Apologies for the extremely late post.
We're coming off a significant climate development, which means it’s time for George Will to tell us we’re all idiots.
It was serendipitous to have almost simultaneous climaxes in Copenhagen
and Congress. The former's accomplishment was indiscernible, the latter's was unsightly.
It would have been unprecedented had the president not described the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change summit as "unprecedented," that being the most overworked word in his hardworking vocabulary of self-celebration. Actually, the mountain beneath the summit -- a mountain of manufactured hysteria, predictable cupidity, antic demagoguery and dubious science --labored mightily and gave birth to a mouselet, a 12-paragraph document committing the signatories to . . . make a list.
This, naturally, after the conclusion of a negotiations marathon at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, which yielded an agreement to give billions to developing nations to deal with global warming without requiring the world's major polluters to make deeper carbon pollution cuts. The accomplishments of the well-intentioned two week gas-haggle were mixed at best.
Indiscernible, though? Not quite. While the Copenhagen agreement didn’t turn out to be the panacea some of the more hopeful-minded greens may have hoped, it was hardly a waste.
A sidebar: since Will, a climate-denier to the core, takes a purely rhetorical tack in arguing that the U.N.-led summit birthed an inadequate pact, this discussion doesn't exactly have legs. Still, let's indulge him for a moment. Enough has been written elsewhere about Will’s affected Reaganomic boorching and blind climate denial to cover thousands of bowties. Here, we tackle the idea that Copenhagen was pointless.
For one thing, as the New York Times’ James Kanter points out, Copenhagen did get the money moving:
The accord was "a big step forward" since talks on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007, when countries committed to control emissions but offered no financial support mechanisms, Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, said in an interview Saturday.
"This time we have $100 billion a year," Mr. Ban said, and "$100 billion a year is significant big money."
[Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace] said that the decision to raise and disburse hundreds of billions of dollars to help the most vulnerable nations showed that "the principle that poor countries with least responsibility for climate change need resources for adaptation has been recognized."
So: the Copenhagen agreement held out the prospect of $100 billion in annual aid from 2020 for developing nations. No small thing, that, either in terms of material yield or symbolic capital.
This probably won’t do anything to assuage a man who readily mocks international global warming mitigation aid--"climate reparations"--and mis-cites material both scientific and apocryphal in service of the idea that global warming is nothing more than the fever dream of a cabal of self-flagellating, collectivist boobs. At best, it feeds Will’s view that meetings of the minds like December’s Danish pow-wow are exercises in West-phobic socialism-lite--proof that, as he has said environmentalism is a "political doctrine that rejoices in scarcity of everything except government." At worst, it implies a full-blown foreign-engineered Ponzi scheme.
In any case, ‘it moved funds from SUV-driving countries to subsistence-farming countries via a broad, complex, yet admittedly ill-defined international framework’ probably isn't enough to make Will happy.
Another thing: Copenhagen didn’t ask enough-or arguably anything, really-of the biggest polluters, but it did get some problematic powers to the table. Some of them left saying relatively positive things, too:
[Chinese] Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the international climate talks that brought more than 110 leaders together in Copenhagen produced "significant and positive" results.
China's Yang said the outcome upheld the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" recognized by the Kyoto Protocol, and made a step forward in promoting binding emissions cuts for developed countries and voluntary mitigating actions by developing countries.
"Developing and developed countries are very different in their historical emissions responsibilities and current emissions levels, and in their basic national characteristics and development stages," Yang said in a statement. "Therefore, they should shoulder different responsibilities and obligations in fighting climate change."
"The Copenhagen conference is not a destination but a new beginning," Yang said.
By most accounts, disputes between China and the U.S. fairly dominated the conference, as well as the last year or so of international climate quibbling. That Copenhagen engaged the world’s greatest and most combative carbon polluter and yielded--yes, George--"a 12-paragraph document" rather than a round of bloody noses and hurt feelings is its own victory, small though it may be.
