Libya War Drones On

U.S. Commits More to Libya War

"Libya free, Qaddafi go away -- thank you America, thank you Obama."

-- Chants from a group of 50 Cyrenaican tribesmen welcoming Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to the city of Benghazi.

The Middle East is hell on consistency for American politicians.

In 2008, Barack Obama blistered John McCain for saying he didn’t care if there were U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years as long as they weren’t being killed. In 2011, Obama’s administration is negotiating with the Iraqi government for a permanent U.S. base in the country.

In 2008, Obama pummeled both Hillary Clinton and McCain for authorizing the use of force in Iraq and denounced the Bush administration for exceeding its mandate there. In 2011, Clinton and McCain are the leading cheerleaders for Obama’s congressionally unauthorized use of force in Libya.

As King Ozymandias might have told Obama, nothing lasts for long in those shifting desert sands.

At Clinton’s and McCain’s urging, Obama is pushing the U.S. deeper and deeper into the Libyan war. The Pentagon announced Thursday that the U.S. was adding attack drones to the fight in order to beef up the anemic NATO bombardment of Libyan positions.

We also learned this week that the administration is supplying financial support to the insurgents, a coalition of tribesmen locked in a multi-generational feud with the tribes loyal to Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and Islamists whose efforts for theocratic rule Qaddafi has long and cruelly repressed.

Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this week that NATO could fulfill the mission in Libya without American assistance. It looks as if the world will never know.

One of the great NATO concerns in the war is having a pilot captured by loyalist forces. Having seen the public uproar over murdered journalists, Obama and his fellow heads of state cannot be pleased at the thought of a flyboy in Qaddafi custody. The war is already unpopular and a hostage situation would hardly enhance it.

But those fears have allied forces flying their bombing runs at impossibly high altitudes to avoid being shot down. The high-altitude sorties mean fewer available targets because of concerns about collateral damage – especially since the main remaining battlefield is the ruined city of Misrata – the final rebel stronghold beyond their home turf.

If Libyan forces knock down a drone, it is but a financial loss to the U.S., not a humiliation. So the drones can fly closer and deliver their payloads more accurately.

Obama has increasingly embraced the concept of drone warfare, but with limited success. His covert drone bombing campaign in Yemen could not head off an Iranian-backed uprising against the government there. The massive covert done war in Pakistan has badly strained relations with our already unstable allies there.

The solution offered on Thursday by the administration was to give the Pakistanis 85 drones of their own to carry out missions against Taliban and al-Qaeda hiding in the mountains and attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan. How that will work, and whether the Pakistanis will use the technology to spy on their hated enemies in India, remains to be seen.

In Libya, with NATO forces now on the ground and the U.S. stepping up its drone wars, the chances for a Western enforced cease-fire would seem to be growing. The rebels have been unable to convince rival tribes and non-Islamists to join their fight against Qaddafi.

Obama can now not allow the rebels to lose but won’t knock off Qaddafi because there is little political support for engaging in a massive nation-building effort in Libya as the one in Afghanistan drags on. His numbers are low enough without that. The Europeans are getting clobbered by high energy prices as the disruption of Libya’s oil production pushes an already inflationary trend through the roof.

Looks like the beginnings of a non-American peacekeeping force on the ground but U.S. technology and firepower keeping Qaddafi and his tribes from retaking the rebellious regions.

The great comfort to the president can be that the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party that propelled his 2008 primary victory seems quiescent on the subject. Obama did get protested in the midst of a fundraising speech in San Francisco, but it was over an Army private jailed for leaking top secret documents.

Plus the protesters did their work in a soothing song that promised their support for the president in 2012. Even better, the group paid $76,000 to Obama’s re-election bid for the chance to serenade the president about the obscure case.

Obama Will Take High Gas Prices to Court

"The Attorney General is putting together a team whose job it will be to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices - and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain."

-- President Obama at a campaign stop in Nevada.

There are lots of reasons for gasoline prices to be so high and getting higher. Unrest in the Middle East has decreased oil production, demand for petroleum products has increased in poor but fast-growing nations like China and India, the faltering value of the U.S. dollar means it takes more bucks to buy a barrel, the overall inflationary trend is driving prices up for everything, and domestic production is down substantially in the wake of new administration restrictions.

