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“The Big Green Test”: Conservatives And Climate Change

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Yet there are a number of second-best things (in the technical sense, as I’ll explain shortly) that we’re either doing already or might do soon. And the question for Mr. Paulson and other conservatives who consider themselves environmentalists is whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers, and in particular whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers implemented by the other party. If they aren’t, their supposed environmentalism is an empty gesture.

Let me give some examples of what I’m talking about.

First, consider rules like fuel efficiency standards, or “net metering” mandates requiring that utilities buy back the electricity generated by homeowners’ solar panels. Any economics student can tell you that such rules are inefficient compared with the clean incentives provided by an emissions tax. But we don’t have an emissions tax, and fuel efficiency rules and net metering reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So a question for conservative environmentalists: Do you support the continuation of such mandates, or are you with the business groups (spearheaded by the Koch brothers) campaigning to eliminate them and impose fees on home solar installations?

Second, consider government support for clean energy via subsidies and loan guarantees. Again, if we had an appropriately high emissions tax such support might not be necessary (there would be a case for investment promotion even then, but never mind). But we don’t have such a tax. So the question is, Are you O.K. with things like loan guarantees for solar plants, even though we know that some loans will go bad, Solyndra-style?

Finally, what about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that it use its regulatory authority to impose large reductions in emissions from power plants? The agency is eager to pursue market-friendly solutions to the extent it can — basically by imposing emissions limits on states, while encouraging states or groups of states to create cap-and-trade systems that effectively put a price on carbon. But this will nonetheless be a partial approach that addresses only one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Are you willing to support this partial approach?

By the way: Readers well versed in economics will recognize that I’m talking about what is technically known as the “theory of the second best.” According to this theory, distortions in one market — in this case, the fact that there are large social costs to carbon emissions, but individuals and firms don’t pay a price for emitting carbon — can justify government intervention in other, related markets. Second-best arguments have a dubious reputation in economics, because the right policy is always to eliminate the primary distortion, if you can. But sometimes you can’t, and this is one of those times.

Which brings me back to Mr. Paulson. In his Op-Ed he likens the climate crisis to the financial crisis he helped confront in 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good analogy: In the financial crisis he could credibly argue that disaster was only days away, while the climate catastrophe will unfold over many decades.

So let me suggest a different analogy, one that he probably won’t like. In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?

The question for Mr. Paulson and those of similar views is whether they’re willing to go along with that kind of imperfection. If they are, welcome aboard.

 

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 22, 2014

 

 

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Clean Energy, Climate Change | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“She Can See Things 16 Days Before They Happen”: The Woman At The Center Of The IRS ‘Scandal’ Must Be Clairvoyant

If I were the Republican Party, rather than attacking Lois Lerner as a modern-day E. Howard Hunt, I’d hire her as an election consultant. Why? Because the former commissioner at the center of the “newly re-burgeoning” IRS “scandal” is clearly a clairvoyant. I should think she’d be pretty handy for Reince Priebus to have around this October. You see, she can see things 16 days before they happen.

How do I know this? Consider the timeline of events. Lerner, who worked in the service’s Washington office, was first alerted that employees in the Cincinnati branch were using “inappropriate criteria” (key words like “tea party”) to process the applications of nonprofit groups on June 29, 2011. This comes from the very Treasury Department IG report that first made this whole business public. See the timeline here.

OK, so that’s that. Now, you’ve been hearing all this stuff lately about her lost emails, right? Her emails from between January 2009 and April 2011 disappeared. Went poof. It was in early 2010 that the IRS began using the inappropriate criteria. Looks awfully suspicious, doesn’t it? She lost all her emails pertaining to the period under examination and then some. Stinks to high heaven. Some have compared the missing two-plus years to the famous 18 1/2-minute gap in the Watergate tapes.

One problem. Her computer crashed on June 13, 2011. It was the following day that she wrote to other IRS personnel to tell them: “My computer crashed yesterday.” This date was noted last week by Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

That was when all those emails disappeared on her. It happened 16 days before she even knew about the problem in the Cincinnati office. So how likely is it that she deleted those emails in order to prevent House investigators from being able to learn anything about the “scandal”? Considering that she didn’t know about the problem yet, I’d say bloody unlikely.

