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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Memos to Obama: Wisdom for Leadership

January 3, 2009

Tikkun - Berkeley,CA,USA
December 31, 2008
Robert Thurman: Eleven Pieces of Advice
Please indulge me at this world-crucial time to speak to you very bluntly and urgently, with fierce compassion.
Listen to but don’t follow the “experts” who got us into these messes. You are employing a lot of them in your noble and skillful “team of rivals” administration, but they must quickly see your light and turn around to use their skills for your no-nonsense realistic agenda, not be allowed to co-opt you into business as usual. Your strength comes from the millions of previously disaffected but intelligent and now enthusiastically engaged people, and you must not lose them by conceding to wrongly framed notions of “pragmatism.” I am offering eleven pieces of advice for you to consider at this moment. They are not all in a particular order of priority, since I am urging you to present them as objectives and make steps toward them right away, all at once.
1. Restore the media to its essential role, which it must fulfill to enable you to get your job done. To do this, you can revive the FCC to reinforce rules and break up monopolistic ownership of media outlets, restore the fairness doctrine (making licenses contingent on presenting opposing viewpoints), and energetically expand funding for PBS and world news.
2. Get out of Iraq ASAP. That is not “surrender” but “victory.” It is the victory of honesty and courage over stupidity and criminality. The point to be made is that this was an illegal invasion, and the doctrine of preemptive war is an illegal doctrine on the face of it. Encourage prosecution of Cheney and his neocon cronies who lied us into the war if they start to make too much noise.
3. Close the Guantánamo prison and make all forms of torture illegal once again, re-affirming the Geneva Conventions. Save the facility to be made over into a rehabilitation center for ex-dictators, like a high-end resort with serious therapy and sensitivity training. Be ready to give it back to Cuba if its leaders decide to behave in a more friendly way in the near future—this will involve them making reparations to the formerly wealthy Cuban families they expropriated long ago.
4. In Afghanistan, immediately call a regional conference of all parties. Shift some troops over from Iraq, but don’t send a lot of troops there. The big problem lies in Pakistan. Its Inter-Services Intelligence agency endangers everyone and fools no one except our previous leaders and some of our military. Buy all the Afghan farmers’ and warlords’ opium crops, and sell them to producers of anesthetics.
5. Make a new environmental treaty and put Al Gore in charge of making “no more carbon dioxide emissions within ten years” into a national goal, like putting a man on the moon. He can also be in charge of heading up a technocratic team of designers, engineers, and green researchers to forge a plan and get to work converting Detroit—with companies and unions working together as they do in Germany—into the world Mecca for electric cars. We should also produce our own high-speed rail cars and equipment, inviting foreign manufacturers to participate.
6. Go Keynesian! FDR-ian, if you prefer. Don’t let the shamelessly wasteful and mendacious big-government Republicans fool you into forced economic austerity when the people need their share of the money now. They have printed it madly for war and socialist bailouts for the rich—you must now print it yourself for the people: to rebuild the infrastructure and the middle class, health, education, and welfare. This is beyond liberal and conservative. As in the time of FDR, this is to forestall violent revolution and/or fascism. You need to match China’s $600 billion domestic infrastructure package with a package twice that size here in the United States. Do not give a single bank or financial company another single dollar without taking ownership, so the treasury makes back the money on the deals. If Summers and Geithner won’t agree with that, let them go quickly. (Call on Robert Reich, Van Jones, Amory Lovins, George Soros, and Hazel Henderson.)
7. Get the Israelis really to withdraw the settlements in the West Bank and dismantle their apartheid structures there. This will be really difficult and might require heavy missile subsidies and other forms of assistance to make them feel safe. Call in AIPAC along with all sorts of liberal Jews to an under-the-radar but substantial conference to change the futile aggressive policy of Likud etc. This is a great high-priority job for Hillary Clinton.
8. Don’t let the insurance companies buy small banks to get at the treasury moneys. Let Daschle move health care toward a single–payer system to make us cost-effective and globally competitive. Sell it to the business community as enabling them to create jobs without prohibitive health care costs.
9. Help Hillary make a powerful effort to befriend Putin and the Russians in order to work on all these problems: Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, and so on. Do not install any missiles in Poland, and restart the nuclear disarmament process. Empower the UN with full funding and make a huge international effort to heal the genocide in Congo, meanwhile getting Mugabe out of Zimbabwe and into the Gitmo therapy center (see #3). Take steps to moderate the ongoing strip-mining of African resources by China. Once we have a good reputation again, a friendship with Russia, and are no longer bleeding in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can persuade China to stop supporting the genocides in Tibet, Xinjiang, North Korea, Burma, and Darfur.
10. As a first step toward bridging our continental political divides, invite South American leaders to a special session of the Organization of American States (OAS). Make a special effort to meet with not just leaders friendly toward us, but also Chavez, Castro, Ortega, Morales, and Correa Delgado.
11. Stop the “War on Drugs” immediately (give the DEA Homeland Security work); medicalize the more dangerous drugs, such as heroin and amphetamines; and empty the prisons of nonviolent users by giving amnesty to all of them. This will result in huge financial savings and the termination of a huge hypocrisy from an alcoholic nation, all with the stroke of a pen, like FDR’s abolishment of prohibition.
Robert Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, president of Tibet House U.S., and author of Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness.
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