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Wonkbook: Climate change may be to blame for extreme weather events now

Karl Singer is writing Wonkbook while Ezra is on vacation.

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Top story: Climate change may be to blame for extreme weather events now

A new study finds some extreme weather events wouldn't have happened without climate change. "The percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years, according to a new scientific paper. The change is so drastic, the paper says, that scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. Those claims, which go beyond the established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, were advanced by James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors in a scientific paper published online on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Justin Gillis in The New York Times.

READ: James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy's study (PDF).

WATCH: Hansen talks about the study on PBS NewsHour.

Study author Hansen explains: "Loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you. Our new peer-reviewed study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, makes clear that while average global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate (up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century), the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide. When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe. The change is so dramatic that one face of the die must now represent extreme weather to illustrate the greater frequency of extremely hot weather events." James Hansen in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, crop conditions are still getting worse as the drought continues. "The condition of U.S. corn and soybean crops deteriorated to the worst since 1988 as the country’s most widespread drought in 56 years caused damage to plants across the Midwest. About 39 percent of soybeans were rated poor to very poor as of yesterday, more than the 37 percent of a week earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report on its website. For corn, 50 percent got the lowest ratings, up from 48 percent a week earlier...Twenty-three percent of U.S. corn was rated good or excellent as of Aug. 5, down from 24 percent a week earlier, marking the ninth straight weekly decline, the government said. That’s the longest slump since at least 1986, USDA data show. Soybeans ratings were unchanged at 29 percent good or excellent, the first time conditions haven’t declined since June 1." Tony Dreibus in Bloomberg.

@billmckibben: 50% of U.S. corn crop now rated poor or very poor, up from 48% last week

BLOOMBERG VIEW: We need to prepare for coastal flooding. "Naturally, this refocuses attention on the current U.S. drought. Left out of the discussion, however, is another, equally serious and already pressing consequence of human- induced climate change: sea-level rise. On all coasts, we face a huge and building threat from too much water...This won’t happen evenly everywhere. One hot spot is the East Coast of the U.S., where the land is sinking and nearby ocean currents are slowing, causing the water to rise faster...Congress could help -- by ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw its outdated flood insurance rate maps to take into account anticipated sea-level rise. Research shows that every dollar invested in such efforts to prepare for disaster yields $4 in future benefits. Better maps could help local governments plan better, and also help FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program save money." The Bloomberg View Editorial Board.

KRUPP: It's time for a credible conservative plan on climate change. "Respected Republican leaders like Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey have spoken out about the reality of climate change...If enough members of the two warring climate camps can acknowledge [some] basic truths, we can get on with the hard work of forging a bipartisan, multi-stakeholder plan of action to safeguard the natural systems on which our economic future depends...[This] does not necessarily require conservatives to embrace more government regulation. To the contrary, they should promote policies that fit their views of government and the market." Fred Krupp in The Wall Street Journal.

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Top op-eds

1) KLEIN: Obama has proposed policies. Mitt Romney hasn’t. "The central difficulty of covering this presidential campaign -- which is to say, of explaining Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s disparate plans for the country -- is the continued existence of what we might call the policy gap. The policy gap, put simply, is this: Obama has proposed policies. Mitt Romney hasn’t. It is important to say that this exists separately from any judgments about the quality of either man’s policies. You can believe every idea Obama has proposed is a socialist horror inspired by Kenyan revenge fantasies. This would, I think, be a strange judgment to reach about plans to invest in infrastructure, temporarily double the size of the payroll tax cuts and raise the marginal tax rate on income over $250,000 by 4.5 percentage points. Nevertheless, Obama’s policy proposals are sufficiently detailed that they can be fully assessed and conclusions -- even odd ones -- confidently drawn. Romney’s policies are not." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@ezraklein: Romney's policy vagueness is unique among modern presidential campaigns. And Republicans shouldn't like that any more than Democrats.

2) GENSLER: Libor needs a substitute based on real transactions. "The Barclays case isn’t only about misconduct by large financial institutions. It also raises questions about the reliability and accuracy of these key interest rates, which are largely determined by the private sector, without significant government oversight...Markets work best when benchmark rates are based on observable transactions. The public is shortchanged if Libor, the emperor of rates, is not clothed in such transactions. One solution might be to use other benchmark rates -- like the overnight index swaps rate, which is tied to the rate at which banks lend to one another overnight -- that are based on real transactions. There are also benchmark rates based on actual short-term secured financings (loans in which collateral is pledged) between banks and other financial institutions." Gary Gensler in The New York Times.