Gilding the turd? Maybe. But if George Will is going to ridicule our motives under the guise of criticizing methodology, we may as well fight him on his ideas as laid out in print.
Fortunately, as I have observed in the past, it’s not hard to find the tools to do so. To wit--a climate debate analogue in the comings and goings of Mr. Will’s eternally-tortured Chicago Cubs.
Especially now, with baseball’s offseason "hot stove" period of trading, bartering, and negotiations kicking into high gear, a comparison of the crew at the Bella Center with that inhabiting the friendly confines at Waveland and Sheffield seems especially apt.
The North-Siders got the ball rolling last week, trading right-fielder Milton Bradley for a starting pitcher, Carlos Silva, of whom Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry somewhat charitably says:
"He's healthy, he's 30...maybe he needs a change of scenery."
Attentive baseball fans know Silva as a limp-armed righty journeyman who, over the course of 9 innings, surrenders an average of 11 base hits while striking out a bit under 4 batters (based on career averages). In short, his typical start is lackluster.
While Silva is, as Hendry says, 30 years old, that he's ‘healthy’ is less clear: presumably ambulatory in January, he pitched just 30 innings in 2009, earning about $11 million for 6 starts and a shoulder impingement. Furthermore, this will be his fourth ‘change of scenery,’ and, if it proves unusually successful, his first to yield a collective opponent batting average below .280.
But for all the bad about Silva--did I mention he’ll make about $11 million this year too?--he also does some good things. Kind of.
For one thing, Silva has a rubber arm: he eclipsed 180 innings pitched for four straight seasons between 2004-2007 and went over 200 twice. Few pitchers in either league are as accurate as the Venezuelan, who leads all active pitchers in fewest walks issued per 9 innings. Silva relies largely on a mid-to-high 80’s fastball and sinker, making him a passable pitch-to-contact ground ball inducer given a solid supporting infield.
Far more importantly, acquiring Silva let the cubbies get rid of a man who, for all his talent, led the Windy City in anguish inducement.
"I don't know if 'relieved' is the right word," Hendry said after the deal was announced. "But I felt obligated to come to a conclusion before we got too much farther into the offseason."
That all-important conclusion was getting rid of Milton Bradley.
Background: Bradley, a ten-year veteran with a good eye and decent pop, earned a big deal from the Cubs last offseason on the strength of a breakout year with the Texas Rangers. In 2008, Bradley knocked 55 extra base hits in just 126 games, led the American League in OBP and OPS, and
mostly kept his demons in check. He earned his first All-Star berth and,
at the age of 30, looked to be in line for several more productive seasons.
Playing for the baby bears, though, he was a disaster.
Bradley was ejected for arguing balls and strikes during his first game at Wrigley Field, later earning a suspension because he allegedly made contact with the umpire. That set the tone for the season ahead.
Over the course of the next six months, Bradley accused the National League's umpires of conspiring to "ruin" him, told beat writers he was the target of racism from just about everyone, occasionally refused to run out ground balls, was frequently and increasingly implausibly injured, abruptly removed himself from the lineup at least twice without explanation, sniffled and sparred with the media and fans on a weekly basis, absentmindedly threw a 2nd--not final--out into the bleachers while two runs scored, and endured a 60-point OBP drop. In September, the team suspended Bradley for the final 15 games of the season. He was sent home by Hendry with the blessings of many teammates: "Sometimes you just have to look in the mirror and realize that maybe the biggest part of the problem is yourself"--so says veteran Ryan Dempster.
Bradley did all this in the first year of a 3-year, $30 million contract.
Though undoubtedly talented--he still reached base more often than all but two other Cubs--Bradley confirmed what observers in both leagues long suspected: he was a screw-up, a hothead, perhaps a malingerer, certainly detrimental to the cohesiveness and productivity of almost any team. He had--and has--his uses, but they weren't remotely worth the headache.
Long before he was traded away, it was clear Bradley had to go, no matter what deal-cutting it took. That he is being paid more than $20 million over the course of the next two years made it even harder, and made his eventual dismissal even more of an occasion for celebration.
By dint of the outfielder’s undeniable ability, Bradley-for-Silva was nonetheless rated a win by many for the Cubs’ trading partner, the Seattle Mariners. Silva, everyone knows, has a bad contract and so-so stuff. Bradley, it was re-justified, still has that bat...maybe he needs a change of scenery, his eighth. Such thinking is common among general managers and hopeful fans.
Still, for the Cubs, it was worth it. Seattle threw in enough cash to leave them with a $5 million net gain off the deal, even after swallowing Silva’s ludicrous contract. More importantly, it provided a much-needed breath of fresh air for a perpetually cellar-bound team.
People who followed the Cubs knew that Bradley, a clubhouse cancer to the core, couldn’t stay. He is talented, yes; Chicago will probably be worse without his production in 2010, true; but he was terrible for the team, and cutting him loose, even if it meant short-term setbacks elsewhere, was necessary for the franchise to take a step forward.
Emphasis needed again: this move wasn’t enough to right the ship. Bradley was a millstone for the Cubs, though hardly their only heavy load. Erratic outfielder Alfonso Soriano, coming off a wretched season, has five years left on an eight-year, $136 million deal. He will make a premium salary next year--$18 million-despite enjoying his last superstar quality season in 2006. Temperamental, periodically-shelved pitcher Carlos Zambrano has three years left at more than $17 million per, another premium-priced player offering mediocre returns. This list goes on and on for the hapless Cubs, who boast a roster almost evenly split between bargain bin bit players and wildly overpaid ex-stars.
The team is a long, long way from being on the road to recovery. But this was a start.
What appeared to be a bad or, at best, inconsequential deal was actually vital. It set the tone for a team determined to shake off bad vibes and set the course for a long, hard slog back to respectability. As offseason salary dumps go, it was defiantly Copenhagenian: a forced sell, a frustrating admission of limitations, but a pragmatic mini-coup all the same. It wasn’t a three-way megadeal, but the Cubs weren’t getting anywhere near the Grand Gonfalon anyway unless they did this first.
It’s appropriate that, in the second half of his generalized screed against President Obama’s current agenda, Will resorts to an old tack in shouting down healthcare reform:
The legislation does solve the Democrats' "problem" of figuring out how to worsen the dependency culture and the entitlement mentality that grows with it.
If trashing Copenhagen is the of-the-moment equivalent of criticizing the Milton Bradley deal, the ‘entitlement mentality’ line feels more well-worn--a little like telling the Wrigley co. to let Greg Maddux walk without a second thought. It smacks of Welfare Queen rhetoric and 80’s-style up-by-the-bootstraps top-down dynamism. Vintage Will, and perfect for a team seemingly doomed to repeat its Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio mistakes until the end of time.
I digress. More to the point, it seems that a "dependency culture" and "entitlement mentality" are actually assets of hardheaded reactionary ideologues the world over. The children of Will. This is especially clear for all things conservation. George and Co. don’t want Americans to change their presumably God-given Way Of Life, and they certainly don’t want to spurn oil and coal, those democracy-building pillar/teats. This all leads to a useful question for concerned climate-watchers and deniers alike: who truly perpetuates a "dependency culture," leaders who grant adaptation funds to nations struggling to survive, or booming industry pushers who refuse to abandon a lucrative dirty-fuel-dependent future despite the preponderance of established science that says business-as-usual is basically suicide?
Need a hint? Suffering teams that stick with their insane-but-productive outfielders get nowhere. Teams that move--sometimes slowly, incrementally, even invisibly--eventually get better, even if they feel a bit hollow on trade day.
Though the deal struck in Copenhagen wasn't what most environmentalists hoped, we should feel fortunate that, like a GM tasked with righting a congenitally faulty team, President Obama "felt obligated to come to a conclusion before we got too much farther into the offseason." On such small moves are dynasties eventually built.