Total Pageviews

Sunday, 31 July 2011

'Very close' to a debt deal, Senate's top Republican tells CNN

  • NEW: $3 trillion deal would include $2.4 trillion increase in debt ceiling, GOP source says
  • NEW: The mood is "relief that we won't default," Schumer says
  • The deal under negotiation would extend the debt limit through 2012
  • Congress must raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Tuesday or risk default
What will it take to find a solution to the U.S. debt crisis? Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon break down the hurdles and options in "GET IT DONE -- Countdown to Debt Crisis," a CNN special report Sunday night at 9 ET on CNN.
Washington (CNN) -- Democrats and Republicans are "very close" to reaching a $3 trillion deal on the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"We had a very good day yesterday," the Kentucky Republican said, adding that the two sides "made dramatic progress."
With the deadline to reach a debt ceiling agreement just two days away, congressional leaders and the White House are mulling parts of a tentative deal that would extend the debt limit through next year.
A Republican source close to the negotiations told CNN the goal is $3 trillion in savings, and that the deal would include a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling.
Sen. Schumer: Still no deal
Reid, McConnell spar over debt progress
Debt ceiling crisis continues
Pelosi: GOP bill 'perfectly absurd'
Just hours before, two other sources familiar with the negotiations had told CNN late Saturday night that the framework for the emerging deal called for up to $2.8 trillion in total deficit reduction over the next decade.
The plan, parts of which are still being negotiated by the White House and bipartisan congressional leaders, would allow the debt ceiling to be raised by enough to last at least through the end of 2012.
The debt limit would be increased in two stages, both of which would occur automatically -- a key Democratic demand that would prevent a repeat of the current crisis before the next election.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, told "State of the Union" that the mood on Capitol Hill is "relief that we won't default."
While nothing is definite yet because there is no final agreement, "default is a lot less of a possibility now than it was a day ago," he said, adding that "leaders are talking in a constructive way."
The agreement includes upfront spending cuts in the range of roughly $1 trillion, the sources said Saturday night. A special congressional committee would recommend additional spending reductions of up to $1.8 trillion no later than Thanksgiving.
"I think I can pretty confidently say" that the current plan under discussion will provide a debt ceiling increase to avoid default, McConnell said Sunday.
McConnell added that he is "very very close to being able ... to recommend to my members that this is something that they ought to support."
The deal will not include tax increases, he said.
Debt fight shows tea party's influence - so far
If Congress fails to approve the recommended cuts by late December, automatic, across-the-board cuts -- including both defense and Medicare -- would take effect.
News of a possible deal came shortly after the Senate delayed consideration of Majority Leader Harry Reid's debt ceiling proposal late Saturday night, pushing back a key procedural vote by 12 hours.
The vote to stop debate and end a GOP filibuster on the plan will now take place at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.
Reid, D-Nevada, said he was asking for a delay to provide additional time for negotiations underway at the White House.
There are "many elements to be finalized" and still "a distance to go," Reid said. "We should give everyone as much room as possible to do their work."
Reid's announcement capped a day of sharp partisan voting in the House and extended talks behind closed doors between congressional and administration officials. Concern continued to grow that Congress will fail to raise the nation's debt ceiling in time to avoid a potentially devastating national default this week.
Earlier Saturday, the Republican-controlled House rejected Reid's plan -- partisan payback for the Democratic-controlled Senate's rejection of GOP House Speaker John Boehner's plan Friday night.
House members rejected Reid's plan in a 173-246 vote. Most Democrats supported the measure; every Republican voted against it.
Opinion: Why the GOP is more a two-part "coalition" than a party
One Democratic source cited concern among congressional Democrats that Obama could be close to cutting a deal with Republicans at their expense.
If Congress fails to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Tuesday, Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems.
Some financial experts have warned of a downgrade of America's triple-A credit rating and a potential stock market plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped for a sixth straight day on Friday.
Without an increase in the debt limit, the federal government will not be able to pay all its bills next month. Obama recently indicated he can't guarantee Social Security checks will be mailed out on time.
GOP leader 'confident' debt deal on horizon
Worried about debt ceiling
Sen. Hutchison speaks about debt crisis
Tea Party view of debt ceiling fight
For their part, Republicans continued to trumpet Boehner's proposal. The measure cleared the House Friday, but only after a one-day delay during which the speaker was forced to round up support from wary tea party conservatives. Boehner's deal with conservatives -- which added a provision requiring congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in order to raise the debt limit next year -- was sharply criticized by Democrats, who called it a political nonstarter.
Democratic leaders vehemently object not only to the balanced budget amendment, but also the GOP's insistence that a second debt ceiling vote be held before the next election. They argue that reaching bipartisan agreement on another debt ceiling hike during an election year could be nearly impossible, and that short-term extensions of the limit could further destabilize the economy.
Leaders of both parties now agree that any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include long-term spending reductions to help control spiraling deficits. But they have differed on both the timetable and requirements tied to certain cuts.
TIME: Top Four Red Herrings of the Debt Debate
Both the Reid and Boehner plans suffered setbacks last week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released reports concluding that they fell short of their stated deficit reduction goals.
Boehner's plan, which has since been revised, proposed generating a total of $917 billion in savings while initially raising the debt ceiling by $900 billion. The speaker has pledged to match any debt ceiling hike with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts.
His plan, however, would require a second vote by Congress to raise the debt ceiling by a combined $2.5 trillion -- enough to last through the end of 2012. It would create a special congressional committee to recommend additional savings of $1.6 trillion or more.
Any failure on the part of Congress to enact mandated spending reductions or abide by new spending caps would trigger automatic across-the-board budget cuts.
The plan, as amended Friday, also calls for congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment before the second vote to raise the debt ceiling, which would likely be required at some point during the winter.
As for Reid's plan, a revised version he proposed Friday would reduce deficits over the next decade by $2.4 trillion and raise the debt ceiling by a similar amount. It includes $1 trillion in savings based on the planned U.S. withdrawals from military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reid's plan also would establish a congressional committee made up of 12 House and Senate members to consider additional options for debt reduction. The committee's proposals would be guaranteed by a Senate vote with no amendments by the end of the year.
In addition, it incorporates a process based on a proposal by McConnell that would give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling in two steps while providing Congress the opportunity to vote its disapproval.
Among other things, Reid has stressed that his plan meets the key GOP demand for no additional taxes. Boehner, however, argued last week that Reid's plan fails to tackle popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, which are among the biggest drivers of the debt.
Zakaria: Damage is already done
A recent CNN/ORC International Poll reveals a growing public exasperation and demand for compromise. Sixty-four percent of respondents to a July 18-20 survey preferred a deal with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Only 34% preferred a debt reduction plan based solely on spending reductions.
According to the poll, the public is sharply divided along partisan lines; Democrats and independents are open to a number of different approaches because they think a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause a major crisis for the country. Republicans, however, draw the line at tax increases, and a narrow majority of them oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Karakoram Highway

