Why Paris? The Questions No One Is Asking About the Post-9/11, Post-11/13 World

cropped-1604741_560811498264_7010113564277153021_n.jpgOn the morning of the Paris terrorist strike, 11/13/15, I was trying to write and, uncharacteristically for me, I was totally blocked. I seemed to be wading through a thick mental fog, and nothing I could do would clear it. I gave up, went about my day, and it wasn’t until that night, when the first reports of the bombings came in, that I understood: my inner turmoil was what we used to call a “sixth sense,” picking up on the fog of fear and distress that was about to descend not just on Paris, but on the entire West that evening.

For me, this post-11/13 period has been a time of swirling, insistent questions and concerns, which I share in the hopes of promoting some productive discussion.

One: Did the timing of the Paris strikes have anything to do with the imminent global climate talks scheduled to begin there this month? Is it possible that the global oil lobby could have somehow instigated at least the time & place of the strike as a way of destabilizing the climate talks that should be leading us away from a reliance on fossil fuels?

Two: Could the military-industrial complex of the United States, Russia, and European powers like Germany, France and England, be subtly promoting war in the Middle East by their “containment” policy, which includes keeping demand for weapons high? Every bomb dropped is an order placed, after all. We saw this strategy revealed in all its grotesquerie in the Halliburton/U.S. government policy in Iraq—first manufacture a war, blow everything up and destabilize society, then rake in millions in “reconstruction” contracts. Is this happening again in Syria?

Three: Why are so few commentators talking about the role of Saudi Arabia in supporting the Islamic State? After 9/11, when all other commercial air traffic in the U.S. was grounded, there were the reports of the sketchy Saudi Arabian flights allowed to travel around the country picking up Saudi nationals and transporting them back home. We know that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and was supported by Saudi funds. Then as now, ancient Sunni/Shia rivalries are coinciding with contemporary geopolitics to fuel proxy wars in the Middle East. Is the situation in Syria really all about the rivalry between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with the lives of millions of people caught in the crossfire of these warring ideologies? Why is American policy aligning with the Sunnis when they have been shown to be promulgating the most violent, extremist religious intolerance and hatred?

In this last question, we circle back around, perhaps to oil and the climate. If the world really got behind the shift to renewable energy that we MUST accomplish if we are to keep human civilization stable, the oil wealth of the sheikdoms would become much less important. Could it be that behind the world events currently playing out lie some desperate fossil fuel barons, willing to risk the collapse of the world order as we know it in order to keep the black gold flowing from the ground into their pockets? Is the Islamic State really some kind of bizarre mercenary army, paid to destabilize the region, no questions asked about tactics?

I know this sounds like the scenario of a wonderfully gripping international thriller, which we would enjoy in the movie theater precisely because we know it’s just fiction. But what if it’s not fiction? What if this time it’s all too terribly real—and the fate of the planet, at least the planet as we know and love her, really does hang in the balance?

My sixth sense is telling me now that we ordinary people are just pawns in a high-stakes game played by the super-elite, the rulers of the military-industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry and their political henchmen. The final question becomes: what do we do about it?


After Paris, Searching Upstream for the Source of Terrorism

Thanksgiving Refugees, Past and Present

Skirmishes in the Gaian Wars

I’m trying—I really am—to comprehend all the skirmishes that make up our current Fossil Fuel Wars. Does anyone else find it dizzying to keep up with all the simultaneous fronts? For every piece of good news there’s a downer; for every ray of hope, there’s a big dose of icy cold water to keep us sputtering.

To review just some of what I’ve been aware of these past few days:

President Obama acted to preserve a big area of Alaskan wildlife refuge from oil drilling—Hooray! But he also, at the same time, opened up a huge area of the ocean off the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic for oil drillers—BOO!!

In the same week, President Obama took the opportunity of a state visit to India to push that country to work on lowering its carbon emissions. As reported by The New York Times, the President told his Indian hosts: “I know the argument made by some — that it’s unfair for countries like the United States to ask developing nations and emerging economies like India to reduce your dependence on the same fossil fuels that helped power our growth for more than a century…But here’s the truth: Even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if countries that are growing rapidly, like India, with soaring energy needs don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change.”

