3 stories you don't want to miss:

1) How the Pentagon bought stability in Iraq.

2) 4 Birthers you need to know.

3) This is your National Clean Energy Summit on Twitter.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Tweeting coverage from the National Clean Energy Summit, August 10, Las Vegas, NV,  in chronological order.

To learn more about the individuals named below check out the official agenda, here.

9:18 Out of work union members presser: Clean energy is key to jobs in NV.

9:59 Energy Summit about to start. I hope they turn down the loud techno music.

10:05 Out of work plumber local 525 says "no jobs anywhere." Her preteen son adds: "there are in China." No laughs.

10:23 Harry Reid's up at bat. "We're known for producing great athletes, now we're going to be known for producing great scientists."

10:25 Schwarzenegger won't be here -- mother in law ill. [Eunice Kennedy Shriver passes away at 2 am the next morning]

10:32 Al Gore joshing about Harry Reid creating energy jobs...in Nevada.

10:35 Gore: #ACES [climate bill] is important step. Now Senate is going to take it up. Sec. Chu, Tim Worth, John Podesta, Sec. Solis all working for this.

10:38 Gore: National program to repower America is just what the doctor ordered...for financial crisis.

10:39 Gore: Gore: Who R we 2 ignore the warnings of scientists on global warming. Kids will ask us "what wr U all doing, watching Am. Idol?"

10:41 Reid intros Tim Wirth, early supporter of fight against global warming.

10:41 Tim Worth is head of UN Foundation.

10:43 Wirth: Energy and jobs can be looked at separately, but they go hand-in-hand.

10:46 Keith Schwer, UNLV business school using LV as example. 1900, LV pop was 17. 2000 pop. 2 million. (I didn't know that!)

10:52 Sec Chu on getting renewable energy to scale. "US has an incredible opp. We need to have a second industrial revolution."

10:54 Sec Chu: China understands no more biz as usual. They plan on being the leader. But we can be, unless we miss the opp.

10:55 Chu: Energy efficiency is going to be the "lowest hanging fruit" for the next couple of decades.

10:57 Chu: Supports biofuels -- "It doesn't have to be food or fuel." He ends and gets a large round of applause.

10:59 50 minutes in and no women speakers so far.

11:02 Hey, Amory Lovins gets a shout out for making Americans aware of energy efficiency.

11:04 Marc Porat, CEO of Serious Materials: Making cement puts out as much CO2 as all automobiles together.

11:05 Porat: "We're so blessed" to have the Obama administration who "gets it" on jobs-energy-CO2.

11:10 One hour, a woman at last: Rose McKinney James - Energy Foundation Boards.

11:12 James: Talks about the importance of state utility boards. More info needs to get to states.

11:15 John Woolard, Bright Source Energy. We have to build 2000 GW between now and 2050. That's 50GW a year. "We're losing ground."

11:18 "Pin-up stimulus" -- plans that are ready, but delayed by permitting. Basic, boring, but key. John Woolard.

11:21 Stephanie Burns, CEO Dow Corning, maker of PV cells. Wants more support 4 job training programs, more financing 4 US manufacturers.

11:24 Lucien Bronicki, a pioneer of geothermal energy. This industry has jobs that can't be off-shored.

11:28 NYT has good editorial on climate bill today. Wonder if the people around the table read it?

11:30 Gen. Wes Clark making the case for biofuels. If we invested in biofuels it would take Hugo Chavez out of the picture. Hmmm.

11:30 Denise Bode, American Wind Energy Assoc.: Wind is up to scale, ready to rock and roll right now.

11:35 Bode: US led the world in new wind power last year. China will prob. take that over this year. We need long term commitment in US.

11:36 Bode, as others, talks about the importance of smart grid.

11:38 A tweet by Sen. Reid just appeared. He was looking down for a while. Hi, Senator!

11:40 T. Boone Pickens: "I'm kinda an oddball in this group." Quite laughter before he explains he means he's a Repub.

11:42 Pickens: Energy security is number one for me. But I do believe global warming is happening.

11:45 Pickens: Says diesel 18-wheelers should be forced to switch to natural gas.

11:47 Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA): Energy is a $6 trillion industry; the "mother of all markets."

11:51 FYI, this is the most mainstream, ardent capitalistic pro-new energy discussion I've ever heard!

11:52  Another FYI, Gore looks more fit than I've seen him in some time. New energy diet?

11:54 Gore is most impressive in his command of the full range of new technologies.

