Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No, POTUS, There are No Grown-Ups in That Room, Not Even You; If By "Grown-Up" You Mean One Willing to Take On (or Even Articulate) Our Worst Problems

Chang Si (circa 1156-1161), roll painting. Beijing Palace Museum

At a time when the wealthiest people and the largest corporations ... are doing phenomenally well and in many cases have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing, it is absolutely imperative that any deficit-reduction package that passes this Congress not include the horrendous cuts, the cruel cuts in programs that working people desperately need that are utilized every day by the elderly, by the sick, by our children, and by the lowest income people in our country, that the Republicans ... dominated by their extreme rightwing, are demanding. America is not about giving tax breaks to billionaires and attacking the most vulnerable people in our country. We must not allow that to happen. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 6-28-11

The question before us now is not whether the natural disasters making headlines across the United States are somehow connected, but why we are so reluctant to connect them. My theory is that it's just too scary. If we admit that these extreme weather events have something to do with a global system, it feels too complicated to do anything about or prepare ourselves for. If we accept that climate change is something caused by the way we consume and produce everything from food to fuel, then we also have to admit that we need to fundamentally change the way our economy works. Janet Redmond, Connecting Extreme Weather Dots Across the Map, Other Worlds, 7-18-11

No, POTUS, There are No Grown-Ups in That Room; If By "Grown-Up" You Mean One Willing to Take On (or Even Articulate) Our Worst Problems

By Richard Power

POTUS wants us all to think of him as "the grown-up in the room" in his struggle with the Zombie Cult formerly known as the Republican Party. The problem is that the issue at hand is not maturity at all, it is sanity. Now, he is "the sanest man in the room," assuming you mean to only contrast him with those on the "R" side of the aisle.

However, even agreeing that POTUS is the sanest man in the room, overall, he still isn't the sanest person in the room, assuming Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is also at the table. If the Democratically controlled Senate had said yes to even half of the four hundred or so powerful pieces of progressive legislation (including ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE) that Pelosi got passed while she was Speaker, we would be living in a different country. (Furthermore, Pelosi is not only the sanest person in the room, she also counts as the "grown-up" too, if you measure it in terms of maturity.)

Of course, POTUS and his men (yes, men) are also likely to be the "smartest guys in the room," but that doesn't mean all that much anymore. The bar has been set very low in contemporary politics. And you would certainly want to add the caveat that even if they are "the smartest guys in the room," POTUS and his brain-trust might not be as smart as they assume themselves to be, especially since they have him flirting with undercutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in pursuit of chimerical votes in the clueless center.

James K. Gaibraith and Robert Kuttner explain.

President Obama’s proposed debt ceiling deal is a disastrous solution to an imaginary fiscal crisis, but the pain it causes will be all too real. News reports hold that President Obama scored a political victory by agreeing to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block ... To which one can only say: how nice for him. James K. Galbraith, Hawk Nation: A Guide to the Catastrophic Debt Ceiling Debate, New Deal 2.0, 7-12-11

Obama and his advisers, weirdly, believe that his stance as "the only grownup in the room" who forces his own party to abandon its core principles for the sake of an austerity program will somehow win the gratitude of voters struggling with declining incomes and rising joblessness. The unemployment may be stuck near ten percent, but good old Obama brokered a deal to balance the budget in 2021. So re-elect this man. On which planet is this? Robert Kuttner, The End Game: Saving Obama From Himself, Demos, 7-18-11

Yet even if the smartest man in the room, the grown-up in the room, the sanest man in the room, were to embrace GENUINE economic medicine, like e.g., the People's Budget proposed by the Progressive Caucus (not even granted lip service let alone a seat at the table), it still wouldn't be evidence of the leadership required of us all at this moment in human history.

An Experiment Run Amok

When I close my eyes and allow myself to open up to the life of the universe, I feel the solar system whirling in my chest, and from the third orb I hear the cacophony of an experiment run amok, "human civilization" seemingly drowning in its own ignorance, which appears to be the only renewable resource it is seriously invested in.

A huge oil spill off the Chinese coast has now contaminated an area around six times the size of Singapore. Agence France Press, 7-15-11

East Africa's worst drought in 60 years is putting 11 million lives at risk, many of them in war-torn Somalia, where thousands of hungry families are making the dangerous trek across parched, violent territory ... and the hunger that now stalks the land may become famine. Global Post, 7-17-11

Climate change is speeding up the rate at which animals and plants are becoming extinct. By the end of the century, one in 10 species could be on the verge of extinction because of the effects of global warming, a study has found. Steve Conner, Independent/UK, 7-12-11

The health of the world's oceans is much worse than is widely believed, but it is not too late to change tack and help this critical ecosystem recover, at least in part, experts say ... If the current course of damage continues, marine species are at high risk of entering a phase of extinction unprecedented in human history. Inter Press Service, 7-13-11

If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you'd run the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we're currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.Bill McKibben, North America's Tar Sands: The New Middle East, Mother Jones, 7-14-11

Lying Awake, Late At Night

And if there were a gathering of “grown-ups, ” the “sanest people,” the “smartest people,” those at the apex of power, what would they discuss? And what message would come from that room?

Well, they would start by acknowledging that although it was truly sane, truly, smart, truly “grown-up,” in other words, truly human, to consider the impact of every decision as far into the future as the seventh generation, this tradition, ignored as it has been for two millennia by the dominant kulchurs, is now irrelevant and unless we act decisively, urgently and meaningfully it will never be relevant again. Because what we have to come to grips with now, what we have to get our minds and hearts around now is the impact of ignoring this tradition for so very long. What we have to do now is consider the impact on this generation and on the next and on the next, because only the blind can imagine they see farther than that from this dark place, and that if we ever again get to consider the impact of our decisions unto the seventh generation, it will be a luxury, and something of a miracle. USA, you think you are not going to be touched, you think there are too many people in the world anyway, you think that the Climate Crisis will devastate Africa, Asia and Latin America, and that you will somehow be fat and happy here, safe and sound with your air-conditioning, your central heating, your hot and cold running water, your light at the flick of a switch, your gasoline at the pump 24x7, and of course your ever-flowing food distribution system, but you are so wrong.

