Saturday, February 26, 2011

Obama: Qaddafi lost legitimacy, must leave "now"

In marked turn from Egypt diplomacy, calls for immediate departure of Libya's embattled ruler, once a U.S. ally

  • The U.S. is paying close attention to Qaddafi's assests, but mystery surrounds exactly how much he is worth. CBS News Chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.
  • Video Obama: Qaddafi must leave now President Obama addressed the crisis in Libya saying that Moammar Qadaffi must leave now. Joel Brown reports from the White House.
  • A picture of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is burned during a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in Paris, Feb. 25, 2011. A picture of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is burned during a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in Paris, Feb. 25, 2011.  (Msrtin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

In a private phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama said the embattled Libyan leader must leave the country now because he has lost the legitimacy of his rule.

Mr. Obama made the comments to Merkel Saturday as they discussed the violence in Libya. The White House says President Obama told Merkel that when a leader's only means of holding power is to use violence against his people, then he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what's right for his country by "leaving now."

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab world

The comments mark the first time that President Obama has called on Qaddafi to step down.

President Obama signed an executive order Friday that froze assets held by Qaddafi and four of his children in the United States. On Saturday, U.S. government revoked visas for senior Libyan officials and their family members.

United Nations ponders more Libya sanctions

Qaddafi has launched a violent crackdown against protesters demanding his ouster. He has vowed a bloody fight to the end.

The public call for Qaddafi's ouster is a noticeably different diplomatic tact than the one the Obama administration took in neighboring Egypt last month when former President Hosni Mubarak's supporters were using violent tactics to suppress anti-government demonstrations.

In Egypt, Obama administration officials were careful to never call for the departure of Mubarak, who was once America's closest Mideast ally. Instead, they called for peaceful reforms, but did not specify what that meant.

During the Bush administration, Qaddafi too had become a U.S. ally after giving up his nuclear program and denouncing terrorism

Warning Against Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan (TO BAD NO ONE TOLD GWB!)

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,” Mr. Gates warned.

“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

Mr. Gates was brought into the Bush cabinet in late 2006 to repair the war effort in Iraq that was begun under his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and then was kept in office by President Obama. He did not directly criticize the Bush administration’s decisions to go to war. Even so, his never-again formulation was unusually pointed, especially at a time of upheaval across the Arab world and beyond. Mr. Gates has said that he would leave office this year, and the speech at West Point could be heard as his farewell to the Army.

A decade of constant conflict has trained a junior officer corps with exceptional leadership skills, he told the cadets, but the Army may find it difficult in the future to find inspiring work to retain its rising commanders as it fights for the money to keep large, heavy combat units in the field.

“Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging or reconciling warring tribes, may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting PowerPoint slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever-expanding array of clerical duties,” Mr. Gates said. “The consequences of this terrify me.”

He said Iraq and Afghanistan had become known as “the captains’ wars” because “officers of lower and lower rank were put in the position of making decisions of higher and higher degrees of consequence and complexity.”

To find inspiring work for its young officers after combat deployments, the Army must encourage unusual career detours, Mr. Gates said, endorsing graduate study, teaching, or duty in a policy research institute or Congressional office.

Mr. Gates said his main worry was that the Army might not overcome the institutional bias that favored traditional career paths. He urged the service to “break up the institutional concrete, its bureaucratic rigidity in its assignments and promotion processes, in order to retain, challenge, and inspire its best, brightest, and most battle-tested young officers to lead the service in the future.”

There will be one specific benefit to the fighting force as the pressures of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan decrease, Mr. Gates said: “The opportunity to conduct the kind of full-spectrum training — including mechanized combined arms exercises — that was neglected to meet the demands of the current wars.”

Attack shuts Iraq's largest oil refinery, kills 1

BAGHDAD – Gunmen attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery before dawn Saturday, killing a guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to halt operations, officials said.

A few hours later, a small refinery in the south shut down after a technical failure sparked a fire in a storage unit, an official said.

If not fixed swiftly, the two shutdowns could translate into long lines at fuel stations and longer electricity outages. The dearth of reliable electricity — some Iraqis get just a few hours a day — was one of the leading complaints of protesters during violent anti-government protests across Iraq on Friday.

