The weather in the Amazon is going crazy—and the sudden climate changes could affect not only Brazil and its neighboring countries, but areas as far from the rainforest as the Mexican gulf and maybe even the southern US. That’s what Paulo Moutinho, research coordinator for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), warns might happen if the world doesn’t cut its carbon emissions significantly over the next two years.

After two severe drought periods in 1998 and 2005, the Amazon is now in the midst of heavy flooding—the river has reached a record water level of 28 feet. The drought hurt the economy and caused healthcare costs to skyrocket, but Moutinho believes an overflow could cause equal damage by ruining plantations and causing outbreaks of sewage-related diseases.

 

Once again, a major American car company is headed for bankruptcy, and once again, the Obama administration is stepping in with buckets of cash. Last time it was Chrysler. Now it's General Motors. But the debate's the same. The Obama team is forcing bondholders to accept a much worse deal than the United Auto Workers is getting, and the bondholders are (predictably) howling. Marc Ambinder says Obama is "rewriting the rules of capitalism." Really? When hedge fund manager Clifford Asness complained about the Chrysler deal, I argued that Chrysler investors should have known that any deal to save the company was likely to involve government money and all the strings that come with it. Those strings, as anyone who had been watching the bank bailouts would have known, mean that political considerations come into play.

Michelle Cottle is a racist, sexist hatemonger:

Not to state the obvious, but an upper-middle class white guy reared in the suburbs is shaped by his experiences, carries certain assumptions, and views the world through a particular prism as much as a working-glass Puerto Rican gal from Queens, or, for that matter, the half-black son of a single mom raised in Hawaii. The person belonging to the cultural/ethnic/religious/gender/racial demographic that has traditionally dominated a field (and thus whose perspective has long been the default) may not have given as much thought to his prism as a member of a non-dominant group. But that does not make his prism a neutral one. It simply allows him to more freely indulge his delusions of pure rationality and objectivity.

This is ridiculous.  It's just a coincidence that opposition to affirmative action comes almost exclusively from white men.  Nothing to do with background at all.  Right, Rush?

Liz Cheney has already gotten some flak from this blog for claiming on live television that calling waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" torture is "frankly libelous." Now Mother Jones' own legal adviser, James Chadwick, has decided to drop some knowledge. Here's what he says:

Liz Cheney's been reading too much George Orwell and not enough first amendment. You can't libel the government, and statements of opinion can't be libelous. I think Liz Cheney would be particularly interested in defending the idea that what constitutes torture is a matter of opinion because if not, her father might be in a lot of trouble. She's not talking about specific allegations about specific people. She's talking about people saying what the US government did... was torture.

One of the reasons the founding fathers established the first amendment was to do away with the idea of seditious libel - libeling the king. You cannot be sued for saying bad things about the government, period.

If you do talk about specific individuals sanctioning torture, then all those individuals are unquestionably public figures, which requires the highest standard of proof that there is in civil law. "Clear and convincing evidence of actual knowledge of falsity, a reckless disregard of the truth." I don't think anyone can say it's actionable to call waterboarding torture.

Bottom line: Liz Cheney doesn't know what the heck she's talking about.

The following is a guest blog entry by Deena Guzder.

On May 20, 2009 a Wisconsin mother who followed an apocalyptic religious website said in a videotaped interview played at her trial that she did not call a doctor when her 11-year-old daughter was dying of untreated diabetes, but instead prayed for divine healing. “I just believed the Lord is going to heal her,” said Neumann. “I just felt that, you know, my faith was being tested.” During the trial, one of Neumann's surviving teenage children defended her parents’ decision to eschew medical intervention. “Because God created everyone, and how can we be more powerful than God?” the teenager said. “Why should we diss him and think a doctor would be more powerful than God or trust a doctor more than God?"

Even after her daughter was pronounced dead, Neumann told a detective, “I'm not crying and wailing right now because I know she's, I know she's, she's gonna come, she's gonna come back.” Unfortunately, there was no resurrection.

In the week after 9/11, unleashed deep within a Yemeni prison was what might have been the most effective interrogation tool ever devised by the U.S. Government. It could be more powerful than waterboarding, sleep deprivation, naked photos, or barking dogs. It is a monster that resides within almost all of us, a shaggy, blue-haired beast with an uncontrollable urge to devour oven-baked sweets while growling, "Coooookie!"

From Time comes this account of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan's successful attempt to win over  Al-Qaeda operative Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured:

He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda's involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel's Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn't touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldn't eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal's angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."

All hail the Cookie Monster!  Seriously, his brand of monstrousness might be the the only kind we need:

Soufan, now an international-security consultant, has emerged as a powerful critic of the George W. Bush — era interrogation techniques; he has testified against them in congressional hearings and is an expert witness in cases against detainees. He has described the techniques as "borderline torture" and "un-American." His larger argument is that methods like waterboarding are wholly unnecessary — traditional interrogation methods, a combination of guile and graft, are the best way to break down even the most stubborn subjects.

