Sunday, August 24, 2008


This commentary was published in The Fargo Forum on Sunday August 24, 2008.

New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We don’t have a ‘gasoline price problem.’ We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports…destroying plants and animals at record rates…..”

More fundamentally our problem is that six billion people (10 billion by 2050) are addicted to the consumption of our alive, interconnected, and interdependent planet.

That is not sustainable.

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., wrote, "A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.” Sustainability is the moral issue of this generation.

We will change how we think, and we will figure out how to live sustainably on this planet or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen. If we change, we will renew our economy, restore American global leadership, and help save the planet. We will experience a new renaissance of ideas and an indefinite future. Nothing less will save our way of life and perhaps the young of today and the unborn of tomorrow.

People I believe (Al Gore, scientist Jim Hanson, philosopher Daniel Quinn, & explorer Will Steger) say we have 10 to 40 years to change. If we don’t change, the momentum that carries us to possible extinction will be too great to overcome. Without change, within 200 years we may perish as a species or a few islands of prosperity and privilege may survive surrounded by a sea of misery and violence. We need to move quickly and boldly.

We are experts at denial. We like quick and easy fixes to our problems. We expect magic or God to rescue us. No hero or heroine will rescue us. No miracle will save us. We are responsible for our collective fate. The great threats of climate change, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and global poverty have called for change for a long time. Are we ready to listen and to change how we live together on this planet?

Some signs offer hope. Global warming and the economic and national security threats posed by fossil fuels are in the forefront of our presidential election. As we consider which candidate’s vision for energy independence is best, consider Buckminster Fuller’s Law: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” In other words, we should not try to continue our dependence on fossil fuels. To do so only makes the problems greater. We should instead move to the solution on the other side of today’s problem and that is a full transformation to green energy sources.

Change will be difficult but ease or difficulty is not the issue. The question is: are we ready to change or not? If we are ready, we will get behind a new vision for the renewal first of the United States and then of the world and we will do what is necessary.

We put a man on the moon eight years after John Kennedy challenged the nation. We can be free of foreign oil and produce 100% of our electricity from renewable energy within 10 years.

Whatever we do, something spectacular is going to happen soon. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash.

Monday, August 11, 2008


We can sell our souls—be inauthentic and behave counter to our deepest purpose and values—to many things: fame, money, and power. John McCain sold out his “authenticity brand” recently to try to win a presidential election.

McCain promised a high-minded campaign against Barack Obama. That promise fit with the long nurtured image of McCain as a man who put personal honor and courageous authenticity at the center of his political identity.

Then Obama, goaded by McCain, went to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe. His highly publicized trip showcased his grace, dignity, strategic mind, and the hunger abroad for new American leadership.

The McCain camp suffered a collective nervous breakdown over Obama’s media coverage. McCain stammered and stuttered that Obama was wrong about the surge and didn’t understand what was at stake in Iraq. He attacked the media and demanded credit for himself.

In his outrage McCain made more of his famous gaffes saying Iraq borders Afghanistan. Pakistan, not Iraq, borders Afghanistan. The previous week McCain repeatedly referred to Czechoslovakia, a country that has not existed for 15 years. He misstated the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening. I

Over the next two weeks, an envy filled McCain set out to destroy Obama—the only way he thinks he can win. He willfully, intentionally, and with full knowledge of his own dishonesty (as documented by countless fact-checkers):

--Accused Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers in Germany,
--Called Obama a traitor who would lose a war to win an election,
--Put out a slimy Britney Spears and Paris Hilton ad filled with racist overtones. McCain’s 96 year old mother called the ad, “kinda stupid.”
--A Charlton Heston ad comparing Obama to God. David Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat said, "…when you see this Charlton Heston ad, ‘The One,’ that’s code for ‘he’s uppity, he ought to stay in his place.’”

The New York Times editorial page, “Both (ads) were designed to exploit the hostility, anxiety and resentment of the many white Americans who are still freakishly hung up on the idea of black men rising above their station and becoming sexually involved with white women.”