I thank President Obama for raising awareness in India about the global importance of reducing dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

But then his next stop was Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of the international oil extraction empire (otherwise known as OPEC), where he and whole passel of American officials kowtowed to the new Saudi King in an all-too-obvious display of how important the fabulously wealthy Saudi monarchy is to American interests, both in the Middle East and at home.

saudi-arabia-oilDoes anyone else notice the immense Sun shining down on the Arabian desert, as well as the Indian subcontinent? How different it would be if President Obama were to use his bully pulpit to urge a transition to solar power, even in the Arabian desert, leaving all those reserves of dirty oil in the ground!

Then there’s the fracking front. Sandra Steingraber and her hardy band of upstate New York resisters are standing firm against a nefarious plan to store volatile gas in unlined salt chambers below the water line in Seneca Lake. Hooray!

But at the same time, the transnational gas giant Kinder Morgan is surveying the forested hills in my own Berkshire backyard, preparing to run a new pipeline through our neighborhood to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania out to the coast. Supporters argue that the pipeline will make gas in our corner of the world more affordable, but I am not convinced, especially given that I have not heard of any plans to make some of this pipeline gas available here in Berkshire County.


I just filled my propane tank this month and was shocked to be charged almost $5 a gallon for the gas. Are they price gouging us now to soften us up so we’ll bow down and let their pipeline go through our territory without resistance?

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.

tpp-protestThen there is the Transpacific Partnership front, which has been chugging along largely under the radar of media and public scrutiny for several years now. For all President Obama’s heartwarming rhetoric (and action) to support more vulnerable Americans, his administration is at the same time engaged in negotiating a trade agreement that has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.”

As Lori Wallach puts it, writing in The Nation, “Think of the TPP as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Indeed, only two of the twenty-six chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters. The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation. They include new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more.”

The worst part is that if the pact goes through, signatories “would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules—in effect, a corporate coup d’état. The proposed pact would limit even how governments can spend their tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences that invest in the US economy would be banned, and “sweat-free,” human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged. If the TPP comes to fruition, its retrograde rules could be altered only if all countries agreed, regardless of domestic election outcomes or changes in public opinion. And unlike much domestic legislation, the TPP would have no expiration date.”

A resistance movement to the TPP is beginning to stir. A modest protest was held earlier this week in New York City by representatives from Doctors Without Borders and the Health Global Access Project, among other groups, focusing specifically on the provisions in the TPP that “will undermine efforts to ensure access to affordable, life-saving medicines in both the United States and abroad,” according to an article in Common Dreams.

The fact that this trade agreement has gotten so far without public oversight—not even Congressional oversight!—is truly frightening. 1984/Brave New World, here we come!

When even Democrats oppose the President’s agenda, risking a public disagreement with the President to stand by their principles, you know something big is at stake.

Whether the issue is oil drilling in the ocean, pipelines over land, or noxious trade deals favoring corporations’ rights above the rights of ordinary Earthlings, human and non-human, we can’t afford to passively assume that our elected representatives are going to look out for our best interests.

We can’t assume that anyone else is going to fight our battles. We have to stand up for what we believe.

No, we can’t fight every skirmish in this interminable battle for a sustainable future. But we have to keep our eyes and our hearts open, and stand ready to take a stand in alignment with our highest values and the better world we know is possible.

Gaia is depending on us. We can’t afford to fail her now.

Storytelling and Resistance: Whose Narratives Are You Listening To? What Stories Are You Telling?

Generally when I turn on the radio or open up The New York Times or other media sources, I am immediately assaulted by the SAME OLD BAD NEWS.

Another hundred children gunned down by fundamentalist militants.

Another police brutality case.

Another round of insane Republican shenanigans in Congress, hijacking the taxpayers, the environment or the nation itself with greedy, mean, shortsighted policies.

The list goes on and you know it as well as I do. We live in a time when stories do not have happy endings and even the heroes get shafted.

Although I think it’s still pretty clear who’s right and who’s wrong, being wrong doesn’t mean you are necessarily unsuccessful. Mysteriously, the bad guys often win in contemporary news narratives. Even when a scapegoat is chosen to die on his sword, the game goes on, and since the media loves to cover the most powerful, most colorful players, it can often seem like there’s no glory in being good or right. Only in being powerful.

