Conservatives and natural disasters

Nice piece from Jamelle Bouie:

The scenes from Hurricane Harvey, of flooded Houston streets and freeways turned to rivers, are a level of calamity that’s hard to imagine. We don’t yet know the full weight of the disaster in lives lost or property destroyed, but it’s clear we face a long project of reconstruction and rebuilding. This doesn’t just pose a general problem for Congress, now responsible for funding recovery efforts, or the White House, which has to direct them. It poses a particular problem for the Republican Party, where anti-government and anti-tax ideology must contend with the needs of managing an outright environmental catastrophe…

This is obvious hypocrisy from Republicans, who oppose disaster spending for other states and citizens, but support it when it benefits their own. (We don’t see this with Democrats, who back relief regardless of circumstances.) Politically, it’s unsurprising. But the worse crime here is to demand spending cuts in exchange for support as Republicans did for Katrina and Sandy. Doing so is to attack the foundation of the social safety net: to say that help is the exception—not the norm—and that communities will pay through other means if they can’t bear the cost of disasters. And the related stance—help for some but not others—flows naturally from a conservative ideology that disdains universal public goods, seeks to reify the advantages of privilege and accumulated wealth, and frequently equates help with handouts. The impulse to craft a health care bill that cuts benefits for the poor to fund taxes for the rich isn’t distant from the one that finds conditions and strings when distant states need relief but demands unqualified help when disaster strikes at home.

Yep.  Sadly, true.  And, while we’re at it, it may feel good to blame Houston flooding on poor zoning regulations, but that’s really not it.  Henry Grabar:

The most important thing is this: No city is or should be designed to accommodate a one-in-a-million-year flood, which is what Harvey turned out to be. As Houston Chronicle writer Dylan Baddour put it last year, “Cars don’t have airbags to absorb a hit from a train.” If our probabilities about the likelihood of such storms are wrong because of climate change—and it sure seems they are—that’s a separate problem and one for which local planners shouldn’t be held accountable. After all, rural areas at the fringes of the Houston metro are also underwater.

That’s not to say flood-control planning in and around Houston has not been shortsighted. But zoning would not have saved Houston.

Photo of the day

Loved this Washington Post gallery of pets and other animals in the flooding.

Cows make their way through fallen power lines along the road near City-By-The Sea, Tex. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The white guy has something to say

Speaking of white people and politics, I really enjoyed this Frank Bruni column.  Short version: just because we should not care extra about what somebody has to say because they are white, nor should we automatically discount it.  As a political scientist, I’ve spent a couple decades studying the history and present role of both gender and race in American politics.  Yes, I’m a white man and have the life experiences of a white man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about or have valuable contributions on these topics.  Anyway, Bruni:

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait. I’m gay. And I mean gay from a different, darker day. In that pool and at that school, I sometimes quaked inside, fearful of what my future held. Back then — the 1970s — gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were closeted than out. We conducted our lives in whispers. Then AIDS spread, and we wore scarlet letters as we marched into the public square to plead with President Ronald Reagan for help. Our rallying cry, “silence = death,” defined marginalization as well as any words could.

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes.

Not long ago I wrote about Evergreen State College, which was roiled by protests after a white biology professor, Bret Weinstein, disparaged the particular tack of a day of racial healing. He raised valid points, only to be branded a bigot and threatened with violence.

That reception was wrong. I said so. And a reader responded: “I don’t need one more white male criticizing young people of color.” Other readers also homed in on my race — or on the professor’s: “Weinstein will be fine. He’s white.” That automatically and axiomatically made him a less compelling actor in the drama, a less deserving object of concern, no matter his actions, no matter his argument…

Mark Lilla, a Columbia University professor, got a big, bitter taste of this late last year when he wrote, in The Times, about the presidential election and “identity politics,” which, he argued, had hurt the Democratic Party. He maintained that too intense a focus on each minority group’s discrete persecution comes at the expense of a larger, unifying vision.

Many people disagreed. Good. But what too many took issue with was, well, his identity. “White men: stop telling me about my experiences!” someone later scrawled on a poster that was put up to advertise a talk, “Identity Is Not Politics,” that he gave at Wellesley College.

“But I wasn’t talking about their experience or my experience,” Lilla pointed out when I spoke with him recently. “I was talking about an issue.” …

Should we really have say and sway only over matters that neatly dovetail with the category that we’ve been assigned (or assigned ourselves)? Is that the limit of our insights and empathies? During the Democratic primary, a Hillary Clinton supporter I know was told that he could not credibly defend her against charges of racism for her past use of the word “superpredators” because he’s white.

That kind of thinking fosters estrangement instead of connection. Lilla noted that what people in a given victim group sometimes seem to be saying is: “You must understand my experience, and you can’t understand my experience.”

“They argue both, so people shrug their shoulders and walk away,” he said…

At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me. [emphasis mine]

Hear, hear.

And, while we’re at it, Damon Linker in The Week:

What such rhetoric reveals is that over the past few decades liberals have effectively abandoned politics, which involves thinking “about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it,” in favor of “a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition.” Instead of cultivating a sense of “we — of what we are as citizens and what we owe to each other,” liberals have become “mesmerized by symbols,” more interested in recognizing and affirming the sense of grievance cultivated by the members of discrete sub-political groups than in offering “a vision of our common destiny based on the one thing that all Americans, of every background, actually share. And that is citizenship.”

As such formulations reveal, Lilla isn’t so much rejecting a politics of identity as skewering the tendency of “identity liberals” to focus exclusively on sub-political identities. Politics rightly understood is about defining who we are as a political community — what it means to be an American, what we owe to one another as citizens, as members of a collective body, as parts of a whole, engaged in a common enterprise…

The problem with practicing identity politics at the sub-political level is that it becomes just another form of individualism, replicating in a “less sentimental and more sanctimonious” idiom the anti-political outlook that came to power in the United States with Ronald Reagan. Whereas Reagan described a country of atomized individuals liberated from government (including from calls for public sacrifice of any kind), Democrats came to define politics as a form of self-exploration. Look into yourself, explore your background, situate yourself in relation to the various identity categories to which you belong, fasten on to the injustices these groups have suffered at the hands of powerful Others, and then demand recompense. This way of conceiving of politics has rendered incomprehensible JFK’s ringing call to civic service (What can I do for my country?) and replaced it with a “deeply personal one: What does my country owe me by virtue of my identity?”

I should mention that Lilla is an imperfect messenger and (like most) oversells his message.  He also to my non-identity-politics liberal self, seems to way under-appreciate the role of race in American politics (spend some time with the social science, dude!).

But, I think he makes some very good points about seeking common ground.  And, my general take is when your politics are alienating a person like me– who cares quite strongly about racial and gender equality– you are doing  your movement/goals a disservice.

Identity politics– white people style

Really nice piece from Thomas Edsall last week drawing from across an array of Political Science sources to take a look at Trump and white identity politics.  Well worth reading it all.  Some highlights:

White voters for whom racial identity is important include a minority faction of white supremacists, but as a whole they constitute a much broader and encompassing group. In an Aug. 16 essay for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, Jardina wrote:

The whites marching on Charlottesville were only a small segment of a much larger population for whom the politics of white identity resonates. The vast majority of white Americans who feel threatened by the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity are not members of the KKK or neo-Nazis. They are much greater in number, and far more mainstream, than the white supremacists who protested in Virginia over the weekend.

A total of 36 percent of whites described their racial identity as either “very important” (16 percent) or “extremely important” (20 percent), according to an American National Election Studies survey in January 2016. Another 25 percent said it was “moderately important.”

Careful examination of Trump’s initial support shows the key role of whiteidentity voters in Trump’s ascendance…

To explore the role of white voters for whom racial identity was especially important, three political scientists — John SidesMichael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck — analyze the ANES data in their forthcoming book, “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.”