11:56 Gore: We invent all these new technologies, but then manufacturing goes overseas.

11:57 Gore goes through the history of "obsolete" energy system. "It's ridiculous!"

Noon Gore: The old way of thinking about [energy transmission] needs to change. Talks re cogeneration. 65% of coal energy lost as heat.

12:03 Gore's frustration with "old thinking" is palpable. He's slugging away. Impressive.

12:05 Gore is taking this country by the lapels and shaking us.

12:10 Van Jones - White House Council on Environmental Quality: We should be able to come together as a country on this one.

12:12 Jones: His theme is common ground. New energy "is fiscally conservative." Talks about health, too.

12:13 Jones "We're asking questions that liberals like, and offering answers that conservatives like."

12:15 Jones is impassioned, too. And it's infectious. Biggest applause from the room so far.

12:17 LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: We met Kyoto standard by Oct. 2008. "We are moving fast and hard."

12:22 Gore appears to be chewing gum. If it were Obama, I'd guess Nicorette. I bet he's calculated how much energy is used per chew.

12:30 Gore asks utility owner wht cn B done 2 lower inefficiencies from coal-fired power plants. The guy dances a bit. Gore bulldogs him.

12:32 Gore continues after utility owner. Is it regs? No, he sez. Basically: I don't know.

12:35 Sec of Labor Hilda Solis: Everybody needs to participate in recovery. Too many areas, rural, poor, have been traditionally left out.

12:41 Danny Thompson, NV, AFL-CIO: Works here have been suffering. "Manufacturing represents 75% of new energy jobs; we need them here."

12:44 NV State Sen. Steven Horsford: "NV is at the center of renewable energy." OK, I know we're in NV, but, AZ is the center. Just sayin'

12:46 Terry O’Sullivan, Laborers’ International Union of NA: 1.6 million construction workers out of work.

12:49 O’Sullivan: 100 million houses in the US that need to be weatherized.

12:50 O’Sullivan: Green jobs need to be careers, not fly-by-night operations. (aka: temporary and low paying.)

12:52 Tim Wirth is wrapping up morning session. I'll be posting pix later at the Mother Jones blog site.

LUNCH BREAK [Time of tweets not recorded, but still in chronological order.

And we're back...Harry Reid is introducing President Clinton.

Clinton: Thanks to Al Gore for his long struggle...even when he was referred to as "Ozone Man." [By GHWB]

Clinton: I asked Al Gore are we going to get something about deforestation in Copenhagen? He says yes.

Clinton talking about the loss of almost 7 million jobs. The least sexy topics are where the solutions are.

Clinton: If we close 22% of old dirty coal plants, we could cut emissions in half. (citing Robert Kennedy, Jr.)

Clinton: We are still piddling with this. (Green economy)

Clinton points out that the cities that are doing the most in terms of greening economy are already the greenest.

Clinton talks about retrofitting Empire State Building. Great, but its a drop in the bucket.

Clinton: The best solution is that utilities finance retrofitting homes.

Clinton calls for an energy equivalent to the Small Business Administration. $900 billion in banks not committed. Use it.

Clinton: You've got to get the banks involved in this if you want to stop piddling around.

Clinton: Suggests $10K from gov. to buyers of EVs! [Sign me up!]

Clinton still has his ability to connect with people, even in a large room. Amazing.

Clinton: Let's take what NV is doing and put it on steroids. There are millions dying to go to work.

Clinton finishes by urging people to make the energy bill even stronger. Now, setting up final panel. Town hall meeting.

email questions to panel: questions@cleanenergysummit.org

Panel in place: Podesta, Gore, Reid, Pickens and Cathy Zoi.

Opening talk is about Gore's forthcoming book on climate solutions, coming out Nov 3: "Our Choice."

Gore: We are at a moment of choosing. Quotes several holy texts: You can choose life, or death; blessings or curses.

Gore about birthers: they're putting a bit of poison into American politics.

Gore: the key challenge is to get a bill passed in the Senate. Political will is a renewable resource.

Gore warns against thinking of China and India as being the same when it comes to climate change.

Cathy Zoi: There's no "land problem" with having giant solar facilities. [Lots of us would take issue with that one]

Harry Reid: The potential for solar in the southwest for CSP is unlimited. [Uh-oh]

Boone Pickens: When natural gas is cheap, wind is too expensive. [Only because the market leaves out true cost of things]

Gore: Lots of Fortune 500 companies are now backing this change. They see it's a low carbon future.

Gore: In order to address the climate crisis, we're going to have to address the democracy crisis in this country.

