Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Massacres in Amazonia: Courtesy of New Free Trade Agreement

All too often, U.S. politicians denigrate actions and statements made by various Latin American leaders who oppose that which they call U.S. imperialism in their countries. Yet, during most of this decade, the political landscape throughout much of Central and South America has been swinging decidedly to the left; this, in continual opposition to U.S. brokered free trade agreements; this, in support of national economic autonomy. Even as politicians in the United States (including Barak Obama) continue to arrogantly support, and even push for the creation of ever more economic agreements with our neighbors to the south, the evidence continues to mount that these agreements imposed upon the people exact a very high price - one that almost always comes at the expense of the people - often indigenous people.

On the morning of June 5, Peruvian police, at the behest of President Alan Garcia, launched a brutal attack upon indigenous protesters in the Bagua Province who had been non-violently conducting a road blockade in protest of ten laws - rules designed to open up indigenous lands to increased mineral, oil, gas and timber exploitation. According to an in depth report, which aired on the June 8 edition of Democracy Now, the laws had been presented to the Peruvian congress on a fast track without any consultation with the native peoples who would be so deeply affected by the passage of these laws. These laws were apparently passed in order to expedite the industrialization of Peru's Amazon region.

During the weeks leading up to the above-mentioned attack, many roads and bridges had been blocked by a coalition of indigenous peoples from throughout the region. According to reports in various independent media outlets, all of these blockades were of a peaceful nature. Still, during the June 5 attack the police opened fire upon the protesters with live amunition; the protesters, according to video footage and photographic evidence, were only carrying spears. The death toll among the amazonian defenders now ranges in the dozens with at least 150 more injured. Some two dozen police have also been reported as being killed in the conflict.

Meanwhile,in what is being alleged as his typical behavior, Peruvian President Garcia is attempting to lay the blame for the conflict upon Bolivia and Equador where leftist governments have been elected into power. Bolivian President Evo Morales, was elected on a pro-indigenous platform and is himself Native American. Peru, with Alan Garcia as its president, is one of the few countries in Latin America that remains loyal to U.S. economic and foreign policy toward that region. Mr. Garcia is joined by Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Protests against the massacre at Bagua have begun taking place in other parts of the world. On June 9 a demonstration for the rights of the Amazonian people took place at the Hague in the Netherlands. Beginning front of the Institute for Social Sciences, the demonstration later moved to the Peruvian embassy there.

On June 11 three activists, as part of a larger demonstration, chained themselves to the doors of Senator Charles Schumer's office in New York City. The activists accuse Schumer, President Obama, and many other politicians of complicity with the recent Peruvian massacre; this, due to their support of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. It is claimed that those supporting the agreement were warned that the it would be a violation of indigenous land rights as well as the cause of environmental desecration. According to a report in NYC Indymedia, "Members of Trade Justice NY Metro had met with Schumer's staff twice before the Peru Free Trade Agreement vote, presenting him with reports from the Washington Office on Latin America predicting violence and instability if the agreement passed."

For all of their talk about defending the rights of all peoples, and for all of their talk about defending the environment, it is clear that the majority of our politicians - including President Obama, are generally interested in only two things, which include the continuation of the American worldwide empire, and the continual advance of the U.S. economy by any means necessary. It is doubtful that Senator Schumer in particular, will even make a comment after NYC activists did such a good job of implicating him with the massacres. Still, with so many injustices in the world, and with so much environmental desecration taking place, it would be wonderful if our so-called representatives and elected officials would begin looking past their collective noses in order to understand where their reckless policies are leading humanity.

For more information in Spanish and with parts in English click here for global Indymedia. offers a take-action page here.

Photo courtesy of Global and/or Peru Indymedia.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nightwish in Concert

I guess that I've always been a rock music affectionado, and I've spent a big part of my life, at least since the teenage years, on a quest to find good bands and musicians involved in that genre. For me however, music slowly went downhill after the end of the 60's. It didn't happen all at once of course, and truth be told, there is always good music and creativity to be found in rock music as well as any other genre. Still, as the years passed, it became more and more difficult for me to find anyone new that could satisfy my musical cravings.

When KXUA, the student-run radio station at the University of Arkansas first came on the air in the spring of 2000, a Saturday night program called From the Crypt had its debut. Hosted by Death Mistress Sarah White, the program featured a genre of music, which I'd never heard of - gothic and goth industrial. It was on this program that I was given the first hints that I had been missing out on something. On her program, the Death Mistress played music by groups such as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshies, Sisters of Mercy and Type O Negative. For me, the music was fresh and exciting, but although I listened to From the Crypt religiously, the music played was already somewhat old wave. When the program went off the air two or three years later, all I was left with were a few CD's by Type O and the Sisters of Mercy. Not being nearly as adept on computers and the internet at the time as I am now, I was doomed to several more years of musical isolation
. Then it happened:

About a year and one-half ago a teenage friend, with whom I enjoyed talking about music, handed me a CD entitled Dark Passion Play. The CD was by a Finnish group called Nightwish, and the music he explained, was of a type that he called symphonic metal. As I took the album home and gave it a listen, I quickly realized that this group's music is incredible! It was a perfect blend of hard rock and/or metal with its power chords, excellent female vocals balanced by good male vocals, choir in the background, symphonic sounding keyboards, and excellent guitar work - pure genius in my book! I started buying more of Nightwish's CD's to the point where I now have just about everything that they have done.

Becoming familiar with this incredible band, along with my improved use of the internet, helped me to discover other similar groups that played in this symphonic-metal genre. From these, I branched out to still others, who while not necessarily a part of the symphonic genre, were equally creative and innovative in their musical creativity - most of these hearkening from Europe. Still, I only mention these others in passing right now because, although I absolutely love their musical contributions, this story is about Nightwish.

