show.

Others, like the Tea Party ideologues refuse to give an inch, and that is creating the unfathomable possibility that the U.S. might just default.

"As hours pass and the uncertainty builds, I think the market is starting to price in the potential that we might not have a solution by August 2," Channing Smith, managing director of Capital Advisors Inc., told Forbes. "Confidence in our political system is beginning to fade."

While investors worldwide finally awoke to the dangerous reality that stubborn political gamesmanship and entrenched ideological warfare truly has brought the U.S. to the brink of default, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office piled on with more bad news.

CBO ruled debt-reduction plans by GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid both fall short of their projected savings.

Boehner's debt ceiling plan would cut the deficit by about $850 billion in 10 years, less than the $1.2 trillion claimed, while Reid’s plan would slash $2.2 trillion over 10 years, short of its promised $2.7 trillion in savings, CBO said.

It forced Boehner to retool his legislation, while Reid said his Senate measure could be repaired with a tweak (Reid and the Senate Democrats are unified in the defeat of the incremental Boehner plan, and Obama has promised to veto it. They do not want to revisit this again at Christmas time, as the plan calls for).

The pitiful partisan parlay seems to trigger a battle-a-moment, especially for Boehner, whose shadowboxing with President Obama has exposed a much more unwieldy circular firing squad -- one that pits the Speaker against the House Tea Party faction, at times including his deputy, House GOP leader Eric Cantor, and the mainstream Senate Republicans.

Perhaps fighting for more than just his debt legislation, Boehner decided go to the stick and take on the stonewall Tea Party faction.

"Get your ass in line," he told House Republicans today at a closed-door meeting, where he demanded his caucus vote tomorrow in favor of a retooled two-step debt reduction plan.

"I can't do this job unless you're behind me," Boehner pleaded.

(There are side fights, too: Tea Party scrapper Joe Walsh has decided to take on GOP Sen. John McCain, who has blasted the Tea Party for stonewalling and touting a minority position on lifting the debt ceiling. Walsh blamed McCain for the debt crisis).

As the impasse took a turn for the dramatic away from the public eye, it played out loud and clear on Wall Street. The escapades and impotence of America's elected officials may already have cost the nation its AAA credit rating, even if the problem is rectified, ratings experts have warned.

All the markets appeared to be jolted by the desperate debt dealings:

-Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 27.05 points, 2.03%, to 1,304.89. 
-Dow Jones average declined 198.75 points, 1.595%, to 12,302.55.
-Nasdaq composite dropped 75.17 points, or 2.65%, to 2,764.79.
-10-year Treasury note fell 7/32, to 101 7/32; yield up 2.98% from 2.96%

The standoff in Washington also was a contributing factor to the European markets, though the state of the local economies was big blame for a third straight day of losses.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index sank 1.1% to end at 267.05. Markets from the FTSE to the Dax -- and everything else in-between -- took a hit.

Asian markets tonight (Washington time) are bracing for more of the same, expected to follow where the U.S. financial markets left off -- in the hopper.

Congress is tasked with raising the country's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit by Aug. 2 to avoid a debt default.

"Given that it is so clearly within the capacity of Congress to find the compromise that could clear both houses and be signed into law to solve this problem, I still believe that because the stakes are so high and because the American public so clearly wants this done in the right way, that in the end, it will get done," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama: GOP Playing 'Dangerous Game' With Americans' Livlihood

Updated throughout at 9:45 p.m. edt to add Boehner quotes, details, links, etc.

President Obama rejected tonight the House GOP plan that would force another politically charged debt ceiling battle in six months, calling it "a dangerous game" that reduces the American people to "collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare."

"The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all," Obama said.

"Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get," Obama added.

The President urged Americans to contact lawmakers to let them know they want the GOP to stop the debt shenanigans.

Obama's address on the day GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid issued dueling debt proposals. Obama wants the Reid legislation that would raise the debt limit by at least $2.4 trillion all at once, instead of the politically motivated incremental approach that GOP House Speaker John Boehner is pushing.

"That is no way to run the greatest country on Earth. It is a dangerous game we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now," Obama said of Boehner's plan. "Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare."

If a debt-ceiling compromise is not reached, Obama warned that Washington alone would be responsible for a likely economic crisis triggered by the federal government defaulting on its bills.

"We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis – one caused almost entirely by Washington," Obama said, adding that Americans are "fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word."

In a brief response to Obama's nationally televised address, Boehner insisted "there's no stalemate here in Congress."

"The House passed a bill to raise the debt limit with bipartisan support. And this week, while the Senate is struggling to pass a bill filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks, we're going to pass another bill, one that was developed with the support of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Senate," Boehner said.

(Editor's note: NBC "Hardball" anchor Chris Matthews accused Boehner of fibbing when he called the House bill a bipartisan effort).

"The solution to this crisis is not complicated. If you're spending more money than you're taking in, you need to spend less of it. There's no symptom of big government more menacing than our debt. Break its grip and we begin to liberate our economy and our future. We are up to the task. And I hope President Obama will join us in this work," Boehner added.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pentagon Moves to Take 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Off the Books

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is set today to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military, certifying that the repeal of the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy would not hurt the U.S. military.

The decision comes two weeks after the top Pentagon brass told Panetta that ending the ban would not affect military readiness.

Barack Obama promised during his 2008 presidential campaign to end don't ask, don't tell.

Dems to Obama: You Gotta Be (Expletive Deleted) Kidding Me

Updated 2 p.m. edt

As expected, the Senate rejected today what Democrats said was a draconian House plan to cut government spending, raise the federal debt limit and amend the constitution to include a balanced budget amendment.

Senators voted 51 to 46 along party lines to defeat the measure known as the "cut, cap and balance" bill.

President Obama had vowed to veto the bill had it passed in the Senate.

end update

President Obama finds himself at odds today with senior congressional Democrats, who are angry at him over concessions to Republicans in debt-ceiling talks, further complaining that they are being at left out of the negotiations.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are reportedly discussing a plan that could include up to $3 trillion in spending cuts, but would delay implementing much of the tax and revenue provisions, congressional aides said.