The attack on Iraq's largest refinery, Beiji, began at about 3:30 a.m. Assailants carrying pistols fitted with silencers attacked guards and planted bombs near some production units for benzene and kerosene, said the spokesman for Salahuddin province, Mohammed al-Asi.

One guard was killed and another wounded, al-Asi said.

Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said an investigation would be launched and that he hoped operations could resume shortly.

The Beiji refinery, located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Baghdad, has two sections. The attackers targeted the installation's North Refinery that handles 150,000 barrels a day. The second section, the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation. It used to process 70,000 barrels per day.

At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Beiji refinery was under control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations.

Hours after the Beiji facility was attacked, a small refinery in Samawa, a city on the Euphrates River about 230 miles (370 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, went offline due to a fire in the storage unit, according to a local official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information, said the fire was caused by a technical failure, not foul play. He wouldn't say when work would resume at the plant which has the capacity of 30,000 barrels of a day.

Iraq's overall refining capacity is currently slightly over 500,000 barrels per day. Its three main oil refineries — Dora, Shuaiba and Beiji — process slightly over half of the 700,000 barrels-per-day capacity they had before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Iraq sits on the world's third-largest known oil reserves with an estimated 115 billion barrels, but its production is far below its potential due to decades of war, U.N. sanctions, lack of foreign investment and insurgent attacks.

Iraq has been importing refined products since 2003 because of the dilapidated refining sector and booming local demand.

Saturday's closures could spell trouble for Iraqi consumers, especially at a time when the weather is just beginning to warm and more citizens will be relying on their air conditioning.

Also Saturday, health officials and police said two teens, ages 12 and 18, died of injuries sustained in the anti-government protests, bringing the death toll for the day to 14. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

On Friday, thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger, the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.

The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.

In Battle Over State Payrolls, Data Show a Mixed Picture

In Battle Over State Payrolls, Data Show a Mixed Picture
The janitors who buff floors and empty wastebaskets for the State of California earn a median wage of a little over $31,000 a year, which is 45 percent more than janitors in the private sector earn there. Georgia’s janitors, by contrast, earn less than $21,000, about 6 percent below their private sector counterparts.
And in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s face-off with unions has thrust public sector compensation into the national spotlight, the state pays janitors a median wage of nearly $27,000, about the same as they would make in the private sector.

The wide range in this single job category shows how hard it can be to answer one of the basic questions at the heart of the budget skirmishes that are now spreading across the country: Are state workers overpaid?
An analysis of recently released census data compiled for The New York Times by demographers at Queens College of the City University of New York yields a complicated picture, one that highlights the variation in pay from state to state and occupation to occupation, and one that does not fit neatly into a one-size-fits-all approach to cost cutting.

The clearest pattern to emerge is an educational divide: workers without college degrees tend to do better on state payrolls, while workers with college degrees tend to do worse. That divide has grown more pronounced in recent decades. Since 1990, the median wage of state workers without college degrees has come to surpass that of workers in the private sector. During the same period, though, college-educated state workers have seen their median pay lag further behind their peers in the private sector.

The census data analyzed by The Times do not include information on pensions and other benefits, which is crucial for a fuller comparison because public sector workers typically receive more in benefits than workers in the private sector do. California’s corrections officers, for instance, can retire at 50 with pensions worth 90 percent of their salaries, an option open to very few private sector workers. New Jersey pays 92 percent of the cost of health care for its workers, much more than private companies typically pay. Studies have regularly found that state and local governments offer more valuable retirement and health benefits than the private sector. And many state workers enjoy harder-to-calculate nonmonetary benefits like greater job security and shorter work hours.

Still, an examination of wages alone is useful in informing the debate. For one thing, public sector workers have long contended that their enviable benefits make up for paltry pay rates.
The Times analyzed data on workers on the payrolls of state governments — not localities, which are the bigger employers of firefighters, police officers, teachers and some others — from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is conducted among more than three million households. The large survey allows for a more detailed understanding of differences among states. Previous analyses have mostly used the Current Population Survey, a monthly poll of 65,000 households. But the relatively limited sample makes state-by-state comparisons more difficult.

The Times’s analysis found that over all, median wages for state workers exceeded that of private sector workers in all but three states — Indiana, Missouri and New Hampshire. Those numbers, however, can be deceptive. State workers tend to be more highly educated than those in the private sector: More than half of state workers have college degrees, compared with just over one-quarter of those in the private sector. Researchers have also said that states tend to employ few high school dropouts.