3) STEVENSON AND WOLFERS: Economics is in the midst of an empirical revolution. "Many had pronounced the field of economics discredited after the global financial crisis. Instead, it’s in the midst of a revolution. The transformation isn’t a mea culpa, or a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis. Rather, it’s a long-running shift toward a more empirical field, to the study of what hard data can tell us about the way the world really works...An economist with a laptop can, in a matter of seconds, do the kind of number crunching it used to take a roomful of Ph.D.’s weeks to achieve. Just a few decades ago, economists used punch cards to program data analysis for their empirical studies. The result has been a boom in empirical research." Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in Bloomberg.

4) YGLESIAS: Romney shouldn't pay for his tax cuts. "A bombshell report released last week by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center shows that Mitt Romney has given Democrats the greatest gift they could hope for--a Republican plan for a broad increase in middle-class taxes...The answer is simply not to pay for the tax cuts. That would mean admitting that the attacks on Obama-era deficits are bogus. But it would also have the virtue of being true. For all that Democrats mewled about deficits during the Bush years, there’s precious little evidence they did the economy any harm. Right now the government can borrow money basically for free, so there’s little reason to pay for anything. That wouldn’t be my ideal economic stimulus plan, but it’s better than doing nothing and certainly better than the middle-class tax hike Romney has backed himself into proposing. But the first step toward improving his proposal would be admitting he has a problem." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

5) BROOKS: Weakening the work requirement is a huge mistake. "On July 12, the administration unilaterally weakened the federally mandated work requirements for welfare recipients...According to the U.S. government, welfare reform helped to move 4.7 million Americans from welfare dependency to self-sufficiency within three years of enactment. The overall federal welfare caseload declined by 54% between 1996 and 2004. Even more important, there is evidence that it improved the lives of those who moved off welfare. In the Berkeley Electronic Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy (2011), Santa Clara University's John Ifcher showed, using data from the General Social Survey, that single mothers--despite lost leisure time and increased stress from finding child care and performing household duties while working--were significantly happier about their lives in the eight years after reforms led them into the workforce." Arthur Brooks in The Wall Street Journal.

Top long reads

Noam Scheiber profiles Mitt Romney's top strategist, Stuart Stevens:"Before he earned his reputation as one of the best ad men in politics, before he wrote for several major television shows, and long before he became Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, Stuart Stevens found himself in Cameroon, face to face with a machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down. It was 1988, and a few weeks earlier, Stevens had deposited himself in the nearby Central African Republic to pick up a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to France. But the trip was a disaster from the get-go. Local officials confiscated the car and refused to release it. Weeks passed before he could find a roadworthy replacement. By the time Stevens finally got moving, he discovered that his maps were unreliable, the roads nearly impassable, and the local bureaucrats inhospitable. Distances drivable within a few hours in the United States gobbled up days."

Steven Mufson investigates the dispute over Keystone XL's threat to an important aquifer:"At the heart of their battle is whether the pipeline would pose a threat to the massive Ogallala Aquifer -- one of the world’s largest underground sources of fresh water. By one calculation, it holds enough water to cover the country’s 48 contiguous states two feet deep. The Ogallala stretches beneath most of Nebraska from the Sand Hills in the west to the outskirts of Omaha. And it runs from South Dakota well past Lubbock, Tex...In some places the aquifer is buried 1,200 feet deep, but in many places it is at or very close to the surface, often less than five feet below ground. In these places, you can literally stick a stake in the ground and hit water. Extensive stretches of Nebraska’s plains require no irrigation; to keep cattle watered, ranchers just dig a hole and the water flows in. That’s where concerns about the Keystone XL came in."

Daniel Comiskey on the rise and fall of the creator of the most successful alternative currency in the U.S.:"Say what you will about Bernard von NotHaus, the man has led his federal probation officers to some beautiful places. First, there was the waterfront penthouse in Miami Beach. Then there was the penthouse at the Marco Polo condominium in Honolulu. Today, he occupies a multimillion-dollar, 40-acre estate in Malibu owned by a longtime friend. Make no mistake, though: NotHaus is broke. Ever since the FBI raided the Evansville office of his alternative currency, the Liberty Dollar, in 2007--seizing his assets and arresting him for counterfeiting--the 68-year-old has been living on Social Security and the kindness of wealthy acquaintances...In less than a decade, NotHaus’s Liberty Dollar surged to become the most pervasive alternative to the American buck. His makeshift Indiana bank printed or minted more than $65 million--bills and silver coins that spread to buyers in all 50 states."

