Friday, December 25, 2009

2010 & Beyond: Beltwayistan, the Body Politic, & the Message of Avatar

Avatar, a film by James Cameron

We cannot afford to let Darfur slip away. The next 12 months are a crucial period for the whole of Sudan. Twice voters will go to the polls in make-or-break moments with the potential to cement slow-running reforms or tip Africa’s biggest nation into the abyss. Rob Crilly, Irish Times, 12-24-09

Last weekend's minimalist Copenhagen global climate accord provides a great opportunity. The old deceitful, ineffectual approach is severely wounded and must die. Now there is a chance for the world to get on to an honest, effective path to an agreement. James Hansen, Guardian, 12-27-09

Now consider what lies ahead. We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that — or, I’m tempted to say, any of it — if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate? Paul Krugman, New York Times, 12-21-09

In the year 2154, the RDA corporation is mining Pandora, the lush, Earthlike moon of the planet Polyphemus, in the Alpha Centauri system. Parker Selfridge, the administrator, employs former marines as mercenaries to provide security. The humans aim to exploit Pandora’s reserves of unobtanium, a valuable mineral. Pandora is inhabited by the na’vi, a paleolithic species of sapient humanoids with feline characteristics. Physically stronger and several feet taller than humans, the blue-skinned indigenes live in harmony with Nature and worship a mother goddess called Eywa. Avatar (2009), Wikipedia,

2010 & Beyond: Beltwayistan, the Body Politic, & the Message of Avatar

By Richard Power

Somehow we survived the first decade of the 21st Century. But at great price, and at great ongoing peril. Here at the end of the Gregorian calendar year, as the sun turns northward, there is an interlude, an eerie pause between the past present and the future present, a brief period almost absent of now. Let us use this timeless moment wisely.

I want to share some ruminations about Avatar, which I found to be a profound and almost unspeakably beautiful movie. But I need to start in a dismal place, far away from the realm of sacred myth. We must begin with some grisly verities.

It is important to understand all that has happened to us:

10. Stagnating worker wages and the emergence of a new monied aristocracy
9. Health and food insecurity increased for ordinary Americans
8. The environment became more polluted.
7. The imperial presidency was ensconced in ways it will be difficult to pare back
6. The Katrina flood and the destruction of much of historic African-American New Orleans, and the massive failure of the Bush administration to come to the aid of one of America's great cities
5. The Bush administration's post-2002 mishandling of Afghanistan, where the Taliban had been overthrown successfully in 2001 and were universally despised
4. The Iraq War
3. The great $12 trillion Bank Robbery,
2. The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, an organization that stemmed from the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980
1. The constitutional coup of 2000
Juan Cole, Top Ten Worst Things about the Bush Decade; Or, the Rise of the New Oligarchs, Informed Comment, 12-22-09

It is also important to understand that those responsible have not only escaped accountability (at least thus far), but also continue to force their malevolent ignorance upon the national psyche:

The George W. Bush Institute -- the "action- oriented think tank" that is part of Bush's Presidential Center -- will co-produce a public television show ... The show will be distributed by Executive Program Services (EPS) to public television stations nationwide, including many PBS affiliates. Huffington Post, 12-22-09


Obama is a centrist, not a progressive. His roots are in the progressive movement, but he ran as a centrist, and he is governing as a centrist. That should not be a surprise.

In Beltwayistan, the primary concern of both major political parties is not tending to their respective bases, but rather cobbling together some aggregate of those corporate interests with the cash to make or break political campaigns (e.g., Wall Street, big oil, gas and coal, big Pharma, the health insurance racketeers, the Chamber of Commerce, and yes, the Military-Industrial Complex). That should not be a surprise either.

The cult-formerly-known-as-the-Republican-Party curries the favor of those corporate interests by NEVER taking up any reform that would limit their reach in any way.

Within the Democratic Party establishment, the "conservative" and "centrist" elements (i.e., DLC, the "New Democrats," the "Blue Dogs," etc.) curry the corporatists' favor by mitigating the impact of necessary reform and morphing it into something those interests can actually feed on.

The difference is significant; however dissatisfying the result is to us.

If it were up to the cult-formerly-known-as-the-Republican-Party, we would not even be on the verge of opening 10,000 clinics, covering 30 million people currently uncovered, or curtailing termination on the grounds of "pre-existing condition."

The corporate interests play both of these suitors off against each other.

They prefer the no-people-oriented-reform-ever approach of the cult-formerly-known-as-the-Republican-Party; but at times, e.g., after the debacle of the Bush-Cheney era, they look for cover with the give-the-working-people-something-but-water-it-down-as-much-as-possible approach of those craven elements which now control much of the Democratic Party establishment.

However, for several reasons, the Democratic Party, has a distinct disadvantage in this perverse mating dance: first, not all of its leadership is craven, second, its base is an intelligent mix of the streetwise and the well-educated. It cannot sell out its base with as much impunity as the cult-formerly-known-as-the-Republican-Party, third, its alternate news media, i.e., the blogosphere and progressive talk radio, is not simply working off a tightly controlled script and echoing a single Orwellian message.

