The Politics of Lunacy

  • On the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump talked about dishwashers, dryers, shower heads, and faucets. . .[while] the U.S. shattered its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting more than 77,000 thousand cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. —David Gilbert
  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp urged residents Friday to wear a face mask when in public, two days after blocking local cities from enforcing their own rules to further prevent the spread of Covid-19. —CNBC
  • In Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins is fighting for survival. You may remember Collins as the self-styled brave independent moderate, who spends most of her working days caving in. —Gail Collins
  • It’s a little weird contemplating Sessions now. Trump’s treatment of him was outrageous, but if anybody’s going to suffer a political stab in the back, you have to be glad it’s the guy whose policies as attorney general ranged from keeping more people in prison longer to “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” —Gail Collins
  • [Arizona Governor Doug] Ducey several times said the increase in cases correlated with the increase in testing. But over the past two weeks, cases increased by 76% and tests increased by just 52%. —azcentral
  • Hardly any leaders even floated mask-wearing advisories until they were themselves neck-deep in a local pandemic crisis. They could not learn from others, only taking actions like these in a sort of last-gasp panic state. —David Wallace-Wells
  • “When you’re in show business, you meet people like Trump, you meet people who literally don’t exist in the same dimension as you; they’re just gone. And that’s what he’s like. He’s like Cosby in a way, these people who are completely deluded and they’ve been famous and all of their wishes are attended to—they lose complete touch with reality,” Apatow adds, calling Trump the “abusive parent to the country.” —Judd Apatow
  • “I don’t want to spend my time doing things that I don’t think are valuable enough to me personally,” [CNN’s Chris] Cuomo said in audio heard by the New York Post and CBS News. “I don’t value indulging irrationality, hyperpartisanship.”
    “I don’t like what I do professionally,” he said. “I don’t think it’s worth my time.” —Julia Reinstein
  • “I’ve never been in a better position professionally, I’ve never been more grateful, I’ve never been on a better team,” Cuomo said Tuesday [the next day] on his SiriusXM show. “I love where I am. I love the position that I’ve been given.” —Mark Kennedy
  • No one in the campaign can control him. No one in the White House even wants to. As CNN’s Jim Acosta put it after this latest disaster [the Tuesday Rose Garden briefing], “We are down to Kool-Aid drinkers and next of kin” at the Trump White House. No one there will stop him, because Trump has worn down every competent, sane person who would possibly imagine working in his White House. It’s the most thankless job in D.C., and rats notoriously leave sinking ships rather than board them. —Rick Wilson
  • In Britain, as in the United States, hooligans have been pulling down statues. And in Britain, as in the U.S., the media have absurdly tried to frame their vandalism as some sort of civil rights protest, as if all they wanted were equal treatment. —Dan Hannon
  • Kanye West is officially on the ballot as a presidential candidate in the state of Oklahoma. —Ben Jacobs

The World According to George

I have always been a fan of the manic nuttiness of George Carlin. I loved him because of the pointed language which just flowed from him, a bubbling spring of praise and put-downs. He drew attention to the verbal tics of contemporary language—like the oxymoron “jumbo shrimp” and euphemisms like “bathroom tissue” for “toilet paper.” More than that, he used common, often foul language to make us react and think.

George’s later years saw him become less of a stand-up comic and more of a hip philosopher—as this video (from 2007) demonstrates. He rails against our contemporary follies, but his words also project the long view of history and what the philosophers call quietism. As a friend of mine used to say, in the long run “it don’t mattah.”

With the present turmoil over social issues and commitment to causes, this may seem like heresy. Today we can’t be convinced that “the planet will heal.” But, finally, Carlin’s is an indictment of human society. He’s the man with the notebook, observing and commenting on the “freak show” we live in.

It’s not All Gloom and Doom

Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like

To Fight Global Warming, Think More About Systems Than About What You Consume

Climate denial is reported more than science

“Don’t we deserve a little good news on the climate front, at least once in a while?”

