Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Truth and Beauty went to Oslo and Cancun, Looking for an Uncracked Mirror; Not Finding One, They are Now Miles from Nowhere in a Land of Make-Believe

Diego Rivera's Portrait of Ruth Rivera (1949)

When old age shall this generation waste, thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe ... "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn (1890)

Truth and Beauty went to Oslo and Cancun, Looking for an Uncracked Mirror; Not Finding One, They are Now Miles from Nowhere in a Land of Make-Believe

By Richard Power

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is madness, just as perpetuating Bush's military adventures is madness. But then so is turning over control over the House to the zombie legion formerly known as the Republican Party, and increasing their number in the Senate. And that is what the American electorate chose to do in the 2010 mid-terms. (Yes, if you didn't vote, you voted for that zombie legion.)

Meanwhile, POTUS appears ineffectual, or is it disingenuous? Or is it both? Or neither? Is he playing a game so deep game even he can't follow it? Some have begun to wonder if the progressive movement will blow apart, next year, in the snows of New Hampshire.

So as this once great nation prepares to hand over the House Speaker's gavel to a blubbering buffoon, it is understandable that Truth and Beauty would want to look elsewhere for reason and conscience. Unfortunately, dropping in on the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo and the U.N. climate crisis conference in Cancun offered little distraction.

The madness, it seems, is pandemic.

An Empty Chair in Oslo can Cause an Empire to Tremble

I remember the slaughter of the innocents on Tiananmen Square in 1989, just as vividly as I remember the slaughter of the innocents on 9/11. Both atrocities remain unanswered, at least in any appropriate way. Indeed, our responses to both tragedies have been monumental failures. Much blood and treasure was squandered in what on the surface might appear to be a misdirected and duplicitous effort to avenge 9/11, but which is in reality was an extension and entrenchment of U.S. military power in the Persian Gulf and along the Silk Road, and a further engorgement of the military-industrial complex (one that a true Republican warned us against). And what would have been an appropriate response to 9/11? Bringing us the heads of Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and making Bush, Cheney and Rice accountable for ignoring numerous and unambiguous warnings in the weeks before the attack. That would be a good start.

Since the massacre on Tiananmen Square, much business has been undertaken, ostensibly as a means of engaging the Chinese and encouraging them to embrace civil society. Remember? That was Bill Clinton's idea: "constructive engagement." Well, the U.S. is awash in goods that read "Made in China." Hundreds of fortunes have been made, many millions of U.S. jobs been lost forever, and from rare earths to solar energy, China is positioning itself brilliantly for 21st Century dominance. "Constructive engagement," Clinton argued, would open up China and make it kinder and gentler. Ask the Uighurs or the Tibetans, or the the people of Darfur.

Yes, it brought China closer, it caused China to embrace what is nearest and dearest to the soul of the American people, but that's not "democracy," or "human rights," no, apparently it's predatory capitalism. Yes, this has revealed itself as our most cherished ideal. Clinton's policy of "constructive engagement" has not only lead to the Chinese embracing that cherished ideal of predatory capitalism; it has also helped us to grow closer to them, we are after all rapidly becoming a one-party political system (ideologically if not organizationally). How else do you explain POTUS characterizing an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest as job-creating stimulus? So it is fitting that POTUS would chose to have Clinton flack for his tax cut deal with the zombie legion.

Ah, well, back to Oslo and Cancun.

In Oslo, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but he is in prison, and his wife was put under house arrest so she could not attend in his absence, as did Aung San Suu Kyi's son in 1991 and Andrei Sakharov's wife in 1975. (And yes, I understand that Liu Xiaobo is no Aung San Suu Kyi or Andrei Sakharov, and that some of his views are disturbingly "neo-con." He freedom to espouse them must be INVIOLATE. Free speech is NOT money, but it is priceless.)

Nonetheless ...

China, how weak you are, and how small, to be scared of an imprisoned man of non-violence, and to feel the need to put his wife under house arrest. Your empire will not last long if you remain such a sissy. Time moved slowly for the last two millennia, but it is moving very fast now.

The empty chair at yesterday's Nobel peace prize ceremony is a needed reminder of two things. First, despite its huge advances and ever-growing integration into the global economy, China operates on a very different set of values from our own. And second, for all its successes at home and abroad, the opaque and authoritarian regime in Beijing sees Liu Xiaobo and the values he represents as a threat to its continuing hold on power. Independent, 12-11-10

If a Western Journalist Digs Far Enough Does He or She End Up in China?

Are Beijing's "values" really all that different? Are we slouching away from Bethlehem and toward Beijing?

Consider the plight of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

Daniel Ellsberg: Julian Assange is not a criminal under the laws of the United States. I was the first one prosecuted for the charges that would be brought against him. I was the first person ever prosecuted for a leak in this country–although there had been a lot of leaks before me. That’s because the First Amendment kept us from having an Official Secrets Act. . . . The founding of this country was based on the principle that the government should not have a say as to what we hear, what we think, and what we read. ... If Bradley Manning did what he’s accused of, then he’s a hero if mine and I think he did a great service to this country. We’re not in the mess we’re in, in the world, because of too many leaks. . . . I say there should be some secrets. But I also say we invaded Iraq illegally because of a lack of a Bradley Manning at that time. FireDogLake, 12-13-10

Consider the implications and consequences of the Wikileaks affair.

