In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody today, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) defended radical pastor John Hagee‘s late 90s comment that “Hitler was a hunter” sent by God in order to get “the Jewish people” to “come back to the land of Israel.” “A comment Pastor Hagee made about the Holocaust was taken way out of context,” Lieberman told Brody. Lieberman, who compared Hagee to Moses at the Christians United For Israel conference last week, added that Hagee’s “a dear friend” for whom he has “the greatest admiration.”
Josh Marshall wonders how John McCain can be described as “ambivalent” about running on his war record when his war record is such a major theme of his campaign that “At many of his events, his campaign sets up a screen and plays for the crowd a three-minute film called “Service with Honor,” telling the story of McCain’s more than five years of captivity in a North Vietnamese prison after his Navy plan was shot down in 1967.”
But this is easy. As many pundits have pointed out, John McCain has awesome powers of oppositology. Suppose, for example, you were to catch McCain in a lie — as seems to happen frequently these days. Well, Richard Cohen has explained that the very ease with which one catches McCain lying is evidence of his honesty:
McCain’s true virtue is that he is a lousy politician. He is not a convincing liar, and when he adopts positions that are not his own, they infect him, sapping him of what might be called integrity energy.
Paul Krugman has a blog post about one of my favorite economists, Marty Weitzman. He has the central point right, which is that “on any sort of expected-welfare calculation, the small probability of catastrophe dominates the expected loss.”
But Krugman’s general lack of understanding of global warming — and his willingness to believe anything Bj¸rn Lomborg says — undermines his entire analysis:
Bjorn Lomborg … says that climate change will reduce world GDP by less than 0.5%, so it’s not worth spending a lot on mitigation.
Weitzman’s point is, first, that we don’t actually know that: a small loss may be the most likely outcome given what we know now, but there’s some chance that things will be much worse. (Marty surveys the existing climate models, and suggests that they give about a 1% probability to truly catastrophic change, say a 20-degree centigrade rise in average temperature.)
… Suppose that there’s a 99% chance that Lomborg is right, but a 1% chance that catastrophic climate change will reduce world GDP by 90%. You might be tempted to disregard that small chance — but if you’re even moderately risk averse (say, relative risk aversion of 2 — econowonks know what I mean), you quickly find that the expected loss of welfare isn’t 0.5% of GDP, it’s 10% or more of GDP.
Well, ‘yes’, on the final point, but ‘no’ on every other point.
Indeed, a 20°C rise in average global temperature — which translates to perhaps 50°F warming over much of the inland U.S. — is “James Lovelock” territory where “the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million.” Catastrophic climate change is anything significantly over 3°C, which is not a 1% chance, but a near certainty if we don’t reverse greenhouse gas emissions sharply and soon (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction“).
Lomborg, of course, does not have anywhere near a 99% chance of being right that “climate change will reduce world GDP by less than 0.5%.” Indeed, if we actually followed Lomborg’s do-nothing prescription, then he has precisely a zero chance of being right. He is a pure disinformer (see “Lomborg skewers the facts, again” and “Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part III, He’s a Real Nowhere Man“).
Weitzman’s analysis is, however, very important for traditionally economists — and everyone else — to understand, so let me reprint my September post, Harvard economist disses most climate cost-benefit analyses, below:
In a press conference today, four members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), called on EPA administrator Stephen Johnson to resign, charging that he had refused to cooperate with Congressional oversight and gave misleading testimony. The senators also asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the contradictions between Johnson’s sworn testimony to Congress and the sworn testimony of other witnesses regarding the EPA’s decision to deny California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Boxer said that Johnson had “become a secretive and dangerous ally of polluters“:
BOXER: Mr. Johnson has consistently chosen special interests over the American people’s interests in protecting health and safety. He has become a secretive and dangerous ally of polluters, and we cannot stand by and allow more damage to be done. We have lost all confidence in Stephen Johnson’s ability to carry out EPA’s mission in accordance with the law. I call on Administrator Johnson to immediately resign his position.
Read Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) letter to Mukasey here. The Wonk Room has video of Whitehouse’s sobering Senate floor speech.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto dismissed the allegations against Johnson, claiming that “Boxer has ‘no standing‘ to question Johnson’s integrity.”
In a sobering speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) formally announced the request for a Department of Justice investigation into the potential criminal conduct of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, whom he called “a man after Spiro Agnew’s own heart.”
Whitehouse listed five charges of “putting the interests of corporate polluters before science and the law” in ozone, lead, soot, tailpipe emissions, and global warming pollution; and four charges of degrading “the procedures and institutional safeguards that sustain the agency;” before discussing “his apparent dishonesty in testimony before Congress”:
And in what is perhaps the gravest matter of all, I believe the Administrator deliberately and repeatedly lied to Congress, creating a false picture of the process that led to EPA’s denial of the California waiver, in order to obscure the role of the White House in influencing his decision.
Today, Senator Boxer and I have sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, asking him to investigate whether Administrator Johnson gave false and misleading statements, whether he lied to Congress, whether he committed perjury, and whether he obstructed Congress’s investigation into the process that led to the denial of the California waiver request.