The goal of this character assassination is to raise Obama’s negatives with pivotal voting groups to give McCain the presidency. If McCain cannot win on the issues or on his own charisma, he will destroy Obama to win, just like Bush did to John Kerry.

I’ve watched McCain for many years. I’ve always thought of him as a man at war with himself, a man who struggled to be true to himself in the phony world of Washington politics. I’ve also experienced McCain as an angry and wounded man whose dark side often burst through in temper tantrums and ugly jokes and comments.

The ugly twin of the warrior who struggled to be authentic appears to be winning right now. His ambition to be president and his dark envy of the attention and celebrity of Obama override his better self. The more inauthentic John McCain is, the angrier he will become and the more unappealing he will be to the voters he seeks to manipulate.

For a man in his 70’s, McCain is remarkably immature. He parrots the words of the Karl Rove clones in his campaign. He appears bitter and desperate. What kind of president would such a malleable man be?

Voters need to remember that these kinds of politics brought America two terms of disastrous George Bush. McCain, who once said, “I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way” needs to get his dark side under control. Our nation’s problems demand a deep dialogue about the issues and the direction of this country. We need better from John McCain than his recent behavior.


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on Sunday August 10, 2008

In a recent column, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote, “I’ll say this about Senator Obama. He sure raises people’s hackles.” Leaders who represent change tend to do that.

Herbert continued, “I’ve never seen anyone so roundly criticized for such grievous offenses as giving excellent speeches and urging people of different backgrounds to take a chance on working together. How dare he? And 200,000 people turned out to hear him in Berlin. Unforgivable.”

We’ve watched the McCain camp sputter in outrage at Obama because he exposed McCain’s gaffes, flip-flops, and tired political games. Republicans call Obama unpatriotic because he wants to conclude a war Americans want to be rid of. McCain even blamed Obama for high gas prices--a dull-witted and clownish assertion. Each week McCain becomes grumpier and looser with the truth. America, in a time of crisis, needs better from McCain than dishonest and sophomoric attack ads that demean the McCain brand.

Powerful politicians invested in the old ways that no longer solves problems suffer hubris, entitlement, and intellectual laziness. They do not offer new solutions to problems. Instead they attack bold and imaginative leaders who offer new approaches to serious issues. Doesn’t Obama know his place?

Anger isn’t the only emotion those who attack Obama feel. Often they feel scared of the change he symbolizes. Obama calls for the renewal of America. This revitalization threatens ambitious politicians and special interests that benefit from the status quo--regardless of the harm to America. Others feel envious of the attention the political rock star receives and try to make people’s attraction to him a character defect. The McCain camps recent “nervous breakdown” over Obama’s successful overseas trip appeared to be fear and envy driven.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren wrote in A Letter to America: “The country we love is in trouble. In truth we are in grave danger of declining as a nation. If we do not act quickly, that decline will become dramatic.” Most Americans say they are unhappy with the direction of the country. Are we ready to do the work of sustainable change?

My experience as a change consultant tells me that most people don’t change willingly or easily; they want to feel better without doing the hard work necessary to improve the health and success of their lives, nation, and organizations. They want a painless and easy quick-fix.

A rule of thumb: 10% will do the work of real change. Another 10% will resist to the death, and the remaining 80% stand around docile and passive.

Pundits say this election will be a referendum on Obama. More broadly it’s a referendum on transformative change. He has to overcome his race, newness on the scene, resistance from the status-quo, and politicians who have left us cynical and disillusioned—no small task.

Most of all he has to confront Americans with the truth and seriousness of our problems and reassure the 80% that they are up to the challenges as Americans throughout history have demonstrated. He can do his part by offering a vision that represents our values and aspirations and arouses our courage.

Arctic explorer Will Steger told area residents last fall that he likes “do or die” situations and that we are in that situation now. And he was only talking about global warming. We also have two wars, a recession, a shrinking middle class, a health care crisis, and an educational system that does not prepare our students for a global economy.

Change has risk. It is riskier to not change. We need to channel our fear and pain away from childish attacks on those who can lead and into good works that renew the American spirit. The alternative for America is continued national decline that will grow increasingly frightening and painful.