Eugene Robinson Live

Feb 04, 2014

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Helo, everyone. We do this every week -- definitively solve all the problems of the world -- and it always makes me feel better, even if world leaders don't always take our sound advice. Lots to talk about, as usual. Please tell me we're not going to have another debt ceiling fight, he sighed. Anyway, today's column was about the sad death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the futility of the war on drugs. Last Friday, as I recall, I wrote about the whining of the 1 percent (Tom Perkins' lament) and the fact that the national conversation about inequality is gaining traction. Let's get started.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins was silly to use Nazi references in his defense of the 1%. But when he moved his criticism to the Occupy movement, he was spot on. Eugene, this is the legacy of Occupy Wall Street: violent clashes with police, nation-wide vandalism and theft of area businesses, horrible sanitation, fatal drug overdoses, and at least a dozen rapes at these illegal encampments. Then you have the five anarchists from Occupy Cleveland who are in prison after pleading guilty to plotting to blow up a railroad bridge. It's long past time for you and other liberals to acknowledge the obvious: Occupy Wall Street was an unmitigated disaster.

But it wasn't. I would argue that Occupy kick-started this whole discussion of economic fairness and inequality. Activism, even when not terribly well organized, can have real impact. Just ask the Tea Party.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. Can you please explain why in the world the president subjects himself to this Super Bowl charade every other year or so? O'Reilly is his usual rude self, barely letting Obama getting a word in edgewise and in the process maybe scores a few points that can be replayed over and over on Fox News, re-edited and out of context. Sure, that's great for his particular audience, but I really don't see what Obama gets out of it, other than making yet another futile attempt to "reach across the aisle" which hasn't worked since Inauguration Day 2009. Sorry for the rant, but I'd love to know what you think.

I think that if President Obama is willing to sit down face-to-face with Iran's mullahs and China's autocrats, which I think is a good idea, surely he should be able to sit down with Bill O'Reilly. Keep in mind that the Super Bowl audience on Fox network is much broader than the audience for Fox cable.

Dear Mr. Robinson, I was not able to write in for last week's chat, but I'm hoping you'll still take my comment. My issue is with "pro-global warmers" (for lack of a better term) and the leap in logic from accepting that the planet is warming and that the warming is anthropogenic, to endorsing whatever greenhouse gas emissions are proposed by the Pelosi-Waxman contingent, the IPCC, etc. As Hans Van Storch documented in Der Spiegel, most of the climate models predicting warming have been wrong. If current trends keep up for another 5-10 years, then even the most conservative models (i.e., those showing the least warming) will be OVERESTIMATING the warming. Now, scientists have speculated that they did not account for increased cloud cover/moisture in the air, or how much the oceans would absorb the heat, etc. But that is exactly the problem. Climate scientists have not been able to accurately predict what will happen with the climate. Meteorologists, since Katrina, have regularly made predictions about monster hurricane seasons that never materialized. Made predictions of warming that have not materialized. And yet you and others call for carbon emissions reductions, which will have definite and very predictable tolls in terms of human life and health, for benefits for which you have no idea whether they will be realized. $1 trillion, which is a minor down payment on the regulations you and others promote via carbon reductions with no real predictable benefit, can have real, tested, calculable benefits, if directed towards clean water projects, vaccinations, mosquito nets, etc. But you want to throw it down a rabbit hole. And you call anyone who disagrees with you "deniers", with all of the loading that goes along with that word. Please, step away from the group think. (

Sorry to jump around so much -- three questions, three topics -- but I had to reply to this one about climate change, which was prompted by an earier column. The key phrase in your post is "current trends," and this almost surely means that you are using the outlier super-warm year 1998 as a baseline. Throw out 1998, as any reasonable statistical analysis would do, and you reach the conclusion of leading climate scientists, which is that we may be warming more quickly than projected, not more slowly. I referred in that column to a scary story in Nature which is bad news for anyone living on the coast. Any coast.

I agree with you, for the most part. But as the parent of three teens, I am very concerned about the inconclusive studies that suggest links between marijuana use and psychosis in teens. A developing brain is not the same as an adult brain and marijuana interrupts the former in apparently harmful ways. Before rushing to legalize, in an ideal world we would have more research on these concerns. And while I know it would not be legal for teens, it would certainly become more widely available, just as with alcohol.

You're referring to today's column, which called for a new approach -- almost any new approach -- to the war on drugs. I said we should move toward legalization of marijuana, as Washington and Colorado have done. Having raised two sons, I had the same hesitations you express; this column represents what President Obama would call an "evolution" in my thinking. I now believe that weed is so widely available, and policing the prohibition of weed such an injust mess, that we'd be better off if it were sold under controlled circumstances and buyers were aware of the THC content. I guess my feeling is that any kid who wants to smoke weed today can do so. But yes, it would be easier -- though perhaps less dangerous -- after legalization.

is very sad and tragic. What is infuriating is the report that the NYPD is mounting a "massive manhunt" to find the dealer who sold the actor the heroin that killed him. Not only is this a revolting waste of resources, it just shows how much bad things only matter when they happen to famous white men.

Your observation about when bad things matter is of course accurate, but there could be a good reason for pursuing this dealer, pending the toxicology report on Hoffman. A deadly batch of heroin mixed with the painkiller fentanyl has killed about 60 people in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and authorities say the wave could be moving into New York. Tracing the network that's peddling this stuff could save a lot of lives.