The Karakoram Highway is one of those legendary roads to travel in Asia. The name implies it's a big 2 or 4 way street. In fact, it's not even close to a "highway" but it is a road. This road is the road that connects Pakistan to China, for many years. It's a magnificent road!
Terrific views on the Karakoram Highway
Terrific views on the Karakoram Highway
I know, I should be more precise, the Karakoram Highway, or KKH as it is known starts actually in Abbottabad. Up to this town the road is 4 way street and pretty busy.
The legend of the KKH is long and spectacular. Everybody has heard of the legendary Silk Road. As the legend goes, it was the road where silk was transported from China to Europe. The truth of the Silk Road is slightly different.
Trucks on the Karakoram Highway Pakistan
Trucks like this one all the time passing by
In the old days there were no merchants traveling the whole route. In fact, silk and other goods from China were transported via different roads, which includes the legendary road Marco Polo traveled. However, goods were usually traded in cities on the roads going west and south (looking from Chinese perspective.
Therefore we can't say there was one Silk Road. In fact, there were many. The Karakoram Highway as we know the road nowadays was one of those Silk Roads. From Kashgar (or Kashi as it is known in China) goods were transported over the Khunjarab Pass to the lower lands of the western Indian subcontinent. It was a hard and dangerous road. And even today, it's still a hard road.
KKH near Pasu...
KKH near Pasu...
I have traveled the Karakoram Highway two times. It's a beautiful experience. As said above, the road starts in Abbottabad and goes north following the Indus to the Khunjarab Pass.
The last 15 kilometers are hairpin curves to the pass and then the road swindles down to a more widespread open land with mountains surrounding and gorgeous lakes. In my humble opinion, some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen where on this road.
One of the many over 6000 meter peaks around the KKH
One of the many over 7000 meter peaks around the KKH
Most people start in Islamabad and cycle from there on a modern 4 way street to Abbottabad, the official starting point of the Karakoram Highway.
Although it was late in the season, I tried my luck in going first to Murree, a little formerly British Hill Station. The idea was to cycle to Muzzafarabad and then go west to the Karakoram Highway. Here you can read my adventures at the Karakoram Highway to Murree
When I arrived at Abbottabad, I had the long Karakoram Highway in front of me. Here's a few lines about my journey to Chilas.
Hunza Valley
Hunza Valley, if paradise ever existed... it might have been here
The next leg would bring me to Gilgit. It's important to know Gilgit in in fact the last city of any size in Pakistan. The next sizable city is Tashkorgan, hundreds of kilometers away.
Supplies can be found further on the KKH in Hunza or Sost but more major things, you have to buy here in Gilgit. There are no descent bicycle shops in Gilgit, as there are none on the whole Karakoram Highway. But if necessary, you could do some very basic repairs in the local bike shops in Gilgit. Don't expect high quality material, the main tool for a bicycle repairman is the hammer.
Karimabad Hunza Valley Karakoram Highway Hunza Karimabad
This man made his instruments himself,
a master musician despite he just poses for the photo here