President Obama announces policy shift on Cuba

President Obama announces policy shift on Cuba

I’m happy to see our quiet, serious President finally starting to flex his muscles a little and learn how to play this game.

Re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, well it’s about time! So what if the Cold Warriors complain, let them grumble into their mothballed cups.

Shake hands with China’s President and make some progress on global climate treaties, hell yeah! Where I come from, that’s called leadership—the kind of leadership that’s aimed at the future, not digging in its heels and trying to hold us all back in a carbon age that has outlived its usefulness.

Now I want to see President Obama reject that Keystone XL pipeline once and for all. Falling oil prices are the perfect excuse for saying what we all know to be true: tar sands oil is an abomination that, if extracted, will incinerate our planet. For the sake of all our children and the generations to come, we must leave that dirty oil in the ground and move on to a clean energy future.

Yes, this means that the bad-guy oil moguls must reinvent themselves as good-guy renewable energy czars. We’ll keep giving them our money…if they show themselves to be the planetary stewards we’ve been waiting for.

I keep thinking about the slogan I read somewhere (I believe it is a Chinese proverb): Crisis = Danger + Opportunity.

There is no doubt that these early years of the 21st century are a dangerous, crisis-ridden time. But they are also a time of great opportunity.

We have the chance to wake up and start telling some new stories, in which Good and Right actually do prevail; in which Greed and Vindictiveness are punished; in which deeds are measured not in dollars generated, but by how much they will benefit the greater good of the planet and all her denizens.

I suggest you pay attention to the stories you’re hearing; to who’s telling them; and who benefits from the version that hits the media fan.

Me, I like to pay attention to some of the storytellers who may not make it into prime time (as in, the front page of The New York Times), but surely merit a place there.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

For example, Bill McKibben, winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award for inventing 350.org and working tirelessly to raise awareness about climate change; Vandana Shiva, a relentless opponent of Monsanto’s assault on biodiversity and a champion of small farmers and their heirloom seeds and organic farming practices; and Sandra Steingraber, who is leading a most inspiring movement against a huge corporate conglomerate seeking to store pressurized natural gas beneath the floor of Seneca Lake in upstate New York.

These are the heroes and heroines of our time. In these cold, dark days of the Winter Equinox, human beings have always gathered around the fire to listen to stories. I say, don’t waste your time listening to the canned stories our news media prepare. Find and tell your own stories, and make sure they’re stories that inspire hope.

Here’s a good story, if you’re looking for one: how the citizen resistance to tracking gas in New York State triumphed, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing away from this highly risky practice in the wake of intense negative pressure.

Stories matter. Words have power. Let’s make sure we are telling each other stories that will serve as bridges into the future we want to live.


Will All The Good Fathers Please Stand Up?!

It’s Father’s Day 2014, and I am distraught when I look out into the world and see the ascendancy of the kind of distorted, testosterone-driven style of masculinity that is antithetical to good fatherhood.

A good father, in my book, uses his strength, wisdom and social capital to protect and empower his own and others’ children. He is rational and clear-thinking, but also not afraid to own his emotional side, to display his loving, nurturing nature. He is constructive in his social engagements, and tries to think ahead to ensure that his family, and by extension his society, will be as safe and prosperous in the future as they are currently, under his wing.

A good father uses his physical strength, or picks up weapons, only in defense of himself and his loved ones.

A good father would never harm a defenseless child, or send one deliberately into harm’s way.

So who are these men and boys who are gang-raping innocent women in Egypt; gang-raping and then lynching teen girls in India; going on mass-murder sprees in the United States; and sending yet another generation of boys into ideologically driven wars in the Middle East?

Who are these men who are kidnapping and brutalizing whole schools full of young girls in Nigeria; shooting in the head girls whose only crime is to want an education; kidnapping and holding as sex slaves innocent teenagers who comply out of terror?

I know, and you know, that there are a lot of good men out there. We all know many good fathers, brothers, husbands, friends.

These good men are the ones who, as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote recently, need to stand up and insist that the aggressive, punishing, domineering style of masculinity has no place in the 21st century.

