President Barack Obama is demanding a $1.1 trillion “ransom”–or else he will not allow the debt ceiling to be raised. That’s the effective offer on the table from the president and Senate Democrats. They have now refused to pass a “clean” short-term debt ceiling hike unless Republicans agree to reverse the “sequester” spending cuts in the 2011 Budget Control Act that were enacted–at Obama’s suggestion–to end the last debt ceiling crisis.

The president, who has invited congressional leaders to conduct talks at the White House Monday afternoon, still continues to insist that he “will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening the government and raising the debt limit.” Yet he and his party are the ones insisting on a “ransom,” now that Republicans appear to be in the mood to compromise after opinion poll results last week showed them losing politically in the showdown.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has claimed that the sequester dispute means that Democrats and Republicans are only $70 billion apart in budget negotiations. That is a blatant lie, as the total value of the sequester over ten years is $1.1 trillion. Democrats do not want a reprieve for one year–they want the entire sequester canceled so that they can continue spending on such priorities as the annual cowboy poetry festival in Nevada.

Last week, President Obama asked the press to “imagine if a Democratic Congress threatened to crash the global economy unless a Republican president agreed to gun background checks or immigration reform.” Now the White House and a Democrat-controlled Senate are threatening exactly that–unless Republicans agree to fork over $1.1 trillion, paid for with new “revenues” (i.e. taxes) on the American people. Ransom, indeed.


Washington Navy Yard: Security clearance given to Aaron Alexis despite recent history of mental illness

The U.S. navy is facing searching questions after it emerged that the gunman who killed 12 people in the Washington Navy Yard was given a security clearance despite a recent history of mental illness and arrests for firing guns in anger.

As police finished formally identifying the victims of Monday’s shootings, U.S. officials said that as recently as last month Alexis had been treated in a veterans’ hospital after hearing voices in his head.

Police reports also showed that Alexis had spent time in jail for disorderly conduct in 2008 and twice been arrested for shooting a gun in a moment of rage – in one incident sending a bullet through the ceiling of his flat in Texas after a row with a noisy neighbour. “How could a man with that kind of a background end up getting the necessary security clearance for a military contractor to go into this navy yard?” Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat demanded to know on the floor of the Senate.

The FBI confirmed that Alexis, who was working as an IT contractor upgrading computers for the Marine Corps, was able to use a legitimate work pass to drive into the Washington Navy Yard, one of the U.S. navy’s five main command centres, and had acted alone.

The U.S. navy announced a worldwide review of security at its bases yesterday. The FBI also confirmed that Alexis began shooting just after 8.20am armed only with a shotgun that he reportedly purchased legally in the neighbouring state of Virginia last week.

Widespread reports from witnesses that Alexis had been armed with an AR-15, the same semi-automatic rifle used in the Newtown massacre, were dismissed by the FBI, which said it had “no information” that he was armed with the controversial weapon. It added that Alexis may have picked up a Glock handgun from the scene after he began shooting. Providing further details of the gun battle that ensued, police said that five “active shooter” units armed with AR-15 rifles had been on the scene within two minutes, and were outside the doors to building 197 inside the Navy Yard within seven minutes.

There were “multiple engagements” between Alexis and the police, added Cathy Lanier, the chief of Washington, D.C., police. She said she was unsure how long it took until the final shots were fired but added: “I would say it’s more than a half an hour from start to finish.” It also emerged that Alexis had been cited for misconduct eight times during his four year-career as a navy reservist, including one incident where he hurled obscenities after being thrown out of a nightclub.