About six months ago, I happened to go to the band's official website. As I looked at the cities they would be playing in as part of their Dark Passion Play tour, my eyes froze on a line that said, May 9: Diamond Ballroom, Oklahoma City. At first I couldn't believe my eyes; after all, although this musical group plays to sold-out audiences in some of Europe's largest arenas and venues, they are not very well known here in the United States. Still, upon making this discovery, I knew that I just had to go; and, within a few days, my sister and her partner, both recent Nightwish converts, as well as myself had our concert tickets. All we had to do was be patient for the next six months.

The six months passed and this past Saturday was the big day. With great anticipation we set out for what would be an incredible musical event.

The Diamond Ballroom turned out to be an excellent venue for the concert. Basically, the place is a large honkytonk with an adequate stage, seats and tables set way back opposite the stage, a large dance/standing area, and a couple of bars on either side of the floor. I had VIP tickets, which meant that I could do the meet and greet. I don't idolize people, but I do respect and give honor to those who show creative genius and/or make positive contributions to the world. So, I was extremely happy to actually get to meet the band before the concert. Then, I bought myself a beer and waited for the festivities to begin.

Nightwish is a five-person band, which sometimes brings in other musical guests to play with them. It consists of composer and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, lead-vocalist Anette Olzon, Marco Hietala on electric bass guitar and vocals, Empuu Vuorinen on rhythm and lead guitar, and Jukka Nevalainen playing the drums. Each is an incredible talent in their own right.

As is usually the case, there was an opening band; so, Nightwish didn't get started until a little after 10:00 pm. Of course, there was an interval between the exiting of the first group and the on-stage appearance of the night's headliner. As the various technicians took to the stage in order to do the sound checks the anticipation continued to build. "Who's that; Is it them?" people would ask.

The techies soon exited the stage, the lights dimmed and the excitingly beautiful music called Crimson Tide began to play. Suddenly, hoots and screams emanated from the crowd as Tuomas, Marco, Jukka and Empuu took to the stage and began the into to Seven Days to the Wolves. They were soon followed by Anette, who as usual, delivered a stunning performance. From that moment on, they held the audience in the palms of their hands. In some ways, the rest of the concert was a blurr. Although the performance lasted for eighty or ninety minutes, it seems as though it only lasted for about ten. Of course, this short amount of time only allows them to play a small fraction of their songs, as they have so much wonderful music that it would likely take the entire night, if not longer, to play all of it.

I estimate that about 400 or 500 people attended the concert. In one sense, this is sad because Nightwish is internationally known and has performed to sold-out venues all over the world. Just what is it about the U.S. media that keeps the population so unaware about the rest of the world anyway? Still, due to the relatively small number in attendence Saturday night, we were all able to watch the performance up close. There was plenty of room to move around in order to take photos or to view the performance from another angle. As each member of Nightwish interacts with the audience on a personal level and moves all over the stage, the possibilities for photos were endless.

All too soon the concert came to an end. Guitar picks and drum sticks were thrown into the adoring crowd, the final bow was made, and an evening with Nightwish came to an end. It is Wednesday morning as I write this story, and I still feel as though I'm on a cloud. That's what attending a concert with these people will do to a person. My sister and her friend also attended; they feel the same. I'm very grateful that this supergroup took the time to perform for us, a relatively small crowd, in Oklahoma City.

In early September the Dark Passion Play tour will end when Nightwish will be welcomed back to Finland at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, where they will be joined by another popular group known as Apocalyptica for a huge mega concert. I've got four months to figure out a way to get there.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Swine Flu: A Byeproduct of NAFTA?

On January 1, 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took affect. The agreement has been supported by every U.S. President since George H. W. Bush; this, even though the agreement was not implemented until near the end of the first term of the Clinton administration. During his campaign, President Obama spoke about making some changes to the agreement, but as president, has not made any such proposals.

Upon the implementation of NAFTA, many U.S.-based companies flocked to Mexico in order to flout U.S. environmental regulations, worker-safety rules and minimum-wage standards. As a result of these businesses going south, both American and Mexican workers were deeply hurt. In the United States, decent-paying jobs were lost and blue-collar workers found themselves being forced to compete in the so-called "race to the bottom." Mexicans saw the rise of the so-called maquiladoras - sweatshops that exploited the work force by paying slave wages, virtually eliminating worker-safety concerns, and exploited the land and its people through reckless anti-environmental practices. Many of the companies that created the maquiladoras set up shop along the border regions, but many moved much farther south as well. One such business was a Virginia-based company called Smithfield Farms; this, according to an April 29 article written by Julio Hernándes for La Jornado, one of Mexico's leading daily newspapers.

In his article Hernándes points out that in 1985, Smithfield Farms was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act
at its pig processing facilities in Smithfield, Virginia. The accusation was that they had been dumping vast amounts of hog waste into the Pagan River, which is a tributary that eventually finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay. At that time the company was fined $1,285,000.00. Then, in 1996 one of the company's CEO's was ordered by a Federal Judge to pay $12.6 million and to complete an eighteen month prison sentence. A second Smithfield employee was given a similar sentence for falsifying and destroying records, as well as the intentional discharge of toxins into the river.

According to Hernándes' report, the hog-processing company re-located to the Perote Valley of Vera Cruz under the name of Granjas Carroll (Carroll Ranches) near a town of approximately three thousand inhabitants known as La Gloria. Here he alleges, the company has been allowed to carry out gross environmental violations with total disregard toward the local population; this, with the full protection of the state and federal government since it first relocated there - including the full protection of the current Calderón Administration.