“Because the public sector is much more likely to be highly educated, we would fully expect them to earn more on average because of that, just like we would expect somebody with a master’s degree to earn more than somebody with a high school education,” said Keith A. Bender, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who has studied compensation in the public and private sectors.
When workers are divided into two groups — those with bachelor’s degrees and higher and those without — a very different pattern emerges. State workers with college degrees earn less, often substantially less, than private sector workers with the same education in all but three states — Montana, Nevada and Wyoming.

Less educated workers on state payrolls, however, tend to do better than their counterparts in the private sector. The median wages of state workers without bachelor’s degrees are higher than those in the private sector in 30 states. California, New York, Connecticut and Nevada lead the way, each paying workers without degrees at least 25 percent more than the private sector pays those workers.
Certain states, however, are clearly more generous than others, at least relative to the private sector. California, Iowa, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island are at the upper end of the spectrum for both college-educated workers and those without college degrees.

Meanwhile, others states, like Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas, are much more frugal with both groups.

The disparity can be attributed to a number of factors: the power of unions in different states, the strength of the private sector, local political traditions, education levels.

In Wisconsin, for instance, where Governor Walker, a Republican, is trying to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights and to limit yearly raises for state workers to no more than the Consumer Price Index, the median wage for state workers exceeds that of the private sector by 22 percent. But more than 60 percent of state workers are college educated.

In other places where the median wage for state workers is higher than that of the private sector, there is a relatively undereducated private sector work force. In Alabama, where the median wage for state workers is 23 percent higher than that of private sector workers, fewer than 20 percent of employees in the private sector have college degrees.

The education split complicates choices for policymakers. An across-the-board pay cut for state workers in a place like California, which is confronting a $26.6 billion budget hole, for example, would help bring workers without college degrees, whose median wages exceed the private sector’s by 35 percent, more in line with the private sector. It would impose, however, a steeper wage penalty on state workers with college degrees, whose median wage is 12 percent below the private sector’s.

Unionization levels are another critical factor. In some of the more generous states relative to the private sector, like California, New York and Rhode Island, public employees are among the most heavily unionized in the country.

The opposing trends in public-private pay among college- and non-college-educated workers have generally widened over the last two decades. This is seen in the most recent data available, from 2006 through 2008, before many states cut pay through furloughs and other measures. For that period, the median wage of all state workers without college degrees, working 35 or more hours a week and at least 40 weeks a year, exceeded that of private sector workers by 6 percent. For those with college degrees, the median wage for state workers was 20 percent less than their private-sector counterparts.

In 1990, according to census data, the median wage for private-sector workers without college degrees exceeded that of state workers by 2 percent, in contrast with today. Among those with college degrees, the median wage for state workers was 14 percent less, leaving them even further behind the private sector.
At the local level, the phenomenon is similar: the median wage for college-educated workers trails that of their private-sector counterparts by about 20 percent, while local workers without college degrees earn 10 percent more than their private-sector peers.

Adding benefits into the analysis is not easy to do. Many college-educated state and local workers are teachers and professors, who have several months off each year. Some public-sector workers can retire after 20, 25 or 30 years of work and begin drawing pension checks long before they reach what most people consider retirement age. In the private sector, meanwhile, most companies have phased out their traditional defined-benefit pensions altogether.

 Nevertheless, some of the more generous states when it comes to what they pay their employees — notably, New York and California — also stand out for having among the most generous pension plans, according to data put together by Sylvester J. Schieber, a former chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board and now an independent consultant on retirement benefits.
Using financial statements, Mr. Schieber calculated an average wage for workers covered by state pension plans and then the percentage of that wage that would be replaced by the average annual pension benefit in the state.

Based on those figures, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Kansas, whose wages for state workers relative to the private sector are at the lower end of the scale, also have among the least generous pension benefits for state workers.
Other states are harder to assess. Georgia, for instance, is one of the more frugal states when it comes to pay but has some of the most generous pension benefits; Iowa is the opposite.
Drilling down to specific occupations yields some glimpses of just how large the differences among states really are.