Democrats do not like the deal.

At an often testy two-hour meeting yesterday with White House budget chief Jack Lew, Democrats protested -- loudly -- that the White House was undercutting their re-election hopes with the Social Security and Medicare giveaways that the President has proposed.

Veteran Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, complainted to The Washington Post that the Tea Party convinced Obama "to go along with a deal that basically gives them everything they want but yet still takes away from those who are our most vulnerable."

But the smart money says Democrats have little to fear: Obama is banking that the GOP will not take him up on his his latest Machiavellian offer to tinker with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Aug. 2 is the drop-dead deadline for a deal to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its loan payments. If there is no serious progress made in talks this weekend it diminishes the chance of a comprehensive deal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gadhafi's Golden Offer: Leave Office, But Stay in Libya

France proposed today a plan that would allow Moammar Gadhafi to remain in Libya if he leaves office, but Libyan rebel emissaries in Paris for meetings say it may be too late for that option.

"I don't think there is a place for him. He is a criminal now," Transitional National Council representative Souleiman Fortia said after the meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe floated the idea of allowing Gadhafi to remain in Libya if he steps down during an interview on French LCI television.

"One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition which I repeat -- that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life," Juppe said. "A ceasefire depends on Gaddafi committing clearly and formally to surrender his military and civilian roles."

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi, meanwhile, is in Moscow, but claimed after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that there is no talk of Gadhafi giving up power.

"Gadhafi's departure is not being discussed," Obeidi told the Russian Interfax news agency.

The diplomatic push came after a day of brutal fighting in the oil terminal city of Brega, where the eastern rebel army is once again launching a march west toward Tripoli. The city is said to be heavily mined and there are still remnants of Gadhafi forces in the city limits.

Outside of Brega, Gadhafi forces have disguised motorized artillery with rebel flags and markings to throw off NATO aircraft. NATO has bombed in the Brega area in recent days, in part paving the way for the rebel army.

Brega is in a central coastal region that has gone back and forth at least three times in five months of fighting. The rebels have said they want to take and hold Brega for good this time.

Wisconsin Dem Staves Off GOP Recall Challenge

One day, people in Wisconsin will say, "Do you recall the summer of 2011?"

But so far, if you are a Badger State Republican you may not want to remember the summer of the recalls.

The Democrats drew first blood in the recall elections touched off by GOP Gov. Scott Brown's anti-worker policies that cut into benefits for public employees. The Republican-controlled state Senate rubber-stamped Walker's notorious budget -- a move that painted a target on the foreheads of a half-dozen state GOP lawmakers.

After deflecting primary challenges last week by "fake" Democrats put up by the GOP to try to unseat the incumbent (and real) Democrats, the party of Obama and Pelosi appears to have the momentum.

Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay handily defeated Republican recall organizer David VanderLeest yesterday in the first of the recall general elections. Hansen claimed 66% of the vote to VendeLeests's 34%.

But in a lopsided buckraking battle, Hansen raised $318,000 compared to Vandereest's $2,000. It gave Hansen a huge advertising advantage.

Republicans will be beter financed and armed with ads in the next round of recalls.

Eight state Senate recall elections remain in Wisconsin: Six challenging Republicans and two against sittting Democrats. Those votes are set for next month.

"The people of Green Bay are sending a strong message to undemocratic leaders who are ramming through attacks on Wisconsin workers and communities," said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.

"Wisconsin will not stand for it. Today’s results show that momentum is continuing to build for working family candidates as we head into the August general elections and that voters are serious about turning this state around," Neuenfeldt added.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Obama likes Gang of Six Proposal; House GOP Moves on Draconian Plan

Updated 9 p.m.

The House passed the Tea Party-backed "Cut, Cap and Balance" plan 234-190 this evening as expected, but the measure will now die a certain death in the Senate, with President Obama's promised veto a final backstop to kill the measure.

"I think everyone's estimation is, is that that is not an approach that could pass both chambers, it's not an approach that I would sign and it's not balanced, but I understand the need for them to test that proposition," Obama said ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, the latest polls show the GOP hardline approach is turning off a lot of Americans and is bolstering Obama's approach. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows more Americans would blame the GOP if the U.S. does not raise the debt ceiling and defaults on its bills.

The same poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans want the Democrats and Republicans to compromise -- something the House GOP, led by House Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, has refused to do.

end update

The House GOP is set to approve today its dead-on-arrival "Cut, Cap and Balance" plan to raise the debt ceiling, but the more mainstream Republicans in the newly reformed bipartisan Senate Gang of Six are proposing a popular $4 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

President Obama called the Gang of Six plan "a very significant step" because it appears to take a balanced approach to making significant cuts while increasing the revenue stream by eliminating some corporate tax loopholes, as well.

"We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach," Obama said at an afternoon appearance today in the White House briefing room.

"We are now in the same playing field," Obama added, noting there is still a long way to go before a final agreement is reached.

The Gang of Six, which is calling in its plan for $500 billion in immediate cuts as a down payment, re-convened after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla,) succeeded in getting the group to agree to some cuts in health care programs. Coburn had left the group in May over disputes in how to cut into the $14.3 trillion debt.

Some Senate Republicans and Democrats have signaled they like so far what they see form the Gang of Six. Other senators from both parties say they want to hear more before endorsing the newly emerging plan.

The Gang of Six -- Coburn, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) -- presented an outline of the plan top 49 senators this morning.

"I cannot suggest they all signed up," Durbin told the Senate. "I would never expect that to happen, but it is significant that at this moment in our history so many felt positive towards what we are doing."

The Senate was prompted to take the lead in the debt-ceiling debate after House Republicans, led by GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), gridlocked the negotiations with a refusal to allow any new revenue streams to be created as part of a deal.