Masculine strength, absolutely. But it should be the strength of a benevolent patriarch, using his power to nourish and strengthen others.

Screen-shot-2013-12-16-at-4.18.49-PMAlthough I know President Obama has disappointed many, I still hold him up as an example of a good man: a good father, who works tirelessly to improve the world that his young daughters will be entering in the coming years, and a good leader, who has been doing the best he can to reach out a helping hand to those who need it—students, the elderly, immigrants, women. I doubt any one of us who landed in his shoes in Washington D.C. could do it better, so who are we to criticize?

On this Father’s Day, I salute all the good dads out there, including my own, and I implore you: use your social capital and power to condemn violence and destructiveness; to model and promote the peaceful, nurturing, kind human relations that the world needs now.

Rotten Tomatoes for Republicans

All right, I admit defeat. I can’t tune out those crazy Republican Congressmen who actually believe that they are acting righteously in preferring to shut down the U.S. Government rather than guarantee all Americans the right to affordable health care.

I need to let off a little steam, so bear with me.


It is beyond depressing that we have such an apathetic, distracted, numbed electorate, of whom barely 50% generally even bother to show up to the polls.

Of the half who do show up, obviously they are the easily manipulated types, because these Tea Partiers have managed to convince them to vote against their own interests time and time again.

It’s no secret that the Tea Partiers have been most successful in the so-called Red States, where the egregious gap between rich and poor (ie, the gap between the 1% of extreme wealth and the 99% of everyone else, way down at the bottom of the mountain) is huge.

Why would people vote against their own best prospect of getting affordable health care?

Why would people vote against the political party that, while far from perfect, has at least shown a measure of human decency and responsibility in its approach to governing?

images-2It’s only fathomable if you remember how, in Tea Party country, education and the media are entirely controlled by these same craven elites, who will stop at nothing to seize power and control of the country.

In these parts of the country, people live in ideological bunkers, where party-controlled propaganda is the only message they get.  Red China anyone?  1984?

With the advent of the World Wide Web, in America at least, it’s hard to maintain a complete lockdown on information.  But as we all know, we tend to surf to places on the Web that are familiar and tell us what we want to hear.

So I get my news from The New York Times, while in Tea Party country the average citizen is more likely to check out Fox News.  The same story looks entirely different as reported by these different media—check it out and see for yourself.  Spin rules.

This is the only way I can explain the fact that these Tea Party maniacs were elected to Congress in the first place.

I can only hope—yes, I still do have hope—that in the next round of elections, they will be sent back to their Neanderthal caves where they belong.

Then the rest of us adults can get on with the much more important business of the day.

HillaryCare1993aAffordable health care—yes, of course!  We should have had it long ago, back when Hilary Clinton tried to get it going in the mid-1990s.  She was stymied by lack of authority as merely the First Lady, seen as overstepping her bounds (get thee back to the parlor, Mrs. Clinton!).

Now President Obama is getting blowback for daring to challenge the status quo and lobby openly for the rights of the poor and for all Americans who have gotten screwed by the medical industrial complex over and over again.

It’s the same old same old, which is why I have resisted taking up the Tea Party gauntlet this time.  Why should I waste my time and energy with their nonsense?

And yet, as the government shutdown looms, and behind it the mythical debt ceiling crisis, I just have to add my voice to the chorus of BOOS and throw some metaphorical rotten eggs at those stinking Tea Partiers who want to deprive ordinary Americans of the right to a functional government, along with the right to affordable health care and an economic system that at least attempts to lift all boats.

images-1I thank the President and the Democrats for holding the line on this one.  “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” right?  Let’s let those terrorist Republicans dig their own fox holes and stew in their own SH*T.  I’d like to see John Boehner coming out when it’s all over like Saddaam did, dazed, dirty and totally deposed.


I have a dream: the 20th century visions of King and Obama and the “fierce urgency” of our time

mlkihaveadreamgogoFifty years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dreams with the American nation:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream today!”

Today President Obama, himself the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, honored the legacy of the Civil Rights movement, telling us that because people in Dr. King’s generation marched for justice, “America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed.”


