Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Reading

A Marriage of Convenience — Peter Baker in the New York Times looks back at the relationship between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Bush-Cheney 10-13-13A few weeks before Barack Obama’s inauguration, Joshua Bolten invited all of his predecessors to his office in the West Wing to meet with his successor, Rahm Emanuel. Thirteen of the living 16 men to have served as chief of staff attended, including Cheney, who was Gerald Ford’s top assistant. They went around the table one by one, offering advice. When Cheney’s turn came up, a devilish look crossed his face. “Whatever you do,” he said, “make sure you’ve got the vice president under control.”

As Bush’s final days in the White House approached, he did not exactly have his vice president under control. Cheney’s lobbying campaign on behalf of Scooter Libby had become deeply disconcerting to the president. To Cheney, it was a simple matter of justice. As he saw it, Libby had been pursued by an unprincipled prosecutor bent on damaging the White House. Neither Libby nor anyone else had been charged with the actual leak that precipitated the investigation, only with not testifying truthfully about how he learned about Wilson’s identity. Years later, it would be revealed that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, knew from nearly the start that Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s deputy, was the original source of the leak, not Libby. Cheney believed that Fitzgerald’s relentless investigation in spite of this fact was proof that Cheney was the real target, and that Libby was caught in the cross-fire. Libby had loyally served his country, Cheney argued, only to be made into a criminal. And Powell and Armitage stayed quiet as it happened. “The Powell-Armitage thing was such a sense of betrayal,” Cheney’s daughter Liz told me. “They sat there and watched their colleagues in the White House — Scooter and everyone else — go through the ordeal of the investigation, and all that time they both knew Armitage was the leaker.” Armitage and Powell said they were simply following investigators’ instructions to keep silent.

As Cheney pressed Bush for the pardon, the president put him off by saying he would wait to issue controversial pardons until near the end of his term, which the vice president took as an indication that Libby would be among them. Bush had already commuted Libby’s prison sentence of two and a half years after it was handed down in 2007. As a result, Libby never had to spend a minute behind bars, a decision that inflamed critics on the left, who argued that Bush was interfering with justice, and on the right, who felt he had not gone far enough in quashing a bogus prosecution.

At the time, Bush said publicly that he was not substituting his judgment for that of the jury. So how would he explain a change of mind just 18 months later? That was the argument Ed Gillespie, the president’s counselor, made to Cheney when he came to explain why he was advising Bush against a pardon. “On top of that, the lawyers are not making the case for it,” Gillespie told Cheney, referring to the White House attorneys reviewing the case for Bush. “We’ll be asked, ‘Did the lawyers recommend it?’ And if the lawyers didn’t, it’s going to be hard to justify for the president.”

Inside the Bubble — Molly Ball at The Atlantic reports that the conservatives are convinced they’re winning the shutdown battle.

Friday was a difficult day to wake up Republican in America. With the government shutdown entering its 11th day, a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News had definitively quashed any hopes that people might be taking the GOP’s side in the standoff. Americans blamed Republicans over the president by a 20-point margin for the shutdown; the GOP’s rating was at its lowest point in the pollster’s history. Shutting down the government to demand that the president’s unpopular health-care law be stopped had somehow made both President Obama and his health-care legislation more popular.

You might expect this news to put a damper on a roomful of conservatives. In official Washington, Republicans were in a full-on panic; commentators called the party suicidal, and lawmakers began scurrying toward a resolution to the standoff. But Senator Ted Cruz of Texas—the man whose adamant resolve and 21-hour filibuster had helped bring on the stalemate, earning him the loathing of many of his colleagues—was in a defiant mood.

Taking the stage at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of religious-right activists, Cruz announced that they were winning the fight. “I am here this morning with a word of encouragement and exhortation!” Cruz said. A woman in the front row shouted a passage from Romans: “If God is with you, who can be against you?” “I receive that blessing,” Cruz said somberly.