In other words, this is just another ridiculous allegation in a parade of them. Admittedly, all of these revelations have looked dubious at first glance. But all of them have fizzled upon serious examination. It wasn’t just groups on the right that were targeted. The IRS head who visited the White House 155 times or whatever it was turns out to have gone to the Old Executive Office Building, not the White House, most of those times, and largely to talk about the IRS’ role in crafting and implementing Obamacare. And so on.

On top of that, the idea that Obama himself had some hand in this stuff, which was of course the original suspicion and orgasmatronic dream in Wingnuttia, is and always has been utterly crazy. I wouldn’t have put much past George W. Bush, but I would never have believed that even he would have orchestrated a scandal with such little upside (keeping some groups from getting 501c3 status) and such massive downside (possible Nixonian illegality). Dick Cheney, maybe, but not Bush.

And on top of that, the extremely unsurprising fact is that federal government computers crash all the time. These agencies’ internal operations are all underfunded, and bureaucrats all over the country are using primitive computers that groan under the weight of today’s demands. Plus, requirements for data preservation are fairly lax—and even if they weren’t, problems happen in this realm frequently.

Remember the Bush-era U.S. attorney firings? The Bush White House announced that it had lost 5 million emails during that probe. Not all emails relating to the Valerie Plame investigation were properly preserved. And finally, a Justice Department report found that many emails written by and to two Bush administration officials who’d been involved in crafting the “torture is legal” argument had suddenly gone missing. I’m sure the people today saying that the IRS scandal is bigger than Watergate were making excuses then.

In this case, no excuses need to be made. Unless Lois Lerner is a clairvoyant, the idea that she deleted emails on June 13 to cover up behavior she didn’t even learn about until June 29 is simply preposterous to any rational person with even a passing respect for facts and evidence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe Darrell Issa, who is holding another hearing Monday night (yes, night!), casting his fishing line out into the sea one more time. His colleague Trey Gowdy is going to be getting all the Benghazi headlines once that committee is up and running, so Issa has to find something to do, I suppose.

What’s amusing to me here is this: Conservatives are the people who think government can’t do anything right. That is exactly the situation we have here. IRS employees in Cincinnati really screwed up the processing of applications. The people in the charge of them in Washington were to some degree asleep. Computers crashed and emails were lost. As far as conservatives are concerned, that’s what government does all the time.

To conservatives, that usually explains a lot. But here of course they thought they had a chance to advance the more delectably sinister theory that Obama is out to destroy his political enemies. But sorry. Obama’s no Nixon, and Lois Lerner is no Rose Mary Woods.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“June Is GOP Throwback Month”: Republicans Are Not Trying Very Hard To Escape Their Past

The right has long seemed stuck in the 1980s, ever basking in Ronald Reagan’s warm glow and policy solutions. This month it seems conservatives have decided to switch things up and temporally relocate themselves to the 2000s, if just for a little while.

So a giant squirrel is following former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton around the country on her book tour. Seriously. The Republican National Committee has dispatched someone in a bright orange squirrel costume to appear at her book events. The costume, Mother Jones reported this week, is left over from a similar 2008 publicity stunt in which the party used the squirrel to illustrate its concerns about ACORN, the now-defunct voter mobilization group. There was a logic to it then – squirrels and acorns – but now it’s as if someone at the RNC was cleaning out a closet, came across the squirrel suit and thought to themselves: Well, we can’t let this beauty go to waste. So the squirrel now wears a T-shirt which reads, “Another Clinton in the White House is Nuts.”

That sentiment neatly channels one of the early, sanctimonious premises of the George W. Bush presidency – the idea of Clinton fatigue, that the country didn’t want any more of the 42nd president, that “America wants somebody to restore honor and dignity to the White House,” as Bush put it while campaigning for the office. That somebody at the RNC thinks describing a return to Clintonism as “nuts” indicates that that particular delusion hasn’t been dislodged in the intervening 14 years. Remember that when he left office Bill Clinton enjoyed a 66 percent approval rating, according to Gallup. And just this week a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll found that he is easily the most admired president of the last quarter century, with 42 percent of respondents naming him the most admired chief executive in that time. That’s light-years ahead of President Barack Obama (18 percent), the Bush who succeeded Clinton (17) and the one who preceded him (16). Peace and prosperity will do that for you.