The two leaders of the Senate, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are still working on emergency contingency legislation that would only ensure the Aug. 2 debt limit deadline is not crossed. The Reid-McConnell measure would not cut the deficit.

House Republicans, committed to appeasing Tea Party supporters, put forward a controversial plan that would cut spending by $111 billion in 2012 and cap future spending at 19.9% of the nation's gross domestic output. The proposal requires that Congress pass a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and send it to the states for the lengthy ratification process.

That "Cut, Cap and Balance" plan does not have enough support to pass in the Senate, but even if it did, Obama has said he will veto it.

Battle for Brega Lingers amid Push for Diplomacy in Libya

Libyan rebels supported by NATO warplanes in the east are wrapping up the latest Brega campaign, but a few loyalists to Moammar Gadhafi are still fighting on in what may be shaping up as a definitive final battle for the oil port city.

"NATO and the rebels have tried to attack Brega for the last five days," Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim boasted in Tripoli. "The only way for them to control Brega is to attack it with nuclear bombs."

Gadhafi's main force has retreated to Ras Lanuf, but left behind a Brega strewn with land mines, according to rebel reports. The rebels outside of Brega also came under artillery fire from Gadhafi's guns.

"It is going to take the revolutionaries at least 10 days to claim full control of Brega," rebel spokesman Abdel Salam told Reuters in Misurata.

In the west, the rebels Nafusa Mountains division is hung up and regrouping outside Gadhafi-held Gharyan, about 60 miles from Tripoli.

The latest offensive by the main rebel force in Brega came after a high-ranking U.S. delegation met with representatives of the regime over the weekend, telling them Gadhafi must go.

Russia criticized the U.S. and 30 other nations who recognized the rebel Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

"Those who declare recognition stand fully on the side of one political force in a civil war," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow.

Britain, at Friday's meeting in Istanbul of the Libya Contact Group, also announced it would send four more Tornado jets to join the air campaign.

In oil-related news, Halliburton, which made billions from U.S. taxpayers through as series of somewhat sweetheart deals in the Iraq and Afghan wars, claims it lost $46 billion because of the revolution in Libya, but still reported net profits.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Baz File is Off the Grid

But it will be back Monday. And do not worry my loyal readers: It's All Good -- literally!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Libyan Rebels Strike As Turkey Prepares to Offer Ceasefire Plan

Rebels were active in western and eastern Libya today on the eve of a 40-nation meeting in Istanbul where Turkey planned to propose a political "roadmap" for ending the Libyan civil war.

Insurgents in Western Libya halted an offensive within 50 miles of Tripoli to regroup, while the main opposition army in the east set its sights on the oil town of Brega, which has gone back and forth between forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and the rebels.

"We have been focused on the west of the country but now we will move," a rebel military source told Agence France Presse.

"We are preparing to enter Brega. The attack will come soon," another rebel fighter told the French wire service.

But Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed loyalist forces successfully repelled the initial attack.

"It was a full scale attack and it was heavy and merciless," Ibrahim told reporters. "We were successful in combating this attack and we did defeat both NATO and the rebels and we killed many rebel forces and captured a good number of them as well."

The Libya Contact Group, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will meet tomorrow in Istanbul to discuss the next steps for removing Gadhafi from power and how to proceed in the post-regime era.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu will offer the proposal that apparently will begin with a ceasefire.

"The main aim is to find a political solution to accelerate efforts to end the bloodshed," a spokesman told The Guardian of London.

Reid & McConnell Try to Find Debt Deal; Pouty Cantor Sent to His Corner

The adults apparently are attempting to settle the looming debt crisis that is already rocking the financial markets and is threatening to put the nation in the same ugly economic position it found itself in the summer of 2008.

With GOP House Speaker John Boehner apparently unable to rein in his obstructionist second-in-command, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the top leaders in the Senate are trying to come up with a compromise that will avoid the federal government defaulting on its debts by a drop-dead Aug. 2 deadline.

"Cantor has shown he shouldn't even be at the table, and Republicans agree he shouldn't be at the table," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

Reid (D-Nev.) called Cantor "childish" over his pouty explanation of how President Obama dressed him down during yesterday's negotiating session at the White House.

Boehner, nonetheless, stuck by Cantor.

"We're in the foxhole," Boehner said in support of Cantor. "I'm glad Eric's there."

So with Boehner (R-Ohio) virtually muted by Cantor's mouthy negotiating style, Reid said he is trying to see if the framework of an alternative plan put forward by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell is a path to a potential deal.

But like Boehner, McConnell (R-Ky) is wearing a partisan game face today -- at least in public.

"We refuse to let this President use the threat of a debt limit deadline to get us to cave on tax hikes or phony spending cuts," McConnell said.

The negotiators are about to sit down to talks again today very shortly, and the odds are Cantor will be on his best behavior.

Cantor is a dandy from Richmond who may have miscalculated Obama's strength -- the same mistake some people in the Virginia capital made a century and half ago about another President from Illinois.

In this case, Cantor showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a Ziplock bag full of checkers only to discover that the current resident is playing chess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Obama & Cantor Joust as Moody's Joins S&P in Issuing Debt Warning

Investors fired a broadside today at the shenanigans surrounding Washington's debt negotiations, killing a Wall Street rally over what should have been anticipated news that Moody's rating service would lower the U.S. AAA credit rating if a deal is not reached.

Moody's officially joined the Standard & Poor's credit rating service in warning Congress and the White House that they need to do a deal, or else the U.S. could find itself in another financial crisis like the one that crippled markets and wiped out fortunes and 401ks in the summer of 2008. 

Moody's disclosure that it would put the U.S. "under review" had been expected, yet with the financial markets so volatile it was enough to kill a rally on Wall Street and send the dollar and 10-year Treasury note downward. The U.S. stock exchanges mostly ended on a positive note, but they still pulled back in the final hour of trading on the Moody's news.

