Sunday, October 18, 2009

Too Big to Fail? The Climate. The Human Race. Our Collective Conscience (Darfur). Health Care Reform. Our System of Government.

(Image: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey)

People should use the climate change crisis as an opportunity to become human again, setting aside the addictive and self-destructive behaviour that has damaged their souls, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today. Dr Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, told an audience at Southwark Cathedral that people had allowed themselves to become "addicted to fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost". Dr Rowan Williams says Climate Crisis a Chance to Become Human Again, Guardian, 10-14-09

(Image: Migrant Mother/Pea-Picker in the Dust Bowl, Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1936)

If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars ... Crunching the inflation adjusted numbers, we find the bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:
• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion
TOTAL: $3.92 trillion
Cory Doctorow, 11-25-08

Too Big to Fail? The Climate. The Human Race. Our Collective Conscience (Darfur). Health Care Reform. Our System of Government.

By Richard Power

Unfortunately, from the "Single Bullet" to the "Success of the Surge," our pseudo-civil society is often more comfortable with convenient lies than inconvenient truths.

Among the most glaring of these convenient lies (or perhaps more accurately, "half-truths") is that the institutions caught up in the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 were "too big to fail."

At this point, most of us, right, left and center, are skeptical about the "too big to fail" canard. (For more on this fiasco, read Matt Taibbi's great work on Goldman-Sachs, et al, e.g., The real price of Goldman’s giganto-profits.)

But it is unlikely that we have heard the end of "too big to fail," so let us exploit this argument to push for action on some other things that are truly "too big to fail."

The planetary climate? Certainly, "too big to fail."

Without it, we wouldn't be in position to bail out Goldman-Sachs and appoint its brainiacs to run the nation's economy on behalf of an administration elected to deliver CHANGE.

Yes, the planetary climate is "too big to fail."

And so we are going to have to fork it up; and if we don't, Goldman-Sachs and its ilk won't be our biggest problem, or even among our top ten problems.

If the planetary climate is allowed to fail we will be circling back to the beginning of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, i.e., just a bunch of armed apes. Indeed, it is not just the future that we are in danger of losing but also the past.

Bill McKibben of, the man orchestrating the Biggest Day of Action the World has Ever Seen on 10/24/09 understands:

It's eight days to our global climate day of action and I'm just headed back from Nashville, where I spoke to the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation ... The Scots just published a list of 10,000 historic sites, dating back to the Neolithic, that may disappear as the oceans rise. A one foot rise in sea level, and the Washington Mall could flood regularly. But it goes deeper than that. Our sense of the people who came before us derives in part from the fact that we share the same world ... We won't be able to farm in the places we used to farm, or fish in the places we used to fish—even if we survive, we'll be moored on a new, presumably artificial, island with no real link to the past ... All around the world people are using historic places as backdrops: the pyramids, say, or (this just in) the ruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Iraq ... Bill McKibben, How Climate Change Kills History, Mother Jones, 10-16-09

Imagine what the equivalent of the bailout, a few trillion dollars, could do to reduce our carbon footprint and launch a green economy.

The human race? Certainly, "too big to fail." After all, it's us, it's all we've got.

And there is an excellent way, powerful and inexpensive, to make a profound difference in deciding the fate of the human race:

Sending more girls to school may help poor countries get out of the economic slump faster, the NGO Plan International says in a new report. Just a one percent rise in the number of girls attending secondary school boosts a country's annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percent ... Investing in education promises an attractive return. "An extra year of education increases a girl's income by 10 to 20 percent; it is a significant step in breaking the cycle of poverty," the report says ... Moreover, "wages of women are well spent," the authors of the report note. "Women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into the household, where men reinvest only 30 to 40 percent." IPS, 10-16-09

The initiative that the NGO Plan International proposes would be a drop in the bucket of the multi-trillion dollar financial industry bailout. You could probably fit in all of the UN Millennium Development Goals and still have some spare change for free broadband wireless for everyone.

There are several other significant aspects of our shared reality that are simply "too big to fail."

Most notably, our collective conscience is failing in Darfur. Can we really afford that hit to our spiritual well-being? Doubt it. (To those capable of reading the auras of whole species, we are looking pretty sickly.)