Secretaries without bachelor’s degrees on the Iowa payroll have a median wage of about $35,000, 19 percent more than the median wage in the private sector. In contrast, in Indiana, secretaries with the same level of education working for the state have a median wage of $25,000, which is actually 16 percent less than the private sector.

Arizona pays professors at its state colleges and universities a median salary of about $61,000, 40 percent more than professors at private nonprofit colleges in the state earn. Iowa, on the other hand, pays its professors a median of about $43,000, which is 22 percent less than their peers at nonprofit institutions.
Of course, there are limits to comparisons between public and private pay scales. Some well-paying public sector jobs, like police officers, simply have no private sector equivalent. Some low-paying private sector jobs, like migrant farm workers, have no public sector equivalent.

But even among jobs that are relatively unique to the public sector, like corrections officers, there is a wide range of pay. After adjusting for cost-of-living differences using an experimental state-by-state price index produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the data show that corrections officers in California, Michigan and Oregon are among the highest paid in the country, with median wages of at least 60 percent more than those at the bottom end, in places like Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana.


Absorbing the Pain BOB HERBERT NYTimes

Lynda Hiller teared up. “We’re struggling real bad,” she said, “and it’s getting harder every day.”

A handful of people were sitting around a dining room table in a row house in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, talking about the problems facing working people in America. The setting outside the house on West Harold Street was grim. The remnants of a snowstorm lined the curbs and a number of people, obviously down on their luck, were moving about the struggling neighborhood. Some were panhandling.

The small gathering had been arranged by a group called Working America, which is affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., but the people at the meeting did not belong to unions. They were just there to talk in an atmosphere of mutual support.

What struck me about the conversation was the way people talked in normal tones about the equivalent of a hurricane ripping through their lives, leaving little but destruction in its wake.

Ms. Hiller had come in from Allentown. She’s 63 years old and still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her husband, Howard, who was not at the meeting, had been a long-distance truck driver for 35 years before losing his job in 2007, the same year Ms. Hiller received her diagnosis. Mr. Hiller thought at the time that with all of his experience he would find another job pretty quickly. He was mistaken.

“He looked for two years,” Ms. Hiller said. “He applied every place he could, sometimes four or five times at the same company. He went everywhere, to every job fair you can think of, to every place where there was even a mention of an opening. But for every job that came available, there were 20 people or more who showed up for it.”

Last fall, Mr. Hiller took a part-time job as a dishwasher at a Red Lobster restaurant. “It’s a job,” Ms. Hiller said. “It’s not fancy. It’s not truck driving.”

And it was not enough for them to keep their home. Ms. Hiller lost her job at a bank when she became ill. With both paychecks gone, meeting the mortgage became impossible. The Hillers lost their home and are now living day to day. “If my husband can get 30 hours of work in a week, then maybe we can pay some bills,” Ms. Hiller said. “If he can’t, we can’t. We’ve downsized our lives so much.”

The meeting was in the home of Elizabeth Lassiter, a certified nursing assistant whose job is in Hatfield, Pa., about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia. She doesn’t earn a lot or get benefits, but it’s a big step up from last year when she was working part time in Warminster and for a while had to sleep in her car.

“Back then I was working for a nursing agency and they kept saying they didn’t have full-time work,” she said. Until she could raise enough money for an apartment, the car was her only option. “I needed someplace to lay my head,” she said. “It was very hard.”

These are the kinds of stories you might expect from a country staggering through a depression, not the richest and supposedly most advanced society on earth. If these were exceptional stories, there would be less reason for concern. But they are in no way extraordinary. Similar stories abound throughout the United States.

Among the many heartening things about the workers fighting back in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is the spotlight that is being thrown on the contemptuous attitude of the corporate elite and their handmaidens in government toward ordinary working Americans: police officers and firefighters, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, health care aides, and so on. These are the people who do the daily grunt work of America. How dare we treat them with contempt.

It would be a mistake to think that this fight is solely about the right of public employees to collectively bargain. As important as that issue is, it’s just one skirmish in what’s shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society.

The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we’re left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.

I asked Lynda Hiller if she felt generally optimistic or pessimistic. She was quiet for a moment, then said: “I don’t think things are going to get any better. I think we’re going to hit rock bottom. The big shots are in charge, and they just don’t give a darn about the little person.”