Apparently the rally-killing news did little to shake up the players around the negotiating table at the White House, where President Obama and House GOP leader Eric Cantor locked horns at what was described as a contentious meeting.

Cantor told reporters Obama became "agitated" when the Virginia Republican suggested a short-term deal, prompting the President to warned him not to "call my bluff." 

Obama, who has firmly stated he will not accept a short-term deal, then pushed away from the table and left the meeting.

"I know why he lost his temper," Cantor said. "He's frustrated. We're all frustrated."

Obama aides later reportedly described Cantor's explanation "overblown."

The testy parlay today, however, will not keep the negotiators from meeting again tomorrow back at the White House for the fourth straight day.

As Dems Prevail, GOP Urged to Pay for 'Fake' Wisconsin Primaries

Republicans cost Wisconsin nearly a half-million dollars to run six fake Democrats who were defeated in state senate recall primaries this week, prompting Badger State Democrats to call on the GOP to pay for the bogus balloting. 

"It’s clear that Democrats have the momentum," said Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate of the half-dozen victories Democrats had over their faux opponent's in yesterday's primaries.

Those Wisconsin Democrats will face in recall elections Aug. 9 six GOP state senators who helped Gov. Scott Walker slam through a measure that stripped away benefits for state and local workers.

Unions and workers' rights advocates believe Walker's maneuver, under the guise of cost savings, was nothing more than union-busting on behalf of his corporate financiers, the notorious Koch brothers.

Republicans are also waging recall bids against three Democratic state senators targeted for fleeing the state to keep Walker from imposing his crackdown on public employees.

Republicans entered fake Democrats in all six primary races in an attempt to confuse voters and force an extra four weeks for the GOP incumbents to raise money before the Aug. 9 general election.

The episode in political hypocrisy, led by the purported budget-conscious Walker, may be one of the more questionable, if not immoral, expenses heaped on taxpayers since the fiscal crisis first struck the nation in the summer of 2008.

"The shameful and despicable GOP tactic to delay judgment day for the 'Walker 6' by running fake Democrats needlessly cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale.

"This GOP trickery fell flat. (Tuesday's) result proves the people of Wisconsin are serious. On Aug. 9, we will recall the senators who chose to stand with Scott Walker’s corporate backers at the expense of working families," she added.

Tate said today the GOP "abused the electoral process" and should repay the taxpayers of Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calculates the primaries came with a $475,000 price tag.

"It is time to officially call for Scott Walker and the Republican party to reimburse the taxpayers for the extra cost they were forced to bear yesterday for these fake candidates," Tate said.

But John Hogan, who is managing the GOP senators efforts to keep their jobs, fired back that Democrats and unions called for the recalls and should be paying the costs.

"This is all Mike Tate’s doing, so he should pay for the whole thing," Hogan told the Journal Sentinel.

So far it looks like the Democrats are out-raising the Republicans in the state senate races, according to Talking Points Memo.

France: The End is Near for the Gadhafi Regime

Moammar Gadhafi may be on the brink of stepping down with his regime short of cash, fuel, food and munitions and facing rebels who are only being held back by NATO commanders opposed to a bloody street battle in Tripoli, according to French officials and rebel fighters.

"A political solution ... is beginning to take shape," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.

The broader Western and Arab alliance and the Libyan rebels have applied a concerted chokehold on the Gadhafi regime aimed at expediting the desperate dictator's demise and departure.

NATO warplanes have targeted fuel depots in eastern Libya in recent days, while the rebel army in the western Nafusa mountains has cut off one of the last remaining oil pipelines that had been controlled by Gadhafi forces.

Western powers and key Arab states have seized Gadhafi's money and NATO has degraded his weapons and munitions. Only a handful of African states remain allied to Gadhafi, but none are in a position to re-arm the Libyan dictator. South Africa may be willing to take Gadhafi, but there is the matter of his arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"The Libyan regime sent its messengers all over, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris." said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. "We received emissaries who are saying, 'Gadhafi is prepared to leave. Let's discuss it.'"

The United States remained cautious, noting this is not the first time that Gadhafi has been believed to be ready to capitulate.

"We have a lot of folks claiming to be representatives of Gaddafi one way or the other reaching out to lots of other folks in the West," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "But the messages are contradictory."

Libyan rebel brigades out of Misurata to the east of Tripoli, as well as the French-armed opposition force in the Nafusa mountains, have complained that NATO refuses to let them march toward Tripoli.

The rebels claim NATO has told them the alliance is against urban warfare in Tripoli because innocent civilians will be hurt -- and that runs contrary to the reason why the U.S., France and Britain led the initial air campaign: To protect innocent Libyans.

In a new development that supports NATO's concerns, Human Rights Watch today is accusing some Libyan rebel forces of looting, arson and the abuse of civilians.

"In four towns captured by rebels in the Nafusa Mountains over the past month, rebel fighters and supporters have damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes, and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces," Human Rights Watch said.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Obama to Syria: No 'Messing With Our Embassy'

President Obama channeled his inner Theodore Roosevelt today, threatening Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad with the big stick if his regime's goon squads ever mess with the U.S. embassy in Damascus again.

"We've been very clear that what we've seen on the part of the Syrian regime has been an unacceptable degree of brutality, directed at its people," Obama said in an interview with the CBS Evening News.

"We've certainly sent a clear message that nobody can be messing with our embassy. And that we will take whatever actions necessary in order to protect our embassy. And I think they've gotten that message," Obama added.

The statement came a day after mobs breached the U.S. and French embassies in the Syrian capital and vandalized the buildings before being chased off by armed guards at both facilities. Three people sustained minor injuries at the French embassy, but staff at the U.S. diplomatic compound were unhurt.

The U.S. blamed the regime for, at the least, allowing the angry crowds to storm those facilities, but did not stop short of suggesting that Assad's government incited the violent protests. The incident highlighted how out of touch Assad and his supporters are amid growing global discontent over their behavior.

"I think that increasingly you're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people. And that's why we've been working at an international level, to make sure that we keep the pressure up -- to see if we can bring some real change in Syria," Obama said.
Obama's tough talk came the same day that the United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks on the French and U.S. embassies in Syria. The Security Council "condemned in the strongest terms the attacks against embassies in the Syrian capital, Damascus," according to a U.N. statement.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari insisted today that the French and Americans were exaggerating details of the mob attacks in Damascus, claiming Syrian authorities "made every effort to ensure the safety of those embassies."

The U.S. and France believe the attacks were payback for their ambassadors showing their support last week for pro-democracy, anti-Assad demonstrators. Both countries have indicated their diplomats will continue to side with the Arab Spring freedom movement, despite the failed attempt at intimidation.

Obama: 70M Social Security, Vets & Disability Checks at Risk if No Deal

Same story, different day as the debt negotiations go on.

The congressional leaders from both parties are back late this afternoon at the White House, but this time facing a stark warning from President Obama, who  says he cannot guarantee that Social Security, veterans benefits or disability checks will go out on Aug. 3 if no deal is reached by Aug. 2.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on Aug. 3 if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley set to air tonight.

Obama, who apparently has not played his lkast wild card in the high-stakes game of political poker, was asked specifically about Social Security, but said the problem is much bigger that that.

"This is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out," Obama said.

As it stands, Obama won't do a short-term deal and the Republicans say they won't do a deal that includes tax increases.

There is evidence that the showdown over raising the debt ceiling is beginning to take a toll on the financial markets, as analysts blame a downturn in most of the global markets overnight, including Wall Street the past two days, on two main concerns: The growing debt crisis in Europe and the debt shenanigans in Washington.

Meanwhile, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), is offering up a scheme that may allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling with a vote, a veto and override vote.

It is a complex plan that the Democrats will first have to review, but at face value it appears to require something that neither side has for the other: Trust.

Karzai's Brother, Drug-Dealer and CIA Informant, Assassinated

U.S. counterterrorism officials say the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was assassinated today by a friend and body guard, will be a loss to intelligence officials in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was shot in his own home by an assassin at close range by Sardar Mohammed. The Taliban is said to be behind the hit. The gunman was cut down immediately by other armed body guards for Karzai.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was a known drug kingpin in Kandahar, dealing mostly in locally grown and processed heroin, but he was also on the CIA payroll.

‎"He was a necessary evil. Many will be glad to see him gone, but security in Kandahar may also take a nose dive," a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told The Baz File.

President Hamid Karzai, at a press conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not seem to be surprised by the news of his half-brother's death.

"This is the life of all Afghan people," Karzai said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by phone to President Karzai today to extend her "deepest condolences to him and to his family."

"The United States condemns this murder in the strongest terms. For too long, the people of Afghanistan have suffered under the threat of violence, intolerance, and extremism," Clinton said.

It harkened back to the assassination earlier this year of the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, who was whacked by one of his machine-gun wielding bodyguards in Islamabad. The turncoat assassin was miffed that Taseer defended a Christian woman sentenced to death.

‎"​You can't hire good help these days, as Karzai's brother and Pakistan's Punjab governor can attest to," the counterterrorism source quipped.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Regime Watched Attacks on U.S. & French Embassy in Damascus

The U.S. and France signaled today their ambassadors in Damascus will continue to monitor the violent crackdown on Syrian civilians by the regime of Bashir al-Assad, which looked the other way when mobs breached the two nations' separate embassy compounds.

The attacks on the embassies prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to denounce Assad in the strongest terms to date, coming very close to publicly embracing regime change for Syria.

"If anyone, including President Assad, thinks that the United States is secretly hoping the regime will emerge from this turmoil to continue its brutality and repression, they are wrong," she said. "President Assad is not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power."

The U.S. and France believes their embassies were attacked to send a message to their respective ambassadors, Robert Ford and Eric Chevallier, who angered the regime when they traveled Thursday to the city of Hama, the epicenter of pro-democracy protests known as a hotbed for widely held anti-Assad sentiment.

Both diplomats were summoned by a livid Syrian foreign ministry, which accused them of "blatant interference in Syrian internal affairs."

The gutsy diplomats sent a signal of their own by visiting Hama: the world is watching, documenting it all and will not forget how the regime unleashed tanks and tortured its own people.

"We remain committed to supporting the will of the Syrian people to have a better future for themselves, have more transparency in their interactions with their own government, to have a say in the future of their own country, to have an economic system that responds to their personal effort, and all the other values that we in the United States and the EU think are reflective of universal human rights," Clinton said.

A Marine garrison eventually chased off the attack by pro-regime "thugs" at the U.S. embassy in Syria, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The attacks on the two embassies came after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged to try to do a better job to protect those diplomatic compounds.

"So no sooner does he make that pledge when, today, we have thugs going over the walls. They did not breach the chancery, but they were able to get up on the roof... They were chased off by the U.S. Marines, as I understand," Nuland said.

"There was some spray painting, there were some windows broken, there were some fruits and vegetables and other things thrown at the building, that they did get up on the roof, there were some security cameras knocked out, that kind of thing," Nuland added, saying the U.S. is considering beefing up its security.

At the French embassy, three staff members were wounded, windows were broken, at least one car damaged and Syrian flags were raised on embassy flagpoles, AFP reported. French embassy guards in Damascus fired live ammunition to disperse the crowd.

Paris denounced the attack, calling it a breach of international law.

Clinton showed little restraint in her remarks, asserting the U.S. opinion that the Assad regime was complicit in the attacks.

"By either allowing or inciting this kind of behavior by these mobs against Americans and French diplomats and their property, they are clearly trying to deflect attention from their crackdown internally and to move the world's view away from what they're doing and to create some kind of ongoing conflict between the Syrians and people like our diplomats," Clinton said.