The northern Karakoram Highway

I usually say to people: "If paradise has existed, Hunza with Karimabad as it's center could be one of the possible places". Hunza is beautiful, surrounded by several 6000 meter plus mountains along the Indus river it has a long history.
The Karakorum mountain range, on the way to Gilgit
The Karakoram mountain range in December
Further north, the Karakoram Highway follows the Indus all the way to Sost. Here's the Pakistan border post. From here on the road slowly starts swindling up to the physical border. Pakistani and Chinese soldiers keep an eye on the road. After passing the physical border it's another long way to the Chinese customs in Tashkorgan.
The country side you're traveling in now is open and mostly empty though nomads still live here. One of the most beautiful lakes I ever saw, Karakul Lake is a great place to camp, though not in winter!

The Karakoram Pass (Hindi: क़राक़रम दर्रा, 5,540 m (18,176 ft))[1] is a mountain pass between India and China in the Karakoram Range. It is the highest pass on the ancient caravan route between Leh in Ladakh and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin. 'Karakoram' literally means 'Black Gravel' in Turkic.[2]
The high altitude and lack of fodder was responsible for the deaths of countless pack animals, and the route across the pass was notorious for the trail of bones strewn along the way.[3] There is an almost total absence of vegetation on the approaches to the pass.[4]
To the south was the barren and feared three days' march across the Depsang Plains at about 5,300 m (17,400 ft).[5] To the north, the country was somewhat less desolate before one had to cross the relatively easy and lower Suget Dawan (or Suget Pass)[6] before reaching the lush grazing grounds around Shahidullah or Xaidulla in the upper valley of the Karakash River.
The pass is in a saddle between two mountains and about 45 metres (148 ft) wide. There is no vegetation or icecap and it is generally free of snow due to the winds. Temperatures are low, there are often very high winds, blizzards are frequent, and the extreme altitude took its toll. In spite of all this, the Karakoram Pass was considered a relatively easy pass due to the gradual ascent on both sides, and lack of summer snow and ice much of the year. Consequently, the pass was open throughout most of the year.[7] There is no motorable road across the pass, and the pass currently remains closed to all traffic.

10 Awesome Caricatures

Patrick Strogulski makes some stunning caricatures, as you can see in the examples posted here. He is from Germany and he does fast caricatures and also many more elaborated  works. Enjoy.

Brad Pitt:

Leo DiCaprio:

Michelle Obama:

Christoph Walz:

Robin Williams:

Quentin Tarantino:

Naomi Campbell:

Denis Hopper:

Alfred Hitchcock:

Morgan Freeman:

10 Awesome Sets of Illustrations

In this post we will share with you 10 awesome sets of illustrations for your inspiration. We have a lot of respect for the artists who made these brilliant illustrations. They all have imagination, creative minds and very good skills.


Tiago Hoisel:

Julie Dillon:

Christina Tsevis:

Fantastic Worlds by Jon Foster:

Illustrations by 1000Tentacles:

Bram Lee:

Pablo Domeniconi:

Digital Illustration Mix by Max Kostenko:

Denis Zilber: