Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sensible Fayetteville: Inching Ahead

"Gee, it is the policy of my government to hunt the most versatile plant known to man to extinction and to imprison anyone who is caught growing it." - Glen Schwarz

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about our country's slow and incremental march toward becoming a full-blown police state. While this regressive movement has certainly been noticeable over recent decades, few informed Americans will argue that the pace has not quickened during the years of the Bush/Cheney Administration. The horrors unleashed upon us by the criminal regime in the White House and its supporters are too numerous to mention in this article. The important thing to remember is that when a precedent is set, those of ill intent build upon that precedent; and by doing so, are eventually able to destroy freedom altogether.

I have long considered the so-called "war on drugs" to be the precedent used by the federal government to justify its further attempts to dismantle civil liberties. How were they been able to accomplish this? The answer lies in the fact that for the most part, we the people allowed it to happen.

When the government began requiring companies doing business with it to conduct drug testing upon their employees, very few businesses or individuals resisted. Although the federal government was aggressively promoting a search of one's body fluids in violation of the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, not many people bothered to challenge this policy; this , in spite of the fact that there were and still are millions of marijuana users in the United States who, except for violating the government's unreasonable prohibition against using the substance, are generally law-abiding and contributing members of society. Had all employees and potential employees refused to participate in drug testing back in its early days, nobody would be forced to pee in a bottle without any probable cause today. The power of anti-drug propaganda was strong however, and few, for fear of being labeled as anti-social druggies, thought it was worth it to risk their job or reputation in order to stand up for freedom. The precedent was therefore, set; the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure - government intrusion, has been weakened as a result.

As the above-mentioned Glen Schwarz brought out in a recent Arkansas Free Press article entitled Fighting 4 Every Inch, "vast amounts of time, money and effort must be made to gain every inch of ground against fanatic prohibitionists." Schwarz went on to express the hope "that one day the American people will wake up and realize what an absurd position they defend."

Here in Fayetteville, Arkansas a group of people have taken up the cause of ending this absurd position that has held sway, not only in our city, but all over the United States. The group, headed by Ryan Denham, calls itself Sensible Fayetteville, and for months now it has been circulating a petition that will put an initiative on the ballot, which if supported by the voters, will make marijuana enforcement a low priority for local police. Sensible Fayetteville makes the following points:

* Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crime.

* Each year, Arkansas spends more than $30 million of taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws.

* Making adult marijuana offenses Fayetteville's lowest law-enforcement priority will reduce the city's spending on law enforcement, courts, and jail.

* Decades of arresting millions of marijuana users have failed to control marijuana use or control its availability.

* Citizens of Fayetteville who recognize the harmful effects of current drug policies can make their voices heard on the failure of marijuana prohibition through the passage of this Low Priority Initiative.

* By a margin of nearly two-thirds (61%), Arkansas voters support a reduction of penalties for marijuana offenses.

On August 9, sponsors of the initiative turned in 6,522 signatures to the City Clerk's Office. Of these, 3,385 were valid. The number of valid signatures required for the Low Priority Initiative to be on the ballet is 3,686, leaving initiative sponsors with the task of acquiring an additional 301 valid signatures. On Saturday August 23, members of Sensible Fayetteville were busy at Farmer's Market on the square obtaining more signatures. The group hopes to turn in another 900 signatures by the fast-approaching deadline.

The initiative's sponsors make it clear that their referendum does not call for decriminalization. Even if the initiative passes, police will still be able to arrest adults caught with even small amounts of marijuana. It is hoped however, that upon passage Fayetteville police officers will respect the voice and desire of the people by making simple possession of the herb a low priority.

In 2006 a similar initiative was passed by voters in nearby Eureka Springs. Sadly, police officers there have pressed forward with the enforcement of unreasonable marijuana laws by ignoring the will of the voters. Instead, they are continuing to arrest adult members of their community for simple possession. Speaking about this situation Ryan Denham put it this way:

"The City of Eureka Springs is in violation of the law. We have been monitoring the situation and expect to take further action soon."

Speaking only for myself, I'd like to wish him well with that as well as getting the Fayetteville initiative passed. If the required number of signatures are turned in to the City Clerk's Office Sensible Fayetteville hopes to promote their initiative by posting yard signs, hosting discussions and special events, seeking endorsements, fundraisers, newspaper announcements and more.

The initiative sponsored by Denham's group is far from earth shattering. Marijuana possession will still be a crime. If nothing else however, it gives Fayetteville voters a chance to speak out on the prohibition of a relatively-harmless substance that, due to the laws against possessing it, causes the imprisonment of thousands of otherwise law-abiding people every year. Sensible Fayetteville has worked diligently to take a small step forward toward freedom and common sense; I wish them well with their efforts to inch forward.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia: A Very Dangerous Drama Unfolding

Since the inauguration of George Bush as president in January of 2001 and the coming to power of the so-called neo-cons, the relationship between the United States and Russia has been deteriorating. The fact of the matter is, when Mr. Bush looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soul during their first meeting and pronounced the former KGB operative as someone he could work with, he failed to recognize that Putin is not a person to take lightly.

In his 1997 book entitled The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Advisor under the Carter Administration laid out his belief that if the United States is to successfully dominate the entire world, it must gain control of the area called Eurasia, the region east of Poland that stretches throughout the Middle East, the Central Asian Republics, and throughout Russia and China. Brzezinski opens his book with the following words: “Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power.”

Brzezinski, both through his book and in later statements, has propagated the gaining of total control over Eurasia by the United States as a first step to the eventual domination of the entire planet. This position is supported by Dr. Johannes B.Koeppl, PhD, a former German defense ministry official and advisor to former NATO Secretary General Manfred Werner, who in November 2001, made the following statement to From The Wilderness Publications:

“The interests behind the Bush Administration, such as the CFR, The Trilateral Commission – founded by Brzezinski for David Rockefeller – and the Bilderberger Group, have prepared for and are now moving to implement open world dictatorship within the next five years. They are not fighting against terrorists. They are fighting against citizens.”

While there are many who may dismiss the ideology of total world dictatorship as promoted by the likes of Brzezinski and Koeppl, recent history should make it obvious that the U.S. Government, the neo-cons, and in particular, the Bush Administration, have been up to much more than simply fighting a war on terrorism. What else can explain the obvious manipulation of intelligence and outright lies that were used in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq? What other explanation can be offered for the threats against Iran when own National Intelligence Estimate last year reported that the Persians ceased their nuclear-weapons program some five or six years ago?

Almost since Bush was sworn into office, there has been a push to expand NATO and a missile-defense system right to Russia’s doorstep. The current occupiers of the White House, never very good at covering up their true intentions, are claiming that a missile-defense system is needed in order to defend the Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, from an attack by Iran. To make matters worse, President Bush has used that very rationale in trying to calm now Russian Prime Minister Putin’s anger over the proposed missile-defense system. Mr. Putin is very aware that such a defense system is in truth, a weapon of aggression and it is very likely that he is aware of Brzezinski’s book as well as a Project For A New American Century report, which laid out in almost perfect detail a plan for achieving world domination. It must be added here that Vice President Dick Cheney is closely associated with the publication of the above-mentioned report.

It would seem that neo-conservative king George Bush has just been put in check by the Russians however, and the grand chess game in Eurasia has suddenly taken a dangerous turn as over the past several days, a vicious war has broken out between Russia the Georgian Republic. The dispute began when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili launched an attack upon South Ossetia, a somewhat autonomous Russia-aligned province that has long wanted independence from Georgia. It must be added here that since 2003 in particular, Georgia has received considerable support from the United States, which has not only been accused of assisting Saakashvili’s ascension to the presidency, but has stationed U.S. military advisors in this former Soviet Republic. A further escalation of tension between the U.S. and Russia has now resulted due to a U.S. airlift of Georgian soldiers out of Iraq and back to their own country in order to fight the Russians there.

President Bush, from Beijing denounced Russian aggression against the Georgian Republic and insisted that Georgia’s rights as a sovereign nation are respected. The U.S. President’s hypocritical statement would be comical if the situation was not so serious as his Iraq adventure has shown him to be anything but a respecter of national sovereignty. Vice President Cheney meanwhile, in a call to Mikhail Saakashvili, told the Georgian president “Russian aggression must not go unanswered.” Meanwhile, the mainstream media, always echoing the Bush/Cheney regime, has begun denouncing what it calls “Russian aggression against the Republic of Georgia;” Of course, the media has failed to tell Americans that Georgia was the original aggressor against South Ossetia, not the Russian Federation that came to its defense.

It is now being reported that Russia is calling for an end to the fighting in the region; this, after launching a quick, decisive and brutal victory over President Saakashvili’s forces. Prime Minister Putin however, is making some very tough demands in exchange for a cessation of hostilities; among these is the demand that Georgia’s U.S.-supported President Saakashvili relinquish his office.

How the hawks in the White House will react to Moscow’s demands is hard to tell, and the way in which the situation in Eurasia will play out in the coming days is anybody’s guess. What is clear however, is that, in spite of all the bluster coming out of Washington D.C., Vladimir Putin has drawn his line in the sand. He will not stand for U.S. encroachment into his back yard. He seems to fully understand the concepts behind The Grand Chessboard, and won’t stand for them on his watch. What is also clear is that a major miscalculation has taken place on the part of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, and likely, the Bush Administration. It is very frightening to realize that further such miscalculation, or any intended fanning of the flames on the part of Bush/Cheney regime, could lead to direct military conflict with the Russians – a dangerous scenario indeed!

Meanwhile, reports coming out of the Ossetia and Georgia tell of bombed-out buildings, over 2000 deaths – many of these civilian and a looming humanitarian crises. The dogs of war are hard at work while the rest of humanity continues to suffer.

For more information read The Caucasus – Washington Risks Nuclear War By Miscalculation

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Oil Crises: A Case Of "Disaster Capitalism" At Work

On September 4, 2007 Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein celebrated the publication of her latest book entitled The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Since that time, the book has become a best seller and has been translated into at least twenty different languages.

Ms. Klein’s main premise, which she advances through her book, is that government and multi-national corporations have teamed up in order to exploit the public at times during which it is feeling shocked due to some disaster or crises. It is at these times that the public is most vulnerable and most willing to accept unpopular ideas. In a July interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Klein put it this way:

“There is a clear political strategy, and there has been for several decades, to exploit these moments when people are desperate for quick-fix solutions and are more inclined to believe in a kind of magical cure to push through very unpopular policies that don’t actually solve the crises at hand – that don’t actually help people, but are incredibly profitable for multi-national corporations…”

Perhaps there is no better example of disaster capitalism at work than the current oil crises now being experienced in the United States. Recent gasoline prices have been at or around $4.00 per gallon in many parts of the country, while some areas have experienced prices that are much higher. National Public Radio (NPR) the other day, ran a news segment on the looming home-heating oil crises in New England, which is causing great concern among the both the public and area politicians due to the fact that home-heating oil prices are expected to double as demand grows during the winter months. It is feared that many will not be able to afford the price of heating their homes this winter.

Clearly, vast portions of the American public have legitimate concerns over the cost of oil; this, among a public that until recently was opposed to further offshore drilling. It is here that the Bush Administration and their oil-producing cronies enter the picture.

In recent weeks, the American public has been bombarded with pro-drilling propaganda that has shown itself, both through paid advertising by the oil cartels and through the admonitions of politicians and right-wing radio talk-show hosts. These claim that we must declare independence from the OPEC nations and their oil. The proposed solution comes by way of exploring for and drilling for oil off the coast of Florida. They tell us that we can drive the price of oil down if only we would turn over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the multi-national oil cartels. Recently, President Bush lifted the executive ban on offshore drilling, but Congress must also act before more exploration and drilling can be allowed. It is not hard to imagine then, that pressure is building and that many Democrats, including Barak Obama, are now beginning to compromise on offshore drilling. The public is in shock and believes that a crisis is at hand. It is now ready to forfeit its objections to offshore and ANWR drilling in order to obtain relief.

What the Bush Administration, the oil cartels and their fellow talking heads have failed to mention however, is that the oil companies are already sitting on reserves that they are currently allowed to explore and develop. Naomi Klein brought out their likely true intention in that Democracy Now interview by pointing out that it is oil company strategy to stockpile leases in order to control the price of oil. As long as the companies are sitting on vast reserves, which they may not even be using, they can control prices and therefore, continue reaping record profits as has Exxon/Mobil with its most recent $11.5 million quarterly profit.

In the east and northeast central sections of Alberta, Canada lies a vast region whose terrain, below the surface, is composed of bituminous sands. This area is referred to by most as the Alberta Tar Sands. Within these sands is a substance called bitumen, otherwise known as heavy oil. This oil is contained inside of a shale-type rock; and, it must be extracted from that rock through a process that is extremely toxic and devastating to the area environment.

Although some oil production has been going on in these tar sands since the 1960’s, it was the United State’s invasion of Iraq and the consequent jump in oil prices that spurred major production efforts in Alberta. Since 2003, those oil production efforts in Alberta have now put Canada on the international list of environmentally renegade nations. Here’s why:

Before any mining of bitumen begins, large segments of pristine virgin forest are clear-cut away. Once the mining and extraction process get under way, both a cooking and steaming process are used in order to extract this heavy oil from the bitumen rock. The amount of water currently being used for this steaming process amounts to roughly double that used by the entire city of Calgary, Alberta’s capital. According to the 2007 civic census, Calgary has a population of 1,019,942. Further, at least 90 percent of the water used for extraction at the Alberta Tar Sands ends up in huge tailing ponds. Some of these ponds span some 50 square kilometers and are so large that they can be seen from space. Additionally, they are so toxic that ducks and other water-foul that inadvertently land in them face a certain death. Propane cannons are used to keep the ducks away. Because of the burning process used in oil extraction here, Canada has now been added to the list of major contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Former workers at the tar sands and area residents have been known to relate the odors coming from these processing facilities to that of asphalt production. The pollution continues 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

In addition to the direct pollution and environmental desecration caused by the tar sands operations, the actual extraction process is extremely inefficient. It has been reported that three barrels of oil are required in order to produce one barrel from these Canadian facilities. Still, and contrary to what most Americans believe, due to mining and processing at the Alberta Tar Sands, Canada has become the largest exporter of oil to the United States with it now contributing some 20 percent of all U.S. imports. Further, it is believe that these tar sands hold an amount of oil equal to the reserves found in Saudi Arabia.

When the “Extortionist and Chief,” as Naomi Klein calls President Bush in her July, 2008 article found in The Nation magazine entitled Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion, says that we need secure and domestically-produced oil, he neither mentions the millions of barrels of oil, protected under the provisions of NAFTA, that enters the United States daily from our next-door neighbor, nor does he mention that this recent infusion of Canadian oil has done nothing to lower the price of gasoline. When the talking heads use fear tactics to convince the American people that we must allow oil drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas such as ANWR, and that such operations will not harm the environment, they are not mentioning the abject dissatisfaction of the Canadian people over the destruction of Alberta’s formerly pristine environment in order to feed the American addiction to oil.

On the contrary, these practitioners of disaster capitalism will continue deceiving and frightening the American people into forfeiting the things they have long held dear, such as the protection of environmentally-sensitive areas, for a lie. They will do it shamelessly because, by taking advantage of the people in times of shock and crises, they can reap huge and criminally irresponsible profits unto themselves.

This is how it works folks! Sadly, and with the help of a complicit media, the majority of Americans fall for it time and time again.

For further reference see:

Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion – by Naomi Klein

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth

Questions and Answers About the Alberta Tar Sands

Greenpeace Gallery: Stop the Tar Sands

The Shock Doctrine

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Black Elk, Spirit, and Politics

It was some years ago now, when I was visited by a friend with whom I had shared many good times back in the 80's. He was part Shawnee, if I remember correctly, and proud of his Indian heritage. On the day of his visit, he was looking through my collection of books as he remarked, "Well, I see that you have most of the hippie books." As he spoke, I noticed that he was holding my copy of Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt.

I didn't take my friend's comments to be derogatory in any way, He was simply commenting on the fact that I had some of the classics that many proponents of alternative living, such as myself, often kept in their libraries. Such classics in my possession included Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Hey Beatnik: This Is The Farm Book by Stephen Gaskin and the Farm, and the newer but equally important The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill.