Other news reports seem to support these accusations of government complicity. An article dated April 6 , which also appeared in La Jornada summed up the situation this way:

Clouds of flies emanate from the rusty lagoons where the Carroll Ranches business tosses the fecal wastes of its pig farms, and the open-air contamination is already generating an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town of La Gloria, in the Perote Valley, according to Town Administrator Bertha Crisóstomo López."

Further, the local newspaper Marcha on April 15 laid the entire blame for what it called an epidemic in La Gloria on Carroll Ranches. Interestingly enough, neither the Mexican nor the U.S. government acknowledged that a problem existed until April 24. It must be mentioned here that La Jornada is one of Mexico's largest newspapers - if not the largest!

Since the implementation of NAFTA, the filthy and unhealthy conditions - the utter disregard for the people of Mexico and the environment in which they live has been the dirty little secret of politicians and their corporate masters alike. Now, it would appear, the genie has been let out of the bottle; and, that genie's name is H1N1 - swine flu - a virus that has put the entire world on alert due to its potential for the creation of a world-wide pandemic. An occurrence such as this flu outbreak was just about inevitable - just a matter of time considering the horrific conditions with which so many have had to contend since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement; Then there are those who continue to propagate the philosophy of Laissez-faire economics - a philosophy by which government completely abides by a hands-off policy toward business; this, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that such hands-off policies practically invite environmental abuse, worker exploitation and sometimes, even human-rights violations.

Somewhere in America - all across this country actually, there are those who call themselves true patriots. In their private e-mails and conversations, as well as publicly on their countless radio-talk shows, they denounce environmentalists for "hating America." These so-called conservatives constantly attempt to demonize persons that believe in environmental preservation and regulation by calling them communists, socialists, Nazis - any derogatory term they can come up with. Still, the swine flu is now out there - rapidly spreading from state to state and from country to country, threatening who knows how many people - and to think that it all could have been avoided with some sensible environmental regulation!

For more on this subject in English you can go to the Narco News Bulletin.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hijacked! Fayetteville's So-Called Anti-Taxation Tea Party

Yesterday, I checked out the so-called anti-taxation Tea Party that took place in front of the Town Center on the Fayetteville Square. Actually, I didn't really attend the event, but since I was in the immediate vicinity and was curious about what would be said and how many people would show up for it, I popped in once in awhile.

Fortunately, I got to enjoy the company of some Green Party folks and other progressives who apparently, had the same curiosity about the event as me. Their good humor and insight helped improve my mood considerably, especially since my annoyance with tea-party organizers continued to grow as the starting time for the program grew nearer.

Truth be told, the Tea Party grew quite a large crowd. According to an article in the Northwest Arkansas Times organizers estimated that up to one thousand people attended the event; this, over the course of some three hours. My own very unofficial estimate gave organizers credit for attracting some 700 attendees. Either way, yesterday's Tea Party likely doubled any peace demonstration attendance that I've seen here in Fayetteville. This would include the demonstration that took place on the Fayetteville Square that took place in October, 2002, when around 400 caring people attempted to stop the imminent and criminal invasion of Iraq.

While Wednesday's event was attended by a mixed group of people, it was not all that difficult to discern that most were conservative Republicans. Quite a few of the people there were conservatively dressed in suits and ties; some of the women were attired in corresponding apparel. There were lots of signs condemning out of control government and there were lots of people bearing American Flags. At one point, I noticed a vehicle circling the square with a large flag, which hearkened back to the War of 1812; it said, Don't Tread on Me.

As various progressives, who had also checked out the event, came over to where my group was sitting, they gave reports of anti-liberal and anti-immigration sentiment as well as Christian dominionism. One quick glance into the crowd revealed a sea of waving signs that expressed an anti-socialist message - as if the Obama Administration is actually practicing real socialism! Of course, this anti-socialist agenda is actually a mainstay of the conservative philosophy. Just call anyone who thinks for himself or herself a socialist, and they have been totally discredited - their character destroyed. This appears to be how many a conservative mind functions.

It has long been my understanding that, politically speaking, the concept of left versus right is not lateral but rather, is circular. In other words, if one person's thinking goes far enough to the left and another's goes far enough to the right, they will end up having some common beliefs. A general distrust in government is one such commonality; this, even though both the left and the right do believe that government ought to regulate certain things - just different things.

Some of those at Wednesday's event reflected this commonality; they attended because they feel that both President Obama and the Congress are out of control and not representing the needs and desires of the people. I spoke with one or two such people during the event on Wednesday, but had a difficult time expressing my dissatisfaction with the event as a whole particularly, as regards the intentions of event organizers and that which I consider to be their true agenda.

Of course, I cannot claim to know what any one person's true intentions are. Still, there are trends, personal histories, and observations that can be made by anyone who cares enough to keep their eyes open. Let's examine this a bit:

Fayetteville's Tea Party was part of a coordinated nationwide event. It was strongly promoted by the obvious Republican-propaganda organ Fox News, as well as Free Republic and many conservative radio talk shows.

Locally, Fayetteville's Tea Party was, according to a recent story in the Northwest Arkansas Times, organized by Laurie Masterson - formerly Laurie Taylor who married Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Mike Masterson some months ago. Two or three years ago Ms. Laurie, as I like to call her, was heavily involved in an attempt to get sex-education books banned from the Fayetteville school system particularly, in the middle schools; but if memory serves me well, even in the high school. At the time, Ms. Laurie claimed that it wasn't really a book ban; she only wanted to make such material inaccessible to students without parent's consent. It was claimed that such books were pornographic. They clearly were not; at least, not according to this writer. Having been a child whose parents would not discuss anything relating to the birds and the bees, I am personally very supportive of having such material available for students of a certain age. Call it whatever you like, but for many students Ms. Laurie's proposition, had it been adopted by the school board, would have effectively cut off access to much needed information that cannot be accessed at home. The word "ban" works well enough for me.