Reed Abelson and Julie Creswell on unnecessary procedures at a hospital chain:"In the summer of 2010, a troubling letter reached the chief ethics officer of the hospital giant HCA, written by a former nurse at one of the company’s hospitals in Florida. In a follow-up interview, the nurse said a doctor at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce, had been performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them, putting their lives at risk...In less than two months, an internal investigation by HCA concluded the nurse was right...The nurse’s complaint was far from the only evidence that unnecessary -- even dangerous -- procedures were taking place at some HCA hospitals, driving up costs and increasing profits. HCA, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States with 163 facilities, had uncovered evidence as far back as 2002 and as recently as late 2010 showing that some cardiologists at several of its hospitals in Florida were unable to justify many of the procedures they were performing."

Queercore interlude: Excuse 17 plays 'Carson' live at CBGB.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:Mortgage demand heats up; many docs won't take Medicaid patients; a food fight in Congress; drilling in the arctic could get the go-ahead; and a corgi wants to soak up everything the waterpark has to offer.


Demand for mortgages is growing. "Nearly three in five U.S. banks surveyed by the Federal Reserve this summer said demand for loans to buy homes is growing as the housing market stabilizes and mortgage rates were falling to new lows. But despite the increase in mortgage demand, lenders were keeping standards tight for mortgage borrowers, as well as for small business loans, the Fed said Monday in its quarterly survey of bank loan officers. The report found a significant pickup in demand from borrowers, with 57% of banks reporting an increase in demand for home-purchase loans over the past three months, compared with 38% in the first quarter." Alan Zibel in The Wall Street Journal.

A Fed official called for an open-ended bond buying program. "Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, called on the Fed to launch an aggressive, open-ended bond buying program that the central bank would continue until economic growth picks up and unemployment starts falling again...Mr. Rosengren isn't currently among the regional Fed bank presidents with a vote on monetary policy. Although all 12 presidents participate in Fed deliberations, only five join the seven Fed governors in Washington in the formal committee vote. Still, he is part of a wing of policy activists at the Fed who have pushed for more aggressive responses to a weak economy. His decision to speak out forcefully is a sign of the momentum building inside the Fed for a new phase of action. A bond-buying program, also known as quantitative easing, would aim to drive down long-term interest rates, drive up stocks and push down the value of the dollar, which many officials believe would spur activity." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

@Patrick_C_Reis: Evening in the Bernanke household: "Ben, what should we have for dinner?" "I remain ready to eat dinner as conditions warrant." #WonkJoke

The IMF is pushing Europe to ease Greece's burden. "The International Monetary Fund, facing discontent among its members about the huge sums it has lent to the euro zone, is pushing the currency bloc's governments to take steps to lighten the burden of the bailout loans they made to Athens, officials familiar with continuing discussions said. The IMF pressure--which officials said has been clear in private discussions among Greece's official lenders--comes in response to mounting evidence that Greece's deep recession has thrown the country's bailout program woefully off track from targets set earlier this year. IMF officials maintain Greece's debt must be reduced to 'sustainable' levels before the fund releases billions more euros to keep Athens from running out of cash, some officials said. The most effective way to do this would be for Greece's bailout lenders to forgive some of the debts Greece owes them." Matthew Dalton and Costas Paris in The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. has been winning WTO cases against China. "The United States has won an impressive string of victories against China at the World Trade Organization in the past few years but U.S. companies have seen only limited benefits, according to a review of the cases and interviews with analysts and officials familiar with them. U.S. challenges, for example, have led to the repeal of Chinese import tariffs on American-made auto parts. But by the time the United States prevailed, China was well on its way -- with the help of the protective tariffs -- to developing its own industry for manufacturing engines, transmissions and other components, say U.S. auto industry officials. The repeal did little to stem the long-term movement of auto-parts work from America to China." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Italy's Mario Monti has become the main challenger to Germany's approach to the euro crisis. "During an all-night European summit in June, Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unexpected ultimatum: He would block all deals until she agreed to take action against Italy's and Spain's rising borrowing costs. Ms. Merkel, who has held most of the euro's cards for the past two years, wasn't used to being put on the defensive. 'This is not helpful, Mario,' Ms. Merkel warned, according to people present. Europe's leaders were gathered on the fifth floor of the European Union's boxy glass headquarters in Brussels, about to break for dinner. 'I know,' Italy's premier replied...Three years into Europe's financial turmoil, Mr. Monti--an understated, 69-year-old economics professor named last November to head a temporary government of nonpartisan technocrats--has become the most determined challenger to Germany's approach toward tackling the euro crisis." Alessandra Galloni and Marcus Walker in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama backs exempting Olympic awards from taxes. "President Obama believes that awards and medals won by Olympic athletes should be exempt from income taxes, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday. The move means Obama would back legislation by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would exempt the athletes' winnings, which award $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver medal and $10,000 for a bronze medal...Carney said Obama would sign that legislation if it was passed by Congress." Amie Parnes in The Hill.