All of this has been painfully evident in the struggle to deliver meaningful healthcare reform over the past few months.

Indeed, what the cult-formerly-known-as-the-Republican-Party is fighting so savagely is not the Democratic Party's progressive agenda, but the Democratic Party's bid to replace the GOP as the go-to team for corporate interests.

I suggest to you that this analysis explains much of what seems otherwise incomprehensible in the behavior of the Obama White House during the healthcare debate, e.g., its hollow advocacy of the public option and its decision to only twist its left arm, and not its right arm.

You may think this is a struggle for the best way to drive down costs for the working people of this country, or blow the door open for the eventuality of universal coverage, but if we achieve that goal it will be at best a by-product of a different struggle, i.e., the struggle for hegemony in fund-raising from corporate special interests.

None of this should be a surprise.

So where do we go from here? How do we make the best of this opportunity, with a decent albeit centrist Democratic President, and large, albeit significantly compromised majorities in both the House and the Senate?

True North

My pondering of these questions coincides with the release of my sixth book, True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality, a collection of writings on the world's mystical traditions, originally published, in the 1990s, as a series of articles in an obscure western Sufi journal. It is the second book I have chosen to publish on demand, and independently (it is the way of the future.)

Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis, the first book I self-published, was framed around four vital questions: "Will the USA choose reason or madness in 2008? Will UN peacekeepers halt the genocide in Darfur? Will the governments of the world achieve a meaningful accord on global warming by 2009, or stumble again as in Kyoto and Bali? Will the UN Millennium Development Goals be achieved by 2015?" My hope was that by answering these questions correctly we could put humanity on a different and more promising trajectory than we were on after eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime.

Well, now at the end of 2009, and over a year since the election of Obama-Biden, we have some clarity. The USA did choose reason over madness in the 2008 election, no matter how disappointing the Obama-Biden administration may turn out to be. Copenhagen was mostly a failure, and although we must all struggle on, there is no point in pretending that it wasn't. Whether the MDG are achieved by 2015 or not, the consequences of the failure in Copenhagen, coupled with a severe economic downturn experienced around the world, will will effectively negate their impact. And Darfur? Well, you can search my archive of Darfur posts to follow the twists and turns in this sad story; but in short, the powers that be have found Darfur too inconvenient, so they have started to re-write the narrative in a way that casts less harsh light on their complicity and cowardice.

So where do these underwhelming results to the four questions articulated in Left-Handed Security leave us all? And where does it lead my thinking?

In my youth, I was involved in progressive politics in New York, I worked on a presidential campaign, a Senate campaign, a gubernatorial campaign, a congressional campaign and a mayoral campaign. It was an all-consuming passion, and had I made different choices in life I could have ended up in both the Carter and Clinton administration (as several of those I worked for, and with, did).

I worked for Harold Ickes. He was a hero of mine. A true blue political street fighter. The outsider's insider. His motto was "Shit fire and save matches." (For some background on him, read the 1997 New York Times Magazine article, Bill Clinton's Garbage Man.

I also knew Dick Morris. At that time, he was a young, rather petite "volunteer coordinator." He wore suits and ties, and clutched a small index card file box. Even then, it occurred to me that it was power not policy that motivated him. It is so surreal to watch and listen to him now -- a heavy-set, jaded man who seemingly believes in nothing, blathering on and on to Bill O'Reilly. (To view one of the defining moments of the later day Dick Morris, check out this post from Crooks and Liars: Dick Morris thinks the two freed hostages should still be back in Pyongyang.)

But I chose a different path than politics. I moved to California in the 1970s, and immersed myself in Vajrayana Buddhism, Adwaita Vedanta and other spiritual traditions. By the time I wrote the essays just published in True North (1992-1997), I was long gone from the political arena.

Although I continued to pay close attention to politics, I was not involved in electoral politics (except for voting, of course) or any kind of activism for over two decades. It was the sordid saga of the Starr Chamber so well documented in the Hunting of the President that alerted me to a new level of danger in our society, and it was the theft of Fraudida and the subsequent Supreme Injustice that forced me to conclude that anyone not offering resistance would be complicit in the death of the republic.

Now, here at the end of this tragic decade, I feel as if I have come full circle, and have started to travel along a new octave.

The Body Politic & The Message of Avatar

Where do we go from here? How do we make the best of this opportunity (2008-2012), with a decent albeit centrist Democratic President, and large, albeit significantly compromised majorities in both the House and the Senate?

And where do the underwhelming results to the four vital questions articulated in Left-Handed Security leave us all? Where does humanity's failures to the call of its conscience on Darfur and the Climate Crisis lead my thinking?

There are few voices in the alternate media I respect as much as Thom Hartmann. I do not agree with him on every issue, but we share a holistic perspective on the challenges that confront us a nation and a species.