Of course the Bush presidency reoriented itself after 9/11, and we’re getting a flashback of those years as well, thanks to the collapse of the Iraqi armed forces in the face of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (an al-Qaida splinter group) and the civil war in Syria. So the whole neocon cast that devised the original Iraq fiasco have crawled out of the GOP memory hole apparently intent on proving the old Karl Marx-ism that history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce. “This is about preventing another 9/11,” former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on MSNBC this week, having updated his talking points not a wit from the first time he advocated sending armed forces into Iraq. Writing on The Weekly Standard’s website, Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol argue for air strikes and ground troops as “the only chance we have to persuade Iraq’s Sunni Arabs that they have an alternative to joining up with” al-Qaida or facing government death squads. Truly nothing persuades people of our benevolent intentions like bombing and invading their country. We’ll be greeted as liberators – just like we were the first time, right?

But the award for abject lack of self-awareness goes to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wrote with his daughter in The Wall Street Journal this week: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

Meanwhile back in the original Bush country – Texas – the 43d president’s gubernatorial successor this month channeled one of the uglier aspects of the 2004 presidential campaign, shameless gay-bashing. Recall the role played in the Bush re-election campaign of riling up the social right with state level campaigns against gay marriage. Speaking in San Francisco last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry compared homosexuality with alcoholism, saying that both afflictions can be resisted with a sufficient amount of will power. This sort of noxious comparison might have been unremarkable a decade ago, but times have changed and rapidly, with polls now showing majorities of Americans favoring marriage equality, for example. In 2014 it draws rebukes like this one, from CNBC host Joe Kernen: “I don’t think gay marriage leads to cirrhosis of the liver or domestic violence or DWIs.” Yeah, there is that.

Perry seems to have gotten the message, telling reporters at a press lunch on Thursday that he – and the GOP in general – shouldn’t get “deflected” onto social issues like the nature of homosexuality. “I stepped right in it,” he said.

Adjusting to rapid change can be hard, doubly so for conservatives whose ideology inherently resists it. Perhaps the best recent example of that emerged this week from North Carolina. State House Speaker Thom Tillis, the GOP Senate nominee, told “Carolina Business Review” in 2012 (the interview was ferreted out this week by Talking Points Memo) that “the traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African-American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We’ve got to resonate with those voters.” When asked whether Tillis was characterizing whites as the state’s and the country’s “traditional population,” his spokesman said no, that he was merely referring to “people who have been in North Carolina for a long time.” This is transparent nonsense. He contrasted the “traditional” population with, among others, the African-American population, which I’m fairly certain has been in the Tar Heel State for some time now.

But take a step back and look past the offensive content: Tillis was answering a question about his party’s inability to appeal to minorities, so when he talked about non-“traditional” voters he was doing so in the context of wanting to “resonate” with them. If this is the right’s idea of reaching out, it’s going to be a long decade for them – no wonder they’re trying to C.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scaring Away Black Voters In Mississippi”: Misinformation Is Already Circulating As To The Details Of The Law Voters Must Follow

Several right-wing groups have banded together to form a “voter integrity project’ in response to the news that Senator Thad Cochran is courting black Democratic voters in his runoff with the Tea partier Chris McDaniel.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots, all political action committees, will “deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats,” according to a Times article. Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservative Funds, said these observers would be trained to see “whether the law is being followed.”

Does anything think this “project” will actually encourage voter “integrity” as opposed to voter suppression? Misinformation is already circulating as to the details of the law that voters must follow.

As The Times noted, anyone can vote in a Republican runoff if he or she did not vote in the Democratic primary. Conversely, anyone who did participate in the Democratic primary may not vote in the Republican runoff.

