Kevin Drum

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.

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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.

In Which I Remain Confused

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

Via Tyler Cowen, Randall Kroszner writes in the Financial Times about the delicate role the Fed has to play as we (hopefully) exit the current recession.  If they keep monetary policy loose too long, they risk long-term inflation.  But if they tighten too fast, they risk cutting off the recovery too soon, as they did in 1937.  What to do?

Just last autumn, Congress gave the Fed a new tool that will play a crucial role as it exits from its unusually accommodative monetary policy: the ability to pay interest on reserves. Previously, a recovery would mean more opportunities for banks to lend and so they would draw down non-interest-bearing reserves and expand credit and hence the money supply. Interest on reserves, however, can cut that logic short by providing incentives for banks to hold reserve balances rather than lend them out, as the Federal funds rate target rises. The Fed now has a greater control over the reserve choices of banks because it can raise the return on reserves relative to banks’ lending opportunities, and thereby better manage credit and money growth in a recovery.

The basic idea here is simple: if the Fed raises the rate it pays on bank reserves, banks will park money at the Fed.  That reduces the amount of money they lend out.  Cut the rate and banks will pull their money out and find a better use for it.  Lending will increase.

Fine.  That makes sense and always has, as long as you trust the Fed to handle this particular monetary knob properly.  But what I still don't get is why you'd turn this knob up during a crisis, as the Fed did last year.  That reduced bank lending at a time when credit had already dropped off a cliff and was threatening to choke off the economy completely.  Is there some triple bank shot (no pun intended) here that I'm not getting?  Did the Fed figure that banks just flatly weren't going to loan out funds no matter what, so they might as well pay them interest as a backdoor way of recapitalizing them?  Or what?  I'm still confused.

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Betsy Yet Again

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

The intellectual superstructure for the "death panel" nonsense — such as it is — derives partly from sections of the House bill related to living wills and partly from the academic writings of Ezekiel Emanual.  Zeke is Rahm Emanuel's brother, a sometime advisor to the White House on healthcare, and a longtime medical ethicist who has written extensively on some of the most difficult kinds of healthcare decisions.

That was enough to make him a poster boy for the death panel crowd.  The heavy lifting, unsurprisngly, was done by our old friend Betsy McCaughey.  Michael Scherer explains:

In her Post article, McCaughey paints the worst possible image of Emanuel, quoting him, for instance, endorsing age discrimination for health-care distribution, without mentioning that he was only addressing extreme cases like organ donation, where there is an absolute scarcity of resources. She quotes him discussing the denial of care for people with dementia without revealing that Emanuel only mentioned dementia in a discussion of theoretical approaches, not an endorsement of a particular policy. She notes that he has criticized medical culture for trying to do everything for a patient, "regardless of the cost or effects on others," without making clear that he was not speaking of lifesaving care but of treatments with little demonstrated value. "No one who has read what I have done for 25 years would come to the conclusions that have been put out there," says Emanuel. "My quotes were just being taken out of context."

The whole piece is worth a read.  McCaughey and her ilk obviously don't care about any of this, but it's worth understanding how it all happened.

U.S. Attorney Finale

| Wed Aug. 12, 2009 1:47 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports on the release of internal White House documents from the Bush era related to the mass firings of U.S. Attorneys:

The dismissal of U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico in December 2006 followed extensive communication among lawyers and political aides in the White House who hashed over complaints about his work on public corruption cases against Democrats, according to newly released e-mails and transcripts of closed-door House testimony by former Bush counsel Harriet Miers and political chief Karl Rove.

A campaign to oust Iglesias intensified after state GOP officials and Republican members of the congressional delegation apparently concluded that he was not pursuing the cases against Democrats in a way that could help then-Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R) in a tight reelection race in New Mexico, according to interviews and Bush White House e-mails released Tuesday by congressional investigators.

....Miers told investigators that Rove called her in September 2006, "agitated" about the slow pace of public corruption cases against Democrats and weak efforts to pursue voter-fraud cases in the state. In the call, Miers said, Rove described Iglesias as a "serious problem" and said he wanted "something done" about it.

Just to give you a taste, here's one of the emails in question.  The chairman of the New Mexico GOP, after attending an RNC meeting, emails the White House to say that Iglesias has been unhelpful in ginning up voter fraud cases against Democrats.  "To be perfectly candid, he was 'missing in action' during the last election," he says.  Rove's response? "Talk to the counsel's office."  After all, if a U.S. Attorney can't be counted on to help out during the election cycle, what good is he?

MoJo Mix: Birthers and Vegas, Baby, Vegas

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 8:09 PM EDT

It's Laura, zooming by with a few odds and ends you might enjoy. (Don't worry, Kevin will be back in the next post):

1) Birther bio cheatsheet: 4 wingnuts you need to know.

2) Sheik down: How the Pentagon bought stability in Iraq by funneling taxpayer cash to strongmen.

3) Tweeting Las Vegas: A solar energy expert's notes from Monday's National Clean Energy Summit.

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.

Fundraising Time Again!

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 4:29 PM EDT

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.