The survey, they write,

asked four questions that captured dimensions of white identity: the importance of white identity, how much whites are being discriminated against, the likelihood that whites are losing jobs to nonwhites, and the importance of whites working together to change laws unfair to whites. We combined those questions into a scale capturing the strength of white identity and found that it was strongly related to Republicans’ support for Donald Trump.

On the basis of that scale, the authors assembled the data illustrated by the accompanying chart, which shows that fewer than five percent of white Republicans who indicated that their racial identity was of little importance supported Trump. Among those who said their identity as whites was extremely important to them, Trump’s support reached 81 percent.

In a 2005 paper, Cara Wong, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, and Grace E. Cho, who was a graduate student in politial science at the University of Michigan at the time, found that many whites identified with their race, but “white racial identity is not politically salient.”

Wong and Cho went on, however, to make what turned out to be a crucially important point: that since

white identity is indeed unstable but easily triggered, the danger is that a demagogue could influence the salience of these identities to promote negative outgroup attitudes, link racial identification more strongly to policy preferences, and exacerbate group conflict…

In “Identity Crisis,” Sides, Tesler and Vavreck write that Trump’s primary campaign

became a vehicle for a different kind of identity politics — oriented around white Americans’ feelings of marginalization in an increasingly diverse America.

The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.

Short version– it’s hard out there for a white person.  Or so many Trump voters would believe.  Now, of course, plenty of white people in America face some tough circumstances, but to suggest it is because they are white and thus discriminated against is just plain delusional.

Trump is Trump is Trump

I pretty much laughed when I read this from Greg Sargent on Trump and Hurricane Harvey:

President Trump on Tuesday is set to visit Hurricane Harvey’s devastation — “Leaving now for Texas!” he just tweeted — which means both these rituals are getting underway. Indeed, multiple articlesthis morning are asking not just whether Trump will rise to the occasion but also whether this will afford him the opportunity for a reset of sorts amid the tumult, scandal and racial strife of his first seven months.

number of GOP strategists tell NPR that they are hoping Trump will today resist his usual instinct toward self-aggrandizement and distracted bluster, and instead will demonstrate empathy, competence, a healing tone and a relentless focus on the disaster’s practical challenges and impact on its victims. [emphasis mine] One says this could be a “very important moment in his young presidency,” and another sees an opportunity to harness the “nation’s unity and goodwill” in a new direction. Meanwhile, Trump aides tell the New York Times that they believe the disaster has made Trump more detail-oriented and less prone to destructive outbursts and mood swings — in other words, a new, emerging Trump.

Riiiiiiiight.  Have these people been living in a cave since January?!  Nobody with a three-digit IQ could possible think that this is how Trump would respond.  And, the reality, of course, from today’s Post:

As rescuers continued their exhausting and heartbreaking work in southeastern Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the rain continued to fall and a reservoir near Houston spilled over, President Trump grabbed a microphone to address hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside a firehouse near Corpus Christi and were chanting: “USA! USA! USA!”

‘Thank you, everybody,” the president said, sporting one of the white “USA” caps that are being sold on his campaign website for $40. “I just want to say: We love you. You are special. . . . What a crowd. What a turnout.”

Yet again, Trump managed to turn attention on himself. His responses to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey have been more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans whose lives have been dramatically altered by the floodwaters.

He has talked favorably about the higher television ratings that come with hurricane coverage, predicted that he will soon be congratulating himself and used 16 exclamation points in 22 often breathless tweets about the storm. But as of late Tuesday afternoon, the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations.

“It is a difficult balancing act for presidents,” said Matt Latimer, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “You want to project confidence that things will get better, but at the same time you want to display empathy for people who have lost everything. . . . The president has a knack for the first one, but so far he hasn’t displayed a lot of skill at displaying empathy. And that’s a problem.”

Now, it would be nice if President Trump could have found a way to not make this all about himself.  But please.  I’m sure there are times zebras wish they didn’t have stripes.

