The Gabfest: Obama and Egypt, Holder on sentencing, and Paul Sabin on an environmental bet.

Obama’s Egypt Conundrum, Eric Holder’s Sentencing Reform Gesture, and Paul Sabin’s The Bet.

Obama’s Egypt Conundrum, Eric Holder’s Sentencing Reform Gesture, and Paul Sabin’s The Bet.

Slate's weekly political roundtable.
Aug. 16 2013 1:07 PM

The Bazelon Family Gabfest

Listen to Slate's show about Obama’s Egypt conundrum and Eric Holder’s sentencing reform gesture. Plus, an economist and a biologist make The Bet about an environmental doomsday.

The Political Gabfest has moved! Find new episodes here.

Become a fan of the Political Gabfest on Facebook. We post to the Facebook page throughout the week, so keep the conversation going by joining us there. Or follow us @SlateGabfest!

To listen to the discussion, use the player below:


You could be the next Gabfest intern! Apply by Aug. 19.

Live Dear Prudence show in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. Join David as he questions Slate’s Dear Prudence columnist Emily Yoffe about her most memorable letters. Tickets.

Live DoubleX Gabfest in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets.

This week’s Audible recommendation is The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball. Try Audible free for 30 days and get a free audiobook by visiting


On this week’s Slate Political Gabfest, David Plotz and Emily Bazelon are joined by very special guest Paul Sabin, an associate professor of history at Yale University and author of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future. (He also happens to be Emily’s husband.)

As the fighting in Egypt grows more violent, David, Emily, and Paul discuss President Obama’s constrained foreign-policy choices. Then they discuss the significance of Attorney General Eric Holder’s gesture toward sentencing reform. Finally, they discuss Paul’s new book about what today’s environmental movement might learn from a famous bet about resource scarcity.

Here are some of the links and references mentioned during this week's show:

  • It’s time for President Obama to admit that he has no influence with Egypt’s generals, writes William Dobson.
  • Eric Holder’s plan to lower sentences for some drug offenders should go further, writes Emily.
  • Emily cites an Economist report that says, “One in every hundred American adults is now in prison.” A 2008 Pew report reported a similar statistic—but, as David wondered, that number does include the population of local jails in addition to all federal and state prisons. Of 230 million American adults, Pew found that 2,319,258 were behind bars at the end of 2007; 1,596,127 were incarcerated in federal or state prisons, and another 723,131 were in local jails.
  • As of the end of 2012, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 1,571,013 individuals were incarcerated in a federal or state prison. (Also worth noting: Some states don’t distinguish between their jail and prison populations, according to the BJS.)
  • Judith Resnik and Piper Kerman wrote about the Federal Bureau of Prisons plan to transfer 1,000 prisoners from the Danbury, Conn., prison depicted in Orange Is the New Black. This week, Emily reported that the bureau has suspended its plan.
  • Are we headed for environmental disaster or increased prosperity? If you were going to make a new bet to try to assess societal progress in the next 10–20 years, what metrics would you use? Email your ideas to Paul at or post them on the Gabfest Facebook page. Paul will try to incorporate the ideas into an essay for Slate.

Emily chatters about the lost gallantry of men opening car doors for women. Post your feedback to the Gabfest Facebook page!

Topic ideas for next week? You can tweet suggestions, links, and questions to @SlateGabfest. The email address for the Political Gabfest is (Email may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Podcast production by Andy Bowers. Links compiled by Jeff Friedrich.