It was also Ms. Laurie, who at least twice on Johnny Tittle's former radio program, offered to pay my way to anyplace in the world I would have liked to visit; this, provided that I would promise never to set foot in the United States again. Why did she make such an offer? She and most other listeners didn't appreciate my opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, or their desires to attack Iran with nuclear weapons. Sure, she may have simply thought that she was being clever but still, such attempts at being funny often reflect a deeper belief system.

Here's something to think about: While Ms. Laurie and some of Johnny's other listeners clearly stated on the air that I should leave the country because of my opposition to the useless taking of innocent life, they are now holding rallies in opposition to taxation and government spending. Just where were they during the eight years that George W. Bush was raising the national deficit by $4 trillion in order to finance the illegal invasion occupation of soverign nations while giving contracts to companies such as Halliburton, which wasted billions of dollars while supplying our troops with contaminated food and drinking water.

Perhaps, the true feelings of the event's right-wing organizers were expressed during a recent e-mail exchange I had with a former local radio talk-show host. During the exchange, he was referring to the upcoming tea party supporters as being "we the people." Upon asking him if the majority of Americans who voted for Obama, myself included, qualify as "we the people," he gave the following reply:

"...All of this is to say Socialism is not American and people who want socialism are not believers in America and thus are unpatriotic. So I have no qualms referring to my side as Americans and your side as non-American. We do surround you and vastly outnumber you."

So there you have it - one so-called conservative's (I prefer the word fascist's) opinion of those with whom he disagrees. He reduces us to being less than real American's; that way, our opinions can be dismissed. In truth, designating unbelievers as the enemy has long been a tactic of that which I call the "rabid right."

I suppose that it's frightening to consider the possibility that many who attended Wednesday's program are not a part of this rabid right; yet, their body count both here in Fayetteville and nationwide, will be used to bolster the radical right's power base in order to advance their social, political, economic and theological agenda. Today, I can't help but feel that some of the folks in attendance Wednesday are being used by those who cannot abide by the fact that the Democrats have been chosen to govern the country. Just as in the 90's when Bill Clinton's election brought on an extreme right-wing backlash complete with organizations dedicated to hound, cripple and ultimately, bring down the new president, I believe that the Tea Party organizers have the same agenda in mind. I also believe that many simply cannot abide by the fact that a black or racially-mixed man was elected to the nation's highest office.

Believe me, I am not a Democrat and have my criticisms concerning some of Barak Obama's policies; especially, his continuation of the war in Afghanistan, the war on drugs, and his silence when it comes to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Still, it's not very difficult to see history repeating itself here and that, as Rush Limbaugh once indicated, the rabid right wants to see Obama fail - all to the demise of how many more people!

Some economic indicators are pointing to the fact that there may already be some light on the economic horizon - that the stimulus, which conservatives are so opposed to, might be starting to work. It saddens me to think that those who have concerns about excessive government spending are likely being used in order to advance the rabid right's dark agenda. In a word, they are being hijacked. That is my opinion.

Upon returning home last night I called a friend. He refused to have anything to do with yesterday's festivities and I wanted to express my fears to him. My message was simple: Be afraid; be very afraid!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

George Galloway - Violating the Ultimate Taboo

Of all the current political taboos that we have in the United States and in the west as a whole, the one that often exacts the greatest scorn, and at times the quickest punishment when violated, is the prohibition against not giving total allegiance to the Nation of Israel. It really doesn't matter whether one is American, Canadian, British, French - whatever, the rule still applies.

In the United States, all major presidential candidates as well as many congressional aspirants seemingly must appear at the annual Policy Conference sponsored by AIPAC, otherwise known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; this, in order to swear allegiance to Israel's foreign policy objectives. This lobbying organization's own website puts it this way:

The AIPAC Policy Conference is the pro-Israel community's preeminent annual gathering. The event attracts more than 5,000 community and student activists from all 50 states, and more than half of the Senate, a third of the House of Representatives and countless American and Israeli policymakers and thinkers."

Last year, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barak Obama all attended and gave speeches at the conference. None of these candidates questioned in the least, Israel's foreign policies toward its neighbors, including well documented human-rights violations and collective punishments used against the civilian populations of Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Further, President Obama was sworn in only a few days after Israel completed an operation of absolute carnage against Palestinians in Gaza. The Israeli operation included the now documented use of internationally-banned white phosphorus against defenseless people there and blocked humanitarian aid from reaching the suffering. This included the deliberate firing upon Red Cross workers. Still, not a word of this was mentioned by Mr. Obama either on Inauguration day or any time during the two months since - nor will it be. The simple fact of the matter is that for all practical purposes, the State of Israel, either directly or through its various powerful lobbies such as AIPAC, controls our politicians and foreign policy in the Middle East.

