Time magazine posted a marvelous piece of journalism today on the final days of the Bush-Cheney administration--and the final drama of their administration: Dick Cheney pressuring George W. Bush to pardon Scooter Libby, and Bush, with the backing of most of his aides, resisting Cheney. This was a conflict that threatened to ruin the relationship between Cheney, who wanted to protect the guy who took a bullet for him, and Bush, who didn't want to pardon Libby (after having commuted his prison sentence) because he believed that Libby had indeed lied to the FBI during the investigation of the Valerie Plame leak and feared that a last-minute pardon would taint his presidency (as did President Bill Clinton's out-the-door pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich). It's a telling tale, and it shows that Cheney, by the end of the administration, was isolated and off in a world of his own.

In response to the Time article, Cheney released a statement declaring Libby "an innocent man" and noting that Libby was not the source of the leak that outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer. But Cheney had it wrong: Libby was convicted not for leaking but for lying to the FBI agents. That lie came when Libby did not tell the agents that he had learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA position from Cheney. Instead, Libby had told the investigators that the late Tim Russert was the person who first informed him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection; Russert testified at the trial that he could not have told Libby any such thing because he hadn''t known about Valerie Wilson's CIA position until after it became public knowledge. Even Bush acknowledged the validity of the jury's verdict when he wiped out Libby's jail time, arguing that this particular sentence (30 months) was excessive. The Cheney statement seemed to indicate the ex-veep doesn't understand the Libby case--or that he's willing to obfuscate facts to defend his former chief of staff.

Cheney is good for business--my businesss, at least. I was invited to go on Hardball to discuss the Time article and Cheney's response. And Chris Matthews does enjoy talking about Cheney. Here's what happened:

 

You can follow David Corn's postings and appearances via Twitter.

The United States' involvement in Afghanistan is growing deeper and more costly--30 US soldiers have died there since the start of July, making it the deadliest month since the US invasion in 2001. Vice President Joe Biden was probably right when he said in a radio interview on Thursday that the war is "worth the effort." Still, now is a good time to better understand exactly why it has been so hard to turn Afghanistan into a more peaceful place. A new book by two US journalists explores some less well-known historical explanations.

In 1981, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald were the first US journalists to enter Afghanistan after the Western press corps had been expelled from the country a month after the 1979 Soviet invasion.  The footage that they shot for CBS News painted a far different picture of the occupation than had been portrayed in the US media. Yet they say that the story that Dan Rather aired that spring buried the most important revelations--a problem that they've seen with US media coverage of Afghanistan ever since. In January 2009, they published "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," a book that Selig Harrison, the Washington Post's former South Asia bureau chief, calls "a much needed corrective to five decades of biased journalistic and academic writing about Afghanistan that has covered up the destructive and self-defeating US role there." Mother Jones spoke with Gould and Fitzgerald last month.

Mother Jones: In your view, what do most people not understand about the US government's early involvement in Afghanistan?

Paul Fitzgerald: In the major media, you get the story about a Soviet invasion. What you don't get are all the politics and motivations that were behind that.

Elizabeth Gould: When the Soviets crossed the Afghan border, President Carter exclaimed that this was the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War. The claim was that the Soviets were running out of oil and this was their first step to the Persian Gulf to get our oil. So that became the mantra.

MJ: So when did a different explanation catch on?

Kevin's usually optimistic about health care reform on odd-numbered days, but the news out of Congress is a little sour today. Voila, 4 sweet story recommendations for your Thursday news chaser:

1) Apocalypse Ciao: When the economic Rapture comes, will collapsitarians be the chosen ones?

2) Hippie, put your clothes on. California doesn't want to see your naughty bits at the beach anymore.

3) A zombie meme returns: Vaccines still don't cause autism. But you wouldn't know it from the comments on this article.

4) The Going Galt movement protests Obama with a collective shrug.

And what the heck, 5) A video of Amy Poehler hearting on Mother Jones with Sarah Silverman and a few other very funny ladies.

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.

Hey, Laura again. Kevin's usually optimistic about health care reform on odd-numbered days, but the news out of Congress is none too cheery at the moment, as you know. So, consider these 4 story recommendations your reform news chasers for the week:

1) Apocalypse Ciao: When the economic Rapture comes, will collapsitarians be the chosen ones?

2) Hippie, put your clothes on. California doesn't want to see your naughty bits at the beach anymore.

3) A zombie meme returns: Vaccines still don't cause autism. But you wouldn't know it from the comments on this article.

4) The Going Galt movement protests Obama with a collective shrug.

And what the heck, 5) A video of Amy Poehler hearting on Mother Jones with Sarah Silverman and a few other very funny ladies.

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.

Well, how about that. John Murtha announces he'll abandon his fight to keep the F-22 alive. That means the plane is finally, officially, definitely dead.

He did manage to shoehorn a few sweeteners into the House version of the defense budget, though:

* He allocated the money that he'd wanted to spend on new F-22s to buy parts for existing F-22s (way back when, this money was supposed to go to environmental clean-up.)

* He's hanging on to the VH-71 presidential helicopter (the one designed so Obama could whip up a bite to eat during a nuclear attack.)

* The House bill also contains money for C-17 cargo planes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't want.

For a pork addict like Murtha, I guess this is kind of like legislative nicorette.

If anyone still doubts that solar power is the future (other than oil barons, coal kings and the jokers in Congress), a new report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) might change their mind.

In the study released this week, author Larry Sherwood has assembled an impressive collection of data proving that (as Sherwood writes), “Solar markets are booming in the United States due to rising energy prices, strong consumer demand, and financial incentives from the federal government, states and utilities.”

Here are some specifics from the IREC report:

  • The capacity of PV installations completed in 2008 grew by 63% compared with installations in 2007, and the average size PV systems is increasing.
  • Installation growth by capacity was largest in the non-residential sector, but the residential sector continues to dominate the number of installations.
  • Many states reported a doubling of PV capacity installed in 2008 compared with 2007.
  • Installations in California, the dominant U.S. market, increased by 95% in 2008.

 To find how your state fared — solarly-speaking — check appendix ‘C’ on the report’s last page. (Or click here to see that chart by itself.)

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. This post appeared first in The Phoenix Sun.

 

Just yesterday, gun-toting Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies were narrowly defeated in their attempt to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits legally take their arms across state lines. (No thanks to Harry Reid for his wonderful leadership... Even Kirsten Gillibrand voted nay on this one!)

However, for residents of Tennessee, everything isn't so hunky-dory. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week, it became legal for "people with valid handgun-carry permits to go armed—the gun concealed or not—into Tennessee restaurants serving alcohol, provided the restaurant doesn't ban guns on the premises." This makes one wonder, what are these lawmakers smoking (or drinking)? A similar law was also just passed in Arizona.

Even our foes friends at FoxNews have acknowledged that alcohol consumption and gun violence are linked—"Heavily consuming alcohol can greatly lower inhibitions, increase confidence and potentially release violent impulses," according to a University of Pennsylvania study—so it's ludicrous that legislators would go out of their way to endanger the lives of innocent people who are at a bar or restaurant looking for a non-violent good time, and instead have to be around individuals living out their Wild West fantasies.

Ezra Klein is puzzled:

I've gotten a bunch of requests for a response to George Will's assertion that “If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.” I'm actually puzzled enough by that comment to not really know how to respond.

Sigh.  Here's the deal: Will is being cute.  If you're 29, you became an adult in 1998, and average global temperatures last year were lower than they were in 1998. So: no global warming in your adult lifetime.

In case you've missed it, this is the new favorite talking point from the chucklehead denialist set.  The earth is actually cooling!  But as about a thousand serious climate researchers have pointed out, it's not true.  Global temps have been trending up for over a century, but in any particular year they can spike up and down quite a bit.  In 1998 they spiked up far above the trend line and last year they spiked below the trend line.  So 2008 was cooler than 1998.

Of course, you can prove anything you want if you cherry pick your starting and ending points carefully enough.  For example: The year 2000 was below the trend line and 2005 was above it.  Temps were up 0.4°C in only five years!  The seas will be boiling by 2050!

This is idiotic, and only deliberate charlatans who think they have an especially gullible audience bother with it.  It's the trend line that matters, and the trend line has been going up for decades right along with rising CO2 concentrations.  Listen to the climatologists, not the charlatans.

A new study in Energy Policy analyzes changes in fuel efficiency of US vehicles between 1923 and 2006. During the Age of the Model T—circa 1923—the fuel efficiency of the overall fleet of all vehicle classes was 14 miles per gallon. In 2006, it was a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon.

Woo-hoo. Proof evolution doesn't exist.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the U of Michigan analyzed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet—cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. From 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency managed about 14 mpg. In 1973 it hit the abyss at 11.9 mpg. By 1991, it straggled upwards to 16.9 mpg. The 1991 efficiency—if you can call it that—was a response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Progress is now stalled. Between 1991 and 2006 the average efficiency improved by only 1.8 percent to 17.2 mpg.

New Scientist reports that electric vehicle research continues to advance with governmental backing but is unlikely impact fuel efficiency in the US in the short term.

For US fuel consumption to fall by 10 percent, average fuel efficiency across the entire fleet will have to rise to 19.1 mpg. Obama's May announcement that new cars should average 35.5 mpg by 2016 does nothing to boost the efficiency of the rest of the vehicle fleet.

The study suggests:

  • Financial incentives prodding owners to scrap older vehicles in favor of new ones
  • Tax breaks encouraging the development and introduction of fuel-saving tech
  • Society has much more to gain from improving a car from 15 to 16 mpg than from improving a car from 40 to 41 mpg. The benefits are greater from improving a truck from 4 to 4.5 mpg than from 7 to 7.5 mpg.

 

As I mentioned last night, big banks are handing out big paychecks again.  Matt Yglesias says this is all part of the plan:

The Obama administration didn’t want large financial institutions to fail. They also didn’t want to try to get congress to appropriate funds on the scale that would be needed to take the banks over, clean house, and recapitalize them publicly. What they came up with was a strategy of implicit and explicit guarantees designed to allow financial institutions to recapitalize themselves through profits. And big profits mean big paychecks. This is an ugly solution to the problem, but for whatever it’s worth it’s working.

That's true.  The idea that banks could be safely recapitalized via earnings was explicitly part of the Obama/Geithner plan.  And maybe this was safer than pessimists like me thought, since the two weakest banks, Citi and Bank of America, had already received massive federal guarantees on their toxic assets in addition to their TARP money.

Still and all, I'd caution that it's only working so far. The Geithner plan leaves the banking sector fairly weak, and while this is OK as long as things continue to improve, it could yet become a big problem if there's another shock and things take a turn for the worse.  So let's hope there aren't any more shocks.