@mattyglesias: So everyone favors (a) base-broadening tax reform & (b) a new tax exemption for Olympic prizes.

@morningmoneyben: Re Olympic winning tax exemption, its not like we shower tax goodies on other things like oil drilling or whatever. Oh wait

Supercut interlude: Julia Child, Remixed.

Health Care

Almost one third of doctors don't accept Medicaid patients. "About one in three doctors across the country doesn't accept new patients who are covered by Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program that is supposed to enroll millions more low-income Americans as part of the Obama administration's health overhaul, according to a new government study. Some 31% of physicians in a sample of 4,326 said they wouldn't accept Medicaid beneficiaries, economist Sandra Decker of the National Center for Health Statistics reported in an article in the journal Health Affairs published Monday. Most of the doctors cited the low reimbursement from Medicaid. By contrast, 18% of the doctors said they weren't taking new patients with private insurance, and 17% said they weren't taking new patients who had coverage through Medicare, the federal program for the elderly." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Obamacare's safety net for young adults doesn't apply to pregnancy. "The health-care overhaul provides a safety net for young adult children, who can now stay on their parents’ health plans until they reach age 26. But it doesn’t guarantee that their parents’ plan will cover a common medical condition that many young women face: pregnancy. Group health plans with 15 or more workers are required to provide maternity benefits for employees and their spouses under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. But other dependents of employees aren’t covered by the law, so companies don’t have to provide maternity coverage for them...Dan Priga, who heads the performance audit group for Mercer, a human resources consulting company, estimates that roughly 70 percent of companies that pay their employees’ health-care claims directly choose not to provide dependent maternity benefits." Michelle Andrews in The Washington Post.

Domestic Policy

Republicans want to modify a program that sends fresh fruits and vegetables to schools. "Are canned pears the nutritional equivalent of a juicy fruit off the tree? House Republicans seem to think so. And their proposal to tinker with a program that serves fresh fruit and vegetables to children in select schools has touched off the ultimate food fight. As Congress debates whether to renew farm legislation, the Senate is pressing to keep the program limited to fresh produce. The House, however, has proposed making room for frozen, canned and dried produce -- agitating program supporters and pitting factions of the food industry against one another in a bout of frenetic lobbying. Since its creation a decade ago, the tiny program has been distributing free fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to elementary schools that have a high percentage of low-income children, a group that typically has less exposure to fresh produce and does not consume anywhere near the amount recommended by national dietary guidelines." Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

Some PACs are not so super. "Big new super PACs, such as American Crossroads and Priorities USA Action, are raking in millions of dollars and playing a leading role in the 2012 election. The same can't be said, however, about the Joe Six PAC. Or the Bringin' Sexy PAC, or the Talkin' Smack PAC. And certainly not the Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles super PAC, which promotes the idea that the nation's political and fiscal problems could be solved with beer. These might be called the not-so-super PACs, and regular people across the country have formed more than 600 of them in the two years since the Supreme Court allowed them to proliferate. They tend to have little money and even less focus." Rachel Louise Ensign and Brody Mullins in The Wall Street Journal.

Corgis are excellent interlude: A corgi enjoys a day at the water park.


New drilling in Arctic could get the green light from the EPA next week. "Shell is completing its final preparations for drilling in the Arctic Ocean, company officials said Monday. The company hopes over the next several days to demonstrate to regulators that its oil spill containment equipment is ready and to receive clearance from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate its drill ships without running afoul of air pollution laws. Shell hopes to get the final green light from regulators as early as next week...[T]he secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, is planning to travel to Alaska later this week to be briefed on Shells drilling and safety plans and to consult with Native Alaskans about their concerns about the impact of oil development on wildlife and the local economy" John Broder in The New York Times.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Michelle Williams.



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