Those who dare to speak up against Israeli policies are quick to find themselves labeled as "anti-Semitic," with these accusations coming as quickly from so-called liberals as well as conservatives. In Germany it is actually illegal to deny the holocaust, and just about anywhere in the west where one speaks against Israeli policy some sort of ostracism is almost sure to follow; this, not because of any wrong doing, but only due to the holding an unpopular opinion - political correctness at its best. While this writer certainly condemns the atrocities committed against the Jewish people by the Nazis during the 30's and 40's I have to say emphatically that I am not afraid of opinions that differ from my own. After all, isn't free speech and lively debate what it's supposed to be about? Further, the questions must be asked: Isn't it right to condemn all human-rights violations, no matter who they are committed by and no matter who they are committed against? How can we on the one hand, condemn Nazi atrocities against Jewish people and then on the other, condone Israel's more recent violations against the virtually defenseless Palestinian and Lebanese populations?

The extent to which some governments and organizations will go to stifle any discussion or ideas contrary to Israel's policies toward its neighbors was brought out into the open recently when the Canadian government banned George Galloway from entering that country in order to thwart a March 30 speaking engagement and public forum in Toronto that was to be entitled, Resisting War From Gaza to Kandahar.

For those who are not familiar with him, Galloway is a radio talk-show host as well as a member of the British Parliament - one who has been elected to that governing body five times; this, in spite of being cast out of the Labour Party in October of 2003 when it was decided by the party leadership that his strong statements against that year's invasion of Iraq brought his party into disrepute. Mr. Galloway is a controversial figure in Great Britain, and is often considered as being one who enjoys rubbing people the wrong way. This writer's opinion of him, after some observation, is that the British MP is a passionate voice for peace and justice in an often unjust world, a man whose statements and actions are either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented by his critics. If he enjoys rubbing some folks the wrong way, then so be it. He is certainly no criminal and is certainly not a terrorist - a label the Canadian government seemingly wants to place upon him.

Late last week Mr. Galloway faced off in a televised discussion on UK Channel 4 with Meir Weinsten, the director of the JDL (Jewish Defense League) of Canada. Reportedly, the JDL was instrumental in convincing the Canadian government to block Galloway's entrance into the country on the grounds of being a national security threat; this, in spite of the fact that the British anti-war spokesman travels to that country every year in order to engage in such forums. It must also be pointed out that in its report, Terrorism 2000/2001, our own FBI referred to the JDL as a "violent extremist Jewish Organization."

During the televised discussion Weinsten labeled Galloway as "a threat to Canadian security" and "a proxy agent" for Hamas and Hezbollah. These charges come in part, from the British MP's recent visit to Gaza, where he and many more of his countrymen delivered humanitarian aid to the people of that war-ravaged territory. Toward the end of the discussion the MP pointed out that there are other means available with which to address the Canadian people. In response, Weinsten issued a threat to any Canadian supporters of Galloway or those who would so much as listen to him by saying, "we will be looking into these organizations to expose their links to terrorist organizations." He went on to threaten individuals as well. Galloway's response was to cite Weinsten's remarks as being "venal and brute threats." He called for debate as opposed to exclusion.

For any who watch the above-mentioned debate - if you want to call it that, it is easy to observe Weinsten's body language and his general demeanor. In the opinion of this writer, to watch Weinsten in action is to see the bare face of fascism - a fascism that intends to do harm to anyone, who will even listen to a differing point of view from that of the Israeli storyline. To watch George Galloway, as he stands up to his opponent armed with truth and freedom, is a ray of light in an ever-darkening political climate.

Those organizations to whom Galloway was scheduled to speak have already begun legal action in order to overturn their government's decision. The MP's contention that, "all right-thinking Canadians, whether they agree with me over the wisdom of sending troops to Afghanistan or not, will oppose this outrageous decision," seems to be coming to fulfillment in that country.

On March 24, Canada's own Center for Research on Globalization published an article entitled Bush Versus Galloway: Who is a Threat to Canada's Security? The article begins by stating that, "A gross violation of constitutional and international law occurred this week heralding a dark day for Canadian governance and society. The credibly accused war criminal George W. Bush was allowed into Canada in violation of Canada's ratified international and constitutional obligations...The Canadian government's complacency in the war criminal's visit, was starkly contrasted with the haste of the government in banning the anti-war British MP George Galloway from entering Canada, who was planning to speak to an anti-war church group in Toronto in the coming weeks."

Further, even thoughtful Jewish Canadians have begun speaking out against their government"s banning of Mr. Galloway in favor of free speech and lively debate.

Although George Galloway has said that the Canadian government's decision is unacceptable and that he intends to fight it, there is no telling what the eventual outcome of this dispute will be. It is his feeling that Canada's right-wing government will soon be swept away by the voters in the up and coming elections; there is some reason to believe that this is so. Still, it is difficult to deny the ever-growing power of Israel and its lobbying/citizen's groups in the United States, Canada, and other western countries. It is becoming more obvious by the day that as regards the situation in the Middle East, it is these people's intention that there will only be one narrative told - and it will be theirs! Good luck George. I hope you win this one.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Ice Storm: A Memorable Occasion

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
is also great
And would suffice. - Robert Frost

During the first week of February 1978 my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island was struck by a blizzard. The Great Blizzard of "78," as it is still called, hit suddenly and with force. I was at work when the first flakes began to fall. As the minutes passed however, it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be an ordinary snow event. The factory I was working in shut down and we all headed for home.

At the time, I was rooming with friends in a town called Warren, a community located on the east side of Narragansett Bay. I never made it home that day; in fact, I never made it out of Providence as the snow piled up so quickly that I had to abandon the car I had bought only a few days earlier on a main street, which fortunately, ran close to my friend Gus' house.