Nevertheless, it has been reported that Secretary of State Clinton is going to announce a "new" Darfur strategy on Monday. We are going to be told that Darfur has a "crime" problem now, not a GENOCIDE problem. We are going to be told that we need to use "incentives and pressure" and "strict time lines" (sort of like public option "triggers"?), we are going to be told to that to "change the behavior of the Khartoum government — we are going to have to work with a government responsible for so many atrocities” (i.e., make nice with men other indictment for crimes against humanity).

According to the NYT, there were months of fierce debate within the administration. Well, the wrong side of that debate seems to have won out. (Why am I not surprised?)

And as for US Special Envoy Scott Gratton (see Why has the Obama-Biden Administration Put Pollyana in Charge of US Policy on Darfur? ), the NYT reports:

Summing up the administration’s approach, he cited what he described as an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you have to go with someone,” he said.
“We want to go far,” General Gration said, “and to do that we are going to have to go with Khartoum.”
New York Times, 10-16-09

Well, Special Envoy Gratton, if you are going far with Bashir and the thugs in Karthoum, then you will eventually arrive at the gates of Hell, because that's where they are headed.

And then there is the struggle to reform the US health care system, one that our allies in Europe and Japan view with appalled astonishment, one that threatens to sink our economy all by itself.

Certainly, health care reform is "too big to fail."

Although in regard to the Crisis in Darfur, recent signs from his administration are very disappointing; this weekend, President Obama's own rhetoric on the Health Care Crisis sharpened, and that is somewhat encouraging:

It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, “Take one of these, and call us in a decade.” Well, not this time. The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our health care dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses, and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy – that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing. Obama rips health insurance lobby as ‘deceptive,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘bogus.’ Think Progress, 10-17-09

And the price tag for not allowing health care reform to fail would be much less than the several trillion dollars it cost to ensure that Goldman-Sachs, et al could get back in the pink, maybe a trillion or so.

Of course, we won't be able to do our part, as a nation, to save the planetary climate, or the human race, or our collective conscience, or our health care system, unless we can save the republic itself from the filthy lucre that is choking the life out of it.

Our system of government is definite "too big to fail."

And, ironically, in this instance, the action requires saving money NOT spending it.

In a wonderful response to Michael Moore's call to action in "Capitalism: A Love Story," Linda Milazzo explains:

At the end of Capitalism: A Love Story ... Mike issues this challenge to his audience: "You know, I can't really do this anymore - unless those of you who are watching this in the theater want to join me. I hope you will. And please, speed it up." ... But what is Mike's challenge? Here's his response to that question when asked by Chris Matthews on Hardball on MSNBC: "I want them [the American people] to start pressuring our Congress people to get the money out of Congress. We need publicly financed elections and we need the people deciding how this democracy is run." ... We can do this. We can step up to Mike's challenge. Right now in the House and Senate there is key campaign finance legislation called the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA - S. 752 in the Senate and H.R. 1826 in the House) ... If passed, this bill allows federal candidates to run for office without relying on large contributions, big money bundlers, and donations from lobbyists. Candidates will be free from constant fundraising to focus on constituent needs ... Linda Milazzo, Huffington Post, 10-17-09

The human race? Why it's simply "too big to fail." Likewise, the climate is "too big to fail." So we MUST fund education for girls in poor countries, right? And we MUST commit to 350 parts per million as the safe upper limit for carbon in the atmosphere, right? Remember, "too big to fail"? No argument, right? The alternative is unthinkable, right?

Go to Stand w/ Howard Dean for more information on how to participate in the struggle to bring meaningful healthcare reform to the USA.

For the Words of Power Climate Crisis Updates Archive, click here.

If you have not already joined the Alliance for Climate Protection, Al Gore and I urge you to do so. Click here.

I also urge you to participate in some way in the International Day of Climate Action on 10-24-09. Go to for more information.

As always, I encourage you to follow events in Darfur on Mia Farrow's site, it is the real-time journal of a humanitarian at work; the content is compelling, insightful and fiercely independent.

For an archive of Words of Power posts on the Crisis in Darfur, click here.

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.

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