But Obama’s dream remains too limited.  He is still dreaming a 20th century dream of middle class jobs and security: the longing for a society offering  “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures — conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

Such a scenario assumes the stability of the real workers of our economy: the trees and plankton that supply our oxygen and the microorganisms that make our crops grow.  It takes for granted steady, predictable rains and moderate temperatures.

We can no longer make such assumptions, and President Obama is wrong to preach to the nation as though 20th century problems and concerns were still paramount today.

Yes, the problem of the color line still exists in 21st century America.  The unemployed still need jobs.  The racial disparity in prison populations is disgraceful.  But these are not the most pressing issues of our time.

President Obama lauded the young of the 1960s for being “unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream different and to imagine something better.”

He argued that “that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose serves in this generation.   We might not face the same dangers as 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains.”

In fact, we face even greater dangers today than in 1963, and it was dishonest of our President not to allude to the much more serious problems now bearing down on us full force: the juggernaut of global climate change.

The wildfires burning in California this week are the among largest ever recorded in the United States.

The rate of species extinction is faster now than it ever has been in the history of human civilization.

The ice melting at the poles promises to release heat-trapping methane gas at rates not seen since prehistoric eras.

Human population is on track to reach 9 billion or more in this century, way beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth.

We don’t know where all this is leading, but surely we cannot expect positive outcomes from these dramatic planetary shifts.

These interconnected environmental issues are the great challenges of our time, and it is to them that President Obama should have alluded, if he was being honest with himself and with the American people.

Whether or not the Syrians used chemical weapons against their own people; whether or not African Americans get to the voting booth; whether or not the American middle class sinks into poverty…all this will not matter at all when accelerating climate change begins to bring food shortages even to the most cosseted Americans.

Here is what our President should have said today:

‘I have a dream that Americans will step into a leadership role in the great fight of our time, the transition to a sustainable, renewable-energy-based society.

‘I have a dream that people of all nations, all creeds and from every culture on Earth will embrace our common challenge of finding ways to mitigate human damage to the planet, and adapt to the changes that are rapidly coming our way.

‘I have a dream that men and women from all over the globe will stand together, knowing that divided we will fall, but united we have a chance to safely ride out the storms that face us.’

My own personal dream is that our political leaders will stop lying to us, and will summon us to step up to the great ethical and empirical challenge of our time: creating lifeboats on which our children and grandchildren may sail safely into a sustainable future.

Dispatch from the heart of the American clean energy movement


My son Eric and I at the rally

My son Eric and I at the rally

On this cold, blustery day in Washington D.C., thousands of people braved the elements to send a resounding message that we will not stand idly by and let Big Oil continue to run the great ship Earth straight on to the reef of global heating.

Although my body feels battered and tense from standing clenched against the wind so many hours, my physical discomforts pale beside the sheer joy of the memories of today’s climate rally.

The most exciting part was when the whole huge, enthusiastic, orderly crowd began marching from the meet-up point by the Washington Monument, signs and banners and flags flying high, drumbeats and chants rising up into the clear sky above Washington, winding ourselves into a huge coiling serpent wrapping itself around the White House, parading and prancing and stomping and making all the joyful news we could as we passed by the iron gates under the watchful eyes of security.

On the march!

On the march!

It was somewhat deflating to know that the President was not home–and even worse to get word that he was golfing in Florida, no less (my regular readers will recall how much I detest golf courses and consider them symbolic of all that is wrong with humanity’s relation to the natural world).

But it was gratifying to see the media out in fairly substantial numbers covering the march; many, many video cameras were rolling and iphones were snapping and people were even wandering around the crowd doing spot interviews about what had drawn the protestors to DC this fine, cold Sunday.

I think I can speak for many when I say that what drew us out was a deep concern for our planet, and a desire to draw a line in the sand–in this case, the Keystone XL serving as that iconic line–to indicate our opposition to the continued rape and pillage of our Mother Earth.

No more impunity! If the fossil fuel magnates win this round and the Keystone is built, let it not be with impunity. Let our whote-hearted opposition to this misguided investment be duly registered in Washington, today and at re-election time next November.

At one point today as the wind whipped over the crowd the speaker observed wryly that “we like wind!” and everyone waved their “Forward with Clean Energy!” signs vigorously and laughed.