It would be a week before I would be able to drive back out to Warren. While I don't remember the actual precipitation measurements accrued as a result of the blizzard, I do know that the snowfall amount approached four feet; snow drifts from the blowing wind reached to the roofs of people's houses. While snowfall is common in Rhode Island, blizzards are not. This particular storm completely overwhelmed the various cities' ability to cope with the precipitation and the entire state, Providence in particular, found itself completely paralyzed as four lanes of traffic in each direction on Interstate 95 were completely filled with abandoned vehicles all the way out to the City of Warwick and the state airport. Nothing moved. The highest priority became the opening of one airstrip at the airport in order that heavy snow-removal equipment could be brought in from out of state. Once the Mississippi and Georgia National Guards were able to land with their equipment, the slow task of freeing the city began. First, they had to work their way out of the airport and onto the interstate, where hundreds or even thousands of abandoned vehicles had to be towed to specially-designated centers and lots - one by one; this, over miles of interstate leading into the capital city.

Even now, I have to smile when I think of Gus' wife, Natalie, as she put up with two bored potheads who were caught unaware and didn't have anything to smoke. There was not much available that would give us a better attitude about the situation. Oh yes, we were scraping the resin off of pipes, smoking old roaches, walking through the snowdrifts - whatever in the quest for our holy grail.

About a week after the blizzard hit, we heard the roar of heavy equipment coming down the road. Finally our freedom from cabin fever and involuntary confinement was at hand. Neighbors stood at their doors and windows cheering as the plows rolled by in a scene reminiscent of appreciation shown to a liberating army.

Fayetteville experienced one such memorable event this past week as it fell victim to what was perhaps, the worst ice storm in recent memory. There have been others in recent years, but I think this one, in terms of severity, easily tops the rest. Every Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas resident likely has his/her own story to tell. After all, extreme weather events and natural disasters in general, have a way of challenging us - of forcing us to be creative; this, in order to survive. Literally thousands of electric customers were out of power. People tried to stay warm in their homes, trees and limbs came down upon roofs, driveways, power lines, roads, parks, and just about anywhere else one can think of.

Still, these natural disasters have a way of bringing out the best in us as they force us to break out of our routines in order to lend assistance to others and to realize that none of us are really an island unto ourselves. When the things that we ordinarily take for granted suddenly quit functioning, we must suddenly reconcile ourselves to hard realities such as the approach of nightfall, vulnerability to cold, and our dependence upon one another. All in all, this is not a bad thing. The problem is in trying to keep the right attitude when things suddenly go wrong, as they did last week.

It's Tuesday, and considering where we were last week at this time, Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas seem to be recovering quite well; this, with the help of so many electrical and tree specialists from both local and out of state areas. School is open once again, most of us in the urban areas have our electrical service back and things are slowly returning to normal. There is still plenty of work to be done as trees, limbs, branches and debris can be found in just about every body's front yard. As a matter of fact, the whole city seems to have the aroma of a logging camp as the poignant smell of freshly-cut trees lingers everywhere.

It is February, and while winter's bite remains today, it won't be long until spring arrives with its promise of renewal. By May, many of the trees will have sprouted new branches and the canopy of shade will be extending overhead in order to protect us from the summer sun. The ice storm of "09," while not forgotten, will slowly slip into the back of our collective memory. Still, the stories and personal experiences will live on and will be told, not only by us, but by our children and perhaps, even our children's children. These will be stories of survival; and, even though the events of the past week may have been difficult to get through, I believe that the stories, over time, will be told with a sense of pride and with a fond look back at the events of the last week.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is It Good Bye for the Iconoclast?

It was only last summer when I first heard of the existence of the popular blog called The Iconoclast. "Oh, you've got to check it out I was told. That's where everybody goes for the scoop on local politics. "

The next time I got online I checked out the Iconoclast. It was easy to understand why so many people went there. The blog's author, Jonah Tebbetts, gave excellent coverage of local and regional events here in Northwest Arkansas; this, with a nice proportion of honest editorial work. The Iconoclast quickly became a place that I too, would go to on a regular basis.

Just this afternoon, I read an announcement on a local list-serve, which stated that The Iconoclast had disappeared. I attempted to access the website and I saw the following message:

Blog has been removed

Sorry, the blog at has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.

To say that I'm surprised about the popular blog's sudden disappearance would be an understatement. Hopefully, it's just a glitch or something. Perhaps Jonah, in attempting to disseminate more vital information, somehow deactivated his site - perhaps even without knowing. Then again, it could be that The Iconoclast has really disappeared. If so, it will be missed, because Jonah Tebbetts did one heck of a job of keeping us informed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Glorious Day!

"I'm telling you, you're going to be seeing Obama blackshirts before very long," P said to me.

"I seriously doubt that," I responded with a chuckle.

It was late afternoon/early evening on Monday. The next day, at 12:00 noon, Barak Obama was to be sworn in as our 44th president. My associate P, a rather enjoyable and friendly guy, was relating his fears about the president elect and his incoming administration. At that moment, I understood that P, who can best be described as a libertarian, was re-hashing one of the more popular talking points that can be heard on right-wing talk radio and seen on similarly-oriented internet sites.

As for me, I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat; this, while readily admitting to my belief that the Democratic Party holds to higher and more humanitarian ideals in general, than the Republican Party does. As a self-described leftist with a libertarian streak, I enjoy hearing comments such as those made by P. Being non-aligned helps me to keep an open mind about the opinions of others, and it helps me to look at events and situations without having to run my observations through the lens of dogma, political correctness of either the left or the right, or any stringent political philosophy. As such, I openly admit that I, as so many other millions of Americans, was overjoyed to observe the Inauguration of Barak Obama yesterday.

Of course, since the transition to the new administration began, I have had issues with some of the choices Mr. Obama has made as well as some of his stated policies. More specifically, I have long considered Hillary Clinton to be a warmonger that appears to be all too ready to bully other countries that will not knuckle under to our way of thinking. Further, I view her as being so biased toward Israel that as Secretary of State, she will be incapable of brokering a truly just peace between that country and the Palestinians. Our new president's stated policy toward Afghanistan troubles me as well. I keep thinking about the loss of so much innocent civilian life in that country due to bombing attacks upon villages; these, based solely upon the suspicion that a terror suspect may be there. I look at how much being bogged down in Afghanistan contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and I ask myself if our chosen leader has thought about these things.

Still, listening to his Inaugural Address Tuesday, I couldn't help but feel elated. Finally, we have a president who addresses the American people as if we have some intelligence! Finally, we have a president that at least appears to have dignity and a conscience. In a mild reference to the tactics of the past administration and in my opinion, the jabs coming at him from the right, Mr. Obama said:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

Is anyone else out there as sick of the worn-out dogmas that we been hearing since the days of Ronald Reagan? Unbelievably, there are those who still continue to promote the worn-out hands off the free market dogma; this, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that this policy, which has been promoted by Republicans and most Democrats alike, is largely responsible for the economic problems that we now face. In light of this, I believe that our new president was being very practical Tuesday when he put it this way:

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end...
"Power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."

How can anyone not be inspired by words such as these? In the opinion of this writer, Mr. Obama cut right through all of the hollow arguments that the right has used against him - arguments such as his alleged desire to turn us into a socialist and therefore, dictatorial nation.

As I watched Tuesday's inaugural proceedings, it was difficult for me to look upon the thousands upon thousands of faces on the National Mall - faces that were inclusive of all races and ethnicities without having tearful eyes. Mr. Obama was correct in saying that his father, and by default, so many in that vast audience would not have gotten served in a restaurant sixty years ago. Gazing into the vast horde of people that attended this inaugural event, it was easy to experience their euphoria and jubilation. For some, it was the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream. For others, it was the sense that our eight-year nightmare has finally come to an end. Likely, for most that attended the event, and for myself, it was a combination of these things.

As with P and many others, there is a lack of appreciation for this feeling of euphoria that has overtaken so many Americans. I do realize that our new president is neither perfect, nor is he some sort of a savior. More likely than not, I will be one of the first to criticize some of his choices and actions. Still, after eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration, it is refreshing to have a new president who appears ready to get down to work, radiates dignity, and discusses issues honestly and intelligently. I wish him well as he now undertakes this most difficult job; I sure wouldn't want it.

Perhaps the best way to describe what I'm feeling today, after eight horrific years of Bush and Cheney, can be related through the lyrics of an old song. For me, the words are as pertinent now as they were when they first appeared in 1939:

Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up - sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead.
She's gone where the goblins go,
Below - below- below, Yo'ho, let's open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong' the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know
The Wicked Witch is dead.

Photo: New York Times -

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Relieving the Feeling of Political Impotency: Fayetteville Demonstrates For Peace In Gaza

In December of 1776 Thomas Paine, who is best known for his pamphlet entitled Common Sense, which endorsed American independence from Great Britain, began writing a series of pamphlets entitled The American Crises. In one of the first of these, he coined the popularly-known statement, "These are times that try men's souls." Paine was referring of course, to the situation the thirteen colonies were facing during the opening days of the American Revolution.

While there is little doubt as to the truthfulness of Paine's statement, it is equally true that these also are times that try men's and women's souls. There are events taking place in the world right now - today, that are so horrific that just having knowledge of them seems to tear at one's very soul. More specifically, I am speaking about the Israeli-instigated humanitarian crises that is taking place in Gaza, where it appears that the Tel Aviv government appears hell-bent to commit genocide against the nearly defenseless Palestinians living there. Knowing what Israel is doing is bad enough, but watching our own U.S. Senate almost unanimously support the carnage taking place there is really too much to bear. After all, to whom does a person of conscience turn when their so-called representatives overwhelmingly support such crimes against humanity; this, when an estimated 50 percent of Americans are horrified by news reports coming from that part of the world?

For me, and likely for others as well, there is a growing feeling of helplessness as each day, we hear more depressing news coming from Gaza. Here's just a sampling of today's headlines as they can currently be found at

Israel Tells Gazans to Brace For Yet More Escalation

U.N: One-third of Gaza dead, injured are children

This one is especially horrifying:

Report: Israel Forced Civilians Into Single House, Repeatedly Bombed It

It was with this ever-increasing feeling of hopelessness and impotency that I read some of the stories behind the headlines this morning. I was in the computer lab at the public library and after finishing with my reading, I decided to check one of my e-mail accounts before getting off line and heading home. Upon getting into my inbox, I saw an e-mail from the OMNI Center that spoke of a "vigil in honor of the dead and the suffering in the Gaza conflict." The vigil was set for Saturday (today) at twelve noon. I checked my watch; the time was 11:59. Quickly, I logged off the computer, ran downstairs to grab a movie to take home, and headed for the Federal Building where a group of people were assembled outside.

It was not a large group that was gathered there, but it certainly was a dedicated one. I counted about 32 participants, but my count could have been off a little one way or the other. To see that even this many people came out on relatively short notice, and on such a cold and blustery day, was heartwarming.

One of the event organizers decided to hold a Palestinian ceremony called an Azaa. This is the Arabic word for the mourning ceremony that occurs after the death of a loved one in the Islamic world. Today, in keeping with the Azaa tradition, there was a table set up for the purpose of serving dates and bitter coffee - two essential components of any Azaa.