"And it just doesn't work. We expect them to protect our diplomats. We expect them to protect our embassies and our residences. And we don't think that they are doing enough to evidence a willingness to follow through on their international responsibilities. So we've made abundantly clear what we expect, Clinton added.

France, joined the U.S. in declaring it an outrage that the Syrian government failed to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic facilities.

Ally or not, U.S Gives Saleh His Walking Papers

Yemen's ailing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key ally in the war on terror, is being urged by the U.S. to stay in Saudi Arabia and hand over power to a new government, as the Gulf Cooperation Council has urged.

President Obama's counterterrorism adviser John Brennan visited with Saleh at a Saudi military hospital over the weekend, advising him to sign a deal transferring power. Brennan handed Saleh a letter from Obama that indicated the U.S. leader's support for the Arab Spring freedom movement that has swept out several longtime Arab dictators.

Saleh and Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi are the next despots in line to get the boot.

"During the meeting, Mr. Brennan called upon President Saleh to fulfil expeditiously his pledge to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for peaceful and constitutional political transition in Yemen," a White House the statement said.

"The United States believes that a transition in Yemen should begin immediately so that the Yemeni people can realise their aspirations," thee statement added.

Saleh is recovering from bad burns and other injuries sustained during aJune 3 assassination attempt on his presidential compound in Sanaa, Yemen. In power in Yemen since 1978, Saleh has long allowed U.S. killer drones to fly over his airspace to target suspected members and accomplices of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have been sweating out the demise of Saleh, preferring to look the other way while the unpopular despot tightens his grip on his own people in order to keep him power. But the so-called terror-hunters appear to be on the losing end of that argument.

Pakistan Defiant Over U.S. Aid Cuts

The Pakistani army contends it is committed to fighting terrorists and is surprised the U.S. is suspending $800 million in aid, but a spokesman insists today the cut in military aid during these strained times will have "no significant effect" on anti-terror efforts.

"We will continue our operations as in the past," Gen. Athar Abbas tells the BBC after a top Obama administration official said the U.S. was pulling the purse strings.

Frustrated by duplicitous behavior on the part of Pakistan amid evidence that some officials may have helped hide deceased Al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC"s "This Week" program yesterday that Islamabad had "taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid."

"Obviously, there's still lot of pain that the political system in Pakistan is feeling by virtue of the raid that we did to get Osama Bin Laden, something that the President felt strongly about and we have no regrets over," Daley explained.

The U.S. hands Pakistan $2 billion a year in aid, but amid the decline of the American economy, combined with suspect Pakistani activities, some in Congress say it is time to end that foreign aid.

"Until we get through these difficulties, we will hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them," Daley added.

At the heart of the deteriorating relationship is Pakistan's spy agency, the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, which has ties to militants groups and is believed to have been infiltrated by anti-American terrorist sympathizers.

The U.S. also nbelieves the ISI assassinated Saleem Shahzad, 40, to muzzle his reports that the ISI had been corrupted by Al Qaeda operatives or allies.

Dems Hopeful GOP Will Go For 'Grand Bargain' With Deep Cuts

Updated 3:15 p.m. edt

Even as U.S. financial markets tank, GOP House Speaker John Boehner is steadfastly reversing course and rejecting President Obama's $4 trillion deal that would take a bigger chunk out of the federal debt than any other offer on the table.

"Our disagreements are not personal," Boehner said before heading into another debt negotiation sessions with all the leaders of Congress and Obama."We cannot allow our nation to default on our debt," he admitted.

But Boehner admitted he cannot find enough votes in his party to accept a deal. "The American people will not accept - and the House cannot pass - a bill that raises taxes on job creators," he said.

Meanwhile, insiders tell the Talk Radio New Service that some Republicans look at corporate tax loopholes as corporate welfare, but the prevailing wisdom in the GOP is that wiping those tax breaks out is tantamount to a tax hike.

“Nobody’s fond of loopholes,” a Boehner aide told Talk Radio News Service's Geoff Holtzman.

Apparently House GOP leader Eric Cantor disagrees.

"We don’t believe that we ought to be raising taxes right now on people in this recession and in this economy and they do," said Cantor, who quickly becoming the darling of the Tea Party.

The divide between Boehner and his chief deputy Cantor is surfacing, despite claims from both that it is all kumbaya in their party. Some suspect Cantor has designs on the Speaker's job sooner than later.

The Dow is down about 175 points right now. Some say it is only a taste of what is to come if their is not a compromise.

end update

Updated 12 p.m. edt

President Obama urged Republicans to buck up and make the tough choices needed to cut the $14.3 trillion debt, or admit that they are just playing politics to placate the Tea Party and are not really interested in deficit reduction.

"I do not see a path to the deal if they do not budge," Obama told a news a conference, where he suggested it is time for the GOP to lose the "it's my way or the highway" approach over closing corprater tax loopholes and putting the tax squuze on the middle class.

Obama subtly challenged GOP House Speaker John Boehner to lead his party and take on the cut-frenzied Tea Party -- the way he has taken on the liberals in his party over social security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

"We have these high-minded pronouncements about how we've got to get control of the deficit and how we owe it to our children and our grandchildren.Well, let's step up.Let's do it.I'm prepared to do it," Obama said.  

"I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done.And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing, if they mean what they say, that this is important," Obama added.

Obama firmly took off the table the GOP proposal for a short-term deal, saying he "will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension" as as an alternative.

"If we think it's hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season, when they're all up,"Obama said.

"It's not going to get easier, it's going to get harder.So we might as well do it now; pull off the Band-aid, eat our peas.Now's the time to do it.If not now, when? We keep on talking about this stuff, and, you know," he added.

The President also sought to clear up misinformation on the issue of tax increases.
"I want to be crystal clear.Nobody has talked about increasing taxes now; nobody has talked about increasing taxes next year. What we have talked about is that starting in 2013, that we have gotten rid of some of these egregious loopholes that are benefiting corporate jet owners or oil companies at a time where they're making billions of dollars of profits," Obama explained.  
"What we have said is, as part of a broader package we should have revenues, and the best place to get those revenues are from folks like me, who have been extraordinarily fortunate, and that millionaires and billionaires can afford to pay a little bit more, going back to the Bush tax rates," Obama added.

end update

Democrats remain hopeful that the GOP leadership will take a massive $4 trillion White House deal that will cut more deeply into the federal deficit than any other offer on the table.

Asked at last night's 75-minute White House meeting with the bipartsan leaders of the House and Senate whether a deal can be worked out in the next 10 days, President Obama responded,"We need to."

The congressional leaders will be back at the White House today for more talks a few hours after Obama assembles the White House press corps for a late-morning news conference.

"We came into this weekend with the prospect that we could achieve a grand bargain," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after last night's meeting. "We are still hopeful for a large bipartisan agreement, which means more stability for our economy, more growth and jobs, and more deficit reduction over a longer period of time."

But rank and file Republicans, led by the Tea Party Caucus, are holding the line against allowing corporate tax loopholes or any tax increases for the rich to be part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling, before financial markets start going haywire when the U.S. starts defaulting on its debts payments.

"If you draw out the entire scenario of default, yes, of course, you have all of that -- interest hikes, stock markets taking a huge hit and real nasty consequences, not just for the United States, but for the entire global economy, because the U.S. is such a big player and matters so much for other countries," International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde told ABC's This Week" program.

But even the threat of hurting the Wall Street fat cats that line mostly GOP pockets (though the Democrats get their share too), or disrupting the volatile global financial markets has not been enough to get the GOP to back off its refusal to tap revenue streams to take a bite out of the deficit.

"We have got to be able to deliver on this promise, that we are going to get more cuts that what we raise in terms of the debt ceiling, and make sure that gets done with no tax increases," House GOP leader Eric Cantor said right before the meeting."

Brad Dayspring, Cantor's spokesman, admitted late last night on Twitter that "tax increases that Dems are insisting upon cannot pass the House." It appeared to confirm Democrats complaints that the GOP leadership was being rolled by its rank and file.

So in an about-face, Republicans are insisting that they want to take a smaller debt reduction framework that cuts around $2.5 trillion that they claim Vice President Biden had offered in his negotiations.

However, Republicans, led by Cantor, walked away from those talks and now seem to be retreating to them in an effort to protect corporate tax loopholes and keep the wealthiest Americans from paying more in taxes.

Democrats scoffed at the pull back, with Senate Democratic Policy spokesman Brian Fallon questioning on Twitter if the Biden deal was so good, "Then why did Cantor quit?"

The proposed cuts in funding come as thousands of government jobs are already being lost, forcing some communities and states to consider raising taxes to pay for basic services.

The taxpayers have watched the federal debt skyrocket under the last two Presidents. The national debt was $5.73 trillion when ex-President George W. Bush took office, but when he left, it was $10.7 trillion, ballooning by $4.97 trillion, according to fact-checking service PolitiFact.

The federal debt now stands at $14.3 trillion under Obama, a result of the Wall Street and auto industry bailouts, a massive stimulus plan, the loss of middle class revenue, and the two wars that cost so much during the Bush administration.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Boehner Admits He'll Bag Big Budget Deal to Protect Corporations & Rich

House Speaker John Boehner vowed tonight to protect corporate tax loopholes and the rich even if it means foregoing a massive $4 trillion deficit reduction deal that would take a significant chunk out of the $14.3 trillion national debt.

"Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes," (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure."

Foremost, the White House has said it wants to eliminate tax breaks for hugely profitable industries, rejecting the GOP philosophy of putting the  burden of revenue-raising on the middle class.

Some in the administration readily admit that President Obama's decision to extend tax breaks for the rich last year has failed to create jobs, but instead inspired the GOP to seek more boodle for the corporations and the rich, the chief financiers of their party -- even amid a fiscal crisis that is killing Main Street Americans.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer argues that the majority of Americans want the wealthiest Americans and special interests to stop squeezing every extra penny out of the Middle Class to subsidize their opulent lifestyles. 

"The President believes that solving our fiscal problems is an economic imperative. But in order to do that, we cannot ask the middle-class and seniors to bear all the burden of higher costs and budget cuts," Pfeiffer said in a statement issued this evening.

"Both parties have made real progress thus far, and to back off now will not only fail to solve our fiscal challenge, it will confirm the cynicism people have about politics in Washington," he added.

Boehner issued the statement on eve of crucial debt celling talks tomorrow at the White House. Obama hopes the Speaker will rethink his play and take a deal that will cut deeply into the federal deficit.

The Tour de France Hits The Mountains

Updated 2 p.m. edt Sunday

Addendum on the weekend in Massif Central: The general classification superstars did not attack on the climbs, so for them the lead was virtually unchanged. However, kudos to Thor Hushovd who defied the odds and climbed Super-Besse with the mountain goats to hang onto the yellow leader's jersey through today.

Alas for the world champion, the rouleur Thomas Voeckler prevailed on a day of horrific crashes to capture the yellow jersey today in a beautiful breakaway. It is always welcomed to see a Frenchman like Voeckler in yellow in the home race. Vive le France!

So the peloton gets a rest day tomorrow and a couple of rolling stages on Tuesday and Wednesday.

And finally, the massive Pyrenean ascents of Le Tourmalet et Luz-Ardiden call to the GC riders on Bastille Day!

Fireworks, s'il vous plait?

Vive le Tour de France!


Rarely visited by the peloton of Le Tour de France, the mountains of the French Massif Central are front and center today.

So why wait for Bastille day? Let the fireworks begin.

Dwarfed by the famous ascents that the Tour de France showcases each year in the Pyrenees and Alps, the Massif Central presents defending Tour Champion Alberto Contador with the potential to strike and cut into the dangerous lead the elite contenders in the General Classification now hold over the Spanish superstar. 