A favorite target of politicians though are gougers and speculators. President Obama, who has been engaged in a long battle with the oil industry, threatened to prosecute those who are seeking “short-term gain” from the energy shock currently stomping down the wisps of recovery in the U.S.

Speculators are those who buy oil futures. They buy yet-to-be-produced barrels of oil on the bet that the price will go up between now and then, allowing them to profit. It is only gambling since it’s not like commodities traders end up with a bunch of barrels of crude stacked up in their Park Avenue apartments – unless it’s part of a sculpture installation.

But the people who actually do buy oil, like gasoline refiners, complain that when speculators bet on prices going up, it actually has the effect of increasing prices by creating a bull market.

Estimates on the effect of speculation on the actual price of oil vary. Some say it is nominal, but those who buy oil claim that 60 percent of the 2008 spike came from speculation.

But “taking advantage of the American people” for “short-term gain” is kind of the whole point of commodities trading. They can make money by correctly estimating that prices will go down on cotton or coffee or gold or oil and sell their contracts ahead of the tumble, and that doesn’t really hurt anybody except for the sucker who buys it. But when prices are going up, as they are now, consumers are suffering and traders are making dependable money by betting that prices will continue to climb.

The potential prosecutions may come to little – much like promised prosecutions from the Holder Justice Department over the BP oil spill and financial hijinks ahead of the Panic of 2008 – but the political message from Obama is that he is going to be taking the fight to oil companies and Wall Street fat cats as Americans face the prospect of the highest gasoline prices in history.

In truth, when prices are this high, it begins to decrease demand and may even cause a national recession. If oil companies had their druthers, they would lock in prices of $80 per barrel and soak up billions for years to come.

State attorneys general are fond of setting up squads to punish gas gougers who charge unfair prices for gasoline, but usually find that gas stations sell for as little as they can to try to lure folks inside to by Zagnuts and Red Bulls, where they make their real money. But, at least it gives politicians a chance to say that they are doing something about the problem.

Unions Ready to Get in GOPs Face for 2012

“The people of Wisconsin stood up in numbers and ways that we’ve never seen before and it turbocharged our thinking about what was possible.”

-- SEIU President Mary Kay Henry talking to Politico about the union’s 2012 strategy.

It’s weird. Both sides think that they won the battle of Wisconsin.

Republicans point to victory of a conservative justice on the state Supreme Court and passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to strip government unions of the power of collective bargaining.

Democrats point to Walker’s crummy poll ratings and a level of enthusiasm in their union base not seen since Woody Guthrie was singing the virtues of jungle stew.

But Republicans seem much more trepidatious about replicating the war on well-heeled bureaucrats than they did in the early days of the fight. Democrats and labor groups, though, are increasingly convinced that the protests, demonstrations and unrest of Madison are a path to success.

The SEIU, the keystone of President Obama’s labor coalition, has decided to shift its resources away from the television campaigns and get-out-the vote effort that helped Obama win in 2008 and will instead focus on freaking out on Republican incumbents and staging mass demonstrations.

The argument is that Obama will have so much money for his re-election, and be getting additional air support from outside groups springing up to make with lavish TV buys, that the unions can devote their energies elsewhere. That leaves the unions to focus on the bullhorn and barricades set, which also serves as a recruitment tool by highlighting to government workers what big labor says is an existential threat from small-government Republicans.

It’s also a reaction to the Tea Party of 2010. If you’re a labor organizer, looking at all the attention that Tea Partiers got last year would make you think “That’s what we do for a living. Why don’t we get on TV for it?”

The answer, apparently, was that they had to get bigger crowds in public places and get rowdier.

How it plays will depend on whether there are actual clashes with Tea Party activists and whether media outlets tire of the group’s efforts. The greatest danger for Democrats is that independent voters will just get sick off all of the screaming from purple-shirted protesters.

Paul Krugman called for the end of civility. In 2012, he will likely get his wish.

Labor Board Opens Campaign Against “Right to Work” States

"Boeing's decision to build a 787 assembly line in South Carolina sent a message that Boeing workers would suffer financial harm for exercising their collective bargaining rights.”

-- Rich Michalski, vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in a statement praising the National Labor Relations Board for trying to block Boeing from opening a new plant.

