Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gates of Political Distraction

The essential point about Gates-gate, or the tempest over last week’s arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., is this: Most liberal commentary on the subject has taken race as its theme. Conservative commentators, by cheap watches contrast, have furiously hit the class button.
Liberals, by and large, immediately plugged the event into their unfair-racial-profiling template, and proceeded to call for blacks and whites to “listen to each other’s narratives” and other such anodyne niceties even after it started to seem that police racism was Mont Blanc watches probably not what caused the incident.
Conservatives, meanwhile, were following their own “narrative,” the one in which racism is often exaggerated and the real victim is the unassuming common man scorned by the deference-demanding “liberal elite.” Commentators on the right zeroed in on the fact that Mr. Gates is an “Ivy League big shot,” a “limousine liberal,” and a star professor at Harvard, an institution they regard with special loathing. They pointed out that Mr. Gates allegedly addressed the cop with that deathless snob phrase, “you don’t know who you’re messing with”; they reminded us that Cambridge, Mass., is home to Chopard watches a particularly obnoxious combination of left-wing orthodoxy and upper-class entitlement; and they boiled over Mr. Gates’s demand that the officer “beg my forgiveness.”
“Don’t you just love a rich guy who summers on the Vineyard asking a working-class cop to ‘beg’? How perfectly Cambridge,” wrote the right-wing radio talker Michael Graham in the Boston Herald.
Conservatives won this round in the culture wars, not merely because most of the facts broke their way, but because their grievance is one that a certain species of liberal never seems to grasp. Whether the issue is abortion, evolution or Cartier watches recycling, these liberal patricians are forever astonished to discover that the professions and institutions and attitudes that they revere are seen by others as arrogance and affectation.
The “elitism” narrative routinely blind-sides them, takes them by surprise again and again. There they are, feeling good about their solidarity with the coffee-growers of Guatemala, and then they find themselves on the receiving end of criticism from, say, the plumbers of Ohio.
The Gates incident was a trap that could not have been better crafted to ensnare President Barack Obama, who is himself a loyal son of Audemars Piguet watches academia’s most prestigious reaches, and to whom it was immediately obvious, even without benefit of the facts, that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in the situation.
Mr. Obama’s way of backing out of his gaffe was just as telling: He invited Mr. Gates and the policeman who arrested him to the White House for a beer, the beverage so often a gauge of a politician’s blue-collar bona fides. One symbolic gesture, hopefully, can exorcise another.
Class is always an ironic issue in American politics, and the irony this time is particularly poignant. We are in the midst of a great national debate about how to make health care affordable; almost nothing is more important to working-class Americans. “For the health of the nation, both physically and economically, we need a system with a public option,” Leo Tissot watches Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, wrote recently in the Huffington Post. “And we need it now.”
But whether working families get it now depends to a large degree on Mr. Obama’s personal popularity. And now comes Gates-gate, this latest burst of fake populism from the right. Waving the banner of the long-suffering working class, the tax-cutting friends of the top 2% have managed to dent the president’s credibility, to momentarily halt his forward movement on the health-care issue.
Umbrage at a Harvard professor’s class snobbery, in other words, might derail this generation’s greatest hope for actually mitigating the class divide.
Another irony: Long before he became a hostage to the culture wars, Henry Louis Gates had another career as a pithy commentator on the culture wars. The false appeal of victimization was something he understood well. In “Loose Canons,” his 1992 book on the subject, he joked that his colleagues should “award a prize at the end [of a conference] for the panelist, respondent, or contestant most oppressed.”
But when he sits down for Bvlgari watches that can of beer in the White House, it is another passage from his book that I hope Mr. Gates remembers. Speaking for liberal academics, he wrote in 1992 that “success has spoiled us; the right has robbed us of our dyspepsia; and the routinized production of righteous indignation is allowed to substitute for critical rigor.”
Today the cranking out of righteous indignation is a robust growth industry, and it threatens to do far worse than cloud our critical faculties. Help us to put the culture wars aside, Professor Gates. Too much is on the line these days.
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

US, other wealthy nations vow global warming cuts

L'AQUILA, Italy: Targeting global warming, President Barack Obama and wholesale watches other leaders of the world's richest industrial countries pledged Wednesday to seek dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to slow dangerous climate change. Setting a marker for success, they agreed for the first time that worldwide temperatures must not rise more than a few degrees.

However, their goals are nonbinding, and it's far from clear they will be Rado met. The wealthy nations failed to persuade the leaders of big developing countries to promise to cut their own fast-spreading pollution, unable to overcome arguments that the well-established industrial giants aren't doing enough in the short term.
Obama and his counterparts from the other wealthy Group of Eight nations agreed that global temperatures should be kept from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, in the fight against weather changes caused by mankind.

The results left some Western leaders cheering. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the group's statement a Vacheron Constantin "historic agreement." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was "a clear step forward."

Environmental groups said the effort fell far short in its bid to cut carbon emissions that come mainly from energy production and that trap heat in the atmosphere. Still, climate change experts said the measure on trying to limit temperature increases -- with agreement by both the G-8 and a 17-member group of industrialized and developing nations meeting here this week -- was an important step.
An increase up to the limit the leaders set wouldn't eliminate the risk of runaway climate change but would reduce it, experts said. Even a slight increase in average temperatures could wreak havoc on farmers around the globe, as Tissot watches seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields.

"After a long struggle, all of the G-8 nations have finally accepted the 2-degree goal," said Merkel.

The United States and other G-8 nations set a goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. That's part of a plan to have all such gases, from rich and poor nations alike, fall by 50 percent globally by that Vacheron Constantin year.

But developing countries feel the better-established nations aren't doing enough in the shorter term. They also worry that major reduction commitments on their parts, even if below the 80 percent target of rich nations, would hamper economic growth in China, India, Mexico, Brazil and many other non G-8 countries.

As for the target for limiting global temperatures, a summit statement said it reflected a Zenith "broad scientific view."

Until now, however, the US had resisted embracing the target because it implied a commitment to dramatically change the way the world generates electricity, fuels its cars and builds its houses. US businesses and the broader national economy could suffer badly under strict pollution limits, many argue.

Environmentalists welcomed the shift in US policy but criticized the G-8's failure to agree on more immediate goals for the industrial countries. The long-term ambition "is too far off to matter -- poor people are being hit today," said Antonio Hill, of the Piaget nonprofit Oxfam International.