Q from audience re leaky air ducts.

Cathy Zoi agrees it's important to make sure air ducts don't leak. This is great; getting down to nitty gritty.

Gore points out that CA hasn't increased energy usage in years. See: Negawatts.

Reid gets back to energy transmission. I won't be satisfied with nrg bill, without strong transmission component.

Reid: FERC should be able to condemn land for transmission lines.

Van Jones We're going to make sure that veterans aren't left out of the new green jobs. (in response to question from Iraq war vet.)

Interesting: Lots of support in audience on veterans & jobs. [But, will it happen this time?]

Obviously this is a self selected crowd, but still, remarkably little despair. Lots of optimism, lots of desire to DO something.

Pickens: China has done $100 billion of deals on energy to (lists countries). Where's the US in this?

Gore: People are afraid these changes will mean higher energy prices. The best way to push prices up is to do nothing.

Pickens says we reached peak oil in 2006. Gore says, if not, it'll be soon. Need to power shift.

Pickens 2 Gore: Do heads of state complain to you about US having small share of world pop. but using too much oil. G: Well, yeah!

This is wrapping up. I'll be tweeting the presser afterward.

Gore: John Podesta is a national resource.

Huh, Gore says Cathy Zoi created the Energy Star program at EPA years ago. Didn't know that, but aren't the reviews mixed?

This has been a long day, but even as it ends, few people are leaving. Lots of energy here, apparently.

Gore: We have an obligation to steer by the stars and not by the lights of each passing ship. (quoting of Omar Bradley)

Gore's quote meant: Take the long view, for once, America!

Reid: There are people out there who will do everything they can to stop leg. on energy, even if it means lying.

Reid takes a populist stand against special interests.

Reid: Speak out against the evil-mongers who want to take our country away from us.

END OF TOWN HALL MEETING

Presser should begin in a minute or two. Standing by.....

Al Gore not here. But Reid, Pickens and Podesta are for wrap-up presser.

Reid: We'll never be a secure nation without being independent of foreign oil.

Reid: NV is the poster child of public lands.

Podesta: We need stronger policies and leadership. The discussions here today were about going further on the road map.

Pickens speaks for natural gas as a short term way to get off foreign oil while we put solar and wind into place.

Reid calls biofuels "extremely important."

I ask Podesta : Did they mean to suggest that desert lands can be exploited 4 solar pw w/no enviro considerations? A: c next tweet

Podesta: We cn do CSP in the desert in a thoughtful, environmental way. We did desert land pres. in the Clinton WH. We'll do it here.

And that does it, folks. Thanks for following. Check back at MJ and Phoenix Sun for more later.

I wrote a fundraising letter the other day.  Here's how it started:

Have you noticed the virtual flood tide of crap floating around these days?  Me too.  Turn on the TV and Lou Dobbs is noodling on the air about whether or not Barack Obama was really born in the United States.  Open the newspaper and George Will is telling his readers that global warming is just a sham.  Listen to Fred Thompson’s radio show and Betsy McCaughey is warning listeners that the House healthcare bill would “absolutely require” end-of-life counseling sessions every five years for senior citizens.

Everyone who reads this blog knows the rest of this story, so I won't repeat it here.  But the past couple of weeks have really brought some things into focus, and one of them is how difficult it is for any of us to make a difference all by ourselves.  I mean, what can you do when you're competing against Lou Dobbs and FreedomWorks and the entire cast of Fox News?

Answer: contribute a few bucks to Mother Jones!  It helps sustain this blog.  It helps sustain the magazine.  It helps sustain the website.  It helps sustain our Washington bureau.  Basically, it helps sustain an operation big enough to fight back against the conservative noise machine.

So help us out if you can.  You can contribute via credit card here, and if you give more than $35 we'll throw in a subscription to the magazine.  If you prefer PayPal, hit the tip jar at the bottom of the post.  You'll help make the world a better place.

Welcome to the Army. You're not suicidal, are you?

Questions like this may become routine: the Washington Post reported yesterday that the military is developing required surveys for all new soldiers and the 90,000 already serving. The new panel creating the surveys is also conducting the largest-ever study of military suicides. The study's goal is twofold: prevent military suicides, and determine the causes of suicide.