I believe it was back sometime in the 80's when I read Black Elk Speaks. The book stems mainly from the oration of an elderly Oglala Sioux medicine man who, as a thirteen year-old boy, witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn and later, the destruction brought upon his people at Wounded Knee. The author, John Neihardt, first met the old man when he arrived at the Pine Ridge Reservation in August of 1930. Neihardt at the time, was working on a project called The Song of the Messiah; he was in search of some old medicine man who might be able to speak with him about the deeper spiritual significance of the so-called Messiah craze that swept across many desperate Native American communities during the 1880's and 1890's. The book's author had heard of a man named Black Elk, who apparently had been a person of some significance among his people during the time of this messiah movement.

Neihardt and his interpreter traveled several miles along a treeless dead-end road in hopes that they would find Black Elk both at home and willing to discuss his experiences and knowing with them. Upon arriving at the old man's house, they found him outside awaiting their arrival. It was around noontime when they found Black Elk at home. It was near sunset when Black Elk told Neihardt: "There is so much to teach you. What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost.You were sent to save it, and you must come back so I can teach you."

Without wanting to give the contents of the book away, I will only say that it is the story of an amazing man, who as a child, not only witnessed brutality and the ultimate destruction of his culture, but also deep spiritually-based visions and understandings. Black Elk fully understood the calamity that had befallen his people; he spent his life trying to save and revive the sacred hoop of his people.

I chose the title of this blog, not to copy the title of Mr. Neihardt's most excellent book but rather, to honor both the teachings within it and the spirit of Black Elk. For the most part, I intend for my writings here to be more of a political nature as opposed to spiritual. Yes, I'm a political animal who can go on about politics and social issues of all sorts for hours on end without batting an eyelash. Still, for me there is no true separation between between the spiritual and the political; one is simply the reflection of the other. I truly believe that in confronting the dire political situation that we all now face, the solution lies not so much in candidates or political parties, but deep inside of ourselves. It involves our deeply-seated belief systems, which we must confront in order to create a better and more wholesome reality.

Those of us living inside of the United States have watched our government launch preemptive strikes against other countries based upon nothing but lies. Death and destruction seem to be everywhere, even as the possibility of more senseless warfare confronts not only those of us here, but the rest of humanity as well. Some of us now reside inside of our own personal hells as we watch an unparalleled assault upon Nature being orchestrated by those who author Naomi Kline has defined as practitioners of "disaster capitalism." Torture is rampant, our civil liberties are being taken away incrementally through the use of fear, our economy is on the verge of collapse, people are suffering due to the lack of adequate and affordable healthcare; yet, all our political candidates seem to do is trade barbs back and forth in a likeness of that which one writer recently likened to as a political Punch and Judy show.

The difference between Black Elk's situation and ours right now is that his was imposed upon the people from outside; ours is self-imposed. It really doesn't matter whether one is looking at the actions of the Federal Government, or is sitting at a local city council meeting; the same belief systems rule the roost. The religion of unending and unsustainable economic growth, with its constant need for more materials, more space, and more energy use holds sway in just about every governmental chamber inside of the United States. All one has to do is listen to most politicians or the talk-show hosts in order to hear the propaganda of our collective superiority over those of other countries, cultures, or even neighborhoods. The same belief systems that prevail over local neighborhoods as they struggle to maintain what they already have against the onslaught of the impersonal growth machine also prevails over the desires of other cultures to live in peace according to their own beliefs. The only results that can come from such thinking are continued warfare and environmental desecration. Still, to question currently-held beliefs is to break a sort of nationally-held taboo. To think and believe outside of this self-imposed box is to be labeled as a traitor, an "aginer" or as a communist. What type of future will the younger generations face if we cannot both personally, and as as a nation confront this dark side of ourselves?

As time goes on, I hope to write about many issues here. For the most part, these will be national and international in nature; still, issues local to Northwest Arkansas will not be excluded. As mentioned previously, most of these issues will be political. I hope however, that my writings will inspire the reader to look inward as well as outward because that dear reader, is often where the problem really resides, as I'm sure Black Elk, who I wish to honor here, well understood.

Are you ready to take a ride? Fasten your seat belt please, and then keep checking back. I hope to make it interesting.