Late one night, recently, I was lying awake, listening to Green 960, and Alex Smith of Radio Eco-Shock was re-playing an excerpt from a February 2007 talk Gwynne Dyer, military expert, historian and author of Climate Wars. (Yes, you can download the podcast, and many others, from the Radio Eco-Shock archive.)

Dyer was talking like a "grown-up."

When most people think of the Climate Crisis (if they think of it at all), they think of the poles melting, and the sea level rising. And that is indeed underway, and it will wreak havoc with not just with the little island nations, but also with Shanghai and New York, and many of the other great cities of the world. But, as Dyer pointed out, long before the rising sea level does that worst of its damage, our access to food and water will be severely compromised – everywhere, directly in some regions, indirectly in others, but everywhere nevertheless. And yes, it can and will happen here. America's “Heartland,” America's "Bread Basket" (i.e., Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, etc.) will dry up, and when its water sources, e.g., the Ogallala Aquifer run out, and it will cease to produce the food they are relied on to produce. (This will also probably occur in California’s vital “Central Valley.”)

To the south, Dyer goes on, Mexico and Central America are going to be utterly devastated. And one of the planet’s great population displacements will take place on the southern border of the U.S. These climate refugees will not be coming north to look for work, they will be coming north to avoid starvation. Those who rant and rave about “illegal immigration” today don’t have a clue about the kind of world they are living in. You say you want to secure your southern border? That would be funny, if it weren’t so terribly sad. Go ahead. Build a real wall. Electrify it. Put cameras and sensors on it. But, Dyer observes, you are going to have to be willing to kill people, to shoot them, men, women and children trying to escape a climatic holocaust. Are you capable of that? And even if you are capable of that kind of violence, what will your fellow citizens of Mexican and Central American descent do when you start gunning down their brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and fathers, and cousins, and aunts and uncles? What will happen to the fabric of this society under such circumstances?

Meanwhile, all across the planet, extraordinary pressures will create multiple geopolitical crises, and some of them will involve weapons of mass destruction. For example, as the glaciers of the Himalayas vanish and cease to melt into the Indus, there will likely be a serious confrontation between nuclear-armed Pakistan and nuclear-armed India, Dyer warns. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is utterly dependent upon the Indus, which flows through nuclear-armed India before it gets to Pakistan; and how much of the Indus’ water India can take before it gets to Pakistan was established by treaty decades ago. The terms of that treaty are fixed; they do not adjust according to the volume of water. What will happen then?

Do I have your attention yet?

And look, we're not talking about 2100 or even 2050; we're talking about the next decade or two ...

Bearing this in mind, let us return to that room, in which POTUS is allegedly the "grown-up."

"You Leaders, Be Fair to Your People."

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight.

We are in the middle of what is at best a deep recession (indeed, already a depression for many), and instead of infusing the economy with further stimulus to create employment and rescue infrastructure, the made-men of Beltwayistan want to squeeze it even further, in the name of “austerity.”

Meanwhile, you are ignoring the greatest existential crisis in two thousand years of human civilization, even though coming to grips with this crisis that could as a by product create both a profoundly different and profoundly healthier energy model and a new robust economy that could provide bright future to our people, yes, unto the seventh generation.

No, POTUS, there are no “grown-ups” in that room you’re in (except, of course, for Pelosi).

I don't care about politics anymore, or ideology. These writings are my prayer, my meditation, my drum beat. My only concerns are relieving the suffering of sentient life, and exposing that sentient life, as much as possible, to the most profound truths.

Again, I ask if there were a gathering of “grown-ups, ” the “sanest people,” the “smartest people,” those at the apex of power, what would they discuss? And what message would come from that room?

Here is another example, also from a talk given in 2007 (plenty of time for this wisdom to have caught up with our so-called leaders). These are the words of Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga spoke on Climate Change at a Seventh Generation Fund event for the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at U.N. HG in NYC:

"The fire it's here now. The wind, it's just beginning. The water, you want more? You're gonna get it, and those that need it won't get it. These are the prophecies, this is what we have heard, this is what we know. We have been told, again and again. We hear this in the long house, for two hundred years we have been listening to this prophecy ... People have to change, directions have to change, values have to change. Otherwise ... There is no mercy in Nature, none. No mercy. Nature has none. Only law, only rule. You don't abide by the rule, you suffer the result. No habeas corpus here ... In 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the world. Today, how many is there? 6.4 or 6.5 billion, depends on who you ask. Took 400 hundred million years to get to 2.5 billion, it took 57 years to get to 6.5 billion. There's your problem, that's your problem. It's a tough one. If you look at that graph, it is going straight up. Population ... Peacemaker said to the people build your nation on these principles: First principle was peace, peace, and with peace is health. Second principle was justice, equity, equity for the people, be fair. You leaders, be fair to your people, and with that will come justice. Third principle was power, the power of being united, the power of the Good Mind, the power of the One Mind."

[NOTE: You can view the video of Chief Oren Lyons' talk at Gabrielle Price's great blog, The Refreshment Center. The original You Tube post embedded on Price's site inaccurately describes Chief Oren Lyons as Lakota, but Price has him properly identified as Onondaga.]

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