Last month, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that for veteran suicides, "The most frustrating thing is trying to find a cause." The overwhelming evidence that depression and self-destructive behavior are  results of war must have slipped his mind. The $50 million, five-year study that the National Institute of Mental Health and the Army launched earlier this year is what the Post calls "an ambitious attempt to solve the mystery." The research was prompted by a rapid increase in soldier suicides, which reached 143 in 2008—the highest since the Army began keeping count three decades ago. Professors from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Michigan sit on the panel of experts, ready to crack the case.

In his new book And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture, Bill Wasik talks to John Harris and Jim VandeHei, founders of Politico, about the kinds of stories they want to cover:

VandeHei mentioned the classic pseudo-event: a presidential press conference. At major newspapers like the Post, he said, "you feel this sense of obligation to lead your newspaper the next day with a story about what Bush said at the press conference, even if he didn't say anything that was all that revelatory, and despite the fact that it's pretty damn stale: most news consumers have not only consumed it, they've digested it and moved on."

He contrasted this with a recent Politico story that, he noted, the Post did not touch, that "ten years ago would have been confined to the inside pages of Roll Call": the revelation that Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D., Calif.) had quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and alleged that its chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D., Calif.), had called her a "whore."

This story, VandeHei said, was "a perfect example of how media has changed. We put it upfront early on the webpage. Instantly it's linked to by Drudge and all the other blogs; Fox News is doing a story based on it; MSNBC is doing a story based on it; and then the next day, on the Colbert Report, he does twenty minutes on 'whore.' So you have just, from this perch, been able to reach significantly more people than I would have reached even at the Washington Post." The challenge for The Politico, he said, is "figuring out how to put things into that pipeline."

Well, good for Politico.  But what happens when everyone decides to quit covering the "boring" stuff and just follow the Politico model instead?  Is this really a world any of us want to live in?

But I guess what's most remarkable about this isn't that Politico was the first to popularize political gossip.  I suppose someone was bound to do it eventually.  It's the fact that VandeHei sees their primary task as "putting things into that pipeline."  Not just reporting and winning a reputation, even if it's only for gossip, but feeding the outrage machine.  Only if a story has done that do they consider it a success.  What a sad career choice for a couple of highly regarded journalists to have made.

Remember, for that brief period of time, when the Treasury Department's $700 billion "Troubled Asset Relief Program" was meant to buy up banks' actual troubled assets? You know, those groups of toxic mortgages packaged into securities, or even whole toxic mortgages themselves? (Toxic, that is, because it's doubtful these loans will ever be paid back in full or at all.) Removing those toxic assets, we were told, would bolster banks' balance sheets and free them up to lend more to businesses and consumers and get the economy back on its feet. Yet not long after, the Treasury Dept., led by then-Secretary Hank Paulson, Jr., decided instead to use TARP money to invest directly in crippled institutions. Evidently Paulson hoped this cash infusion would pad their capital reserves, let banks write down losses from these assets, and help them resume lending even with toxic assets still on their books.

The question that has since lingered over the TARP, then, has been this: What happened to those toxic assets? And how are the banks and the government dealing with them now? That's what the Congressional Oversight Panel, one of the leading watchdogs led by Harvard Law Prof. Elizabeth Warren, set out to answer with its August report, released yesterday—along with how financial institutions intend to deal with these assets left on their books going forward.

Today, the families of three hikers who've been detained by Iran since July 31st—including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer (whose piece we just posted today), Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal—have made a statement:
 

“It is now twelve days since our children were detained in Iran, when they strayed across the border while on a brief hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan.  As loving parents, nothing causes us more heartache than not knowing how our children are, and not being able to talk to them and learn when we will hold them in our arms again.  Shane, Sarah and Josh are young travelers who share a great love of the world and a deep respect for different cultures, societies and religions. We believe that when the Iranian authorities speak to our children, they will realize that Shane, Sarah and Josh had no intention of entering Iran and will allow them to leave the country and reunite with their families.  We continue to hope that this misunderstanding will be resolved as quickly as possible.”
 
Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley. 
 
Bauer has been living in Damascus, Syria since the Fall of 2008 and is a student of Arabic.  He is a freelance journalist and photographer who has written from the Middle East.  He has never reported from Iran.
 
Shourd lives with Bauer in Damascus, where she teaches English and had been studying for the Graduate Record Examination in preparation for graduate school.  She has written occasional travel pieces from the region.
 
Fattal is an environmentalist who worked at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon, which teaches sustainable living skills.  Fattal had a Teaching Fellowship with the International Honors Program’s “Health and Community” study abroad program in the spring semester of 2009. Fattal was visiting Bauer and Shourd in Damascus prior to their hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan.
 