"I think the Massif Central could be important," Contador's Team Saxo manager Bjarne Riis spouted cryptically on the eve of the first of two days in those small mountains.  

"In themselves the stages are not too difficult, but they are likely to have a big effect in terms of fatigue," said Riis, who wore the leader's yellow jersey when the Tour visited these mountains in 1996. 

Although Contador was more focused, before the start of the race, on the three consecutive stages in the Pyrenees that begin on Bastille Day, he may have to alter his strategy and make a move during today's first mountaintop finish of the 2011 Le Grande Boucle.

Contador must regain some of the time lost on Stage One when he got behind a pile-up of riders who fell like dominoes and cost him a minute and 20 seconds. In the Stage Two team time trial his Saxo team finished eighth, losing him a few more seconds to top GC contenders Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Andreas Kloden. 

"Contador will try to gain time where he can. All the GC guys have been keeping their powder dry up till now, but tomorrow could be different," Rabobank team manager Erik Breukink predicted.

"That's where the race will start for some of the favorites," Breukink told Agence France Press. 

Today's Stage Eight starts in Aigurande and there are two Category 4 climbs and a Category 2 ascent at the Croix St Robert immediately before the final slog up the Category 3 Super-Besse mountaintop finish.

The final climb of the day stretches for 7.2 km, has an average gradient of 3.95%, with a maximum of grade of 8.4%. Super-Besse was the opening mountaintop finish in 2008, the last time the peloton crossed the Massif Central. Riccardo Ricco won the stage, but he was later stripped of the win when he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Others also may be desperate to light it up on this stage, as well.

Andy Schleck's inability to compete in the individual time trial with the likes of Contador, Evans or Kloden may be reason enough for him to attack on the modest climbs of the Massif Central.

Schleck will have to attack at some point if he is going to offset his ITT deficit, but his Leopard Trek team manager Brian Nygaard warned "some teams will be hesitant to expend energy"  this weekend, especially those with top contenders.

"If you burn too many matches in the Massif Central it could leave you struggling later in the race," Nygaard warned.

Even Evans, who won Stage Four and is showing outstanding form, could make a move to consolidate a lead among the top tier GC contenders. 

"Super-Besse is a climb that suits him well as does the next stage in St Flour. And obviously, if we're in a position to take the jersey we're not going to stop before the line not to get it," Evans's BMC team director John Lelangue told Reuters.

As for American hopes, Christian Vande Velde, the top U.S. GC rider at this point, needs to make up about two minutes on the top contenders, so also has to consider attacking today.

And what of Levi Leipheimer? The American racer on Team Radio Shack is about four minutes behind the other elite leaders after a series of crashes and mechanical problems. He has said he will work for his teammate Kloden, but if he has the legs this would be his last chance to regain some time. 

Team Radio Shack, which had four potential GC contenders at the start, has been decimated. One of the four leaders, Janez Brajkovic retired from the race on Stage Five, after a violent crash left him motionless on the deck to many scary minutes.

American Chris Horner, another designated leader on the Shack team, also dinged his head in a bloody crash yesterday and had to be taken away to the hospital in a stretcher. Somehow Horner managed to finish the race, but did not immediately recall those final 20 miles of riding after his nasty tumble.

Horner finished the stage in last place at 12 minutes 41 seconds behind  behind the day's winner Mark Cavendish.

"It remains unclear whether Team RadioShack's Chris Horner will be able to start in stage 8 of the Tour de France," a radio Shack team statement said. "That decision will be made on Saturday morning...  A concussion, a nose fracture and a calf hematoma were diagnosed."

In total, the Shack's Horner, Leipheimer, Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych, and Spaniards Haimar Zubeldia and Markel Irizar all crashed yesterday. Only Kloden, who is 10 seconds behind in the overall classification, remained upright and is the only contender now among the four pre-race team leaders.

Tomorrow's Stage Nine is made for a strong-legged rouleur, like German elder statesman Jens Voigt, or perhaps a mountain goat climber, like Sammy Sanchez. There are eight climbs tomorrow: three Category 2s, three Catergory 3s and two Cat 4s. It is a rolling ride to the flat(ish) finish line.

As for the man who is defending Yellow for a sixth day, could the world champion and two-time TDF green jersey winner Thor Hushovd make a desperate break today or tomorrow? Might the God of Thunder try to do something that surprisingly keeps him in the yellow leaders jersey?

"(Today) is going to be too hard for me to stay in yellow, but I'm going to do my best to hang on to just to show respect for the jersey," Hushovd told Versus.

Friday, July 8, 2011

With NATO's Help, Rebels Again Advance Toward Tripoli

The Libyan rebels are a step closer today to their dream of a pincer maneuver that would lay siege on Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Tripoli on two fronts -- a move that would also likely trigger an uprising by that city's sleeper underground. 

NATO warplanes bombed Gadhafi's armored columns near the garrison city of Gharyan southwest of Tripoli, allowing the rebels' French-armed Nafusa Division to advance within 50 miles of the capital, Agence France Press reported.  

To the east, at least two brigades from Misurata moved within eight miles of Zlitan, another heavily fortified Gadhafi stronghold.

"The rebels are waiting for NATO backup or for Gaddafi forces to run out of ammunition to make a move to take the city centre," a rebel sympathizer said in an email sent to Reuters.

The main rebel army's tactics have become much clearer in recent days. While they  get a bad rap for getting hung up along the coastal oil patch towns around Brega to the east that force is in fact occupying Gadhafi loyalists that otherwise would be engaged in Misurata. 

The eastern army got a boost overnight when NATO warplanes struck oil depots at Brega, cutting off needed fuel supplies for Gadhafi's lingering forces.

"By depriving Gadhafi of fuel we are depriving him of mobility," British Navy Rear Adm. Russ Harding told The Independent of London. "We have seen his forces drive deep down into the desert to pick up supplies, pick up ammunition."