Risk

Economist Gary Gorton has written a 20,000 word paper on the subject of "informationally-insensitive debt" — i.e., ultra-safe investments like federally insured bank deposits.  Ezra Klein boils this down to a thousand words.  I boldly push the boundaries even further:

The morons who inhabit Wall Street thought they had removed all risk from inherently risky investments.  They were wrong.

There!  Twenty words.  That's a compression ratio even greater than Ezra's.  Felix Salmon comments:

Gorton's solution to this problem is to involve the government in all manner of regulation — and insurance — of the securitization market, thereby making [asset back commerical paper] behave much like federally-insured bank deposits. I don't like this solution at all, since it would send the contingent liabilities of the government into the stratosphere, and more importantly would ratify the demand for informationally-insensitive assets by creating trillions of dollars of new ones.

In my view of the crisis, it's precisely the demand for informationally-insensitive assets which is the problem. And we need to get individuals, companies, and institutional investors out of the mindset that they can do an elegant little two-step around the inescapable fact that anybody with money to invest perforce must take a certain amount of risk. If you have a world where people are all looking for risk-free assets, you end up shunting all that risk into the tails. And the way to reduce tail risk is to get everybody to accept a small amount of risk on an everyday basis. We don't need more informationally-insensitive assets, we need less of them.

I agree.  There's a common view that investors in the period up until 2006 were practically drunk on risk, pricing it nearly at zero — but now, after the crash, they've become more risk averse than your grandmother.  They're almost completely unwilling to accept any risk at any price.

I think this view is fundamentally wrong.  What really happened is that in the early part of the decade investors became convinced that they could avoid risk entirely via financial engineering.  They were, in fact, immensely risk averse, but this wasn't obvious because they were buying up every security in sight.  The post-crash flight to quality, it turns out, wasn't really a flight at all.  Modern investors have been afraid of risk all along.

So Felix is right.  The last thing we need is for the government to perpetuate the delusion that financial markets are risk free.  For small retail bank depositors, that's fine.  For the big boys it's not.  They need to relearn the art of genuinely analyzing risk and taking it on knowingly, rather than pretending they can hedge it away under all circumstances.  After all, accurate analysis of risk is essential to the efficient allocation of capital, and efficient allocation of capital is one of the keys to economic growth.  It's time for Wall Street to get back to basics.

Elections (and baseball) stat guru Nate Silver kicked off a wide-ranging blogosphere discussion yesterday when he asked whether Republicans can sacrifice the Hispanic vote (presumably by stepping up anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA rhetoric and bashing Sonia Sotomayor) and still win elections. He said "si pueden":

If you could gain ground in the Midwest or the South by pursing an anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA, "America First" sort of platform, you really wouldn't be putting all that much at risk by losing further ground among Latinos. Yes, you could make life (much) harder for yourself if you screwed up Florida or put Arizona into play in the process, but it's not a bad strategy, all things considered.

About half the Hispanics in the United States reside in California or Texas, and another 20 percent are in New York, New Jersey or Illinois, none of which look to be competitive in 2012. (Yes, the Republicans could lose Texas, but probably only in a landslide). There just aren't that many Hispanic voters near the electoral tipping point.

On Friday, statistician Andrew Gelman advanced the discussion by analyzing the Latino vote's impact on President Barack Obama's election win. He says "the removal of the Hispanic vote wouldn't have changed the election outcome in any state." Check out the proof.

Quote of the Day

From Will Wilkinson, who'd like to see a libertarian nominated to the Supreme Court but knows perfectly well that Barack Obama is a liberal who will nominate liberals to the Supreme Court:

So I was hoping for a relatively centrist liberal who sees some merit in libertarian arguments, especially about the protection of economic rights. As far as I can tell, there is nothing especially worrying about Sotomayor. She’s obviously super-qualified. And from what I’ve read, she seems like a highly competent, fairly moderate liberal who sticks pretty close to the law (which nobody really likes when they don’t like the law!) and is perfectly willing to side with Republican-appointed judges when that seems to her the right thing to do. What are people going batshit crazy over? I don’t get it. And I really don’t get why many Republicans have taken this opportunity to reinforce the already widespread impression that they are morally odious morons. God, I hate politics.

I feel your pain, Will.  The craziness is coming so thick and fast that I can't even keep up with it.  It makes my brain hurt.

Elizabeth Cheney, who I guess gets to be on television because having actual experts on would be boring, clearly does not have a good grasp of the definition of libel. In this clip from MSNBC, she claims that referring to Dick Cheney and the people who waterboarded terrorist suspects as "torturers" is libelous: