Cue the Laughter

We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore.

– Donald Trump, statement withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord

This week’s featured post is “The Paris Agreement is like my church’s pledge drive.

This week everybody was talking about the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement

The featured post includes my explanation of why withdrawing from Paris makes no sense. In a nutshell: If Trump thinks Obama promised to cut emissions further than he should have, he could just unilaterally lower our commitment to a level he thinks is fair. But that would mean taking a serious look at the topic and proposing a policy, which Trump seems incapable of doing.

Instead he’s spreading disinformation and sowing confusion by demanding to “renegotiate” without giving anybody a clue what he wants — most likely because he doesn’t have a clue what he wants. The Paris Agreement isn’t unfair to the U.S. for any particular reason; it’s just that all international agreements are unfair to the U.S. by definition.

When world leaders make moves that further no policy goals, they invite explanations that are either psychological or political. Krugman attributes Trump’s decision to “spite“, and Josh Marshall blames “rage and fear“, while Slate‘s Katy Waldman says:

The word for what we saw in the Rose Garden is projection. Trump feels like a tremendous man who is also, somehow, nursing an eternal wound. His country, therefore, is a tremendous nation that is hampered and thwarted by cheaters at every turn.

The political explanation is similar: Trump got elected by appealing to his base voters’ sense of grievance. He’s applying that model to the Paris Agreement not because it fits, but because it will appeal to the low-information part of his base.

Meanwhile a giant ice sheet is about to break off of Antarctica.

On May 26, Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg answered a constituent’s question about climate change [go to about the 47 minute mark in this video]:

I believe there’s climate change. I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian I believe there is a creator, a God, who is much greater than us. And I’m confident that if there’s a real problem, He’ll take care of it.

In a Washington Post column, historian Lisa Vox elaborated:

only 28 percent of evangelicals believe human activity is causing climate change. Confidence that God will intervene to prevent people from destroying the world is one of the strongest barriers to gaining conservative evangelical support for environmental pacts like the Paris agreement.

Oh, holy crap. I wonder how many these only-God-can-change-the-climate folks understand that man has already changed the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by over 40%, from 280 parts per million to 400. (It had been relatively stable for thousands of years before that. In the distant past it has been higher or lower, but has never increased with this speed.) Unlike global average temperature estimates, atmospheric CO2 numbers don’t come out of some complicated computer model with a lot of debatable assumptions; it’s a simple measurement. It also doesn’t bounce around like temperature; there’s an annual cycle (because northern forests and grasslands soak up CO2 as they grow; the Southern hemisphere has less land and less foliage), but it goes up every year.

Global warming is a complex effect of that simple cause: Greenhouse gases like CO2 block heat from escaping into space; more CO2, more heat. Predicting exactly how fast global temperatures will rise in the future may be difficult and contentious (though not as contentious as some would have you believe). But that they will go up and why is pretty simple science.

I took a look at the Issues page on Walberg’s web site. This seems to be the only issue where he invokes God’s umbrella of protection. He doesn’t consider arguments like “It doesn’t matter if we raise taxes on the rich, because God will just make them richer” or “We don’t need to pay so much attention to terrorism, because God will protect us” or “We don’t have to worry about running up big deficits, because God will keep our economy from collapsing.”

In short, God is a rhetorical device that Walberg deploys selectively, when he wants to believe something unreasonable or convince other people to believe it.

While I’m talking about the misuse of religion in politics: Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to tackle Louisville’s violence problem with “prayer patrols“. Seriously. He wants churches to send groups of 3-10 people to wander around Louisville’s bad neighborhoods and not offer any material help to anybody beyond praying for them. Because that’s the difference between the safe parts of Kentucky and the dangerous parts: not money or race or education, but closeness to God.

and you might also be interested in

Remember “Drain the swamp!”? One of the things Trump brags about to supporters is his new rules to limit lobbyists joining his administration or members of his administration lobbying after they leave office. This week we found out that he’s actually not enforcing those rules.

The Trump administration initially balked when the Office of Government Ethics demanded the White House hand over the waivers it had granted. But after a standoff the administration relented late Wednesday and released about 14 waivers covering White House staffers. They make clear that Trump’s ethics rules are remarkably flexible and that his top staffers don’t need to worry too much about staying on the right side of them. On paper, Trump’s rules are similar to those imposed by President Barack Obama, but it appears that Trump is far more willing to hand out exemptions. At this point in the Obama administration, just three White House staffers had been granted ethics waivers. So far, Trump has granted 14, including several that apply to multiple people.

Steve Bannon got a “retroactive waiver“, a concept that doesn’t even make sense.

“There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver,” [Office of Government Ethics Director Walter] Shaub said in an interview. “If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.”

Nate Silver’s reading of polling in the UK is that almost anything could happen. The election is Thursday.

As has happened in the other two special elections to replace congressmen Trump appointed to his administration, support is shifting away from the Democratic challenger as election day approaches. John Ossoff’s lead is down to 49.1%-47.6%, well within the margin of error. The election is two weeks from tomorrow.

The outlines of Trump’s promised infrastructure plan are coming into view, and it sounds very underwhelming.

The federal government would make only a fractional down payment on rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure. Mr. Trump would rely on a combination of private industry, state and city tax money, and borrowed cash to finance the rest. It would be a stark departure from ambitious infrastructure programs of the past, in which the government played a major role and devoted substantial resources to paying the cost of large-scale projects.

A key part of the plan is privatizing essential services, like the air traffic control system. Privatization always promises big gains and small costs, but it rarely delivers.

The brownshirts are coming.

Is it really true that female movie characters get fewer lines? Yes.

but the Kathy Griffin incident means the opposite of what people are saying

Kathy Griffin is a mid-level, mostly apolitical comic that I usually enjoy. However, she stepped way over the line this week by posting an image (which I’m not linking to) of herself holding the bloody severed head of Donald Trump. It was clearly meant to be funny — it wasn’t — rather than a suggestion that somebody should kill the president. (I interpreted the joke as how absurd Kathy Griffin would be in the role of tyrant-slayer.) However, you don’t know how everybody will read an image, so there are some places you just shouldn’t go.

On the Right, this incident is being used as evidence that the Left is unhinged, that it’s the violent hateful side of the political spectrum, and so on. However, if you look at the bigger picture, it proves exactly the opposite: Griffin’s image was immediately rejected by just about everybody on the Left. She apologized, she got fired from her annual role as a New Years’ Eve host on CNN anyway, lost a few other gigs, and I’m not aware of anybody trying to make a martyr out of her. She made a bad choice; it’s going to cost her. Life works that way.

But it doesn’t always work that way on the Right. Take a comparable example, like Ted Nugent saying in 2007 that Obama should “suck on my machine gun” and Hillary Clinton should “ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch”. As far as I can tell, he paid no price for this. He never apologized or lost support. At the time, Sean Hannity defended him. More recently, Trump has let him visit the Oval Office.

The typical right-wing response to suggestions of violence (or even actual violence) from their own side is to circle the wagons around the offender. Like what Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman did the previous week when Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter: “If you’re for draining the swamp, you’re on our team.”

When an incident like this happens among liberals, we reject it, precisely because we are not the violent hateful side of the spectrum. But when has some right-wing expression of hate been too over-the-top to be defended?

While we’re talking about comedians going over the line, I guess I have to comment on Bill Maher saying “nigger” on his HBO show Friday during his interview of Senator Ben Sasse. Slate describes it like this:

The controversy arose during Maher’s weekly Real Time show, where Sasse was a guest to discuss his new book, The Vanishing American Adult. At one point of the conversation, Maher pointed out how adults are putting a lot of effort into dressing up for Halloween these days and asked the senator whether that was a phenomenon in Nebraska as well. “It’s frowned up,” Sasse said. “We don’t do that quite as much.” Maher seemed encouraged by the answer and said that he should “get to Nebraska more.” Sasse then replied that the comedian was welcome to go: “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.” Maher seemed surprised by Sasse’s invitation and then jokingly replied, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.” Sasse grinned and chuckled.