That’s a bit like asking, “Didn’t Rudy Giuliani do some good as mayor of New York?” We keep trying to nullify the present by invoking the past, trying to find our way out of a difficult dilemma. And it’s the negative, immediate stories that always get the headlines.

Climate is invariably presented in the press as a contentious issue: “That is, according to a massive study by Californian scientists, the people who say climate change is not happening, or not a problem, get 49% more coverage than the scientists who have the evidence that it represents a serious and accelerating crisis.” The assumption is we’d rather hear about conflict than science.

Some new and reputable polling shows, however, that the public is getting behind the very ambitious programs proposed by Sanders and Warren.

At least five aggressive and left-wing climate policies are supported by most registered voters in the United States. Americans seem particularly fond of large spending packages, as Sanders has advanced, and climate policies with a populist bent, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposed climate import fee and her “economic patriotism” plan.

Some of this approval reflects opposition to Trump, yet even conservative-leaning surveys report a liking for something as radical as the Green New Deal.

Shockingly, the idea was more popular than not, with 48 percent of respondents in support and 7 percent undecided. Only when pollsters told people that a Green New Deal could cost $93 trillion did support for the idea collapse. But according to the GOP group’s own math, a Green New Deal that focused only on climate change could cost only $13 trillion.

The five programs that garnered most support are:

    1. A national recycling program for commodities
    2. $1.3 trillion to weatherize every home and office building in the United States
    3. $1.5 trillion for a massive federal build-out of renewable energy
    4. A climate adjustment fee on environmentally destructive imports
    5. “Economic Nationalism for Climate Change” (meaning “aggressively encourage large American manufacturing firms to specialize in solar panels, wind turbines, and other climate-friendly technologies”).

Now, none of these projects tackle perhaps the thorniest aspect of the climate crisis: how to deal with the overwhelming effects of consumer choice and consumer demand around the world. Bill McKibben tries to confront this one in a recent book review. He does a commendable job of showing how collective action is the only effective response: “We aren’t going to solve our problems one consumer at a time. We’re going to need to do it as societies and civilizations, or not at all.” That is, we aren’t going to get there by simply renouncing plastic straws.

For Greta, the Timing Was Problematic

It’s Greta’s World

The World’s Oceans Are in Danger, Major Climate Change Report Warns

Why the right’s usual smears don’t work on Greta Thunberg

Well, she got upstaged by impeachment. Some stories will always capture the media, but that’s not to deny the reality and power of what Greta told the UN leaders last week. She got a ton of pushback and some nastiness from the right-wing, e.g.,

“She’s ignorant, maniacal and is being mercilessly manipulated by adult climate bedwetters funded by Putin,” ranted C-list climate denier Steve Milloy, somehow fitting all the mutually contradictory stereotypes about powerful women into his pea brain at once.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison found her remarks would cause “needless anxiety” in his country’s children. Oh dear. How will those youngsters respond to his building more coal-fired plants and the country’s dismal record on climate change?

By putting her faith in science, Greta managed to slough off most of this stuff. She has achieved some kind of political miracle and gotten 4 million-plus people to go along with her. Maybe it’s her Asperger’s that gave her this power. Or the unassailable facts of climate change.

The bad news keeps coming. One of our most respected sources on climate study, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reports that the oceans are rapidly becoming hotter, more acidic, losing oxygen, dramatically affecting fish stocks, coastal flooding, marine heat waves, and more.

While the report recommends that nations sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the severity of most of these threats, it also points out that countries will need to adapt to many changes that have now become unavoidable.

Only when the politicians and “world leaders” accept the fact that time is running out, will the possibilities for real change emerge. Most are still phumphing around the emergency and that’s what got Greta so angry.

On Twitter she wrote: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!”

Climate Awareness, Like Ice Cream, Doesn’t Last

Americans demand climate action (as long as it doesn’t cost much): Reuters poll

It takes about three weeks for Americans to stop paying attention after a mass shooting

Amazon rainforest fires: global leaders urged to divert Brazil from ‘suicide’ path

You have to wonder why something as dramatically urgent as climate change doesn’t seem sustainable in the public’s consciousness. Another way of saying this is that a majority gives it a high priority but doesn’t want to pay for the fixes. Ice cream tastes better than wormwood and gall.

Or maybe people just have shorter attention spans (though perhaps not) because they are constantly distracted with disorienting and irrelevant information. They are too busy with their freaking phones. Or being caught up in the latest cultural drivel. Or scandalized by Trump.

It’s also the enormity of the climate problem, as we have discussed, and the complex conundrum of a solution. For many, that tends to force climate onto the back burner.

The analogous situation is gun control. Philip Bump of The Washington Post analyzed Google searches interested in recent high-profile mass shootings. He found that interest always spikes high after the event and then greatly subsides after about twenty days. “People have moved on.” You and I know that finally the climate will not allow us to move on.

It’s certain that the crisis isn’t going away, and the media will necessarily cover the latest shocking events. Last week it was the fires in the Amazon rainforest and their consequences. You have a political story about the lunacy of Bolsonaro’s policies, and there’s an agricultural/environmental story about the ranchers and loggers who set the fires, and a story about the effects of the fires. A smorgasbord of climate stories.

Yet much of the major media, like The New York Times, still seems obtuse about running climate stories. I did a search query there for “Amazon fires” and the first four items that came up had to do with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet! I guess the search editors know which side of their bread is buttered.

Where Is the Climate Debate?

Don’t Overthink a Climate-Change Debate

Climate change got just 15 minutes out of 4 hours of Democratic debates

The Debates Showed America Still Doesn’t Know How to Talk About Climate Change

Tom Perez, the DNC Chair, says he won’t allow one because if he gave in to Jay Inslee’s request he’d then have to permit every other candidate to have a debate on their favorite issue.

Tom, that’s called begging the question. Which is that climate change has become the dominant issue for American voters—even if they balk at paying for the prescriptions. As the first debates demonstrated, it’s a dominant issue for most of the candidates—even if their plans aren’t always intelligent or intelligible.

As on other matters, Democratic leadership is behind the curve and moving rapidly behind the eight-ball. Perez on the debates is taking a position like Pelosi does on impeachment. No wonder there is a split between progressives and moderates.

How to generate momentum for a climate debate: first, the push has to come from the candidates themselves. Maybe they should just pull rank and produce their own debate forum. Will the DNC intervene to stop that? A better idea might be to prevail on DNC leaders that each major candidate supports the need to schedule a climate crisis debate.

There is also a crying need for both candidates and debate moderators to get up to speed on climate issues. Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow asked some silly and confusing questions in the few minutes they gave to the subject. And the candidates are going to have to improve on their shallow responses.

The climate crisis is supremely complicated, but that doesn’t preclude the need for a major public discussion.

Seven Minutes (out of two hours) on Climate Change

The First Democratic Debate Failed The Planet

The Debates Will Be about Climate—Disguised as Other Issues

The Energy 202: Seven minutes were devoted to climate change in the first Democratic debate

Last night’s first Democratic debate was just more of the same as it reflected a deliberate disregard of climate on the part of moderators and candidates. Only four of those on the Miami stage got asked direct questions about the crisis. The questions came finally in the second half of the debate.

Because DNC chair Tom Perez has ruled out a special debate on climate, the advocates want to crucify him. But climate issues are inescapable. Adam Rogers of Wired says:

Because every single issue that a presidential aspirant could conceivably talk about is, at heart, intertwined with climate change. Jobs, the economy, national security, immigration, energy, housing—they’re all facets of the same crystal. The science is clear; the politics, less so. It’ll be a climate debate, all right; the question is what the candidates will do about it.

Inslee, the only one making climate his top-tier issue, didn’t do well last night. A couple of others, like Warren, wormed climate into their answers. But the issue is so complex that it is hard to fit into a debate format. Plus, the candidates fear grandiose climate solutions would simply overwhelm many local voters who are focusing on pocketbook issues.

One could accuse them of playing politics with the overriding issue of our time.