Above a chyron that read "ASSANGE: JOURNALIST OR TERRORIST," a CNN "reporter" interviewed the indomitable Ray McGovern of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), who was once upon a time delivered the Presidential Daily Briefing to G.H.W. "Poppy" Bush:

DON LEMON: You really think we --- and I'll say we, I'm a journalist --- you really think we have it wrong and that he [Assange] is actually not a pariah and we should be praising him and following his lead rather than calling him a pariah?
RAY MCGOVERN:Yeah, actually, with all due respect, I think you should be following his example. Seek out the secrets. Find out why it is that my tax-payer money is going to fund trafficked young boys performing dances in women's clothing before the Afghan security forces who we are recruiting to take over after we leave. Take a look at the documents and see the abhorrent activities that our government has endorsed or done through its contractors. And then tell me you don't think the Americans can handle that. Well I think they can handle it. But they can't handle it if they don't have it.
Brad Blog, 12-13-10

The Other Empty Seats in Oslo

Seventeen other countries joined China in its boycott, demonstrating China's growing economic and geopolitical power; the list of no-shows is revealing in many ways:

Saudia Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, our "strong allies" in the war IN, OF, BY and FOR terror, for whom we are to believe we have shed our blood and spilled our treasure, joined China in its boycott. The Palestinian Authority, which should do better than succumb to a selective application of concern over human rights, boycotted the ceremony. Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, for whom the sands in the hour glass are dwindling down, boycotted the ceremony. Iran boycotted the ceremony. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, knows why. The boycott also include the Sudanese (China's darling), whose leader is wanted by the ICC for genocide. And oh yeah, speaking of genocide, Serbia too skipped the ceremony. Cuba was also a no-show. Yes, the US embargo is STUPID, but let this serve as a good reminder not to overly romanticize the regime. Venezuela too stood somewhere else, in solidarity with China. Is Chavez is only interested in human rights when it furthers his ambitions? He would not be unique in this foible. Putin's Russia also stayed away. Yes, Putin's Russia, where one government official recently expressed the opinion that Assange should win the Peace Prize. If Assange had won, of course, ironically, all of these governments would have shown up for the ceremony, and many of those in self-righteous attendance for Liu Xiaobo would have boycotted.

So no, there was no uncracked mirror in Oslo in which the truth and beauty of humanity could be seen. On to Cancun ...

Creating 1,000 Cochabambas

After the failure in Copenhagen (yes, despite official protestations to the contrary, it was a failure of collective will, particularly of the U.S.A and China), an alternate World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, formulating a more aggressive approach to the crisis, driven by some of those countries who will suffer the harshest and most immediate impact, as well as by environmental justice and indigenous rights organizations from throughout the world; together these entities, drafted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth to bring before the U.N. General Assembly for adoption in the same manner that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. Following on collective failure of will in Copenhagen and a call to environmental revolution in Cochabamba, what could be expected from the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun? There was an agreement of sorts, and a resolve to press on to COP17 in South Africa next year. There are those who see Cancun as a success, and those who see it as another failure; the truth, of course, is dangling by a frail thread somewhere in between the two assessments.

"Cancun may have saved the [UN]process but it did not yet save the climate," said Greenpeace International Climate Policy Director Wendel Trio. Guardian, 12-15-10

The first lesson of the Cancun talks is that the governments of the world can in fact work together on global warming, even though decoupling civilization from greenhouse pollution is a herculean task. However, the second lesson is that their leadership only gets humanity so far. Only the full mobilization of the present generation can overcome the institutional barriers to change and protect our fragile civilization from the raging climate system our pollution has created. The Cancun compact has restored hope around the world, but now the actual work has to begin. Climate Progress, 12-11-10

I think Evo and my Bolivian coca farmer friend would agree that if we are to avoid ecocide, we cannot rely on government officials meeting in plush golf resorts. Instead, the solutions will come from organic farmers and social entrepreneurs. They will come activists who confront corporate polluters. They will come from passionate environmentalists putting even more pressure on their governments. They will come from those fighting for climate justice on their communities around the globe. Ultimately, they will come from a grassroots global movement steeped in the values of mother nature. Media Benjamin, CODEPINK, Common Dreams, 12-11-10

It is time to deliver the message of Cochabamba to the people who are capable of creating change, of creating 1,000 Cochabambas. Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange/Climate Justice, 12-12-10

In Cancun, the beauty and truth of our common humanity could be glimpsed in the shards of reflective glass, some of the flashes came from the faces of delegates working tirelessly inside the process, other flashes came from the faces of the activists forced into the streets. But the mirror of Cancun was cracked, just as the mirror of Oslo was cracked.

Which leaves truth and beauty miles from nowhere with little time left to green this civilization, and/or to humanize it, before it devours its own heart, and collapses under its own crushing weight.

The struggles for human rights and for the rights of Gaia are interdependent, one cannot be won without the other, and both are essential to our survival. Yet, there is no meaningful discourse on how to honor either in the halls of Beltwayistan, or on the air waves of Infotainmentstan, which brings us full circle to our puzzling POTUS, and the blubbering buffoon who is going to take over the speaker's gavel next month, and an electorate which sent Rand Paul to the U.S. Senate and Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson into private life.


Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Visit Richard Power author's page at