The conventional wisdom that the battle to stop the health-care law cannot be won, to Cruz, was merely a “trick” perpetrated by the deceitful left. “Look, the Democrats are feeling the heat,” he said. Cruz has been huddling with the lower chamber’s most conservative members, urging them to pressure Speaker John Boehner, prompting some to declare him a sort of shadow speaker. “In my view, the House of Representatives needs to keep doing what it’s been doing, which is standing strong,” he said.


In between speeches, the phone number of the congressional switchboard was projected on screens at the front of the room. Attendees were encouraged to call their members of Congress and urge them to hold fast to their demands. Among audience members, there was no thought of backing down. Doing the right thing isn’t about being popular, Julie Hoffman, a 48-year-old homeschooler and pastor’s wife from Corpus Christi, Texas, told me; you have to trust in the Lord that integrity and strength will be rewarded in the end.

I asked Tony Perkins, the veteran conservative activist who heads the Family Research Council, what way out of the shutdown he would consider acceptable. He said a delay of the health-care law’s individual mandate—a proposal already rejected by the Senate and president when the House passed it—was the absolute least conservatives would settle for, and that any deal that didn’t substantially affect Obamacare would inspire a revolt. “Ted Cruz has done more to help the Republican Party, I think, than anyone in the last 10 years,” he said, by “reengaging the people Republicans need to win elections.”

Do you care about the polls showing this is hurting the Republican Party? I asked. “No,” he said. “Who are they polling? Just GOP voters? No, the general public.” And what about the schism within the GOP that has resulted? “It’s long overdue,” Perkins said. “Where did that go-along, get-along view get us? Into a mess. It’s time to challenge the status quo.”

Meet the Beetles — Maddie Oatman at Mother Jones tells about the spread of a bug that is killing the evergreen forests of Colorado.

Mummy Range 07-08-2000Since the late 1990s, mountain pine beetles have swept through millions of acres of forest in the Rockies, turning hillsides of trees a rusty red and then grey as they populate trees and kill them. In Colorado, this outbreak seems to have peaked in 2008 and 2009; but just as one species slowed, another—the spruce beetle—has picked up steam. A new University of Colorado study published in Ecology reveals how drought was the driver of the rise in spruce beetle activity and resulting tree deaths in Colorado’s high-elevation forests in recent years. The drought is in turn linked to changes in sea surface temperatures that are expected to continue for decades to come. In the long-term, such massive insect infestations could dramatically diminish North American forests’ ability to retain water and sequester carbon—meaning trees will be less effective at balancing out the human toll on the environment.

So far, fewer acres of trees have been affected by spruce beetles than mountain pine beetles, but there are more spruce forests in Colorado than Lodgepole pine, so there’s “no reason to expect the percentage mortality to be less or acreage affected to be any less” than it was for the mountain pine beetle epidemic, said Tom Veblen, coauthor of the study and a geography professor at CU.

Lead author Sarah Hart remembers flying over British Colombia in 2007 and seeing endless stretches of red trees killed by mountain pine beetles. When she moved to Colorado, a spruce beetle outbreak had started to turn heads in the area, prompting her to look deeper into its underlying causes.

To analyze what was driving the recent spruce beetle explosion, the CU researchers compiled a 300-plus-year record of past outbreaks using tree ring data and historical documents like records from surveyors in the early 1900s. Warmer temperatures allow beetles to speed up their life cycles and expand in numbers. But “it was interesting that drought was a better predictor for spruce beetle outbreaks than temperature,” said Hart. Trees have natural defenses against these beetles; for one, they expel intruders with resin. During wetter periods like 1976-1998, the CU researchers noticed, spruce beetle outbreak was minimal because trees were likely more successful in pitching the beetles out, even as the bugs prospered in the warmth. Drought appears to weaken the trees’ defenses, making even healthy-seeming spruce susceptible to beetles desperate to get inside to feast and lay eggs. Since drought is likely to linger in the Southern Rockies in the near future, conditions are ripe for the beetles to continue their reign.

Doonesbury – Comeback