Photo of the day

Gotta love the title of this Wired gallery,”Space Photos of the Week: NASA Takes Better Eclipse Photos than You.”  Of course, it’s true.  Love this one:

This is a time-lapse photo of the partial solar eclipse, taken at Ross Lake in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington.  NASA/BILL INGALLS.


Harvey and climate change

Excellent column from Dave Leonhardt:

Even before the devastation from Harvey, southeastern Texas was enduring a year unlike any before.

The daily surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico last winter never dropped below 73 degrees. You can probably guess how many previous times that had happened: Zero.

This sort of heat has a specific effect on storms: Warmer weather causesheavier rainfall. Why? When the seas warm, more moisture evaporates into the air, and when the air warms — which has also been happening in Texas — it can carry more moisture.

The severity of Harvey, in other words, is almost certainly related to climate change.

Yes, I know the sober warning that’s issued whenever an extreme weather disaster occurs: No individual storm can be definitively blamed on climate change. It’s true, too. Some version of Harvey probably would have happened without climate change, and we’ll never know the hypothetical truth.

But it’s time to shed some of the fussy over-precision about the relationship between climate change and weather. James Hansen, the eminent climate researcher, has used the term “scientific reticence” to describe this problem. Out of an abundance of academic caution — a caution that is in many ways admirable — scientists (and journalists) have obscured climate change’s true effects.

We don’t display the same fussiness in other important areas. No individual case of lung cancer can be definitively linked to smoking, as Heidi Cullen, the chief scientist at Climate Central, notes. Few vehicle accidents can be definitely linked to alcohol, and few saved lives can be definitively linked to seatbelts…

Yet smoking, drunken driving and seatbeltless riding each created a public health crisis. Once the link became clear and widely understood, people changed their behavior and prevented a whole lot of suffering.

Climate change is on its way to becoming a far worse public health crisis than any of those other problems. Already, it has aggravated droughts, famines and deadly heat waves. In the United States, global warming seems to be contributing to the spread of Lyme disease.

So, did climate change cause the devastation of Harvey?  Well, in the sense that basic science and logic tell us it almost certainly made it worse.

Also like Drum’s take:

Once in 500 years? Hmmm. Here are a couple of relevant illustrations from the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which was recently made public…

Down on the Gulf Coast, the number of “precipitation events” that exceed the largest amount expected over five years has already gone up 40 percent since 1901. By about 2030, what used to be a 5-year event around Houston will occur every two months. This means that Hurricane Harvey used to be a 500-year event, but maybe not anymore. Maybe it’s now a 20 or 30-year event.

These kinds of extreme flooding events will increase thanks to (a) rising sea levels, (b) an increase in tropical storm intensity (though not frequency), and (c) greater rainfall from tropical storms.

And a related post:

I wrote about this yesterday, and naturally got some pushback. “Harvey is unprecedented because it got stalled by a front, not because of climate change,” said one tweeter. That’s true about the front, and of course no one can say that climate change “caused” the flooding. But you can say that climate change increased the probabilities. Maybe it made Harvey a little more intense. Maybe it increased Harvey’s water vapor content a little bit. Maybe it made the front a little bit stronger. Add it all up and climate change didn’t cause Harvey, but it probably made it a few percent more likely and a few percent worse than it otherwise would have been. And at the tail end of bell curves, a few percent can mean a lot. It can turn a 500-year event into a 30 or 50 or 70-year event. Multiply this by the entire country, where the probabilities average out, and you can say without a doubt that climate change will produce more drought, more wildfires, more intense storms, and more flooding.

That’s how this stuff works. No big weather event ever has a single cause, but climate change skeptics are unwise to hang their hats on that. Likewise, I think that climate change hawks are unwise to shy away from blaming climate change for individual events. Their fear, generally, is that you can’t prove the role of climate change in any single extreme weather event, and they don’t want to open themselves to charges of alarmism. That’s admirable, but maybe just a bit too precious.

So, why should this matter?  Safe to say there are some Americans out there (especiallly those of a political party not named here) that just don’t think climate change is a serious issue.  When 1000-year floods become <100 year floods, that’s a pretty serious issue.

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