Standing up for the Sandhill Cranes of North Dakota!

Standing up for the Sandhill Cranes of North Dakota!

A small tribe of seagulls circled overhead for a while, wondering if there would be potato chips on offer at this gathering, and a young woman dressed in a lifesize Sandhill Crane outfit poked her long, elegant neck way above the crowd.

The gong has rung to signal the start of another round in the long struggle for a transition to a sustainable human relationship with the planet.

A good 35,000 people turned out today to tell the President and Congress, loud and clear, that we want real action on the climate disaster-in-the-making, and we want it to start RIGHT NOW.

If the New York Times is any indication of whether those in the mainstream halls of power are getting our message, the prospects look good, because the front-page story this evening is precisely about the Keystone XL issue and today’s big rally.

We the people do have the power to direct our elected officials to safeguard our interests. Our interests, not the corporate “persons'” interests.

As the chant went in the march today, “This is what democracy looks like!”



Postscript, President’s Day 2013:

Even the MSM press was on to this rally!  The New York Times covered it, as did The Washington Post.  HuffPost Green did a good job, and of course we could count on Common Dreams to be one of the first to cover Bill McKibben’s victory speech at the end of the day!  Right next to yours truly, I am truly honored to say.


Time to grow up, America: from the quest for independence to the recognition of interdependence

FE_DA_130121obama-inaug425x283In his second Inaugural speech, President Obama gestured back to other great and trying times in American history—“Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall”—and even further back, to the Civil War period and the War of Independence.

In all of these historical eras, freedom was the watchword, and first slavery, then inequality, the great evil that had to be eradicated in order for us to move forward as a nation.

Now we’re in a different period, unlike any we have yet lived through as Americans or as global citizens.

What we need now is not more freedom, but more connection.  If there are battles to be fought today—and there are!—they must be in the name not of liberty, but of interdependence.

It is hard to make a stirring speech out of complex concepts like interconnection, collaboration and sustainability, and President Obama’s gestures in this direction were, at best, oblique.

He spent a lot of his time echoing many of the enduring pieties of American history, including the Declaration of Independence, those famous lines that every American schoolchild studies: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This is “our generation’s task,” Obama said;  “to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.”

There is a fundamental dilemma built into this founding creed, because of course one person’s pursuit of happiness may very well impede or encroach upon another person’s life and liberty.

For instance, is it OK that corporate “persons,” in their single-minded pursuit of short-term gains, ie, financial happiness, cut short people’s lives by poisoning our air, water and food supply with toxic chemicals?

Is it OK that your friendly neighborhood billionaire pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, considering that fact that this makes him very, very happy?

President Obama made no secret of his progressive agenda for social equality, ticking off social issues such as equal pay for women, gay marriage, and a more generous immigration approach as “our generation’s task to carry on.”

It was a surprise to many to find him also taking up the hot-button issue of climate change in this speech.

Echoing the Preamble to the Constitution, he insisted that “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

In the days of Wilberforce and Lincoln, a political leader who dared to speak out against slavery risked the wrath of the richest, most powerful men on Earth.

Today, a politician who dares to speak out against climate change runs the same kind of risk.

We know that the pockets of the huge energy conglomerates like Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Chevron and the rest are way deeper than the puny resources of the American government.

Those guys can buy themselves the best lawyers, the best lobbyists, the best media workers, the best researchers and scientists…and if short-term profit is their only motive, then they have no incentive to desist from continuing their pell-mell push to extract every last ounce of usable oil, gas and coal from the Earth’s crust.

President Obama indicated in his speech that he understands the ethical and scientific implications of allowing the fossil fuel industry to ride roughshod over the possibility of a sustainable future for our children and future generations.

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” he said.

As a parent, I know that my responsibility to my children is greater than any claim I could make to personal freedom.

I cannot blindly pursue my own happiness at the expense of theirs.

No more can we as a nation and as a human civilization continue to pretend that we don’t understand how our permissiveness towards corporate freedom, with its myopic focus on next-quarter profits, is undermining our obligation to future generations—and not just future generations of humans, but of all the creatures and plants who grew up with us on this planet.

