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."