After listing yet more “signs of an agency corrupted in every place the shadowy influence of the Bush White House can reach,” Sen. Whitehouse concluded:
Administrator Johnson suggests a man who has every intention of driving his agency onto the rocks, of undermining and despoiling it, of leaving America’s environment and America’s people without an honest advocate in their federal government.
This behavior not only degrades his once-great agency – it drives the dagger of dishonesty deep in the very vitals of American democracy.
The American people cannot accept such a person in a position of such great responsibility. I am sorry it has come to this, but I call on Administrator Johnson to resign his position.
I yield the floor.
Join Sen. Whitehouse in calling for Johnson’s resignation here.
Full text of Sen. Whitehouse’s speech: Read more
I’m happy to learn that Ta-Nehisi Coates will be joining the Atlantic blog team in the near future — he’s an absolutely great choice.
According to statistics provided in a new report from the United States Institute of Peace, the use of air power in Afghanistan by U.S. and NATO allies has increased from 5,000 pounds of munitions per month in 2005 to 168,000 pounds in December, 2007. The result is that “civilian casualties increased by 62 [percent] in 2008, compared to figures from the first six months of 2007.” The report says the increase in air power is a result of a shortage of troops and suggests that the resulting increase in casualties is “a key reason for the Taliban comeback”:
Stabilizing Afghanistan requires the support of the Afghan people. This presents a fundamental dilemma in that stability requires security, and security requires targeting insurgents, which, in turn invariably leads to civilian deaths. These civilian casualties have led to the erosion of civilian support for the counter-insurgency.
Troop levels in Afghanistan have been insufficient given the geographic and demographic scope of the challenge, resulting in increased reliance on air power as a substitute for ground forces.
Ezra Klein called attention earlier today to some alarming predictions about the future of the American waistline. Often when people contemplate the unsound eating habits of the average American they suggest that the typical diet of Mediterranean countries would be a better model to emulate. Unfortunately John Boonstra notes that the reverse seems to be happening and Mediterranean people are shifting to American-style larger portions, more meat, and worse health outcomes.
The proximate cause is that these traditionally middle income countries are getting rich, and thus adopting the bad eating habits of richer countries. All of which points to a fairly profound challenge. Everyone understands that GDP is not the be-all and end-all of human flourishing. But still, typically as countries get richer you see an amelioration of conditions across the board. Beyond a certain point, however, this badly breaks down with regard to certain aspects of diet and public health. Our bodies are programmed to strongly desire certain kinds of foodstuffs that are assumed to be objectively scarce. Wealth undermines that assumption of scarcity in ways that are extremely deleterious to human well-being.
The good news, such as it is, is that we have a very robust tradition of government intervention in the agricultural sector. No free marketeers on the farm, no laissez faire in the refrigerator. Meaning that instead of our current policies, which are designed to do God-knows-what, we could have policies that discouraged the production and consumption of delicious French Fries, Combos, and steak and encouraged the production and consumption of not-so-delicious vegetables and quinoa.
Photo by Flickr user Jimmy MacDonald used under a Creative Commons license
Another sign of desperation at the McCain Campaign as they seem to have hired Matt Yglesias to do their copy editing.
Meanwhile, one thing I admire about Barack Obama is that he’s taken a principled stand against a pointless overemphasis of manned space exploration even as Hillary Clinton and McCain both sought consistently to pander to the small number of beneficiaries of the status quo.
Interviewed on MSNBC last week, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Fox News pundits and commentators “were useful to the White House,” stating that they were given “talking points” to repeat on air:
Q: Did people say call Sean, call Bill, call whoever? Did you do that as a regular thing?
McCLELLAN: Certainly. Certainly. It wasn’t necessarily something I was doing, but it was something that we at the White House, yes, were doing.
On his radio show yesterday, Bill O’Reilly let loose on McClellan, calling him a “liar” and an “idiot” for saying O’Reilly accepted the talking points. Today, McClellan went on O’Reilly’s show and in a tense back and forth, O’Reilly got McClellan to apologize for the “talking points” statement. “Do you owe me an apology?” O’Reilly asked. McClellan responded:
McCLELLAN: The truth is I messed up. I was specifically not trying to single anyone out, including you. But the way a couple of the questions were phrased in that interview along with my response left things open to interpretation and I should not have let that happen. … I understand why you got upset. … You’re the Big Kahuna at Fox News, and some people tried to paint in a black and white term through a preconceived notion.
Despite McClellan’s apology, O’Reilly yelled at McClellan later in the segment, blaming McClellan for getting “played’ by Chris Matthews and accusing him of being a “liar” and “crazy”:
O’REILLY: Matthews played you. … He played you! You should be mad at him!
McCLELLAN: So you don’t owe me an apology for calling me a liar? –
O’REILLY: You are a liar! You said I received talking points and I didn’t!
McCLELLAN: No I didn’t! I was not confirming that. I’m telling you right now —
O’REILLY: Oh you’re parsing the damn thing! Come on, be honest! … He baited you! He baited you! … You’re crazy! You’re partners with [NBC] in selling your book!
McClellan, however, did stand by his original point. “I stand by what I said in terms of the larger things and everything.” Without pointing out specific names or networks, McClellan vaguely claimed: “There were other people that were friendly and sympathetic to us.”