But J. Christian Adams, a former lawyer for the Department of Justice known for pushing a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, told Breitbart, the conservative news site, that the rules are actually much stricter. In an email to the conservative news site he said that “if someone doesn’t intend to support the nominee in November, then that person isn’t allowed to vote in the Republican primary.”

In other words, a voter’s future intentions matter as much as their past actions.

To support Mr. Adams’s position, Breitbart cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper, which appears to indicate that Republican Party representatives may seek to discover whom voters intend to support in the fall, and potentially challenge their right to cast a ballot on those grounds.

The Supreme Court determined in a 2005 case that the First Amendment ‘protects the right of political parties to associate with fellow members and disassociate with non-members,’ Judge Pepper wrote in his opinion. So technically it’s the party’s responsibility—i.e., in this case, state GOP chairman Joe Nosef’s responsibility—to protect GOP voters’ First Amendment rights by working to keep Democrats from voting in the GOP primary runoff.”

The thing is, Breitbart left out a key detail.  As Rick Hasen pointed out on his Election Law Blog, the 2007 district court decision “was reversed and remanded” a year later. The upshot is that “poll workers may not challenge a voter, despite that voters past history of voting for Democrats unless the voter comes in and ‘openly declares that he or she does not intend to support the nominees of the party.’”

The plan to send “election observers” will, in itself, sound familiar to anyone who knows the history of voter intimidation in the South. The particular danger here is that even well-intentioned observers, primed for a flood of black Democrats and confused on the details of Mississippi law, will think it’s acceptable or even expected to take aside black voters and pepper them with questions.

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Mississippi, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pesky Niceties Just Aren’t Important”: Cheney Doesn’t Want To Talk About ‘What Happened 11 Or 12 Years Ago’

It was discouraging last week when discredited conservatives, who failed spectacularly on U.S. policy in Iraq, were given a media platform to talk about U.S. policy in Iraq. Last week’s Sunday shows alone, featuring the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol, led James Fallows to argue, “In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”

And yet, these discredited voices remain ubiquitous. Kenneth Pollack, for example, was on CNN yesterday, presented to viewers as a credible expert. Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, and went on serve on the Bush/Cheney National Security Council as head of the Mideast bureau, had a lengthy piece in Politico yesterday describing President Obama as “the man who broke the Middle East.”

And then there was ABC’s “This Week,” which welcomed Dick Cheney for his third Sunday show appearance since March. It went about as expected, though I was struck by the failed former vice president’s response to some of his catastrophic errors of fact and judgment.

“With all due respect, Jon, I was a strong supporter then of going into Iraq, I’m a strong supporter now. Everybody knows what my position is. There’s nothing to be argued about there.

“But if we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face.”

In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” there’s a scene in which John Cleese’s Sir Lancelot, certain he’s doing the right thing in behalf of a damsel in distress, storms into a castle during a wedding party, indiscriminately slaughtering most of the guests with his sword. The castle owner, eager to curry favor with Lancelot, urges the survivors to let bygones be bygones.

“Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed whom,” he tells his few remaining guests.

Cheney’s rhetoric is similar in its own pathetic way. Sure, he failed miserably, helping launch a disastrous war under false pretenses, the consequences of which we’re still struggling with today, but let’s not bicker and argue about who lied to whom about a deadly and unnecessary catastrophe. Pesky niceties such as accountability, credibility, and responsibility just aren’t important at a time like this, the argument goes

The difference is, in Monty Python, it was funny.

In the same Sunday show appearance, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked Cheney about his recent op-ed in which he argued that Obama is trying to deliberately undermine the United States’ global standing, effectively suggesting the president is guilty of treason.

“I don’t intend any disrespect for the president, but I fundamentally disagree with him,” Cheney said.

Of course. All Cheney did was accuse a war-time president in the middle of a crisis of wanting to hurt the country on purpose. Why would anyone think the failed former V.P. intended “disrespect”?

Nevertheless, the divisions within the Republican Party on foreign policy were also on display over the weekend. While Cheney was condemning the president who’s tried to clean up Cheney’s messes, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was doing largely the opposite, arguing that it’s a mistake to point fingers at the White House.

“I don’t blame President Obama,” Paul said. “Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame those who are for the Iraq War for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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