Two of Thom's current themes speak to me here.

Over the years, on his radio show, he has consistently urged his listeners to become involved with Democratic Party politics, and to "take it over" on the local level. Recently, though, he has also been emphasizing the need for getting involved in movement politics, i.e., cultivating grass roots strength coalesced around urgent and essential issues, e.g., going green, 100% public funding of political campaigns, human rights, an end to the false notion of corporate personhood, and yes, single-payer healthcare.

Both of these strategies are part of the mix. Some of us will go in one directions, some of us will go in the other direction, all of it will apply pressure from underneath, which is where it needs to come from.

But some of us will not go in either of these directions, some of us may choose to totally reject politics and ideological struggle, and instead, devote their energies to good works, some of us may choose to lead lives of silent contemplation.

All of it is in the mix, if you understand and embrace the oneness of all life.

In his wonderful book, Threshold, Thom enumerates four mistakes that have led us into the planetary state of emergency in which we are languishing:

The first mistake is to believe we are separate from nature ...
The second mistake is to believe that an abstraction – an economic system – is divine and separate from us ...
The third mistake is to believe that men should run the world, and that women are their property ...
The fourth mistake is to believe that the best way to influence people is through fear rather than through the power of love ...
Threshold: The Crisis of Western Civilization

(For more on this important book, see A Secret is Lost Within Us, Somewhere Between Darfur & Denmark; If We Don't Find It, We Will Perish or Wish We Had; Reflections on Thom Hartmann's Threshold)

That brings us to Avatar.

In deference to those who have not yet seen it, I am not going to devalue the experience by revealing the story line or its outcome, I will just make three points.

Avatar hits either directly or indirectly on all four of the mistakes that Thom outlines in Threshold, in particular, the belief in separation from nature, and by extension from the oneness of all life, that led this civilization into what is at best spiritual and moral bankruptcy, and at worst, psychosis.

Avatar puts it to you that at the moment of crisis you must make a choice, you cannot continue to exist in two worlds, you must either choose to struggle for a world that reflects the human psyche (with all our cramped, unprocessed nightmares projected on it), or cultivate a human psyche that reflects the vast, wondrous expanse of the universe, in which we live and move and have our being.

You must choose. Either you choose to embrace the oneness of all life, or you choose to remain at war with yourself.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pandora (1869)

Avatar takes place on a world called Pandora.

Do you know the myth of Pandora?

On its surface, it is about an extraordinarily beautiful woman, created by Zeus, upon whom all the gods and goddesses bestowed powerful gifts. She was dispatched to Earth, after Prometheus has given the stolen gift of fire to humanity. She was sent down among us, armed with a box. Yes, Pandora's box.

In it, numerous magical elements were contained, including all toil, disease and evil. She was to loose this woe upon the world. She did so, leaving only hope left inside the box, when she closed the lid. But if you scratch below the surface of this official version, you find even older traditions in which Pandora's box actually contained all good, which she released into the world by lifting the lid.

There are also scholarly debates as to the meaning of hope being left behind in the box. Is it good portent or a bad portent?

Of course, it is plausible to suggest that in the original legend, Pandora's box actually contained all the evil and all the good, and that both were released into the world simultaneously, as light and shadow, day and night, life and death exist simultaneously; like the two sides of a coin, the substance of which is an ineffable mystery. And, if we propose this heretical view of the myth, what of leaving hope behind inside the box? Well, that is a koan, my friend, and each of us must realize its meaning for ourselves.

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

Have you met Al Gore at the Wall yet?

I encourage you to find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love: go to or Google "Bill McKibben" for the answer.

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.

And go to Stand w/ Howard Dean to participate in the struggle to bring meaningful healthcare reform to the USA.

True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality is available from

Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available from

Al Gore, Darfur, Mia Farrow, , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality

“The direction of true north is marked in the skies by the north celestial pole. For most practical purposes, this is the position of Polaris. However, due to the precession of the Earth's axis, true north rotates in an arc that takes approximately 25,000 years to complete … On maps issued by the United States Geological Survey, and the U.S. military, true north is marked with a line terminating in a five-pointed star.” – Wikipedia

“North - Place of the Ancient Ones who have gone over - place of wisdom.” - Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux 1868-1937

True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality

By Richard Power

My sixth book, True North on the Pathless Path, is available now from

True North is a book of 17 essays that explore perennial themes and powerful practices drawn from the diverse mystical traditions of the world. It attempts to articulate a new vision of spirituality with which to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

The voices of many of humanity's great saints and sages echo through the pages: e.g., Sri Ramana Maharshi, Mother Krishnabai, Sri Nisargadatta, Yeshe Tsogyel, Meister Eckhart, Mother Teresa, Padma Sambhava, Hildegaard of Bingen, Mulla Nasrudin, the Baal Shem Tov and Theresa of Avila.

These essays were inspired by my long friendship with the legendary American sage, Joe Miller. They were written for a small circulation independent journal in the years immediately following Miller's death (1992-1997). In this self-published volume, they are available for the first time to a broader audience.

You can purchase True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality from

You can find all six of my books on my Amazon Author's Page.

NOTE: The best way to purchase Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is still from

Hard Rain Late Night: Erik Satie -- Nocturne #1

Hard Rain Late Night: Erik Satie -- Nocturne #1

Click here for Hard Rain Late Night Music Video -- Archive

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seeing REDD? It's Either a U.S. Bill Signed by Earth Day, Followed by a Summer Summit in Mexico City or Eco Cold War Devolving into Thunderdome

The "Primitivist" Henri Rousseau painted "The Dream" in 1910.

The most progressive US president in a generation comes to the most important international meeting since the Second World War and delivers a speech so devoid of substance that he might as well have made it on speaker-phone from a beach in Hawaii ...
Then a Chinese premier ... takes such umbrage at Barack Obama's speech that he refuses to meet – sulking in his hotel room, as if this were a teenager's house party instead of a final effort to stave off the breakdown of our biosphere.
Late in the evening, the two men meet and cobble together a collection of paragraphs that they call a "deal", although in reality it has all the meaning and authority of a bus ticket, not that it stops them signing it with great solemnity.
Josh Garman, Independent/UK, 12-20-09

For humanity together, it’s shameful that the Western countries have only offered $10 billion for climate change ... The budget of the United States is $687 billion for defense. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10 billion. This is shameful. The budget for the Iraq war, according to the figures we have, is $2.6 trillion for the Iraq war ... while trillions are going to the wars, on the other hand, to save humanity and the planet, they only want to direct $10 billion. Democracy Now!, 12-16-09

Seeing REDD? It's Either a U.S. Bill Signed by Earth Day, Followed by a Summer Summit in Mexico City or Eco Cold War Devolving into Thunderdome

By Richard Power

As with the US Senate's "deal" on "healthcare reform," the Copenhagen "deal" on climate change shows that many of the world's leaders are not just out of touch with you and I, they are out of touch with reality.

Government and news media still do not understand that this is not one among several issues. The political and news media establishments are not yet operating in emergency mode. It's still business as usual. "Let's post our stories and go home." "Let's agree to behave ourselves and go home."

The time for speeches is over, as Obama said -- in his speech. Unfortunately, the actions proposed are not in alignment with the realities of our circumstances. We have a very long way to go, and we do not have enough time to get there.

Little real progress came to pass in Copenhagen.

Sometimes I feel we must be from the future, and expect too much from the past; but if indeed we are from the future, that would mean that the human race somehow gets through this planetary crisis.

It has become clearer and clearer to me as the years dwindle away, and especially so now, in the aftermath of Copenhagen, that our problems are not ideological, or organizational, or methodological, they are psychological and spiritual.

And to paraphrase the recovery language of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the human race just has not hit bottom yet, and we cannot expect a change until it has hit bottom.

Some of us have been organizing and raising consciousness for years in the ramp up to the Copenhagen climate crisis showdown. But what is perhaps of the most profound and alarming significance is not what happened in Copenhagen, but what didn't happen everywhere else in the developed world.

Of course, most of us in the developed world live largely in a dream.

We turn on the lights, without wondering or caring where the energy comes from; and we take it for granted that it will keep flowing.

We turn on the tap to pour water, without wondering or caring where the water comes from; and we take it for granted that it will keep flowing, that it will be relatively clean.

We go to the market and purchase groceries, with numerous gourmet and organic options, without ever wondering or caring without wondering or caring how the distribution chain is kept going; and we take for granted that it will not be interrupted.

Inside of this dream, we are largely insulated from what is going on in the lives of the less fortunate whether they are across the city or on another continent, whether we are concerned for them or not, we do not see their plight as one we might well share someday.

How many people you know asked you how it was going in Copenhagen? How many people you know were tuned into the proceedings in any way? How many e-mail threads were forwarded to you? No, I am not talking about among friends in the progressive blogoshere or the environmental movement; I mean among people who are just living their lives and doing the best they can to attain their personal goals or meet the needs of their loved ones.

How many live reports did you pass by as you channel surfed? If you live in the USA, almost none. During the course of the gathering in Copenhagen, you heard a lot more about Senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and their perverted political posturing on healthcare reform, than you did about the critical mass of nations meeting inside the hall or the throngs of activists from all over the world demonstrating outside.

Copenhagen was not supposed to be business as usual. It was supposed to be, it had to be, a defining moment for the human race. Well, if it was a defining moment, then we have defined as self-absorbed, unengaged and doomed to a grim future.

Time to think so far outside the box that you won't be able to fit back inside?

Yes. (Which is OK because the box is on fire and seems to be collapsing in on itself.)

Time to prepare for the worst?

Yes. And to do so by creating a simple, accessible vision of a new Earth, with which you can seed rapidly the collective consciousness.

What do I mean?

Ask yourself what if the leaders of government, news media and business (including in particular energy, agriculture, transportation and technology) fail to act with courage and haste that our circumstances demand, i.e., what if they fail the population of the planet, when then?

And what if indeed over time these institutions literally fail?

Where does that leave you and your loved ones personally, and where does that leave our communities collectively?

Is there anything that you should re-think? Is there anything you should organize differently? Are there any preparations that you want to take more seriously than you have hitherto?

What should you tell your children and your grand children moving forward?

But first, some reflections on Copenhagen, and then some short-term goals, i.e., what needs to happen in the next few months. (Because there is always hope.)

I will start with the bad news, and then end on a more positive and proactive note.

For me, the most obscene moment in Copenhagen occurred when the representative of the Sudanese government (yes, the regime responsible for slow-motion, incremental genocide in Darfur) took it upon himself to scold the developed nations on their willingness to allow a climate "holocaust." Why should he be upset? After all the great nations have allowed Sudan its own little holocaust.

The watered-down climate change text sparked angry reactions among delegates. Poorer nations denounced it as a death warrant. Sudan said the declaration, code-named L9, would incinerate Africa and he compared it to the Holocaust: “L9 asks Africa to sign a suicide pact,” said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping. “It is a solution based on the values which, in our opinion, channelled six million people in Europe to the (Nazi) furnaces.” Euronews, 12-19-09

Hopefully, we will move beyond the weak agreement achieved in Copenhagen; and hopefully by the time we do, the thugs in Karthoum will be on trial in the Hague.

The most infuriating single outcome in Copenhagen concerns the effort to fund the U.N.'s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) initiative.

A plan to protect the world's biologically rich tropical forests by paying poor nations to protect them was shelved Saturday after world leaders failed to agree on a binding deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Burning trees to clear land for plantations or cattle ranches and logging forests for wood is blamed for about 20 percent of the world's emissions. That's as much carbon dioxide as all the world's cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined ... Deforestation for logging, cattle grazing and crops has made Indonesia and Brazil the world's third- and fourth-biggest carbon emitters, after China and the United States
Business Week, 12-19-09

Unfortunately, the worst possible characterization of the Copenhagen end-product also happens to be the most accurate.

A Greenpeace representative told The Guardian, "This latest draft is so weak as to be meaningless. It's more like a G8 communique than the legally binding agreement we need. It doesn't even include a timeline to give it legal standing or an explicit temperature target" Raw Story, 12-18-09

So what happens next? And what is the best attitude for progressives in terms of the political debate ahead?

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) takes the high road.

“This agreement is not all we had hoped for. There's still more work to be done. But it strikes a credible blow against the single greatest environmental ill of our time. It gathers all nations around the common goal of ending this scourge that imperils us all. And it sets the stage for further action in the months ahead.
“Now the Senate can take up clean energy and climate legislation in the certain knowledge that Americans won't act alone. A hopeful nation watches and waits for the Senate to pass a bill that will put Americans back to work, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and ensure a safer future for us all
National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), 12-18-09

Al Gore scribbled directions on a cocktail napkin before he left Copenhagen.

Gore is putting his full weight behind an accelerated plan to take advantage of the momentum generated at Copenhagen. It calls for an April 20th deadline, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, for the Senate to pass its bill, which gives several months to integrate the official U.S. targets into the new UN document.
Also he thinks having a summer accord in Mexico City, one of the regions hard hit by heat waves and drought, will be a good reminder of the type of challenges we will face in a warming world.
Karl Burkhart, Mother Nature Network, 12-18-09

If we overcome the daunting challenges ahead, it is possible that Al Gore and the IPCC will be awarded a second Nobel Peace Prize. (There is precedent. The International Red Cross (IRC) has won three Nobel Peace Prizes, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has won two Nobel Peace Prizes.)

Meanwhile, back in the USA as well as in Copenhagen, Greenpeace was demonstrating the power of non-violent action. Such activity is going to intensify.

Today, protesters from the environmental justice group Greenpeace declared the Chamber headquarters in Washington, D.C. a “climate crime scene.” As protesters scaled the Chamber’s building, draping it in yellow crime scene tape, Greenpeace vehicles designed to look like police units and ambulances marked “Climate Crime Unit” surrounded the building and blared their sirens. Think Progress, 12-17-09

Whatever course of action you choose after this summer (even if it is only a life of deep contemplation), know this -- defeat is not an option.

Well, not a viable option.

With the question of dollars at the center of the table, the world is preparing to transition from the geopolitical “post-9/11″ epoch into a new one: Eco Cold War. Joe Walsh, Red, Green and Blue, 12-19-09

If I were a gambler, I would bet against us. Of course, if I were to win, it would probably be difficult to collect in Thunderdome.

Time to sit down with your friends and family and have a serious discussion?


Time to sit down with yourself and have a serious discussion?


Cultivate gratitude for the electricity, the water, the food, the opportunity to live another day.

Cultivate engagement locally, nationally and globally.

Perhaps most of all, cultivate self-reliance, with the caveat, of course, that all life is utterly interdependent.

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

Have you met Al Gore at the Wall yet?

I encourage you to find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love: go to or Google "Bill McKibben" for the answer.

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

Al Gore, Darfur, , , , ,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Obama Presidency is a Mirror; Gazing Into It Progressives have Become Despondent. Can We Change What It Reflects Before It is Smashed?

The Broken Bridge & the Dream (Salvador Dali)

The Obama Presidency is a Mirror; Gazing Into It Progressives have Become Despondent. Can We Change What It Reflects Before It is Smashed?

By Richard Power

The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings. George Monbiot, This Is Bigger Than Climate Change. It Is a Battle to Redefine Humanity, Guardian, 12-15-09

The US negotiators have squandered a tremendous amount of goodwill ... The US has lowered the bar and set goals so low, it's been destructive ... When chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing offers for the US to pay $1.5 billion to help with climate change and says, "the US only has so much largesse," Americans have no idea [how insulting this is to the rest of the world.] Naomi Klein: The Copenhagen Process Is Out Of Control, US Politicians Should Stay Home, Mass Arrests May Occur(VIDEO), Huffington Post, 12-15-09

Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of over a month of their work to a private corporation–one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor. It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes–to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs. Emptywheel, Health Care on the Road to Neo-Feudalism, 12-15-09

Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferous email backlash -- easily -- was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama's occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 12-16-09

[NOTE: I speak out just as Cornel West has spoken out, with love, and for the man's protection, and for much more. There is a nation to be redeemed, and a planet to rescue. Many of us spent the 1990s defending Bill Clinton on all fronts. NAFTA and GATT? "Fix it later." Telecommunications Act of 1996? "Fix it later." "Welfare reform"? "Fix later." But later never came. It was stolen from us. Not this time. Dissent is the best ally that Barack Obama has, and we must speak out while there is still time. One point must be emphasized before I get into what I have to say: although, at this juncture, there is no appreciable difference between Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, but there still is a profound difference between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin; just as there was a profound difference between Al Gore and George W, Bush in 200. And that is why the Shell-of-a-Man-Formerly-Known-as-Ralph-Nader has no more credibility today than he had in 2000, when he spent the last weekend of the race campaigning in Fraudida (where he garnered tens of thousands of votes more than the measly few that were falsely claimed as Bush's "margin of victory). The Shell-of-a-Man-Formerly-Known-as-Ralph-Nader spent that last weekend in Fraudida, saying was there was no difference at all between Gore and Bush. He has never recanted, and I doubt he ever will. Dissent is Obama's best ally. But the Shell-of-a-Man-Formerly-Known-as-Ralph-Nader does not offer dissent, he offers only duplicity. It is fitting that he should run against a Democrat to be Lieberman's junior Senator. Do not fall for his sophistry.]

The Obama Presidency is a Mirror; Gazing Into It Progressives have Become Despondent. Can We Change What It Reflects Before It is Smashed?

By Richard Power

Let us not talk falsely now," as the Bard sang, "the hour is getting late."

Why has Robert Gibbs lashed out at Howard Dean, whose 50 state strategy was a significant factor in the election of Barack Obama, instead of lashing out at Joe Lieberman, who campaigned for McCain-Palin?

Why does Rahm Emmanuel only twist left arms
instead of right arms within the Democratic Caucus?

Why does President Obama berate Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) instead of Rep. Stupak ("D"-MI)?

Meanwhile, there is crisis in Copenhagen.

The dominant political story of the day should be Al Gore, standing in Copenhagen, challenging the Obama administration, admonishing the activists in the streets, blasting the climate denialists, and daring both the developed world and the developing world to rise to the urgent demands of this critical moment. Copenhagen is the biggest story in the whole world, and Gore's speech is a vital element in the proceedings.

The former US vice-president, though among friends, was unsparing. He turned up the pressure on Barack Obama, calling on activists to press the White House and the Senate to pass a climate change law by the 30th anniversary of Earth day in late April.
"Join me in asking president Obama and the US Senate to set a deadline of 22 April for final action in the US Senate," he said. "I do not believe we can wait till next November or December."
The ultimatum to Obama was a departure for Gore who has been cautious of exerting too much pressure on the president, or causing him embarrassment.
He kept up the pace by calling for the international community to sign up to a fully fledged climate change treaty by July 2010 - and then announcing that Mexico was prepared to host a deal-making summit.
He scolded rich countries for demanding the developing world offer evidence of emissions cuts while at the same time trying to inflate the funds they were prepared to offer poor countries to deal with climate change ... But Gore also reprimanded rapidly emerging economies for balking at the idea of an international monitoring regime for emissions cuts ...
Gore was just as tough on activists who have embraced him as a hero, demanding they set aside their pride and their principles and embrace a deal - no matter how imperfect. Gore in Copenhagen: Favors Carbon Tax; Calls Deniers 'Reckless Fools,' Guardian, 12-16-09

Instead, we are all talking about Joe Lieberman.

So it's another not so small victory for the Chamber of Commerce.
Remember, the goal was to delay and obstruct healthcare so that there is no time or political will left for climate change legislation. Yes, good times for the energy giants, and the Wall Street bankers as well as the health insurance industry.

It should have been Barack Obama who stood up and rebuked those Senate Democrats seeking to sabotage meaningful healthcare reform; instead it is Howard Dean, who has taken a stand, with clarity and boldness, against their destructive influence on the Senate bill.

Following the jettisoning of both the public option and the Medicare buy-in provision, one of the nation's leading progressive voices on health care reportedly said Tuesday that the Senate bill is no longer worth supporting.
"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate," former Gov. Howard Dean told political reporter Bob Kinzel of Vermont Public Radio. Kinzel relayed the news to The Plum Line's Greg Sargent, and the full VPR interview will air at 5:50 pm today.
"Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill," he said.
own as reconciliation, through which a bill can be passed with a 51-vote majority. Dean says kill the Senate health bill, Raw Story, 12-15-09

What Dean is doing is applying pressure. Pressure from the progressive side is what will save both healthcare reform and Barack Obama. There is still time.

Well, then let us get to the real issue.

Barack Obama was elected on the promise of "change." And only one year into the most massive clean-up in US political history, no one would expect breathtaking progress; but it is not the lack of results that disturbs progressives, it is the very direction that Obama has chosen on numerous critical issues that we find deeply disturbing.

Why are Bush's U.S. attorneys still in office?

Why has the conviction of Don Siegelman not been overturned?

Why has more blood and fortune been shipped off to that graveyard of empires known as Afghanistan?

Why are the architects of the financial meltdown in control of the recovery and reform in the aftermath of the meltdown? (Read Nomi Prins' 10 Reasons Bernanke Should Be Fired.)

Two of Obama's early moves deserve closer scrutiny.

Why did Obama choose Rick Warren, who had behaved so hatefully toward one of Obama's core constituencies, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration?

Was this a blessing or a curse?

Why did Obama attempt to name Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), a right-winger who has voted to abolish the Commerce Department, as his Secretary of Commerce?

What possible good could have come of such an appointment? (Yes, it would have been good to pick up that Senate seat, but Gregg boasted he had a promise that it would be filled by a Republican.)

What do these two perplexing moves tell us?

And remember all that saccharine nonsense from the likes of Joe Klein and Doris Kearns Goodwin about Obama wanting to model his Cabinet on Lincoln's Team of Rivals? Tell me, how come no high-profile "rivals" from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party were appointed to any of the senior positions in the White House or the Cabinet? No Dean, no Wes Clark, no RFK, Jr.

All very troubling.

The Obama presidency may yet yield "change you can believe in," but the odds are not as good as they were a year ago. And some of what was lost was squandered by Obama's very deliberate, very demonstrative efforts to define himself as a "New Democrat" in his deeds, if not his rhetoric.

Whether or not the true direction of Obama administration turns out to be more progressive in the end than it appears at this juncture, it will not have been in vain. Because what Obama and the struggle to deliver meaningful healthcare reform have done is hold a mirror up to our political system, so that all of us could see with our own eyes and smell with our own noses just how rotten things are in Beltwayistan.

Yes, this struggle for meaningful healthcare reform has ripped the facade of conservative versus progressive, and Democrat versus Republican; it is not longer so simplistic, it is now largely a struggle between small "d" democrats and corporatists within the Democratic Party. Looking in this mirror has shown everyone who did not already know that only an agenda which is framed around publicly funded political campaigns and the abolishing of the false premise of corporate personhood can save us.

But it is my profound hope that Obama chooses to align himself with the small "d" democrats and indeed lead those forces in the clashes that are coming.

If he does not, and the mirror is smashed, the worst will happen.

The Cult-Formerly-Known-as-the-Republican-Party will ascend to power once again. And the light will again go out in this land, this time perhaps forever. Because as the Shell-of-a-Man-Formerly-Known-as-Ralph-Nader knows very well (although he will not admit it), there is a profound difference between the Cult-Formerly-Known-as-the-Republican-Party and even this tragically compromised Democratic Party.

The evidence?

If there were nothing else to point to, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor as opposed to Antonin Scalia and John Roberts would be difference enough. (Yes, some Democrats voted to confirm those reich-wing justices, but a handful of Senators voting against their caucus to confirm is very different from a President entering such a person's name into nomination.

Hopefully we shall influence what happens, and instead of being smashed the mirror will reflect "O beautiful for spacious skies/ For amber waves of grain / For purple mountain majesties / Above the fruited plain!"