If the President truly believes what he said, that “our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” then he must act boldly to uphold a new creed for the 21st century, based not on freedom and liberty, but on responsibility and interdependence.  And we need to be right by his side, giving him the courage to act on his best convictions.

President Obama ended his speech by affirming that “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

“You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift,” he said, concluding:

“Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”

Wait! No, that’s not right!  It’s not “that precious light of freedom” we need to embrace now; it’s “that precious recognition of interdependence.”

What he should have said in closing was this:

“With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and work together to create a sustainable, global socio-economic framework, manifested on the local level by caring, collaborative communities who understand that now is no longer the time of independence, or of freedom, but the dawn of a new era of responsibility and interdependence.”

In short, it’s time for us humans to grow up.

If you need more convincing, check out Tiffany Schlain’s marvelous 10-minute “cloud film” INTERDEPENDENCE and read her “Declaration of Interdependence.

For a heartbreaking take on  the urgency of our mission to shift to renewable energy and put a lid on global warming, watch Nikki Craft’s film RESIST DO NOT COMPLY, made with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith.

And then join your fellow grown-up citizens in doing the work that it is, as the president said, our generation’s greatest task.

I have a dream…for President Obama and our nation

There is a fair amount of speculation today over what President Obama will say at tomorrow’s Inauguration speech, which coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Obama, like King, is a great orator, especially when he allows himself to lose his cool and display the inner fire that animates him.

President Obama arriving in Newtown last month

President Obama arriving in Newtown last month

I hope that tomorrow he will allow us to see his human, emotional side, as he did when he shed unscripted tears the night he visited the bereaved parents in Newtown last month.

It’s true that many of his followers have lost the starry-eyed sense of possibility that made his first Inauguration such a joyful affair.

The romance of our first Black president, an outsider who dodged all the slings and arrows lobbed at him by his opponents to sprint his way to victory, has settled into a more realistic relationship.

We know he’s not superhuman.  He’s not infallible, and he cannot please all of us all the time.

But I hope that in this second term he will be bolder in his governance of the country.  Now that he doesn’t have to worry about running for office again, he can afford to take more risks to get his agenda through.

We’re seeing him do this with gun control, as—to give him due credit—he did in the first term with the Affordable Health Care Act.

It looks like he’s poised to make a positive move on immigration.

These are all important issues.

But they pale by contrast with the single most important issue of our time, restabilizing our climate.

Severe flooding in Jakarta this week from unusually heavy monsoon rains

Severe flooding in Jakarta this week from unusually heavy monsoon rains

An image shot in Jakarta this week gives a snapshot into what is ahead for us, as a nation and as a global human civilization, as the oceans warm, the glaciers and poles melt and release trapped methane and the climate becomes more extreme and erratic.

Scientists tell us that the die has already been cast; the planet is set on a warming course that cannot be reversed.  But it can be mitigated.  We can still keep the average rise in temperature to 4C rather than the 10C that is the current worst-case scenario for the next hundred years.

I have a dream that President Obama surprises the nation and the world on Inauguration Day by announcing a plan to divert current government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry into a new federal fund to promote:

  • a shift to distributed energy (rooftop solar arrays, town wind turbines, local geothermal, etc);
  • new incentives for the manufacturers and installers of renewable energy components;
  • a new R&D push to improve batteries and design data centers and other industrial plants that use less energy;
  • an initiative in urban planning and architectural design to begin the arduous, expensive but necessary process of refitting our cities, towns and individual dwellings for our new climate reality;
  • a strong push to improve the environmental component of our education at every level and in every subject—not just science and technology, but medicine, philosophy, history, sociology, literature and of course economics and business.

This is my dream for the Inauguration speech, but I will not be holding my breath waiting for it.

tumblr_mguif6Qltd1qzsjkco1_400I won’t be in Washington for the Inauguration, but I want to be there for the Presidents’ Day (Feb. 17) climate change rally in DC, sponsored by 350.org and the Sierra Club, to pressure our politicians to do the right thing for us and for our children.

President Obama, I know the tears you shed in Newtown were real—I know you are a feeling, caring human being who does not like to see innocent people suffer.

You have an opportunity in this second term to make a historic difference in our nation’s stance on climate change.

Instead of being one of the world’s biggest polluters and consumers of energy, we can become one of the world’s biggest innovators in renewable energy and energy conservation.

We can once again resume our historic position in the world as a moral and practical leader, doing what’s right for our planet and its beleaguered denizens.

The people elected you, Mr. President, not the corporations.

Do it for us.  Now.

Election 2012: Avoiding the Same Old, Same Old In the Redistribution of Power

Bravo to Maureen Dowd, who nailed the delusion of the Republican party with her typical biting humor.  “Mitt Romney is the president of white male America,” she said. Just not of the rest of us.

And—surprise!—we are a hell of a lot more numerous and, in an honest-to-God democracy, more powerful than they are.

White male America did turn out to elect Mitt their hero of the privileged status quo.  Imagine their surprise to discover that a status quo they thought undefeatable was already gone!

Karl Rove

It was interesting to see the little white men behind the curtain coming out after their Mitt-marionette went down in flames—men like Karl Rove, who flat-out refused to believe, on national TV (Fox News, of course) that his horse had actually lost the race.

It’s true that there wasn’t anything inherently “less Presidential” about Mitt than about that other wealthy political scion, George W. Bush—unless perhaps it was Romney’s conservative, highly patriarchal Mormonism, evidenced in the remarkable spread of his lily-white grandchildren—even if, as far as we know, he and his five sons only have one wife each.

Romney family

Both Bush Jr. and Romney expected the Republicans wizards to deliver them the White House with minimal effort on their part; and in return they would deliver the Supreme Court and the dismantling of regulatory inconveniences for Big Business, while keeping the women in the parlor and the help in the kitchen.

As Dowd pointed out, “the more they tried to force chastity belts on women, and the more they made Hispanics, blacks and gays feel like the help, the more these groups burned to prove that, knitted together, they could give the dead-enders of white male domination the boot.”

And so we did, so resoundingly that even the most obtuse of Republican strategists must have gotten the point.

Women, Latinos, Blacks and queer folk in this country make up a majority, and if you goad us with sticks and prods, you will see us turn out at the polls in record numbers to kick you out and get our own people to represent us in the halls of power.

The election of 2012 marks the dawn of a new age in America, when the so-called “minorities,” buoyed by a wave of powerful women voters of every ethnic, religious and even political stripe, showed the Man who’s boss.

No, Obama may not be the perfect hero to lead this charge, but as a mixed race American and a thoughtful man who obviously loves and respects his wife and daughters, he will do for now.

Obama family on Election night 2012

After all, as Dowd concludes: “If 2008 was about exalting the One, 2012 was about the disenchanted Democratic base deciding: “We are the Ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The newly empowered voting block of women, gays and ethnic “minorities” (a quaint term that will soon bite the dustbin of history) must take a good hard look at the hierarchical structure upon which the white male patriarchy was founded, and which it upheld so religiously for so long.

Our Founding Fathers were as guilty of this as their old masters back in Europe.  And indeed those who have studied colonialist and post-colonialist politics tell us that the biggest obstacle for newly emerging political bodies, whether they be newly independent nations or, as in 21st century America, newly emerging political landscapes, is that as humans we tend to replicate what we know, rather than take the risk of imagining and executing something truly new.

Thus we found, in state after state, the ideals of Communism crushed beneath the iron boots of dictators who used the banner of Communism to re-enact the oppressive structures of the past.

The challenge for all politically engaged Americans as we move on from Election 2012 is to keep the momentum going, rather than subsiding back into the same old, same old of structural American power hierarchies.

President Obama introduces Sonia Sotomayor

President Obama, over the past four years, was not able to resist the immense gravitational pull of the Beltway, although he did have a few shining moments of independence, like his successful appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

The truth is, it’s not only unrealistic to expect him to be our knight in shining armor, it’s antithetical to the spirit of true liberty and democracy.

The 21st century is about the redistribution of power in all its forms, including wealth, politics and energy.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and we have to create change ourselves—in our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our stores, and in local politics.

We have to change our relation to the natural world, which has long held the sad position of totally disrespected base in the patriarchal white hierarchy.

No one is going to do this for us—not Obama, and not even Jill Stein.  We have to do it ourselves, and the time to start is now.

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