For media inquiries please contact: familiesofhikers@gmail.com
 

We'll keep you posted as to the status of Shane, Sarah, and Josh. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein are Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow Clara on Twitter here and Monika here.

Trojan Horses

Alex Massie writes about Britain's much-loved-much-loathed NHS:

There are, I think, two essential truths in international health policy. No-one sees fit to copy the National Health Service and no-one sees fit to copy the American system.... The relevance of the NHS to American health care plans seems pretty limited anyway since, as best I can tell (though I try not to pay too much attention to these things) Obama doesn't actually plan on copying the NHS.

That last sentence really is correct, by the way.  It's true that some things aren't entirely what they seem: they're Trojan horses for something else, or maybe the camel's nose under the tent that will eventually lead to more fundamental reforms.  Both sides do this on occasion.  I, for example, happen to think that community rating (along with the cloud of regulations that accompany it) will eventually put private insurance companies out of business — or, at a minimum, turn them into little more than semi-public utilities.  I don't know how many other people agree about that, but you could certainly accuse me of pushing for community rating not just because I like it as a policy, but because I think it will eventually lead to more systematic reform of the healthcare industry.

But with the exception of a few outliers, the liberal community really, truly doesn't want a fully government owned and operated healthcare system like the NHS.  We want a government-funded healthcare system like Medicare or most of the world outside of Britain.  And unless I'm mistaken, this isn't a ruse in any way.  That's really what most of us want: basic care funded by taxes, with additional care available to anyone who wants to pay for more.  France and Holland, not Britain or Canada.

Changing Healthcare

A reader emails to say he just came back from a town hall meeting in his district and came away wondering if Obama might have bitten off more than he could chew:

It occurred to me that one of the things that helps the opponents of health reform is the complexity of the issue — big omnibus bills give opponents all sorts of opportunity to deceive. Moreover, there's a tipping point with big bills: if you try to get everybody on board by giving everyone something they want in exchange for something they don't want, you can sometime get a big program passed. But if the various interests decide they're better off without the bill, then the enemies just accumulate.

Under the circumstances, sometimes it's better just to try and eat the elephant one bite at a time — a series of bill over the first term that would whittle things down to size:

An initial bill would provide for community rating and pre-existing condition protections. This bill would have the opposition of the insurance industry, but everyone else would be for it.

After you get that done — individual mandate, small business coverage requirements, assistance to those with lower incomes for purchase. Small business would be against this part, but all those insurance lobbyists would be on board.

This is a defensible position, but I think it's also an example of a "grass is greener" approach to political process that's much too common.  Basically, whenever something is in trouble, people start to think that it would have worked if only we'd approached it in just the opposite way.

So Clintoncare failed because it was written in the White House and dumped in Congress's lap.  Won't make that mistake again!  Opponents are vilifying cherry-picked provisions of the House bill?  A watered-down bipartisan compromise would have had a better chance.  A big omnibus measure is in trouble?  We should have broken it into pieces.

Maybe so.  But I think this overrates process.  The opposition is always going to oppose, and they're going to find a way to oppose effectively no matter what you do.  If the White House creates a bill, it was "written in secret."  If Congress does it, it's a pork-filled monstrosity.  Write a liberal bill and you'll lose centrist Republican support; write a compromise bill and you'll lose Democratic support.  Write a big bill and it's confusing; write a bunch of little bills and you expend all your political capital on trivia and never get anything done.

Good presidents understand process and use it to their advantage.  But one way or another, you have to have the votes.  And one way or another, healthcare won't really be reformed unless, eventually, we pass something big.  We've been passing piecemeal legislation for a long time, and it just hasn't added up to much.  So every 20 years or so we need to take another crack at serious reform, and every 20 years or so we're going to learn the same lesson: if the public is on our side, we'll be able to pass something.  If we can't get them on our side, we won't.

For my money, the current bills wending their way through Congress are about as small as you can get and still call them serious healthcare reform.  If we can't pass some version of what's on the table now, there's really no reason to think that Obama has the political capital to pass it little bits at a time as his popularity inevitably wanes throughout his term.  It's now or never.

What Obama Is Reading

Via Rachel, Samuel Jacobs rounds up Barack Obama's post-campaign reading list here.  Usually when things like this pop up, I've read none or, at most, one of the books on the list, but I've read four on Obama's list (Eggers, Alter, Coll, and Goodwin) — and I know Friedman well enough to feel like I've read his latest book even though I haven't.  That practically makes us soulmates, literarily speaking.