The National Labor Relations Board is trying to establish a new standard that unionized companies can be blocked from opening plants in “right to work” states where individual workers cannot be compelled to join unions.

After suffering through a two-month strike at their Washington State plant in 2008 over a benefits dispute, Boeing, the nation’s leading exporter, began construction on a plant in North Charleston, S.C.

In Washington State, if a majority of workers at a plant vote to join a union, all workers at that plant are compelled to join and pay dues. In South Carolina, union membership and dues payments are voluntary. That deprives unions of funds to sustain strikes and to support Democratic candidates who, in turn, seek more laws advantageous to unions. And without mandatory membership, unions, which struggle to win establishing elections to begin with, see membership decrease as workers grow weary of dues payments.

The NLRB maintains that it would be unfair to workers in Washington State if Boeing were to have an alternate facility. The company points to 6,000 jobs added in Washington since construction got underway at the South Carolina plant, but the NLRB has still gone to court to block the nearly-complete plant in South Carolina.

Manufacturers are watching with increasing alarm because many big employers have plants in union-friendly states and “right to work” states as part of diversification strategy to shield production in the event of labor unrest. The move by the Obama administration to block the practice and discriminate against the 22 mostly Republican “right to work” states for manufacturing jobs has set off what promises to be a massive struggle.

That the controversial decision follows the controversial recess appointment of union lawyer Craig Becker to the NLRB will only deepen the outrage in the capitalist community.

For the administration, the fight is mostly political upside. The states and organizations incensed by such moves are unlikely to support Obama, but unions, the most important constituency for Obama in 2008 and in 2012, are thrilled.

Ensign Resignation Helps GOP, Sets Up Test Race for 2012

“I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great.”

-- Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., in a statement announcing his resignation.

Democratic hopes for putting Republicans on the defensive in 2012 Senate races took a blow Thursday as embattled Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., announced he would resign rather than face an ethics investigation.

Ensign had already announced he would not seek another term in the wake of revelations that he had an affair with the wife of one of his former chiefs of staff and made payments to the couple. But the decision not to run helps the GOP in a substantial way.

The vacancy allows Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint Rep. Dean Heller, whose district covers most of the state outside of Las Vegas and who previously served as secretary of state, to take Ensign’s place.

In a state where politics are dominated by the gambling industry – longtime patron of both Ensign and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid – an 18-month incumbency ahead of the election would give Heller a tremendous chance to pump up his fundraising and deepen his support among casino executives.

Rather than Republicans having to shovel national dollars into an open-seat race against presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. Shelley Berkley, whose district comprises Las Vegas, the national GOP can now let Heller raise most of his own money and press his already considerable advantages.

That, of course, makes the must-win swing state harder for President Obama. If there is not a hotly contested statewide race driving Democrats to the polls, it will lower Democratic turnout in a state where the president is generally unpopular.

The Heller pick would open up a special election for the 2nd Congressional District, with combatants picked by the parties’ central committees.

Republicans are leaning toward Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki or current state GOP Chairman Mark Amodei, having had quite enough of former state Sen. Sharron Angle during her ill-fated run against Reid last year. The Democratic field hasn’t yet taken shape, but the party believe it can make a play for the expansive district because Obama only narrowly lost the traditional Republican stronghold in 2008.

The special election will be a test case for the 2012 elections.

If the district behaves as it did in 2010 – re-electing Heller by a 30-point margin and picking Angle over Reid – it will be a bad omen for Obama and his western strategy. If it’s a nail-biter like it was in 2008, Republicans could be looking at trouble out West in 2012.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“When my secretary told me [Donald Trump was calling], I put on a helmet and a flak jacket as I answered the phone. I expected a tirade, which he would have had every right to do, given what I've been saying about him.

In fact, he was courteous -- very calm. And he made his case, rather than attacking everything I said about him, he made his case: ‘I'm a serious businessman. I'm a serious man and a serious candidate.’ And we had a few exchanges on issues like China, Iraq, Iraqi oil, and the birther issue, but the tone was no worse than Juan and me on a normal day.

It was a back-and-forth. At the end, I felt that I ought to tell him that my column coming out tomorrow is going to be even worse than what I did about him on television.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier