Kevin Drum

Get Your Kevin Fix

| Sat Aug. 15, 2009 12:49 PM EDT

Hey Drum fans—today at noon Kevin is set to moderate the keynote Netroots Nation panel on "Building a 21st Century Economy" with New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and economist Dean Baker. Rumor has it that C-Span may pick up the feed; you can also check out the live video below. While you wait, why not browse some of MoJo's fine economics coverage—Kevin's pieces on cap and trade and bank nationalization, James Galbraith on why the stimulus isn't big enough, David Corn's expose of Phil Gramm's role in bringing about the financial crisis, Nomi Prins' timeline of the debacle, and last but not least David Cay Johnston's modest proposal for fixing the tax code.

Free video chat by Ustream

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Friday Cat Blogging - 14 August 2009

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Just because I'm in Pittsburgh doesn't mean you don't get Friday catblogging.  Today I present "Still Life With Cat – 2009."  Clearly a masterpiece.

Specter on the Death Panels

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 11:52 AM EDT

Arlen Specter just told the Netroots Nation audience that as soon as he got off the stage he was going to call Chuck Grassley and set him straight on the whole death panel thing.  "Come on out and watch me dial," he said.  I wonder if anyone did?

UPDATE: From comments, apparently Specter did indeed dial but couldn't get hold of Grassley.  A Twitter war ensued.

The Hillary Narrative

| Fri Aug. 14, 2009 11:39 AM EDT

Yesterday Paul Krugman reminded us that preferring Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton because you wanted to avoid the Clinton psychodrama of the 90s was always a vain hope.  Back in early 2008 he wrote, "Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false."  Ezra Klein, chatting online about town hall hysteria, added, "This is how the conservative movement organizes against major pieces of liberal legislation. It's not about a particular moment or leader."

This is unquestionably true, but I'd just like to add one thing.  If Hillary Clinton had won last year's Democratic primary and gone on to become president, and then this year's town hall meeting had turned into insane gatherings of lunatics yelling about death panels, every single pundit in Washington — Every. Single. One. — would be blaming it on her.  Their unanimous take would be: Democrats knew that she was a divisive figure and chose to put her in the White House anyway.  It's hardly any wonder that conservatives have gone nuts, is it?

That narrative, as we now know, would have been 100% wrong.  But that would have been the narrative anyway.  Caveat lector.

Off to Pittsburgh

| Thu Aug. 13, 2009 1:36 AM EDT

I'll be at Netroots Nation this weekend, so blogging will be either light or very light for the next few days.  To make up for it, though, you might be able to watch me on TV.  I'll be moderating the lunch keynote panel on Saturday with Dean Baker, Jon Corzine, and Anna Burger, and the NN website suggests this will be carried live on either C-SPAN or C-SPAN2.  I don't know for sure if this will actually happen, but tune in at noon Eastern time and find out!

George Bush, Appeaser?

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 11:58 PM EDT

Barton Gellman reports that Dick Cheney is getting ready to say what he really thinks about George Bush.  Namely that Bush went soft on him:

The two men maintain respectful ties, speaking on the telephone now and then, though aides to both said they were never quite friends. But there is a sting in Cheney's critique, because he views concessions to public sentiment as moral weakness. After years of praising Bush as a man of resolve, Cheney now intimates that the former president turned out to be more like an ordinary politician in the end.

....The former vice president remains convinced of mortal dangers that few other leaders, in his view, face squarely. That fixed belief does much to explain the conduct that so many critics find baffling. He gives no weight, close associates said, to his low approval ratings, to the tradition of statesmanlike White House exits or to the grumbling of Republicans about his effect on the party brand.

John Hannah, Cheney's former national security advisor, says Cheney is still obsessed with the idea of terrorists getting hold of a nuke, but:

What is new, Hannah said, is Cheney's readiness to acknowledge "doubts about the main channels of American policy during the last few years," a period encompassing most of Bush's second term. "These are not small issues," Hannah said. "They cut to the very core of who Cheney is," and "he really feels he has an obligation" to save the country from danger.

I don't especially blame Cheney for being worried about terrorists getting their hands on a nuke, but it's too bad he was never willing to seriously think about what kind of foreign policy might make that least likely.  Judging from Gellman's piece, he never will.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Chilling Effect

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 7:24 PM EDT

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton deserves a raise.

Phrases You Really Don't Want to Hear

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 3:14 PM EDT

From Richard Holbrooke on how to gauge success in Afghanistan:

"You'll know it when you see it."

In fairness, click the link to read about the various metrics and aid programs and whatnot that Holbrooke's team uses and supports.  That said, though, I have a sinking feeling that when all's said and done, that offhand comment represents our real state of knowledge depressingly well.

Newt the Visionary

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 2:46 PM EDT

Matt Taibbi points out today that up until very recently, Newt Gingrich was a big booster of advance care directives and hospice care:

Well, what happens when suddenly the Republican party decides it wants to scare the shit out of a bunch of old people by telling them the new health care bill is going to include a provision in which “death panels” ask them “when they want to die”? Now all of the sudden Gingrich is violently against the same programs he was so windily praising earlier this year.

And make no mistake, this is exactly the same thing. The only thing that’s actually in the health care proposals is a provision that would allow Medicare to pay for exactly the kind of programs Gingrich praised, on a voluntary basis. The programs are not government-administered in any way, there’s just government money now to pay for the private programs. And now Gingrich is suddenly aghast at them.

Nobody ever accused Newt of not being opportunistic enough, so this is no surprise.  It's also pretty much identical to his flip-flop on cap-and-trade.  Two years ago he was a huge fan because it used market mechanisms to control greenhouse gas emissions.  Hooray for the market!  But when an actual cap-and-trade plan was introduced — by Democrats — it suddenly became a "command-and-control, anti-energy, big-bureaucracy agenda, including dramatic increases in government power and draconian policies that will devastate our economy."

But Newt's a visionary.  Never forget that.

Cooling the Planet for Free

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 1:17 PM EDT

"Why do we tune up our cars but not our far more complex buildings?" asks Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  He's talking about "commissioning," a basket of techniques for increasing the energy efficiency of buildings:

Energy-wasting deficiencies are almost always invisible to the casual observer, and unfortunately also to building designers, operators, and owners. Commissioning is not a widgit or “retrofit”; it is an integrated quality-assurance practice.

....Back in 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy asked my team at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to build a national database of commissioning experience....The results are compelling. The median normalized cost to deliver commissioning was $0.30/ft2 for existing buildings and $1.16/ft2 for new construction....Correcting these problems resulted in 16% median whole-building energy savings in existing buildings and 13% in new construction, with payback times of 1.1 years and 4.2 years, respectively.

....Applying our median whole-building energy-savings value (certainly far short of best practices) to the U.S. non-residential building stock corresponds to an annual energy-savings potential of $30 billion by the year 2030, which in turn yields greenhouse gas emissions reductions of about 340 megatons of CO2 each year.

In other words, this is a way of reducing greenhouse emissions significantly — and it's not just free, it saves money.  It's a no-brainer, and it's the kind of thing that will become more widespread if the Waxman-Markey climate bill passes.

It's also why the cost of Waxman-Markey, despite the pronouncements of the doomsayers, is likely to be close to zero.  The CO2 goals in W-M are actually fairly modest (a 17% decrease from 2005 levels by 2020), and commissioning could provide upwards of a thirds of that at no cost.  Other technologies have similar paybacks, and the net result is that we can almost certainly achieve a 17% reduction at a net cost that's very, very small.  Things gets tougher after 2020, but that's also the point at which W-M has provided several years of incentives to develop green technologies that will make further cutbacks considerably less painful than they would be today.  Warts and all, that's why Waxman-Markey needs to pass.