Sunday, May 8, 2011

Last Call

Hey guys, Libya, remember them?  The Libyan rebellion is all but functionally over, folks.  The coming NATO/US ground war is now all but certain.

Libyan government forces destroyed four fuel storage tanks and set several others ablaze in rebel-held Misrata, dealing a blow to the port city's ability to withstand a government siege, rebels said on Saturday.

The attack on the western city came as artillery rounds fired by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fell in Tunisia in an escalation of fighting near the border with rebels trying to end Gaddafi's rule of more than four decades.

Misrata, the last remaining city in the west under rebel control, has been under siege for more than two months and has witnessed some of the war's fiercest fighting.

Rebels gave varying accounts of the bombardment but said it hit fuel used for export as well as domestic consumption.

"Four (fuel) tanks were totally destroyed and a huge fire erupted which spread now to the other four. We cannot extinguish it because we do not have the right tools," rebel spokesman Ahmed Hassan told Reuters.

"Now the city will face a major problem. Those were the only sources of fuel for the city. These tanks could have kept the city for three months with enough fuel," he said by telephone.

No fuel means no way to survive the siege and no way to defend the city from the ground.  At this point it's only a matter of time before Qaddafi's forces roll into the last rebel city and end this revolution with a bloody massacre.  Qaddafi has all but won this war short of a major international intervention, and that intervention will now have to include ground forces.

And you can bet that will be coming.  The siege of Misrata has all but broken the Libyan rebels.  Things are about to get very, very ugly.

The Laboratory Of Democracy Has A Chemical Spill

Florida's Republicans, with an unstoppable super-majority in the state legislature and Rick Scott in the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee have just bet their careers on Randian social economics.

A bill that would establish some of the deepest and most far-reaching cuts in unemployment benefits in the nation is heading for the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed the compromise measure just before the legislative session ended Friday night.

The legislation would cut maximum state benefits to 23 weeks from 26 when the jobless rate is 10.5 percent or higher.

If lower, the maximum would decline on a sliding scale until bottoming at 12 weeks if the jobless rate was 5 percent or less.

Both chambers were agreeable to a sliding scale, but the House wanted to cut the maximum to 20 weeks while the Senate wanted to keep it at 26.

The benefit reduction is expected to cut unemployment taxes paid by employers, but not until next year.

Florida has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, 11.5 percent, and already had some of the lowest unemployment benefits.

Critics called the legislation cruel and wrongheaded. But its supporters — including the bill’s sponsor, Representative Doug Holder, Republican of Sarasota — argued that it was needed to help businesses and to aid job creation. 

So there you are.  The best way to create jobs?  Cut off jobless benefits, then people will have to get jobs, so jobs will be created.  Or something.  Scott will certainly sign the bill, and since businesses will have to pay less in taxes, they will certainly use it to invest in job creation, right?

Well, there is that nasty demand problem of the American people not having enough money to buy extra things and cutting back on spending while paying down debt, so there's no extra demand for goods and services to justify creation of additional jobs, but if we increase business profits, that will do something, right?

So if this theory is correct, if the problem in job creation is lazy workers not taking tens of thousands of open jobs, then Florida's unemployment rate should plummet back to well under 7% and Florida should soon have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

We'll see how that works out.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Angry Black Lady asks:

I’m at a loss. This story hurts my soul and explodes my brain. When did women cease being people? When did we become merely penis receptacles and baby incubators?

About the time Republicans (and particularly conservative Republican women) decided that failing to do either of these constitutes a failure of not only womanhood, but personhood as well and that across the country, the chief aim of the "small government" Republican Party in 2011 is to enshrine into law on a state-by-state basis what women must do with their reproductive systems.

Waiting For Employment Godot

The Washington Post editorial board has some helpful advice on preventing structural unemployment.

NEW DATA CONFIRM that the economy continues to recover slowly from the worst recession since the 1930s. Good news: The private sector generated 268,000 jobs in April, the most since February 2006. Bad news: The unemployment rate remains stuck at 9 percent of the workforce, up from 8.8 percent in March. But, good news: The higher rate reflects job-seekers reentering the market because their prospects are better.

The main point is that unemployment remains well above what it should be; the longer this persists, the more we risk a “new normal” of structural unemployment, which is a fancy term for elevated human suffering and snowballing economic waste. We dare not let this happen. The question, though, is how to generate the new jobs.

Big new fiscal and monetary stimulus is probably not the answer...

Mmm, delicious Hayekian principles.   We dare not let structural unemployment happen, but actually doing something about it is off the table.  Here's the rest of their plan:

1)  Do nothing about the risk of structural unemployment.

2)  ????????


Which, if you look at the 1Q 2011 numbers coming in for business profits, why this is exactly what's happening, except, you know, for the actual jobs part.  The profit part?  Well that's down cold.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The right is pretty desperate at this point to try to do everything they can to rob President Obama of all credit for bin Laden, and giving him 110% of the blame for everything else.  Case in point:  John Hindraker.

All of this praise is due to the fact that Obama approved, rather than nixing, the killing of bin Laden. A good decision, to be sure. But is there a single person, anywhere, who doubts that George W. Bush would have made the same call? Or John McCain, if he had won in 2008? Of course not. The Democrats' jubilation results from the fact that their guy didn't wilt under pressure, but rather lived up to the standard that George W. Bush and John McCain easily met. For this, he is called "courageous" and "gutsy."