The alternate is unthinkable.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hey Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, We are All in Hopenhagen, All of Us Not Already on Our Knees in Darfur; It's Gonna Take a Miracle (Well, Two)

Jude the Apostle

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.
Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak ...
Fourteen Days to Seal History's Judgment on This Generation' -- Guardian, 12-7-09

Hey Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, We are All in Hopenhagen, All of Us who are Not Already on Our Knees in Darfur; It's Gonna Take a Miracle (Well, Two)

By Richard Power

A friend recently asked me when I was going to write about Afghanistan. It won't be for awhile. Yes, what has happened there over the last few decades is TRAGIC. Yes, what has not happened there over the last eight years is INFURIATING. Yes, what is going to happen there in the coming weeks, months and years is deeply DISTURBING. But as tragic, infuriating and disturbing as it is; the problem of Afghanistan is overshadowed by the Climate Crisis (albeit seemingly invisible, especially if your head is in the sand, or somewhere else dark and below the belt). Nor is the problem of Afghanistan any more demanding of our attention than the still looming specter of genocide in Darfur (albeit slow-moving and flimsily camouflaged).

Tonight, I am thinking of Jude (not Judas) the Apostle. According to the Roman Catholic Church (into which I was born), Jude is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. Of course (and as a fallen Catholic, I am free to say this), it did occur to me that perhaps Jude's first priority should be the Church itself, based on massive cover-ups of child abuse perpetrated by "priests" in the US, Ireland and elsewhere, as well as the U.S. Bishops' push to insinuate the poison pill of the Stupak Amendment into the House health care reform bill. But I digress ...

St. Jude is no slouch, by the way. He brought Christianity (the real Christianity, i.e., barefoot, in poverty, in non-violence) to Armenia. Ah yes, speaking of genocide, Darfur is one of the two Lost Causes I am praying to St. Jude to work his magic on.

Indiscriminate bombings, rape and other crimes are continuing in Darfur, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) said today, while noting that the Government of Sudan still refuses to cooperate with his office and its indicted President and other suspects remain at large. UN News Service, 12-4-09

Is US Envoy Gration a fool? And what does his appointment and continued presence in the post say about the Obama-Biden administration's commitment to a meaningful policy on Darfur? I pray to be proven wrong. And if I am, by some miracle, I will attribute it to the intercession of St. Jude.

The other lost cause, of course, is Copenhagen, or Hopenhagen, if you will.

It will be getting underway as this is posted.

I have been beating this drum for years now, nearly a decade ago I was talking about the Climate Crisis as one of the top two national and global security risks. (Nuclear proliferation is the other, ah, and that would bring us back to Afghanistan, wouldn't it? Because when we are talking about Afghanistan, we are really talking about Pakistan, aren't we?)

Yes, I have been looking for a miracle at Copenhagen, I mean Hopenhagen.

I am not going to give up now, no matter what James Hansen says.

Do not misunderstand me.

There is no one more worthy of respect than James Hansen in all this already painfully long struggle to move humanity to action on climate change (the Words of Power archives contain numerous examples of his heroic efforts), and although I understand his position all too well, he is wrong on this one.

In an interview with the Guardian, James Hansen, the world's pre-eminent climate scientist, said any agreement likely to emerge from the negotiations would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to start again from scratch. Guardian, 12-2-09

I stand with Gorbachev on this one.

The Copenhagen climate summit is a "test of modern leadership" and a failed outcome would almost certainly condemn the planet to disaster, Mikhail Gorbachev said ... "The 'business-as-usual' mindset and incremental approach that dominates the world thinking today is the source of our multiple crises -- economic, financial and environmental. We are currently in a genuine global emergency that requires a new way of thinking." Gorbachev argued that a breakthrough was still possible, even if the summit did not yield the legally-binding treaty originally envisioned. Agence France Press, 12-3-09

Image: Tara, the Green Goddess of Mercy, and Her Twenty-One Emanations

I stand with Jeffrey Sachs on this one.

Climate change is the most complicated issue the world has faced. Complex -- but not hopeless. It's time to put the expertise at the front table, not to supplant public debate and discussion but finally to inform it. Copenhagen should be the end of negotiation by politicians with technical issues kept in the shadows or ignored. Let's get scientists, engineers and ordinary citizens involved in a true discussion about our common future, and especially the tradeoffs, costs and choices. Together we can prove that our world is still capable of reaching long-range agreements when our children's lives and wellbeing hang in the balance. Jeffrey Sachs, Huffington Post, 12-3-09

If it doesn't work, there will be plenty of time to re-invent ourselves as survivalists. Well, actually, there might not be that much time ...

In the film, "The Day After Tomorrow," the world gets gripped in ice within the span of just a few weeks. Now research now suggests an eerily similar event might indeed have occurred in the past.
Looking ahead to the future, there is no reason why such a freeze shouldn't happen again — and in ironic fashion it could be precipitated if ongoing changes in climate force the Greenland ice sheet to suddenly melt, scientists say.
Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience, 12-2-09

"Hey Jude ... take a sad song and make it better, better, better ..."

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

Have you met Al Gore at the Wall yet?

Also, find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the life of everyone you love.

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.

, , , , , ,