Friday, February 19, 2010

I Sing the Body (Politic) Electric: 7 Hard Truths to Set Minds Free

Walt Whitman

I SING the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?

Walt Whitman, I Sing the Body Electric, Leaves of Grass, 1867

In his political journalism, Whitman followed a principle that late in life he passed on to his young acolyte Horace Thraubel: "Be radical, be radical -- be not too damned radical." Michael Warner, Portable Walt Whitman, Penguin Classics

I Sing the Body (Politic) Electric: 7 Hard Truths to Set Minds Free

By Richard Power

There is a profound relationship between the tragedy of the Civil War and the ecstasy of Leaves of Grass; Whitman told Horace Traubel that the War was "the very centre, circumference, umbillicus, of [his] whole career," and in one of his poems, he declared, "My book and the war are one."

There is a powerful message for us all in these extraordinary statements.

Our hearts must be open enough to embrace the whole of life, our minds must be open enough to comprehend the whole of life. If you turn away from either side of any of the pairs of opposites, i.e., the dark or the light, the good or the bad, the joyous or the sorrowful, the pleasurable or the painful, you cheat yourself as well as the world which sustains you.

Life is immense enough to embrace all of itself, and if we allow ourselves to experience the oneness of life with our own consciousness, then we too can embrace it all, celebrate it all, touch it all.

Whitman volunteered in the army hospital in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. His journal from that period is a powerful testimony to the noble tragedy of that conflict. In account after account, Whitman tells of the suffering of the wounded and the dying, and of the inspiration the soldiers shared with him; in their minds, Whitman documents, they risked the ultimate sacrifice to abolish slavery and to save the republic.

Whitman often encountered Lincoln in the streets. Their eyes would meet. What did they see, each gazing into the great soul of the other? The tremendous burden Lincoln bore with his fierce strength, the tremendous poetical power that burned within Whitman?

I see the president almost every day, as I happen to live where he passes to or from his lodgings out of town ... He always has a company of twenty-five or thirty cavalry, with sabres drawn and held upright over their shoulders. They say this guard was against his personal wish, but he let his counselors have their way. Mr. Lincoln on the saddle generally rides a good-sized, easy-going grey horse, is dressed in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty, wears a black stiff hat, and looks about as ordinary in attire, etc., as the commonest man. I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln's dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression.

As I read Whitman's Civil War Diary some years ago, it struck me, everyone of these soldiers was from a Blue State. Incredibly, the struggle continues today.

Did you seen any coverage of CPAC? The reactionaries are whopping themselves up to come after what is left of this country's institutional, spiritual and cultural memory. Reagan didn't launch a revolution, he launched a counter-revolution.

Now over thirty years on, they no longer even attempt to loosely lash their rhetoric to any political, economic, social or historical reality.

They mock President Obama for using teleprompters. But every politician for decades has used teleprompters. (Ironically, he is one of the very few who can handle themselves without one.) They lie about the impact of the economic stimulus package, and yet they claim credit for its results in their home states. They rail against the cost of the healthcare reform when it has been documented that it would reduce the deficit by tens of billions of dollars at the least. They denounce President Obama for raising taxes, when he has in fact lowered them for 95% of us. They make jokes about extraordinary snow fall disproving climate change when such extreme weather is actually one of the projected consequences of climate change. They wrap themselves in the US Constitution, and in the images of the Founders, and yet they are seemingly ignorant of the vision of the Founders, as it is preserved in the Founders' personal letters and papers, and in the words of the Constitution itself.

Their base, my fellow patriots, is a misinformed mob manipulated by a sociopathic elite. Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly are worth hundreds of millions of dollars each. Beck is worth tens of millions of dollars. Why do you think that is? You cannot think it is talent? They are well-placed, their reach is powerful, they shape the debate even among those who do not take them seriously; and they are well-rewarded for their propagandizing. Romney, who was prominently featured at CPAC (and is one of Poppy Bush's favorites) is worth over two hundred millions, and has the Mormom Church behind him as well. After his years of fronting for Halliburton and its no-bid contracts (both in and out of office), former VICE _resident Cheney is worth close to $100 million.

There are tumultuous times ahead of us.

Here are seven hard truths with which to free minds:

1. The US healthcare system is not the best in the world.

Despite spending more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations ($8,160 per capita), the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates. Moreover, the other advanced nations provide comprehensive coverage to their entire populations, while the U.S. leaves 46.3 million completely uninsured and millions more inadequately covered. Single-Payer National Health Insurance, Physicians for a National Healthcare Program

The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures. We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.
Canadians live longer than Americans do after kidney transplants and after dialysis, and that may be typical of cross-border differences ...
The figures are even worse for members of minority groups. An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras ... Americans take 10 percent fewer drugs than citizens in other countries — but pay 118 percent more per pill that they do take …
Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, 11-4-09

We need single payer universal healthcare: Medicare for all. You can phase it in with a robust public option and lowering the Medicare enrollment age down to 55, but single-payer, universal coverage has to be the end result.