One of this blog’s most popular posts is “Slurs: Who can Say Them, When, and Why“. So how does that analysis apply to Maher’s usage?

On the plus side, he was not using the word in its worst possible sense, as an insult a particular black person, or even as a “joking” insult to a black person or blacks in general. Nor was he invoking an anti-black stereotype in order to win an argument. Directing the slur at himself in a self-deprecating joke — one where he’s not black-facing or otherwise making fun of blacks — is a usage I had not anticipated. (In the same way that Griffin’s joke was more about herself than about Trump, Maher’s was not really about blacks; what’s supposed to be humorous is picturing the scrawny Maher as a field hand.)

Still, this isn’t a private yuk-yuk among sophisticated friends. Maher knew he was on national TV, and would be seen by countless people of all races. So his remark shows either a lack of understanding of or a disrespect for the enormous freight that nigger and the stereotype it invokes still carry. Either way, it’s not OK.

One of the primary symptoms of privilege is that you think it’s up to you to judge whether the people you offend have a right to feel offended. But I think the slurs that have built up baggage for various oppressed communities now belong to them. So it’s up to blacks to decide what the appropriate use of nigger will be going forward. The rest of us should stay away from it, even if we think we’re using it in a non-racist way.

and let’s close with the best news of the week

Animaniacs is coming back. Maybe soon there will be more modern translations of Shakespeare.

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  • Corey Fisher  On June 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Worth noting, we don’t /always/ reject violence, though I’m pleased that it’s at least controversial when it comes up – I’m thinking specifically of the “punching Nazis” event not too long ago. (I was originally going to say “a while ago”, but I’m pretty sure that it only /feels/ like a very long time…)

  • George Washington, Jr.  On June 5, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    When Milo Yiannopoulos talked about the positive side of child molestation, he was fired from Breitbart, was dropped from his speaking gig at CPAC, and nearly everyone on the right denounced him. So “going too far” would be when a gay conservative supports child molestation.

    • weeklysift  On June 5, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      That’s an example of the Right punishing apostasy, not thinking somebody went too far in attacking the Left. It’s a better parallel with Maher — liberals in general don’t support saying “nigger”, conservatives disapprove of gay child molestation — than with Griffin.

    • Shirley  On June 9, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Your article was exnellect and erudite.

    • Your’s is the intelligent approach to this issue.

  • Helena Constantine  On June 5, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    1. I can’t even imagine what the phrase “translation of Shakespeare” might mean, since it clearly doesn’t mean into French or Chinese. As I recall in a certain the corpus of Shakespeare was rewritten to conform with each new edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, but surely no one would do that in real life.

    2. No one seems to remember all the times that an effigy of Clinton’s head on a pike was displayed by the crowds at Trump rallies during the campaign. Surely this has something to do with Griffith’s photo.

    • weeklysift  On June 5, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      You should watch the video. Yakko is reciting the Yorick speech while his sister Dot translates it into the contemporary. “My gorge doth rise” becomes “He wants to blow chunks.”

    • DMoses  On June 7, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      It means translate into modern English. Languages change with the time, the words, grammar, and idioms are all malleable.

  • Dan Cusher  On June 10, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    I think the Maher comment is still racist regardless of his use of the n-word; that is, if he had said “slave” instead, it would still have sounded racist to me. When Maher heard the phrase “work in the fields,” he pictured not merely a Black person, but a Black slave. The Senator wasn’t making a comment about race or slavery, but about how his constituents value agriculture and manual labor. Maher wasn’t simply making a joke about race and slavery because they were the topics at hand – he introduced those topics in order to make a joke. That gratuitous use of race and slavery as comedic props is a problem. Those are not his/our props to use.

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