Pedophile, or victim of false accusations?

Ooooh, good question. Obviously, I don't know. But I'd be more inclined to give Woody the benefit of the doubt if he hadn't bedded and wedded Mia Farrow's young adopted daughter. Just sayin'.

I appreciate you addressing my question, but you still seem to be missing the point. The key phrase in your response is "we may be warming more quickly than projected". We may be, but we might not. The uncertainty is what I am uncomfortable with. The solutions you promote (which are devised by others) are based on projections which may or may not be correct, but we have no real scientific confidence in the validity of the quantification of those predictions (especially b/c they mostly are turning out to not be as predicted, and when they are not as predicted, we get qualifiers such as "we do not know the affect of the oceans, the clounds, etc." What else don't we know?). I'll ask another way. If our models predicting global warming based on carbon emission are so far largely incorrect in the quanitification (if not the overall trend), why should we have any confidence in the models predicting the global warming avoided by carbon reduction?

One more try: The models are not largely incorrect. They are largely correct. And I can't believe you really mean what you're saying -- that the slightest degree of uncertainty means we should do nothing. Of course there's uncertainty. Any honest scientist would admit that there's always uncertainty. But you can't, or certainly shouldn't, ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists believes that climate change is real. Imagine that 95 percent of astronomers believed that an asteroid was going to hit Earth and 5 percent said nah, it's going to miss us. Imagine that we had the technology to nudge that asteroid definitively off course, but it would be really expensive and inconvenient. What would you recommend? 

What I find almost as sickening as these men, is that they are celebrated in Hollywood because they are "artist". It shows how out of touch that Hollywood is with the rest of the country when the likes of Harvey Weinstein write letters asking for Polanski to be freed, and still fund Allen's terrible movies.

Like I said, I don't know for sure what happened in Woody Allen't household, although I have my suspicions. Roman Polanski is a different story. He is a convicted felon. He drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl and is a fugitive from justice. I don't paint all of Hollywood with the same brush, but I have no patience with those writing letters on behalf of Polanski.

Wow, as a scientist, my opinion of you just got even more glowing. You know that all trends are determined by your starting point choice. If you just pick the right start point, you can usually prove anything you want. Fantastic job knowing that stats, in addition to being a great writer. Thanks. (No, this is not Gene's family writing in.)

Thanks so much. I even know what a confidence interval is. Kind of.

Or maybe it is a bad idea to buy 50 bags of anything at one time. I don't think I could survive 50 cups of coffee at one time, either.

You're referring to the stash found in Hoffman's apartment. I heard two versions on the radio while driving to work today. One expert said it was basically just a week's supply; another -- a former user -- said it looked like he was planning to do some serious drugging. I have no way of knowing one way or the other. 

How do we know that our school bus drivers, airline pilots etc aren't using before they head to work. I get that could be now, but if they do it now it is illegal. Are there time spans for how long a person must be off MJ until they are allowed to drive our kids or fly out of the Denver airport?

I assume those rules would be similar to those for drinking and driving, or drinking and flying. And just as bus drivers and pilots would be fired if alcohol were found in their systems, so woud they be fired if THC were found.

If the Republicans even try to use the debt ceiling as leverage this time around, won't they be smacked down pretty hard by the cry of, "Enough already!"? Especially given the resounding defeat they received during the shutdown standoff?

Call me naive, but I just can't imagine the GOP will put its hand on that hot stove after twice coming away with third-degree burns. 

Has life for your family in WV returned to normal? People shouldn't forget about what happened just because it was a small community.

Thanks for asking. Life has not returned to normal, and many people still have serious questions about the safety of the water supply. 

This sentence makes me very sad. It displays a complete misunderstanding of science. "The uncertainty is what I am uncomfortable with."

I know. Consider the two majestic theories that underpin our understanding of the physical universe -- general relativity and quantum mechanics. They make tremendously accurate predictions, and for all intents and purposes they are "true." But of course there is still a measure of uncertainty, because someday we may see anomalous data that leads us to a better theory.

Haven't heard anything re: the "black widow" terrorists who are purportedly lurking around Sochi. It almost seems that everything in the Olympic venue is a "soft target". I have horrors of a replay of the 1972 Munich Olympics (even though I was a baby then). Do you think that the US athletes are more of a target than the rest of the world's?

I don't know what to think about the security issue in Sochi. My gut feeling is that Putin will do whatever is necessary to keep things peaceful and happy.

Part of the "problem" with arguing global warming is that some people don't understand "theory" means different things in regular English and in scientific English. That global warming is a "theory" does not mean there are doubts.

I know, I know. "It's just a theory," they say. Well, so is gravity, but you'd better believe it's true.

Has the tea-party movement passed its peak? Clearly pro-business Republicans are pushing that meme, but I'm still not seeing it. (Full disclosure: as a lifelong Democrat I consider teapartyers to be largely the gift that keeps on giving!).

Just my guess, but I think reports of the Tea Party's demise are greatly exaggerated. They'll be around for a while, I think.

I hope it isn't too late to submit this comment. I get so steamed when people say they are uncomfortable with uncertainty in science. If you want absolutism all the time, go join a church! It's the uncertainty that makes us innovate, that makes us grow intellectually (yeah, I know, a commie plot), and that helps us to learn.

It's never too late!


Um, actually, now it is. My time is up, folks. Thanks for a lively hour, and I'll see you again next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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