2. Predatory capitalism is not freedom.

It is not sustainable. It is not compatible with democratic institutions. A market without regulations or controls is not a free market; it deteriorates into suffocating monopolization, and results in the enriching of a few at the expense of the many. It does not treasure or invest in the commons, it does not value the rights of individuals or minorities.

It is said that a near-death experience forces one to reevaluate priorities and values. The global economy has just escaped a near-death experience. The crisis exposed the flaws in the prevailing economic model, but it also exposed flaws in our society. Much has been written about the foolishness of the risks that the financial sector undertook, the devastation that its institutions have brought to the economy, and the fiscal deficits that have resulted. Too little has been written about the underlying moral deficit that has been exposed-a deficit that is larger, and harder to correct ...
We have created a society in which materialism overwhelms moral commitment, in which the rapid growth that we have achieved is not sustainable environmentally or socially, in which we do not act together to address our common needs. Market fundamentalism has eroded any sense of community and has led to rampant exploitation of unwary and unprotected individuals. There has been an erosion of trust-and not just in our financial institutions. It is not too late to close these fissures.
Joseph Stiglitz, Moral Bankruptcy: Why Are We Letting Wall Street Off So Easy?, Mother Jones, 1-13-10

We need to re-instate Glass-Steagal, and supplement it with additional regulations; and take a long hard look at what to do about the Fed (an audit is a good start).

3. The Climate Crisis is not a hoax. (Nor, BTW, is Peak Oil a hoax).

This isn't a good old-fashioned winter for the District of Columbia, not unless you're remembering the last ice age. And it doesn't disprove global warming, despite Sen. Jim De Mint's cheerful tweet: "It's going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries 'uncle.' "
Instead, the weird and disruptive weather patterns around the world are pretty much exactly what you'd expect as the planet warms … Looked at dispassionately, those political attacks essentially buttress the consensus around global warming. If that much money and attention can be aimed at the data and all anyone can find is a few mistakes and a collection of nasty e-mails, it's a pretty good sign that the science is sound (though not as good a sign as the melting Arctic). The British newspaper the Guardian just concluded a huge series on the "Climategate" e-mails with the words: "The world is still warming. Humanity is still to blame. And we still, urgently, need to do something about it."
Bill McKibben, Washington's snowstorms, brought to you by global warming, Washington Post, 2-14-10

The USA needs to go green hard and fast. The other great and would-be great nations are racing ahead of us in the development and implementation of wind and solar energy. We need a new smart and green power grid, we need a new green transportation system, we need a national campaign to green existing buildings, and a green mandate for all new buildings, we need to cut back on our consumption of meat, etc. We need to spend a lot of money, fast and wisely; and we need to educate our populace.

4. Corporations are not people.

It is absurd to gift them the rights of the individual.

Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions. The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule.
We Move to Amend.
We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
* Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
* Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
* Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate "preemption" actions by global, national, and state governments.
Sign the Motion
Move to Amend, Campaign to Legalize Democracy

Disgust with corporate influence is raging. The appearance of Wall Street influence in the Obama administration contributed to an unthinkable result in the Massachusetts Senate race. And the White House dealings with the insurance and drug lobbies during the health care debate have been pilloried on the left and the right.
Now the conservative Supreme Court showed its hand, and shredded our campaign finance laws, leaving our democracy even more vulnerable to special interests.
What better time to raise the stakes.
Put a constitutional amendment on the floor of the House and Senate creating a public campaign finance system banning all private money.
Dare conservatives to side with more corporate influence in our campaigns and our policymaking.
Either conservatives buckle and the amendment is passed.
Or they block it, show their sympathies, and expose their attempts at co-opting the populist fervor to be phony.
There is no better time than now.
Bill Scher, A Constitutional Amendment for Public Campaign Financing: Now Is the Time, Huffington Post, 1-21-10

5. The USA is not a Christian nation.

As I have mentioned before, I will not touch the paper edition of the NY Times, and I generally avoid clicking on links to NYT articles that friends and colleagues send me. (Fortunately, Krugman and Kristoff are widely disseminated beyond its pages.) Why? Well, let me count the ways: Judith Miller's disgraceful complicity in the selling of the lie that led to the foolish military adventure in Iraq; and the way the paper patronized Ken Starr and diligently framed Whitewater as if there were legitimate scandals being investigated; but, for me, most egregious of all was how the NY Times twisted the story, and the botched the math it paid for itself, to perpetuate the lie that Fraudida 2000 was a toss-up. And no, it's editorial board's liberal pontifications do not sway me; its high-minded posturing is too often canceled out by the damage that its political reporters do on the front page. And then, of course, there is the appeasing and pandering that many of its science and culture contributors resort to.