Most of the folks who attended the event stood along North College Avenue and held signs that stated their opposition to the current war in Gaza and the taking of so many civilian lives there. A small podium with an accompanying sound system, from which speakers delivered messages and volunteers delivered prayers, had also been set up.

My whole reason writing about today's event is not to talk about what was said outside the Federal Building today, or how many passing vehicles honked favorably; rather, it is simply to congratulate the OMNI folks and all who attended the event for coming out on such a cold day in order to take such an unpopular stance at a time during which our news media and politicians are only expressing one side of this vital issue - the Israeli side.

Today's vigil in downtown Fayetteville likely won't sway our biased national news media or our bought and paid for "representatives" in Washington, D.C. who blindly bow down to the powerful Israeli lobby without ever caring to hear the other side of the story, but I can at least hope that it made the other participants feel a little less frustrated - a little less impotent, as it did me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The "Dignity," and Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza

On Tuesday morning at around 5:00 A.M., a vessel traveling in the eastern Mediterranean was intercepted and came under attack by Israeli gunboats; this, while traveling in international waters and some distance from the coast of the besieged Gaza strip, where the Israeli military has unleashed its full might upon the nearly defenseless Palestinian population there. On board the Dignity were doctors, journalists, humanitarian workers, and former Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. Also on board, were approximately three tons of medical supplies that were to be delivered, at the request of doctors in Gaza, to help alleviate the humanitarian crises that currently exists there. The crew and passengers were hoping to evacuate wounded Palestinians to other locations due to the inability of area hospitals to cope with the crises they are now facing.

As passengers and crew headed toward Gaza in stormy seas on Tuesday morning, the Israeli gunboats fired machine guns into the water close to the humanitarian ship; one such gunboat rammed the Dignity on the port side of her bow. According to eyewitness reports, the vessel was rammed three times. After the attack, the Dignity reported that it was taking on water and had some engine trouble. With the serious damage the ship had sustained, it had to change course and headed toward Lebanon for repairs. The Dignity flies the flag of Gibraltar, is under the command of a British captain, and was clearly attacked in international waters; this, in direct violation of maritime law.

In recent weeks the Israeli navy has been harassing and kidnapping fishermen and human-rights activists, who have been attempting to bring food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza in order to relieve the human suffering that is taking place there. These maritime harassments against humanitarian-aid and human-rights observers are only a part of the slow strangulation - a form of collective punishment that Israel has been implementing against the residents of Gaza since Hamas, an organization on the terrorist lists of both Israel and the United States, saw a huge victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 and especially, since that organization took control of Gaza in June of 2007.

Life has not been easy for the Palestinians in general, especially since Israel began the construction of a so-called "security fence" that is designed to separate Israel from its Palestinian neighbors. Many prefer to call this fence an "apartheid wall." When completed, this West Bank Barrier will seal off the entire population of the West Bank from both Israel proper and other Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip, where a completed wall already leaves them isolated and virtually cut off from the rest of the world.

Israel's newly-constructed wall, which has been condemned by the International Court of Justice has had a devastating effect upon the Palestinian people. The situation in Gaza, particularly since the Hamas takeover, can only be described as dire; this, even before Israel launched its brutal attack upon Gaza this past Saturday.

For months those living in the Gaza strip have fallen victim to a sort of slow starvation. Food, medical supplies and fuel necessary for the operation of the area's electrical plant are routinely denied by the Israeli government. Residents are being forced to live without electricity for most of the time due to the imposed fuel shortage and therefore, are facing the complete breakdown of sanitary conditions. There is precious little clean drinking water, garbage and sewage is piling up, and the people are being forced to live in what has been referred to as an "open cesspool." Further, the Israeli military has been attempting to keep the news media and humanitarian workers from getting anywhere near Gaza; this, likely in an attempt to evade further international observation and the subsequent condemnation for its actions.

On Saturday, Israel began an aerial bombardment upon the People of Palestine, which many are calling a holocaust. The justification for this massive military action has been explained as defensive action as a result of Hamas' Kassam rocket fire into southern Israel that has resumed in recent weeks. Still, as Dennis Rahkonen brings out in his article entitled The Truth About Those Hamas Rockets, the rockets being used amount to little more than "slingshots" against Israel's military might. Of course, to those Israelis living in the line of fire, these rockets can be quite frightening. The truth however, is that there has been very little death or serious injury as a result of these rocket attacks.
Of course, Israel has a right to defend itself, but the response to the rocket attacks with the brute force of "shock and awe" that is currently being employed by Israel against all the Palestinian people living in Gaza simply cannot be justified; at least, not in the opinion of this writer.

Since Saturday, almost 400 have died and countless others have been seriously wounded. Area hospitals are unable to cope with the situation; this, due in part to the Israeli blockade of the entire Gaza Strip. It was for this reason that the Dignity was attempting to lend humanitarian aid to a terrorized and besieged people. After the vessel safely made it to the Lebanese port city of Tyre, former Congresswoman McKinney was interviewed by CNN. At the time, she called upon President-Elect Obama to please say something about the humanitarian crises in Gaza. She went on to say this to her former congressional colleagues:

"I would like to ask my former colleagues in the United States Congress to stop sending weapons of mass destruction around the world. As we are about to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, let us remember what he said. He said that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. And guess what: We experienced a little bit of that violence, because the weapons that are being used by Israel are weapons that were supplied by the United States government."

Neither President-Elect Obama, the supposed candidate for change who once said that "we are our brother's keeper," nor Mrs. Mckinney's former congressional colleagues have uttered a word about Gaza's humanitarian crises. Their silence is deafening.

Above photo by Fidaa Abuhamdiya for Gaza coverage called "il massacro."