Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clean Coal Update: Monday's Toxic Ash Slide In Eastern Tennessee

Sometimes the synchronicity that takes place in this world is absolutely amazing! Over the past day or so, I had been working on and published here a sort of exposé on the myth of clean coal; this, in response to a letter that appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Times on December 9, which propagated the myth of clean coal. The letter was authored by Paul Chodak, the President and Chief Operating Officer at SWEPCO in Shreveport. This afternoon, while browsing some of my favorite websites, I stopped at the Democracy Now site and came upon one of today's leading headlines, which reads, "Spill at Tennessee Coal Plant Creates Environmental Disaster." The following paragraph came after the headline:

"Parts of Tennessee remain buried under toxic sludge today after a major disaster at a coal plant. A forty-acre pond containing toxic coal ash has collapsed, spilling out millions of gallons of coal ash. Environmentalists say the spill is more than thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez, but the story has received little national attention. Greenpeace is calling for a criminal investigation."

The spill, reportedly occurred on Monday when a forty-acre pond containing highly-toxic coal ash collapsed. An estimated 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled out of its containment area. Approximately 400 acres of land is now buried under some six feet of dangerous sludge. Homes and roads are buried under the toxic mixture and reportedly, some of the sludge has made its way into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides water to municipalities and serves as drinking water to millions of people downstream in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

The spill, which occurred just west of Knoxville at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tennessee, a plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), has received almost no attention in the national media. Similar disasters, which have taken place during recent years and decades in Appalachia, also received little national media attention. Could it be that vital information is being withheld from the public in order to allow the coal industry's "clean coal" propaganda to proceed without any serious debate? If so, the news media is seriously failing in its responsibility to keep the public informed on vital issues.

One thing is for sure: The American people need to know about this recent disaster. There can be no real debate about a national energy policy when the public knows nothing about this dark side of the clean coal myth.

Here are a couple of links for more information on this coal-ash spill:

Click here for a link to Democracy Now's coverage in text and streaming video.

Here is more information from the TVA's own website (includes flyover video footage at the bottom of the page).

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dark Side of Clean Coal

I have always loved trees, and I feel that over the years, I have at times expended great effort to protect them. Last September however, when Fayetteville took a direct hit from the remains of Hurricane Ike, I had a rather new experience with some of the trees around my cabin as the wind and rain brought three or four of them down upon the cottage that I live in. Fortunately, there was very little damage. It could have been much worse.

After the storm, I looked at some of the trees that still stood directly in back of and in close proximity to the house. They were of the same type that came down and gave me such a harrowing night during Ike - tall, and of that invasive species known as the Tree of Heaven, or more scientifically, Ailanthus altissima. Looking closely at them, I could see that the direction they were leaning in, or their center of gravity, made them a further threat to the cottage; another wind or ice storm could easily bring them down upon me - perhaps, even as I slept. Much to my personal consternation, I decided that they had to go; and, they did a few days ago.

Even though these trees were of a prolific and invasive species, I took no pleasure in seeing them go. Now, when I step outside my back door, I see the stumps where the trees once stood, the stumps surrounded only by sawdust. Seeing the destruction that I caused, even though it was necessary, leaves me with a feeling of sadness. There is a new scar upon the Earth, and it's right outside my back door. Now, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring when some of the tall grasses that present themselves there each year will grow back and will begin to heal the scar.

Being of such a sensitive nature, at least in an environmental sense, it's difficult for me to imagine that there are many people that, when pushing their industry's agenda upon the general public, will conceal many of the facts about that industry's environmentally-destructive nature. At this point in time, I am particularly talking about the propaganda coming forth from the Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) as it pushes for the construction of the
John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant in Hempstead County; a plant, that SWEPCO claims will burn so-called "clean coal."

On December 9, a letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Times that was authored by Paul Chodak, the President and Chief Operating Officer of SWEPCO in Shreveport. During the course of his letter, Mr. Chodak presented the typical selling points of those promoting clean coal. Near the end of the letter he said, "We take seriously our responsibility to protect the environment as we work to bring the latest technology to the region to provide reasonably priced and reliable electricity to our customers."

What Mr. Chodak failed to mention is that the process for producing coal, including so-called clean coal, often involves one of the most environmentally-destructive operations on Earth. This process is called mountain-top removal coal mining, and it is seriously impacting many parts of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains with environmental desecration that not only harms wildlife, but threatens entire communities as well. Mountain-top removal mining has been referred to as "strip mining on steroids." Much of the Appalachian's scenic beauty is being destroyed by this process.

Through this process the forest, and often most of a mountain, is first clear-cut and stripped of virtually all vegetation. Then the top 800 to 1,000 feet of the hill are bulldozed away and the top is completely leveled. The resulting debris is then pushed over the side and deposited into the valleys and streams below, thus polluting and damming up streams that are used for fishing, or even eventually, municipal water supplies.

Large amounts of water and toxic chemicals are used in order to supposedly, wash or clean the coal. At a time when demand and competition for clean water continues to grow, large amounts of it are permanently taken out of circulation and are stored in large slurry ponds - reservoirs of thick liquid and toxic waste. These slurry ponds often jeopardize public safety.

On October 11, 2000, one such slurry impoundment gave way spilling an estimated 300 million gallons of toxic sludge near Inez, Kentucky.
The EPA referred to the Inez spill as the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States as the toxic mixture fouled some 100 miles of waterways and buried parts of the community under seven feet of coal sludge. On February 26, 1972, a coal-waste dam burst in Logan County, West Virginia. According to reliable reports and eyewitness testimony, over 132 million gallons of sludge barreled through some 16 coal-mining communities along Buffalo Creek, thus killing 125 people and leaving another 4,000 homeless.

There are good reasons to oppose the use and further mining of coal that go way beyond the singular discussion of air quality that industry executives such as Mr. Chodak would like to keep us focused on. These represent an even darker side to the story than most of the public ever gets to hear about. Still, just because these concerns are never addressed by industry personnel does not mean that they are not valid. There is no such thing as clean coal!

It's likely that not everyone will have the same environmental sensitivity as I do. We are all different and every individual has his or her own way of looking at things. Still, it seems to me that the deliberate covering up or downplaying of potentially catastrophic processes such as mountain-top removal coal mining with the use of phrases such as "clean coal," carries the topic away from one of sensitivity to one of downright deception by the electric and coal industries. The public needs to know all of the truth, not just a part of it.

Please note: Both photos courtesy of Vivian Stockman / , and the flyover courtesy of .

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Obama National Security Team: A Look into the Crystal Ball

On Monday, President-Elect Obama went public with his choices for the nation's new national security team, and these choices don't bode very well for those who voted Mr. Obama into office in order to bring about real change - particularly as regards foreign policy. The president-elect's choices include his former presidential race opponent and hawk on the Middle-Eastern affairs Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the current Secretary of Defense and Bush appointee Robert Gates, and the long-time friend of John McCain and former Marine Corp and NATO Commandant General James L. Jones as National Security Adviser.

There are many who are currently praising Mr. Obama's choices. These include the former Speaker of the House and author of the Contract With America Newt Gingrich, and war criminal Henry Kissinger; these praises come particularly in regard to the appointment of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. In the context of the growing threat of world-wide terrorism, these appointments do not bode well for either the reversal of our nation's never-ending quest for empire, or the elimination of the root causes of terrorism and anti-Americanism. "But wait," some have said. "Didn't we experience peace and prosperity during the administration of Bill Clinton?" If so, the reasoning goes, what could possibly be wrong with appointing the knowledgeable Hillary as Secretary of State, and what would be wrong with bringing former members of the Clinton Administration into the new Obama Administration?

The answer to that may lie in the fact that during the 90's, even though we enjoyed the illusion of peace, anti-Americanism and outright anger against us was growing. Perhaps this growing anger was a bit under the radar for awhile, but it should have become evident to us on October 12, 2000 when a suicide bomber attacked the U.S.S. Cole at the Yemeni port of Aden. On that day, 17 Americans were killed and another 39 were injured in the attack. While the Sudanese government was ultimately credited with being liable for the attack, it was Al-Qaeda that carried it out. Clearly, discontent with U.S. policy in the Middle East had become evident at that time.

What specific policies could have brought about this anger? On August 6, 1990 the United Nations, supported by the United States, put an almost total trade and economic embargo against Iraq, which at that time, was under the control of our former ally, Saddam Hussein. The embargo, while originally designed to force Hussein out of Kuwait, was kept in place until after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the period after the first Gulf War, and during his entire administration, President Clinton made no effort to remove the embargo or to lessen its effect upon the Iraqi people. The effect of that embargo upon ordinary citizens in Iraqi, particularly children, was horrific. Wikipedia puts it this way:

"The sanctions resulted in high rates of malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and diseases from lack of clean water. Chlorine, was desperately needed to disinfect water supplies, but it was banned from the country due to the potential that it may be used as part of a chemical weapon. On May 10, 1996, Madeleine Albright (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time) appeared on 60 Minutes and was confronted with statistics of half a million children under five having died as a result of the sanctions. She replied "we think the price is worth it..."

On March 16, 2003 Rachel Corrie, a young U.S. citizen from Olympia, Washington who had traveled to Gaza as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was run over and killed by a Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer operated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as she sat in its way in order to protest the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government in the Gaza strip, a practice routinely carried out by the Israeli forces against Palestinians. Before her death Corrie, in a March 14 interview with the Middle East Broadcasting Company said, ""I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive ... Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with."

While the Israeli military and government claimed that Rachel Corrie's death was an accident, ISM eyewitnesses tell a different story. Regardless of the actual circumstances of her death however, e-mails she sent back home tell the story of her grief and total disbelief over the human-rights abuses the Palestinians face in Gaza on a day to day basis - all of this with the full support of the U.S. Government. You can read her e-mails, as published in The Guardian by clicking here and here. Rachel Corrie, bye the way, has been praised by those who knew her as an "extraordinary" person.

In 2005 then Senator Hillary Clinton stood in Palestine and praised the construction of an apartheid wall by the Israeli Government - a project, which was carried out with large amounts of U.S. aid. This wall, which the United Nations World Court has declared as contrary to international law, has in recent weeks, been used to cut off the Palestinian population from shipments of food, fuel for the generation of electricity, and other necessary supplies. None of President-Elect Obama's national security team appointees has ever, to the knowledge of this writer, uttered a single word of protest over Israel's policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people.

To a fairly large extent, Barak Obama owes his election victory to the anti-war faction of the American public; for it is this segment of the population that has been crying out for change since at least 2001, and more forcibly, since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. It is this segment of the population that realizes the continued control of another sovereign people in Iraq will only continue to spur resentment and insurgencies against us. It is this segment of the American voting public that sees immorality in the continuation of bombing attacks against entire villages in Afghanistan; this in order to kill one or two terror suspects. Terror is in the eyes of the beholder, and the causing of such widespread death and destruction of a largely innocent civilian population might be considered a form of terrorism in and of itself; particularly, by those most affected by it. Yet, from the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff to Joseph Biden as his running mate, and from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to the continuation of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, Barak Obama is filling his national security team and his cabinet with war hawks; there's not a solitary voice for peace among them.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama often spoke of Martin Luther King and the dreams and aspirations that he presented to the American people. Dr. King however, was not only a civil-rights activist; he cared deeply about the creation of peace and justice for all of humanity as well. On April 4, 1967 Dr. King delivered a speech at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City. During that address and in referring to U.S. involvement in Vietnam at the time, he put it this way:

" "Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

In all fairness to Mr. Obama, he did say that the the buck stops at his desk - that he will be the decision maker. Additionally, the man hasn't even been sworn into office yet and therefore, his actions cannot rightly be judged until he begins setting policy. Still, with the choices made concerning his national security team, at least up to this point, the future doesn't bode very well for any significant change. One only has to look at the terror attacks that took place last week in Mumbai, and the growing potential for war between India and Pakistan as a result of those attacks - two long-time rivals armed with nuclear weapons, to realize the wisdom of Dr. King's words. We can only hope that when Barak Obama becomes president, he will take those words to heart.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


It is Thanksgiving morning in Fayetteville. The early-morning air is cool and crisp. The sun, having made its way over Mount Sequoyah, holds the promise of yet another beautiful day in the Ozarks. It's unusually quiet for a Thursday morning. Many are out of town; most are out of work for the day or weekend. For many of those who remain, the hours ahead hold the promise of the Macy's Parade, in which the Fayetteville High School band will be participating, football, visits with family and friends; and of course, Thanksgiving dinner. There's trouble in India, but for the moment, it is unable to break the holiday's spell.

On a morning such as this, it is difficult to believe that just a couple of days ago there was so much excitement in the air due to Fayetteville's mayoral race and the runoff election between Dan Coody and Lioneld Jordan. I was at the Jordan campaign's watch party, which was held at Uncle Gaylord's Tuesday evening. The restaurant was filled, not only with Lioneld's campaign team, but many hopeful supporters as well.

At around 9:00 p.m. former alderman Don Marr announced the final election results. Mr. Jordan had won the election by a bit more than 57 percent of the vote. At that moment, the scene turned to one of total pandemonium. It was reminiscent of the jubilation that took place in the Fayetteville Town Center when Barak Obama defeated John McCain; there were jubilant screams, tears of joy, high fives, hugs, and plenty of congratulations. Not being one that enjoys crowds, especially those that are loud and celebratory, I stayed at Uncle Gaylord's only long enough to listen to Lioneld's victory speech. Then, I headed back toward the Square, not only to retrieve my vehicle, but also to share the election results with anyone who might have been interested at Tim's Pizza/West Mountain Brewing Company .

As I approached my destination I could see a silhouetted figure standing on the dimly-lit sidewalk outside of Tim's. It was Mayor Dan. He was standing by himself -almost sadly; at least, that was the impression I had at the time. This was a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand, I, like the others who had supported the Jordan campaign, was feeling quite jubilant. Still, I could not help but have some remorse over Dan Coody's loss. There had been a time some years ago during which I had put a lot of my hopes and support into Dan Coody's efforts to win a mayoral election against the then incumbent Fred Hannah. When I saw Mayor Dan standing there by himself, it was easy to imagine what he must have been thinking - all those years of hard work for Fayetteville only to be turned down by the voters. He congratulated me for Lioneld's win. We shook hands; I thanked him and all I could think of at the moment was to give him a tap on the shoulder and to mumble something about not really deserving the congratulations myself since I hadn't done "all that much" in the Jordan campaign.

At that moment I forgot my political disagreements with him and only felt our common humanity - our common love for Fayetteville. There was a loss for words. I wanted to say more to him, but the right words only came to me when I was inside the building and he was back with his supporters. A van had pulled up from one of the local TV stations, and I realized that I had lost the opportunity for any heart to heart discussion that I might have wanted to initiate.

I know that Dan Coody has done a lot of good things for Fayetteville and during that bittersweet moment my thoughts suddenly hearkened back to an interesting encounter that occurred for me last week when one late afternoon, I walked into the brewing company and was introduced to a man that turned out to be the mayor of another Northwest Arkansas city, who I'll simply refer to as Mayor M (for mystery).

As it turned out, Mayor M and I talked for hours that night; yet, the time absolutely flew by for me as I found myself challenged with hypothetical political scenarios in order to see how I, as an imaginary member of his city council, would react. We also spoke about Fayetteville's mayoral runoff election. His opinion was that in the end, Mayor Dan would win a third term. During this particular discussion he related a story concerning some sort regional conference - perhaps a solid-waste conference, that he attended. His tale revolved around Dan Coody's participation in that particular event and how impressed he was that our city's highest-elected official stuck to his guns and pushed for implementation of the greenest program possible. "Although you may be supporting the other candidate," he told me, "remember the things that Dan Coody has done for Fayetteville." A bit later, we said our goodbyes and we both headed for home.

Yesterday afternoon, as I went into West Mountain, one of the wait staff came up to me while opening a folder. Inside the folder were a note and a ten-dollar bill. Both were from Mayor M, who had apparently come in looking for me. With the bill came the instructions to have a couple of drinks and to leave whatever was left with the bartender for a tip. The contents of the note are as follows:

"Congrats on election - don't forget all the good things Dan did. I wanted to drink with you but cannot stay. You'll have to drink them both." - Mayor M

On this Thanksgiving morning I have a lot to think about and a lot to be thankful for. While I am rejoicing in Lioneld Jordan's victory this week, I have had a very poignant reminder that, despite my reasons for no longer supporting him, Dan Coody has done a lot for Fayetteville over these past eight years. It didn't hurt to have this perspective reinforced by someone who lives outside our community - from someone who understands the challenges that all mayors and community leaders face.

The last two evenings have been very bittersweet for me. The particulars of the election are behind us now and hopefully, I can put my disagreements with the outgoing mayor aside. So perhaps, I can resolve the conflicting feelings that reside within me by saying, "Congratulations on your big win Lioneld, and Dan, thanks for the good you've done in helping to keep Fayettevile a good place to live."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A "Half-Baked Vote? Not really!

There must be something strange in the ventilation system at the Northwest Arkansas Times this week that seems to be causing some of that newspaper's editorial writers to take on what appears to be a mean-spirited attitude toward well-meaning political activists in the Fayetteville area. Earlier this week, the Times lashed out at supporters of Lioneld Jordan by referring to them as being "extremists" and on "the fringe." On Wednesday, in its November 19 edition, the Times published an editorial entitled Half Baked Vote, which devalued both the hard work of Sensible Fayetteville in its efforts to bring an initiative before Fayetteville's voters that would make simple possession of marijuana a low priority for police and the overwhelmingly positive voter response to that initiative. The above-mentioned editorial went so far as to refer to the Low Priority Initiative that was approved by Fayetteville voters overwhelmingly as a "wholly worthless measure," and questions why legalization proponents don't instead, work toward changing state laws.

It would seem that whoever wrote the above-mentioned editorial must be totally unaware of the fact, that for the most part, those working for sensible marijuana laws have faced setback after setback in their decades-long struggle to achieve passage of more just marijuana laws. Sure, some states did decriminalize simple possession during the 1970's, but since then, pressure and propaganda coming from the federal government has done much to undermine even those state laws. Several years ago, voters in California changed their state laws by passing a proposition for legalized medical marijuana. Recent actions by the federal government has demonstrated that it has little respect for the will of the people in that state as its law-enforcement agencies have conducted raid after raid against growing and dispensing operations that are now legal under that laws of that state. Further, after decades of almost hysterical anti-pot advertising campaigns, often paid for by the federal government and various private organizations, how many politicians are willing to work with advocacy groups for laws that would bring about decriminalization? Most politicians will not sponsor such legislation; it is considered to be political suicide to do so.

The Times article attempts to link marijuana possession with violent crime as it calls into memory an alleged incident in which a young couple shot and killed someone who they believed stole their pot. While such situations though very rare, might occur from time to time, one must keep in mind that, more often than not, it is the illegality of the substance and the inability of a victim to seek a legal remedy that causes violent behavior; this much more so than the physical influence of the substance itself. Few will argue that the use of tobacco, as it is currently sold and marketed, is a healthy activity for a person to take part in. Yet, if a business owner believes that someone has stolen several cartons of cigarettes from his or her store, a legal remedy exists. There is no need to go after the accused. Such situations are usually handled by the police - a legal remedy.

If one considers that the prohibition of the 1920's spawned a huge growth in organized crime and violent crime, how much of a stretch would it be to consider that the legalization of marijuana, a relatively-benign herb, would put a stop to much of the violence relating to its distribution. Mexican drug cartels likely wouldn't be holding shootouts on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, that troubled city just across from El Paso, because they could simply call the police to protect their legal activity. Further, one only needs to look at the model that has been advanced for some years now in the Netherlands where pot is openly sold in the coffee shops of Amsterdam; this, with the support of that country's government. Isn't if interesting to see how this enlightened approach to marijuana use has eliminated any violence surrounding it?

"How much longer before one makes the argument that if possession isn't a big deal, how can society really make a big deal out of someone having 28 pounds of marijuana to supply those individuals who only want to have a joint or two," the Times article asked. It would seem that the Dutch model pretty much eliminates that argument. Further, what about the tobacco vendors who service those who only want one or two packs of cigaretts per day or so? Why is the vendor of one product treated with respect while the other is considered evil?

All the above and other arguments aside, there is one final point that, in the opinion of this writer, puts to rest the Northwest Arkansas Times' contention that the recently-passed Low Priority Initiative is a totally worthless measure. It comes from our founding document, The Declaration of Independence; and, while that document in and of itself was intended as a legal separation from the political ties that bound the thirteen original colonies to Great Britain, the principals contained within it are not currently legally binding. Still, these are the principals upon which our nation was founded.

In the declaration's second paragraph, while speaking about certain unalienable rights, goes on to say the following: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

On November 4, the governed of Fayetteville, with a strong majority of 66 percent, spoke on this low-priority issue; and, as evidenced by the results of that election, they withdrew their consent for the continuation of business as usual in this regard. The "consent of the governed" no longer exists for the continuation of marijuana arrests for simple possession by adults. Statements concerning this withdrawal of consent must now be sent to state as well as federal officials on a yearly basis in order that they be reminded on a regular basis that the consent of the governed has been withdrawn. The editors at the Northwest Arkansas Times may consider this to be a "wholly worthless measure," but for those who believe in principal, it is huge.

In order to change entrenched belief systems and affect the vast majority of politicians who would resist decriminalization efforts by groups such as Sensible Fayetteville, preliminary first steps must be taken. That's how you open the door. With voter approval on November 4, the doorway to future changes in Arkansas' marijuana laws has been opened. That is significant.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Word About Estremists

It was some time back in the late 80's or early 90's when I found myself working with a friend at the home of an elderly lady - one of his regular yard work customers. My friend and I were both self-employed at the time, and would occasionally request the other's services when an especially big or complicated job would present itself.

At some point on this particular day, the lady of the house came up to me and said, "I know who you are. You're one of those troublemakers!"

The woman's comment certainly took me somewhat by surprise, especially since I'm not ordinarily considered by others in the community as being one who causes trouble. At the time, I was raising a child by myself and was working for a living instead of going on welfare. Furthermore, my own residential customers considered me to be impeccably honest and would regularly give me access to their houses and refrigerators when they were not at home. Still, I knew the source of the lady's misconceptions about me; it was the Northwest Arkansas Times, which at the time, had been running news stories and editorials that described various activists (myself included) as "aginers" and extremists.

Yes, I was labeled extreme by both the city administration and the editorial board of the local newspaper. I was on the outer fringes because one day, while sitting on my front porch reading The Scarlet Letter, a vehicle went by spraying a foul chemical as it went down the the street; this, without regard to my or anyone else's health or the small mimosa tree that I had been nurturing just a few feet from my front yard. I clearly remember having to evacuate my front porch and retreating to the back yard as each breath I took made me progressively more nauseous. When I set out with a group of people to put a stop to this reckless spraying that the city was engaged in, I became an extremist. When I became politically active and started talking about the relationship between unbridled growth and potential increases in the crime rate as well as the need for the city to adopt sustainable policies, my reputation as a troublemaker was solidified.

Those were the good old days alright! It was a time during which deeply caring about one's environment and community could get you labeled as an extremist - a person that any self-respecting member of the community ought to stay clear of - whose opinions they should never listen to.

Quite frankly, I thought that those days were long past. I had hoped that our local newspaper had long ago moved beyond the character-denigrating assaults of the old days. Then, an editorial appeared in the November 16 issue of the Times that was entitled "In the balance Coody is Fayetteville's best choice. The editorial not surprisingly, endorses Mayor Dan Coody's bid for a third term as Fayetteville's highest elected official. It's not the paper's endorsement of Mr. Coody that bothers me as much as the way in which the editorial board described those supporting Mayor Dan's opponent, Lioneld Jordan.

The Northwest Arkansas Times put it this way: "Many of Jordan's core backers are former Coody supporters upset that Coody hasn't been the extreme liberal leader they wanted."

After reading that statement I came to the realization that there must be some comprising that newspaper's editorial board who still do not get it. If these people actually spent time getting to know area activists and listening to them instead of denigrating their character, they might have learned that the disconnect from Mayor Coody has nothing to do with his compromises or not being extreme enough. Rather, it has everything to do with the way in which he uses people and their issues, only later to throw them away like an old shoe, or to violate agreements with them when it's convenient. A perfect case in point occurred several years ago when Mayor Coody, after the Chamber of Commerce and the environmental community each compromised to support the recommendations made by the Mayor's Task Force on Wilson Springs, and after the recommendations were adopted by the City Council, decided to sell those wetlands to a developer behind every one's back. Talk about a slap in the face!

The Times editorial went on to say, "Most residents, however, want and need elected representatives - especially mayors - who take the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on. They have their own lives and want government that is accessible when they want to talk, but don't want to battle the city's fringe forces for control. With Jordan in office, the extreme will have a far, far more active role in dictating Fayetteville's direction."

Now, we're not only extremists, but we've become the fringe forces as well! Does the author of this article actually believe that we so-called extremists don't have jobs and other responsibilities to take care of as other people do? We show up and participate because we care enough to do so. This is a right that every citizen of Fayetteville can and ought to exercise. Perhaps the writer of this editorial should consider the mess that our country has gotten into within just eight years. How did this happen? Perhaps it's because "we the people" trusted the politicians in Washington, D.C. along with what is now considered by many to be a criminal regime to run rampant over our Constitution, the environment and the sovereignty of other nations. The Bush Administration and their corporate cronies did just as the Times editorial suggests; they took "the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on."

Of course, they didn't really campaign on many of these issues. Instead, they fed "we the people" lie after lie while they ran our country, its constitution, and its stated principals right into the ground. Far too many non extremists trusted the government, and they got hell in return. So too, should the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial board keep in mind the words of another who was called an extremist during his time. I am referring to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of our country, who once said that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

It is a sad day in Fayetteville, now that our local newspaper has once again, lowered itself to devaluing the character and opinions of certain members of the community due to their political opinions. It's a sad day when one picks up the paper to once again see him/herself labeled as an extremist in the very newspaper that he or she buys or subscribes to.

The pontificating author of the above-mentioned editorial might do well to consider that it has always been the so-called "extremists" that have moved our country forward. During various times in our history it was the abolitionists of the nineteenth century who fought against slavery and later, the women who worked with determination in order to win the right to vote that were called and treated as extremists. More recently, it was Martin Luther King, who marched for the rights of his people and for world-wide justice that was considered to be extremist. He paid the ultimate price for being a part of the so-called fringe. Yet, because of the efforts of people such as these, many women and African Americans were able to cast their ballots two weeks ago in order to elect our first African-American president.

On election night, as I listened to Barak Obama's acceptance speech, I gazed upon the countless happy faces - faces of all colors bursting with pride in their country and fellow Americans. These were celebrating an historic event - a turning point in our history. I say thank God for the extremists! Where would we be without them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Night To Remember

As I sat near the end of the bar at Urban Table, the place where Lioneld Jordan's watch party was being held, I stared at the three TV sets that were set before me. Each one had on a channel that was offering election-night coverage, both local and national, yet none of the three was giving me any information that could alleviate my growing frustration. The counting of the local contests appeared to stop somewhere between 5 and 11 percent of the total vote tally. On the national scene, many of the eastern states were showing up on the map as blue, while those in the Midwest were painted in red. Florida was undecided. "God! I hope it's not happening all over again. Why hasn't Florida reported? The results should be in by now," I stated to the person sitting next to me.

"You know why they haven't reported yet. Ol' Jeb just didn't know how to steal an election the right way." His response did nothing to calm my fears and my anxiety continued to grow.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to speak to her. When I turned back toward the three televisions once again, the magic words were spread across one of the screens - "Barak Obama Elected President of the United States."

At first, I thought that the words were being showed as some kind of joke, or an exposition of what could be. How could it have been anything else? After all, only seconds before, Obama still needed some 64 electoral votes in order to claim victory. Then the shouts of jubilation began to spread throughout the premises. At that moment it occurred to me that our long national nightmare would soon come to an end. The American people had spoken; they expressed their desire to leave the dark and anti-life policies of the neo-cons behind.

I left Urban Table and went back to the Town Center across the street in order to see what was happening at the Democrat's watch party. Upon arriving, I walked into a scene of near pandemonium. There were shouts of joy coming from all quarters, high fives and hand shakes were given freely, and the pure joy being expressed could hardly be contained within the confines of the building.

I wanted to watch Barak Obama's acceptance speech in the peace and quiet of my own living room. Still, on my way back to the car, I couldn't resist running into West Mountain Brewing Company in order to give M, one of the bartenders, my own special brand of Woo-hoo! He looked at me a bit strangely; then, I was on my way home.

That's my personal story about election night 2008, but undoubtedly, everyone who was out last night or participated in this historic election likely has their own to tell. The evening of November 4 was unusually warm and memorable. As with every election perhaps nobody is completely satisfied with the way the chips fell, so to speak. There were various amendments to the state constitution, initiatives, and many candidates running for various offices. As we all know, there are always winners and losers in elections. Usually however, we get some of what we want, but not everything. That's the way it was for me.

Still, I would like to congratulate all of those who participated and worked hard for change - regardless of their contest's outcome. At risk of showing my own personal biases, I would like to congratulate the following people and organizations for jobs well done:

* Green Party candidates Abel Tomlinson and Rebekah Kennedy, who both ran good campaigns against major-party candidates for the Congress and the U.S. Senate respectively, and who earned very respectable percentages of the vote in their races.

* Ryan Denham and Sensible Fayetteville, for working so diligently to make arrests for adult marijuana possession a low priority in Fayetteville. Congratulations on your impressive win!

*Don Connor from Ward 1, who ran an honorable race in order to bring new ideas to the city council.

Candy Clark, who after being forced from the Fayetteville Planning Commission by the Coody Administration, defeated
James Reavis in his bid to the Washington County District 5 J.P. position.

* Sarah Lewis, who won the bid for Lioneld Jordan's Ward 4 seat.

* Bernard Sulliban, who also ran a good campaign for the Ward 4 position. May you continue in your quest to sit on the city council. Seek and you shall one day find - and deserve.

* Last but certainly not least, I would like to congratulate Lioneld Jordan for running an excellent campaign - a campaign that has forced a run-off election between himself, and incumbent Dan Coody.

Yes, it will be two more weeks of political agony for the two final contenders in Fayetteville's mayoral contest. For those who voted in yesterday's election, it is very important that you all return to the polls one more time in order to decide whether Fayetteville will continue with its current mayor, or bring a new administration to City Hall. For Fayetteville's voters who participated in the November 4 election, there is still a bit more work to do on November 25. I hope to see you at the poll.

To everyone else who participated in this historic election, either by petitioning, campaigning, or voting, good work!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Not So Free Election

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

"Take off your cell phone, take out your change and your keys, take off the belt, and put them all in the container," the officer said to me. I complied with the deputy sheriff's directive and walked through the metal detector; this, in spite of my resentment of having to do so. Was I at the county jail attempting to visit someone at his cell or in the visiting center? No, I was actually at the entrance to the Washington County Courthouse. I had just gotten back to Fayetteville the day before from a visit to Southern New England. I was emptying my pockets and getting scanned in order to exercise my right to vote - in this case, to early vote.

Early voting works for me. In recent years, my polling place has seemed to change with just about every election. The school-board elections seem to be held in one place, special elections in another. Sometimes I have to vote at the church on Sixth Street, and at other times, in my own neighborhood. One time, I went to the church where I had voted on numerous occasions, only to learn that my voting place had been moved to the public library. Shortly afterward, the public library moved - you get the picture. Voting became a subject of great confusion for me - a hassle, so I was really glad when early voting became an option. I would always be able to vote at the same place, and as an added bonus, I would avoid the long lines that I had often faced when going to the regular polling places.

The post 9/11 world we now find ourselves living in has certainly put a damper on my enthusiasm for early voting as two or three years ago, the Washington County Quorum Court decided to secure the courthouse by installing a metal detector manned with sheriff deputies at the main entrance. The choice one now faces when attempting to enter the building is simple; either a person must separate him or herself from all the metal objects that he or she is carrying, wearing, etc. or else be refused entry into the courthouse. Either be searched and scanned, or don't vote or conduct any other business there. There are no other options.

As with all the other justifications used to destroy the Constitution and our civil liberties since September 11, 2001, Washington County officials claimed that the deputies and metal detector are necessary in order to make the courthouse safer - more secure. The measure was implemented in spite of the fact that, at least to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever attacked or attempted to conduct a terror attack upon the Washington County Courthouse.

The reasoning offered by the folks running the county is quite typical of that being offered all across the United States since the terror attacks upon the World Trade Center and Pentagon eight long years ago. At the core of such reasoning is a synergistic mix of a national paranoia over terrorism, a strong and almost pathological desire among many Americans to feel safe, and the desire by many in high places to both propagate and use this fear in order to accumulate more power unto themselves. Make no mistake about it, people of ill will can, and often will attack anytime and anyplace. Recent events have shown us that such places can include schools, post offices, hamburger places, our places of employment, or even at home. We receive no guarantees of perfect safety upon coming into this world. The only question is, how many of our rights and freedoms will we incrementally give up in order to live this illusion of safety - a false safety provided by those who, in many cases, do not have our best interests at heart.

Within the song entitled The Star Spangled Banner, which is our national anthem, are the words "land of the free, and the home of the brave. " This anthem is likely sung in every school and before almost ever major sporting event in the country. Yet, a gaze into reality shows that most Americans, rather than being brave by standing up for their freedom, are acquiescing to this continued onslaught against our dignity and constitutional rights. One can only imagine how much the American people are willing to give up in order to feel safe. Sure, it's a bit scary standing up to police officers or governmental agencies when they demand our rights on a silver platter, and it's true that many police officers and their departments are abusing their authority; all one has to do is remember the horrendous events that took place outside the Republican National Convention this past September. I would venture to guess however, that much of this abuse is likely due to the fact that the people have acquiesced so much already. The abusers are now reveling in their newfound power and over time, will likely carry it to further extremes.

Of course, I am not implying that the deputies at the Washington County Courthouse are being abusive, and some may think that I've gone off on some type of tangent here. Still, I have to wonder how many members of my community who are early voting this year are even considering that in order to exercise their right to vote, or at least to early vote, they must relinquish their Fourth Amendment right against warrant less unreasonable search and seizure. I find myself being forced to wonder just how many infringements upon their freedom Americans in general will acquiesce to before deciding that it was time to say "no more" a long time time ago.

Sadly, I too acquiesced last week. I did this with the knowledge that while there is power in numbers and solidarity with other people, neither the numbers nor the solidarity appeared to support my cause. As I was re-threading my belt through the loops on the waste of my jeans, I commented to a man standing next to me that the hassle of going through the metal detector is making me wonder if it's worth it to early vote at the courthouse. He didn't say anything, but as I began walking away one of the deputies called to me in with a hint of annoyance and authority in his voice. He said, "just remember before you come next time sir!"

I'll remember, I thought to myself, but I'll be remembering everything that we've lost over these past eight years.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" - From a letter written written in 1755 from the Assembly to the Governor of Pennsylvania

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Word On The Up-Coming Elections

One of the things that I've enjoyed about Fayetteville's Farmer's Market this season has been the prevalence of political activity and discussion. It is an election year of course, and at the market on any given Saturday candidates for the various political offices can be seen on just about every corner of the central square. During the course of this past summer and early autumn there have been petitioners present as well; these, seeking support for their various causes such as the Low Priority Initiative and the state-wide effort to prevent the construction of a coal-burning power plant in Hempstead County. Mix all this political activity with fresh locally-grown food, good music, and my usual mug of coffee and bagel and people like me feel as though we have found the promised land. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I really have enjoyed my visits to the market this year.

Since I have a reputation for being somewhat political people often approach me at the Farmer's Market or elsewhere in order to solicit my opinion on various political races or current events. Truth be told, I enjoy these encounters as I often enjoy fancying myself as a sort of political analyst or talking head. No, I never had any formal training in political analysis and I don't even know if any such training exists. I did study American federal government, political science and international relations in college however, so I do feel that I have a good enough grasp on the political world to make reasonably intelligent comments about it. Besides, I've seen political analysts with their predictions on network television fall flat on their faces enough times to realize that predicting the outcome of current and political events is a less than exact science. As a matter of fact, I consider it to be more of an art than a science. After all, human beings shape these events and we humans can be very - well, unpredictable . That said, I would like to offer my opinions on the presidential election as well as some of the races and issues that will affect those of us living in Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas.

At this point in time, many people seem to be expressing the opinion that they are sick and tired of hearing about the presidential race. The various contenders desiring residency in the White House began their campaigns late in 2006 or early 2007; and, while we have come down to the final three weeks of the campaign for the two finalists, it appears that to many, the presidential race is never going to end. After all, we've been hearing about it every day for almost two years now.

Wait a minute! Did I say the final two contenders? What a mistake that was! Actually, there are other intelligent men and women running for the White House. The problem is that we're simply not hearing about them. How much coverage has independent candidate Ralph Nader been receiving in the mainstream media? Or for that matter, how many talking points have we been allowed to hear from Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney or Libertarian Bob Barr? None of these contenders for the U.S. presidency or any other third-party candidates for that matter, have been invited to debate Barak Obama or John McCain in the nationally-televised debates; neither have their running mates been allowed to share the limelight with Senator Biden or Governmor Palin. Instead, the American people are being treated to debates that discuss almost nothing of any importance.

I have watched a couple of these so-called debates so far, and each time I have walked away from them with a profound feeling of nothingness. The candidates have argued about the financial crises but in reality, have said almost nothing concerning it of any consequence. There has been no discussion about the restoration of the U.S. Constitution and our civil liberties. Senators McCain and Obama have discussed and disagreed somewhat over the illegal occupation of Iraq, but agree that more belligerency and even militarism is the answer to most of the other situations we face in the world. Both are proponents of NATO expansion right up to Russia's borders, and both continue to repeat the lie of "Russian Aggression" in Georgia; this, even as the rest of the world recognizes that Georgia's President Saakashvili, with U.S. support, launched a genocidal assault upon Russian Peacekeepers and the civilian population of South Osettia; many of these civilians were Russian citizens.

Had at least some of the independent and third-party candidates been allowed into these presidential debates, the American people would realize that these candidates offer intelligent and well thought-out policies - policies, which could go very far in restoring our standing in the world as well as restoring the environment, achieving energy independence, and restoring our civil liberties. Of course, the mainstream media and both the Democratic and Republican Parties would prefer that the American people remain dumbed down to the fact that fundamentally, there is little difference between the two major political parties. This year's debates, if nothing else, guarantee that intelligent independent and third-party candidates will not have a shot at changing the disastrous policies that are undermining this country's standing in the eyes of the world, both economically and in foreign-policy matters.

That said, watching the McCain/Palin ticket in action is almost akin to watching a new episode of that old thriller, The Night Of The Living Dead. These two are truly a scary couple, and in spite of wide-spread disappointment of the Democratic Party's performance over the past two years, I predict that Barak Obama will be elected the next President of the United States; that is, as long as we have anything that approaches a fair election.

One truly interesting contest taking place here in Northwest Arkansas is the race for the Third Congressional District seat in Congress. The contestants are Republican incumbent John Boozman and Green Party Candidate Abel Tomlinson. One look at Tomlinson's website reveals a highly-intelligent and caring young man that proposes well thought-out programs and solutions to many of the problems we now face. It is not likely that we will see a Boozman/Tomlinson debate, although I happen to know that Mr. Tomlinson would like to have one. Still, considering that there is no Democrat involved in this particular race, the Tomlinson candidacy offers voters a clear choice between a conservative Republican that has supported President Bush almost all the time, and a true progressive. Further, this contest offers the Green Party a chance for not only more name recognition, but a chance to score well against a major-party candidate. While I don't consider it likely that Abel Tomlinson will defeat John Boozman, I do believe that he may well obtain some 30 percent of the vote. Who knows? He may even do better. After all, there are a lot of progressive people here who are not happy with Mr. Boozman's policies.

In the Senate race incumbent Mark Pryor has no Republican opposition. As in the Congressional contest however, he does face opposition from the Green Party with the candidacy of Rebekah Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy, a very knowledgeable young lady with a law degree, ran for State Attorney General two years ago. As in the congressional race, I do not believe that she will defeat Senator Pryor; after all, he is already an incumbent Democrat in a red state. In spite of his support of the Iraq invasion and many of President Bush's policies, many of Arkansas' conservatives consider him to be far too liberal. Therefore, it's not very likely that any informed conservative will vote for a Green Party candidate. More likely than not, such voters will either abstain or will go with Pryor. Still, I believe that Ms. Kennedy might be able to pull 15 percent of the vote in her direction. This would be a respectable outcome for a green running in such a conservative state.

In Fayetteville, there are six people running for the Mayor's position. These contenders include 19 year-old University Student Sami Sutton, first-time contender Adam Firecat, Walt Eliers, former State Attorney General Steve Clark, Alderman Lioneld Jordan, and of course, the incumbent Dan Coody. With six candidates running for Fayetteville's high office, it's unlikely that any one candidate will be able to win with over 50 percent of the vote in the general election. I believe that there will be a run-off election between Mayor Coody and Lioneld Jordan. Without trying to let any personal favoritism overtake my desire to be unbiased in terms of predicting the outcome of the mayoral race, I have been very impressed with the support that Mr. Jordan has been garnering. I have seen that support come from some unexpected places. I am also aware of a general feeling of discontent over the current mayor's running for a third term. Therefore, I believe that, when the final votes are counted on the night of the run-off election, Fayetteville will have a new mayor. His name will be Lioneld Jordan.

In the races for Fayetteville City Council there are contenders in three of the four wards. In Ward 1 the contest is between incumbent Brenda Thiel and Don Connor. Mr. Connor ran two years ago for the other Ward 1 position but lost in the first round of the three-way race; that is, if my memory serves me correctly. Given Thiel's connections to the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, her relationship with some inside of City Hall, and her centrist position on various issues, I believe that when the evening of November 4 arrives, the vote tally will be in favor of Ms. Thiel's bid to retain her seat.

The Ward 2 race is between Matthew Petty, a newcomer, and Mark Kinion, who has had some experience engaging the city government. If the so-called grapevine is any way in which to gage a contest, I will predict that Mr. Kinion will soon be sitting in the seat now held by Nancy Allen.

Alderman Bobby Ferrell's bid to retain his Ward 3 seat is unopposed (what is it about Ward 3 anyway?) but there is a three-person race for Lioneld Jordan's seat in Ward 4 between
Craig Honchell, a manufacturing engineer and volunteer for the public school system, Sarah Lewis, a former environmental science teacher, and Bernard Sulliban, a substitute teacher and political science major at the University of Arkansas. During the current campaign I have personally neither seen too much publicity concerning Mr. Honchell's campaign nor met him in person. Therefore, my sense is that the apparent lack of publicity concerning his bid for the Ward 4 seat may hurt his efforts.

I have met Bernard Sulliban however, and if I remember correctly, this is his third run for the City Council. He is a member of the Green Party and in my opinion, has made a good candidate
in each of the races he has participated in. It is unfortunate however, that in each of these races he has had the ill fortune of running against other good candidates who happened to be better known. In this case, I am talking about Sarah Lewis, who also has a record that qualifies her as a true voice for the environment. Additionally, Ms. Lewis has been on the Southwest corner at the Farmer's Market religiously every Saturday morning. This has given her and her platform a lot of public exposure, and the fact that she is both an intelligent and very attractive woman who could have chosen a career as a fashion model likely won't hurt her chances either. Therefore, it is my belief that Sarah Lewis will easily win the Ward 4 seat.

While I fully realize that county politics are important and impact our lives, it is the Washington County Quorum Court that I know the least about. I really don't know how I have managed to know so little about county politics for so many years, but the fact of the matter is that this is an area of local politics of which I don't know enough about in order to make any predictions. So, with no offense intended toward the contenders in any of the races for Justice of the Peace, I'm just going to pass the county races over.

In the District 89 race for a seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives the contest is between Democrat and incumbent Jim House, a county resident and Republican Gene Long of Springdale. While I don't claim to know too much about either candidate, I have heard some voices of general satisfaction among voters for the work that Mr. House has done. Add this factor to his being the incumbent, and I will predict that he will win his race to serve a second term in the State House.

There is an amendment on the ballot for a state lottery. Given the influence of evangelical voters in the State of Arkansas I believe that this initiative will fail.

Last but not least, Fayetteville voters will be voting on a Low Priority Initiative. This initiative, which was spearheaded by
Ryan Denham and Sensible Fayetteville, calls on the local police department to make marijuana arrests a low priority for simple adult possession of the substance. In reality, this initiative does not represent a change in the law. If it passes however, it will make a powerful statement to our local law-enforcement agency that "we the people" do not approve of any continuation of arrests for simple possession. Interestingly enough, there seems to be no organized opposition to the measure and signs supporting a yes vote are beginning to pop up all over town. I believe that this initiative will pass and likely, by a healthy majority of votes.

Well, there you have it. I have now offered my personal spin on the election that now lies only about three weeks before us. Locally,we have some very interesting contests and issues to decide. As regards the presidential election, it could be said that there is a lot at stake and that this could be the most important election of our lifetime. Think about this, and I hope that you will make your choices - all of them, wisely.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wasting Resources In A Time Of Crises

It was the first week in September and the Republican National Convention was in full swing while outside, the Saint Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, with the help of federal and state agencies, were arresting journalists and brutalizing those not in agreement with the Republican Party. Having already become saturated with information concerning the injustices taking place outside of the convention hall, I turned on the TV one evening in order to see just what was going on inside.

I knew that I wouldn't be able to stomach the proceedings for very long, but I hadn't considered that my very first view of the Republicans would be totally offensive; yet, I gasped in horror at what I saw. I don't remember who was speaking at the moment I tuned in, but it didn't matter. As the camera swept though the listening crowd, it exposed an absolute sea of signs that were being waved. These contained only a one-word message, which said "drill."

Ignored was the fact that the super-rich oil companies are already in possession of various leases or oil reserves from which they have so far not begun the extraction process; this, in order to control the price of their product. Also ignored was any consideration for the opinion of millions of Americans that beaches and certain environmental treasures should be kept intact without human interference. There seemed to be no opinion expressed anywhere inside the convention hall that conservation of our energy resources might be a viable option for moving toward energy independence; this, while exploring sources of renewable and sustainable energy. Sadly and unfortunately, the horrifying attitude expressed so succinctly at the RNC earlier this month seems to reflect the attitude of far too many Americans in general - Americans whose activities demonstrate a complete disconnect from the various crises that we, as a nation, are now facing.

Here's a case in point: This week, The City of Fayetteville is once again hosting that which has become one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the United States - Bikes, Blues & Barbecue. During this event, the population of Fayetteville swells by some four times the number of residents. During this four-day festival, the roar of thousands of motorcycles fills the air from mid-morning until well into the early-morning hours of the following day. While it's true that motorcycles are a very fuel-efficient means of transportation, the movement of literally thousands of them from all across the United States to Fayetteville, some of these transported on trailers pulled by trucks or other vehicles, must account for a sizable amount of gasoline used unnecessarily; this, during a time that has been described as a crises.

Even more unnecessary however, is the scheduled new event that is supposed to take place at this year's event. During the day and early evening hours of Friday and Saturday helicopter rides will be offered; this, so that interested parties will be able to see the crowds from the air. While there has been some public dissent over the notion of offering these flights, it has been due mainly to the perceived increase in noise levels that come as a result of the aircraft. There has been no public discussion that I know of concerning that which, in my opinion, is a disregard for the current energy crises that we are now facing.

It is not my purpose here to criticize motorcycle enthusiasts for wanting to get together in order to party, sell their wares, show off their bikes, or listen to bands such as the Allman Brothers. It does occur to me however, that mainstream Americans appear to be absolutely oblivious as to how the various crises we face, whether concerning energy, economic, or whatever, relates to them, their consumption habits, and the way in which they live in general. Certainly, holding such events as Bikes, Blues, & BBQ and offering helicopter rides at the event does nothing to bring down the price of gasoline. It's sad for me to stand on the sidelines watching however, as so many people seem to thoughtlessly continue with their wasteful habits while apparently, not giving any thought as to how their actions will impact everything and everyone around them. Perhaps, I think too much about what's at stake.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Last Public Hearing On Proposed Coal-Fired Power-plant

As many Arkansas Residents may already be aware, a lot of controversy has been generated by the proposal to construct two new coal-fired power-plants in Arkansas and a third in eastern Oklahoma. Two of these plants are the focus of current attention; these include the proposed Turk power-plant, which would be situated in Hempstead County Arkansas and the Oklahoma Plant.

On Thursday September 18, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will be holding its last public meeting for comments in Hope. The OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology is planning a trip to Hope in order to get as many comments in opposition to the plant registered with Arkansas' environmental- regulation agency. If you cannot ride down or otherwise attend the meeting, comments can be made by e-mail. Contact information will be included at the end of this article.

Since this writer is not able to attend, a letter was written and sent via e-mail to the ADEQ. I am including it below, not because it is better than anyone Else's; but rather, because some talking points were included that may not be a part of those mentioned by others. It is important however, that as many citizens get their comments registered with the regulatory agency as coal-fired power plants, among other things, emit toxic mercury - a threat to both human health and the health of the environment in general. My letter follows:

"To whom it may concern,

"I am sending you this e-mail in order to voice my strong opposition to a coal-fired plant, which is being considered in Hempstead County.

"The environmental effects of burning coal are well known. In addition to releasing vast amounts of toxic mercury, coal is a leading cause of CO2 and other particulates pollution. The use of more coal will cause the escalation of cases of asthma and other respiratory problems. Have you ever watched a child suffer an asthma attack? Why would anyone want to take action that would cause an increase in such suffering?

"Additionally, I want to state emphatically, that there is no such thing as clean coal. Sure, it may burn cleaner, but the process used in order to create so-called clean coal is extremely toxic. Further, our reliance upon coal is the leading cause of the desecration of the once beautiful Appalachian Mountain range under a process called "mountain-top removal. Under this process, the tops of mountains are literally pushed down into the valleys and streams below. The process is sometimes being conducted close to communities and even schools where residents and even school children are forced to breath coal dust into their lungs. Toxic slurry ponds and chemicals are the legacy of mountain-top removal coal mining; this, in areas that used to be beautiful and pristine. We simply must end our addiction to coal.

"Not being one to simply oppose something without offering a solution, I am hoping that the electrical industry will consider the following suggestion:

"Solar and wind technology have come a long way lately therefore, I would like to suggest that electric companies and cooperatives begin offering these alternatives to their customers. Solar panels and/or small wind generators could be leased to electrical customers with an option to buy or simply sold to these customers. These, after having been installed upon the customer's rooftops, could be used to offset the demand that would otherwise, be met by building more polluting power plants. Those desiring these devices could pay a certain amount each month to the company, and after the passage of an agreed-upon period of time, the customer would own these energy devices.

"Under the above-mentioned scenario, the electrical companies would have made a profit, new jobs would have been created by the manufacture of these devices, no further pollution would threaten the public health, and some of the Appalachian Mountain range could retain its natural beauty and wealth of wildlife. It would be a win/win situation for all involved.

"Please take my comments under consideration."

If you are able and willing to take the trip to Hope with the OMNI people you can contact Maggie Baily at

Ms. Baily's group plans to leave from the Walton Arts Center Parking lot at 11:00 a.m.

In order to contact the ADEQ by e-mail send your message to: .

Let's wish the OMNI people luck in their attempts to persuade the regulatory agency that it should not approve any permit for more coal-fired electrical power-plants.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

All We Get Is A Puppet Show

I was sitting at my favorite watering hole a few days ago when I received a call on my cell phone. It was a friend of mine from Madison County. Although he is not very political and ordinarily prefers not to discuss politics, he is nevertheless, keenly aware of what's going on in the world. I often consider that he usually avoids political discussions because the state of the world is very painful for him. On that afternoon, our conversation went something like this:

"Hey R," I said, "What's going on?"
"What a bunch of sh*t!" he responded.
"What sh*t are you talking about? The stuff is flying everywhere these days."
"I'm talking about the g*d dam*ed election! It's just f*#cking entertainment - a puppet show to keep everybody occupied while they get away with all kinds of sh*t everywhere else in the world!"

The conversation continued for awhile of course, but my unpolitical friend gets it, if you catch my meaning, and I certainly cannot disagree with his observation of either the presidential race, or current events in general. The current debate between the two major presidential candidates and their running mates should be viewed as an insult to the intelligence of every American. Therefore, it is truly sad to observe just how many millions of voters are emotionally caught up within the trite sound bites that we are being treated to; these, including references to lipstick on a pig or the possibility of Barak Obama having been exposed to Islam as a child.

The show that we're being treated to, particularly at the hands of the Republicans, is truly a spectacle. There are images of Governor Palin holding her youngest child, who was born with down syndrome. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself of course, but the subliminal message here is clear; I chose to have this child in spite of his/her birth defect and therefore you should believe in continuing your pregnancy to term as well. It is absolutely amazing that such messages and similar statements coming from the Alaskan governor have electrified, not only the Republican party's evangelical base, but many American independents as well.

So why does so much of this appear to be nothing more than persuasive entertainment? The answer lies in the fact that very little of substance is being discussed before the voters. Additionally, contradictions in the presidential candidate's talking points abound. Was it all that long ago that John McCain had made the argument that Barak Obama was too inexperienced in foreign-policy matters to hold the office of president? Suddenly, Governor Palin, who has less such experience than Obama, was chosen as McCain's running mate and since then, has been put on display as one who shows good judgement. Cindy McCain, went so far as to say that Palin has foreign-policy experience simply because Alaska is geographically close to Russia (Is this where the canned laughter comes in?). Today, it's not experience that matters, but good judgement. This was exactly the argument that Barak Obama was making only weeks ago; apparently, it has now been hijacked by the Republicans.

Even here however, it should be evident to all that this argument about good judgement is completely bogus. If any of the readers here saw Governor Palin's interview with Charles Gibson, it would likely have been apparent that Palin's good judgement is as equally horrifying as her understanding of the facts.

Consider this: While discussing Iran's alleged ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon, Palin kept referring to that country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the one seeking a nuclear device. In truth however, it is the Ayatollah Khamenei, who is Iran's spiritual and political leader. If Iran has any desire to acquire nuclear weapons, and the evidence is to the contrary, it would be Khamenei who would be responsible for their development and use, not Ahmadinejad.

Even more horrifying than Governor Palin's apparent ignorance of Iranian government was her inability to answer properly when Gibson asked her about the so-called Bush Doctrine, a recipe for pre-emptive war. Governor Palin's apparent willingness to go to war with Russia, a country that has the world's second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, should horrify everyone on the planet. In speaking about defending the former Soviet State of Georgia against Russia's aggresion, Governor Palin referred to that country as a "democracy." The facts however, show that it is hardly a democracy; Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is highly unpopular in his own country due of allegations of corruption, and it was he who gave the order to launch genocidal attacks upon the civilian population in the province of South Ossetia; most of whom incidentally, are of Russian heritage.

All of the above evidence should seriously undermine Republican attempts to maintain control of the White House. The problem is that the image being presented of Sarah Palin as being the gun-toting, elk-hunting, anti-choice hockey mom is apparently overwhelming any intelligent criticism of her and John McCain's candidacy. Meanwhile, the deceptive political attack ads continue while Barak Obama, once considered to be inspirational, seems to have resigned himself to playing a leading role in a game of "you said/no I didn't say." Justin Raimondo, the editor for recently referred to this national debacle as a "Punch and Judy Show."

Mr. Obama is apparently trying his hardest to shed any appearance of being liberal. This appears to be the Democratic leadership's greatest fear and once again, they and their candidates are determined to show that they can out conservative the conservatives on many issues, particularly, on the issue of terrrorism. It is my opinion that they are almost completely disenfranchising their more progressive base - simply in order to avoid being called names such as liberal or soft on terrorism.

All of this and more is happening on the stage set before us. Meanwhile, our relationship with Russia is becoming more strained by the day, U.S. forces have launched raids into Pakistan and reportedly, the Pakistani military has begun firing upon American personnel. Martial law has been declared in part of Bolivia as a U.S. supported coup is being attempted against that country's legitimate democratically-elected President, Evo Morales, the U.S. economy is in deep trouble, powerful corporations with the full support of the Bush Administration are unravelling environmental safeguards and launching an all-out assault upon our national treasures, and a war with Iran may still be in the cards - soon!

It is difficult to believe that, even as all of the above is presenting itself upon the national and world stage, all that we the people get sadly, is a puppet show.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fascism Rears Its Ugly Head In The Twin Cities

As Hurricane Gustav bore down on New Orleans and the gulf coast, Republican presidential contender John McCain and other higher-ups in his party made the decision to show concern and compassion toward residents living in the storm's path by scaling down the partying and celebration at the Republican National Convention (RNC), which is currently being held in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. President Bush announced that he would not be attending or speaking at the convention. Instead, he would be flying down to San Antonio in order to oversee emergency operations once the hurricane had passed.

After their slow response and lack of empathy for Katrina survivors, the Bush Administration and all of their Republican supporters were given a second chance by Gustav to respond to a natural disaster in a much more appropriate manner; this time they would show their compassion for the suffering masses. How could they not? With the presidential elections only some two months away, the party that had shown so much disdain for Katrina victims three years ago needed to put on a new face - to show how much they now care.

Events in the twin cities area however, tell a much different story. Here, there are no kind smiles - no platitudes of compassion or love for humanity. Instead, there is only a police state with its violation of our most basic rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

On Friday August 29, armed police and agents from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department broke into a building where members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were eating and watching a movie. Those unfortunate enough to be present during the raid, including at least one child, were forced down on the floor at gunpoint, then handcuffed and detained. None of those present had committed a crime, nor had any even engaged in so much as an act of civil disobedience.

The raid upon the welcoming committee was only the first of many however, as reports coming from the independent media tell of the municipal police, Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, and the FBI bursting into private homes with guns pointed at activists and children in what is allegedly being called by that county's sheriff's department, pre-emptive raids. It has been reported that before the raids against citizens even began, Sheriff Bob Fletcher had referred to the anarchists, who would be coming to the twin cities area to protest Republican policies, as "criminals." Those actually protesting in the streets are facing a welcoming to Saint Paul with
concussion grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, batons, charging horses, gas masks, rubber bullets and more.

Reports coming out of the area indicate that the police seem to be targeting journalists and those with video cameras. On Monday, two co-producers for the daily news program Democracy Now, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested on suspicion of rioting. Upon hearing the news of their arrest, program host Amy Goodman rushed to their location in order to free them. Upon asking to talk to the police commander in charge, she too was arrested. At the time of this writing, all three have been released. Some however, have not been so fortunate. Reports coming out of Saint Paul now tell of some detainees being kept in 23-hour solitary confinement; yet, many of these have not even been charged with a crime.

I called the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department this morning in order to register my complaint against its unlawful and unconstitutional actions against journalists and activists expressing their First Amendment rights. Upon asking the receptionist what in God's name does the Sheriff's Department think it's doing, she replied, "We're trying to make things nicer."

"Nicer?" I asked. "You call pointing guns at and handcuffing children, traumatising them by roughing up their parents, and arresting journalists and other people who have committed no crime nice?"

She simply replied by saying, "I'll pass your opinion along to the sheriff." I'm sure that she will.

What's happening outside of the Republican National Convention is unconstitutional, criminal, and is an afront to anyone who believes in freedom. It is fascism, pure and simple. It is however and excellent indicator of where our society is heading under the security state that has been imposed upon us by the Bush Administration, and its enablers, both Republican and Democratic.

In recent months, many have wondered what has happened to the anti-war movement in the United States. The consensus of some has been that it slowly running out of steam. Further, overall attendance by protesters at both the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the RNC has been lower than organizers had hoped for. The ever escalating brutality and outright violation of civil liberties at the hands of those to whom the public trust is given - the local sheriff's and police departments, might have something to do with the low turnout of protesters. Author and activist Naomi Wolf, in her recent book entitled The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot describes a scenario in which it becomes no longer a viable option for a person to engage in political dissent due to the severity of consequences imposed by a fascist state against one's freedom, family or even life. The ruthless behavior of law-enforcement agencies in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area is a prime example of such a scenario in action, and similar situations, which have taken place in the recent past, might account for the diminishing numbers of dissenters willing to risk themselves before the new national security state.

While the mainstream media appears to be giving scant coverage of the travesties taking place in the twin cities area, the independent media is filled with reports, photos, and video of events taking place there. A good start would be by going to Twin Cities Indymedia. Lots of resources can be found there.