One wonders: if killing bin Laden was a courageous, gutsy decision by Barack Obama, where were the liberals when President Bush approved the killing of Zarqawi? Do you remember any of them praising that decision as courageous and "game changing?" No, neither do I. Or how about the apprehension of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? How many congratulations did that skillfully-executed operation draw from the Left? And how about Bush's decision to topple, and then capture, Saddam Hussein, one of America's bitterest enemies, whose forces tried to shoot down American airplanes and who attempted to assassinate a former American President? Was that a courageous and gutsy decision? We all know the answer to that question.

What we are currently witnessing is the strange spectacle of liberals trying to grab, for their guy, a mantle neither he nor they ever sought: cold-blooded assassin of anti-American terrorists. This has nothing to do with their true values and priorities, and everything to do with the fact that Obama's economic policies have put him in a deep hole as he seeks re-election next year.

Let's break this down, shall we?

John's first point is that there "isn't a single person who doubts" that Bush 43 or McCain would have made the same call, so you can't give Obama any credit for emulating what Republicans would have been sure to do.  The problem is that isn't true:  there's plenty of evidence to doubt that Bush or McCain would have even bothered to pursue bin Laden in the first place.  In the case of Bush 43, this is cold hard fact:  He directed the CIA's bin Laden hunters, the famed "Alec Station" unit, to shut down in 2006.  Bush gave up the hunt for OBL.  Obama restarted it.  We know Bush would have blown that "gutsy" call because that's exactly what he did.  And as far as John McCain is concerned, he said during the 2008 campaign that as President, he wouldn't go into Pakistan to get bin Laden.  He said that during a presidential debate against Obama, and he said it again later on Larry King, after saying he would pursue OBL during the Republican primary:

KING: If you were president and knew that bin Laden was in Pakistan, you know where, would you have U.S. forces go in after him?

MCCAIN: Larry, I'm not going to go there and here's why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation. I think the Pakistanis would want bin Laden out of their hair and out of their country and it's causing great difficulties in Pakistan itself.

So here is John McCain himself saying that he would in fact not make the call Obama did.  But in John Hindraker's world, there's not a single person who would doubt that McCain would.

His second point is to then compare Obama's actions and wanting to know why the left doesn't give Bush the same credit for giving the orders to take down al-Zarqawi, KSM, and of course, Saddam Hussein.  If I recall, while all of those three men were evil killers, none of the three of them killed 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001.  Bush took his focus off bin Laden to invade Iraq, at the cost of thousands of US troops and trillions of US dollars, to settle a personal score (oh and to get oil.)  There was nothing gutsy or courageous about any of that, because all three represented Bush's failure to get OBL, period

His final point:  Obama's just trying to distract voters from "his" failed economic policies.  Conservatives say we need to do three things:  cut government spending, eliminate government jobs in favor of private sector jobs, and keep taxes low.  Which is funny, because that's exactly what we're doing, and yet the economy has yet to improve for 80% of the country.  Obama extended the Bush tax cuts and tax breaks for businesses.  Local and state governments are laying off tens of thousands of employees each month, and private sector job growth is increasing.  And the talk in Washington is that Republicans will cut spending come hell or high water.  But these are "Obama's failed economic policies"...doing exactly what Republicans want him to do.

It's getting to the point where the right is beyond classless, but simply ignoring basic facts in order to try to justify the failures of the Bush administration.

It's pathetic, really.  All they have left is Obama Derangement Syndrome and a firm believe nobody will even bother to call them on it.  Well, sorry there, Johnny.

Home Movies Of The Damned

The CIA and Pentagon released a number of home videos taken of Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan and recovered in the raid that killed him last Sunday.

U.S. officials, who Saturday released five videos, emphasized the recordings and other materials seized at bin Laden's Pakistan compound show the terrorist still had a firm hand atthe tiller, managing strategic and tactical control of his organization, even as he stayed out of sight in Abbottabad.

The undated videos make clear bin Laden "remained active in al Qaeda terrorist propaganda operations, especially in shaping his own image," said a senior intelligence official granted anonymity under the ground rules of a briefing at the Pentagon.

Four of the clips show bin Laden, who was killed along with four others Monday by U.S. commandos, in more formal attire. No audio of the terrorist leader speaking accompanied the images.

The intelligence official said the audio was removed because it would be "inappropriate to spread the words of terrorists and propaganda messages, especially Osama bin Laden."

Besides the missing audio, the videos, according to the intelligence official, were not altered in any other way.

Still, the release of the home movies sends a message to those who doubted bin Laden was killed: Navy SEALs got footage that likely could have been held only by bin Laden at his hideout.

It may also have accomplished something else: diminishing the bin Laden mythology of invincibility.
CNN national security contributor Frances Townsend said U.S. officials "picked these videos pretty deliberately."

Portions are unflattering of bin Laden and reflect his vanity, Townsend said.

And yet as unflattering as the videos are, we still spent trillions of dollars as a direct result of our reaction to his attack on 9/11.  Victory does not get more Pyrrhic than that.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you’re looking at yet another trillion. And don’t forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.

Then there’s the post-9/11 slowdown in the economy, the time wasted in airports, the foregone returns on investments we didn’t make, the rise in oil prices as a result of the Iraq War, the cost of rebuilding Ground Zero, health care for the first responders and much, much more.

But it isn’t quite right to say bin Laden cost us all that money. We decided to spend more than a trillion dollars on homeland security measures to prevent another attack. We decided to invade Iraq as part of a grand, post-9/11 strategy of Middle Eastern transformation. We decided to pass hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts and add an unpaid-for prescription drug benefit in Medicare while we were involved in two wars. And now, partially though not entirely because of these actions, we are deep in debt. Bin Laden didn’t — couldn’t — bankrupt us. He could only provoke us into bankrupting ourselves. And he came pretty close.

Here endeth the lesson.
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