Consider How Christian were the Founders, NY Times, 2-14-10. Its author, Russell Shorto offers the gullible reader only partial truth, and that is swaddled in a heavily embroidered cloth of pleasantry. Mr. Shorto studiously avoids exploring the oft-stated, well-documented, and clearly NON-CHRISTIAN personal views of the principle founders.

Back in 2003, when a Neo-Confederate Judge in Alabama wanted to place a monument to the Ten Commandments on public property, Thom Hartmann wrote a powerful piece (no, not published in the NY Times, published in the Blogosphere) that intrepidly goes everywhere Mr. Shorto was too timid to go.

Here are two brief excerpts with a link to Thom's full text:

[Ben Franklin] - like most of the more well-known Founders - was a Deist, a philosophy made popular by early Unitarians who held that the Creator made the universe long ago and has since chosen not to interfere in any way, that neither Jesus nor anybody else was divine (or, alternatively, that we are all divine and shall all do as Jesus did and said we would), and that there is only one God and not three.
Another founding Deist who resisted giving political power to those with religious power was George Washington.
On the topic of Washington's religious sentiments, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his personal diary entry for February 1, 1799, "when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the Government, it was observed in their consultation, that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address, as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so.
"However," Jefferson noted to his diary, "the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice ... In later years, Jefferson would put together what is now called "The Jefferson Bible," in which he deleted all the miracles from the New Testament and presented Jesus to readers as an inspired philosopher. His Jefferson Bible is still in print, and well received, if sales and readers' comments are any indication.

Thom Hartmann, The Founders Confront Judge Moore, OpEd News, 2003

6. Religion is not science. Religious myth is not scientific theory.

The problem is not Science vs. Religion. The problem is not Science vs. a particular religion. The problem is Science vs. one specific interpretation of one particular religion and, in general, the problem is an American one ...
Last month I visited Europe participating in a collaboration exploring the early stages of star formation. At lunch one day a British researcher asked me how my book on Science and Religion was doing. Then he looked very serious for a moment and said, "What is up with you Americans and evolution?" Everyone at the table -- Italians, French, Irish, Dutch -- all simultaneously nodded their heads in agreement and shook their heads in sorrow. My British colleague's question, and the groups' response, underline a sad truth ... This intellectual hamstringing is not happening in China or India or Europe. The nations we are be competing with are not playing these games. The nations we are competing with to shape our own, and the planets, future are not wasting their time in this intellectual vortex. They are moving forward while we stare at our navels and argue over the shape of lint bunnies we find there.
Adam Frank, Creationism Vs. Evolution: An American Problem, An American Opportunity, NPR, 2-12-10

7. The torture of prisoners is not a policy option, it is a war crime

"24" is a TV show, the Geneva Accords is established law on this planet (and there is nothing quaint about it).

The brutalization of our culture took a great leap forward from 2001 to 2008, with the Bush-Cheney regime's institution of torture (a.k.a. "enhanced interrogation techniques") as official policy. Unfortunately, despite its repudiation of this abomination, the Obama administration shows no desire (moral or political) to prosecute its chief architects. Nor does the US mainstream news media show any appetite for confronting those who now openly boast of perpetrating what are clearly codified as war crime. (Of course, by not pursuing criminal charges, the Obama administration is giving cover not only to the perpetrators, but to the news media.)

On [ABC’s “This Week”], Cheney pronounced himself “a big supporter of waterboarding,” a near-drowning technique that has been regarded as torture back to the Spanish Inquisition and that has long been treated by U.S. authorities as a serious war crime, such as when Japanese commanders were prosecuted for using it on American prisoners during World War II … That Cheney feels he can operate with such impunity is a damning commentary on the rule of law in the United States, at least when it comes to the nation’s elites. Robert Parry, Cheney Exposes Torture Conspiracy, Consortium News, 2-14-10

Indeed, the two major national newspapers--The New York Times and The Washington Post--characterized Cheney's interview as a mere spat between the vice president and the Obama administration over the direction of the latter's counterterrorism and national security policies. Jason Leopold, Cheney Admits to War Crimes, Media Yawns, Obama Turns the Other Cheek, Truthout, 2-15-10

A special prosecutor needs to be appointed, one with sweeping investigative powers to probe the Bush-Cheney regime, and not just concerning the use of torture.

[And no, I do not give a damn that a Bush-Cheney appointee "cleared" Yoo and Bybee, thereby over-ruling the DoJ investigators who recommended action against them. The only question worth asking about that sad story is why all of the Bush DoJ appointees involved in sensitive or politically tainted investigations were not fired or "resigned" on Day 1 of the Obama administration.]

And while we wage this struggle against the reactionaries' Assault on Reason, and this Republic (the Age of Reason's pearl of greatest price), remember the ecstatic words of Whitman, remember the ecstatic energy of Whitman ...

Support Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and his six bills to Save Democracy.

Stand with Howard Dean on the struggle to deliver meaningful healthcare reform.

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

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

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