December 29, 2013

Holding up the mirror

Guests: Tarak Kauff and Ellen Davidson, local activists and members of the Veterans For Peace Delegation to the West Bank, talk about their experiences with Palestinians, Israeli peace activists, and former members of the Israeli Defense Force.

Are US veterans in a unique position to dramatize opposition to Israel's occupation of the West Bank? Tarak and Ellen made an eloquent case for VFP being involved. 

The organization is dedicated to what the United States SAYS is stands for: democracy, human rights, and the use of US military force to protect our own country. Who better to know the price military personnel pay for murdering civilians in occupied lands? The US has been overthrowing democratic governments and occupying foreign countries for the last sixty years. Our citizens know how easy it is to give passive support for war crimes committed in other countries. We also understand the price our young men and women pay to commit these crimes, broken bodies and troubled souls. 

In a way, Israel reflects so many of our worst values: militarism, ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples, and brutal racism. We look at Israel and they are us. Will we be able to restore the ideals that made this country a beacon of liberty and hope, or are we too far down our own road to empire? Looking in the Israeli mirror helps us redefine our own country. Thanks to people like Tarak and Ellen who so courageously help us understand ourselves. 

December 13, 2013

Long Term Assault on Civil Liberties in America

Guest: Tom Burke, one of the 23 antiwar and international solidarity activists raided by the FBI and subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago on Sept. 24, 2010, talks to us about Rasmea Odeh as well as the Supreme Court decision declining the appeal of the Holy Land Five.

I give a lot of credit to Tom. He has a wife and family to support, yet is willing to tell his story about FBI harassment. Part of his bravery is that he and other FBI targets have gotten so much support all across the country from people like Gary and me on Activist Radio. 

We explore dissenting views. We organize peace events and promote discussions about Palestinian human rights. We and millions of others of Americans want to protect our right to dissent in a free society. Once the FBI is able to control and intimidate those with opposing ideas on racism, rule by the rich, war crimes abroad, and corporate control of both parties at home, our society stops being a democracy and becomes a police state. 

The Long Term Assault on Civil Liberties in America (Z Magazine, June 2011)
by Fred Nagel

Visiting Budapest in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, I had a chance to talk to some Hungarians about their lives during and after the Soviet occupation. I was particularly interested in the secret police. Did they feel safer now that they couldn't be taken away in the middle of the night for something they had said or written? One woman's response was typical. "They would never come for me," she said. "They came for our writers, our intellectuals, but never for me. I was never scared."

Perhaps the average American thought similarly about the USA PATRIOT Act, passed within a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Apparently, members of Congress felt that way. The act was over 300 pages long and most did not have time to read it in the rush for passage. They should have. It gives our government the right to secretly investigate individuals and groups if their actions "appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population...." Cutting a fence, throwing a stone, crossing a police barrier in pursuit of civil rights, protecting the environment, or protesting the World Trade Organization would certainly qualify. And only one member of a group needs to engage in this type of action for the whole group to be investigated.

The USA PATRIOT Act largely does away with the need for a search warrant, the process that requires the government to show a judge reasonable cause that there is evidence relevant to a crime. This assault on the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unwarranted search and surveillance, has some startling ramifications.

The FBI can not only search your home or business, but also listen to your phone conversations, monitor your computer and Internet use, and search your medical, financial, library, and academic records. All this without ever letting you know. As an example, librarians were put on notice that it is a violation of law to let any library user know that his/her records have ever been checked. And hundreds of libraries report that records have been checked, although they are forbidden to reveal the specifics. There can be little doubt that homes have also been searched, patient records copied, etc. since passage of this act.

Indefinite imprisonment without charge and without evidence used to be unthinkable. But the USA PATRIOT Act allows this for non-citizens who are members of a designated "terrorist organization." Moreover, the FBI gets to label any group it wants as supporting terrorism. Did you give money to the African National Congress in its fight against apartheid in South Africa? Did you support CISPES, an organization of American citizens trying to change U.S. policy in El Salvador and Central America? If you did, and you are not a citizen, you could join the thousands who have been rounded up, questioned, and held in indefinite detention, without charges and without access to legal representation. Two American citizens have also been imprisoned in this manner, establishing a precedent.

Secret military tribunals have been set up to try immigrants and other foreigners for terrorism, with the death penalty a distinct possibility. Even U.S. citizens who are allowed access to a lawyer may have their conversations monitored if the attorney general "suspects" that terrorist activity is involved.

The Total Information Awareness database, organized as part of the Bush era's Department of Homeland Security, was an ominous step towards a police state. Masterminded by Admiral John Poindexter—criminally convicted in 1990 for lying to Congress, destroying official documents, and obstruction of justice—this database would have collected every bit of information that existed on every citizen in this country. A massive public outcry stopped this program before it was put into place. But since then, the government's surveillance programs have multiplied dramatically, especially under Obama who signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act without any reforms at all. Currently, the Justice Department is trying to get a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling against planting GPS devices without a warrant.

"Big deal," you reply. "The FBI has been doing all this stuff for years. Where have you been?" Well, it has been doing this since 1908 when Congress refused to authorize the FBI (at that time the Bureau of Investigation), explaining that "a system of spying upon and espionage of the people, such as has prevailed in Russia" was unacceptable in a free society. The president then created the FBI while Congress was not in session.

The clearest and most reliable source of FBI history is the Church Committee Report, a Congressional investigation of the Bureau conducted in 1975. According to this report, the FBI was in trouble by the 1920s when agents carried out the Palmer Raids that eventually rounded up 10,000 citizens in what was termed "indiscriminate arrests of innocent with the guilty" as well as "unlawful seizures by federal detectives." The Church Committee also cited reports by legal scholars that "found federal agents guilty of using third-degree tortures, making illegal searches and arrests, using agents provocateurs...."

J. Edgar Hoover joined the Bureau in time to take part in these raids. By the 1950s, Hoover, as head of the FBI, used his investigators to collect information on a range of public figures and had no scruples about using that information to influence Congressional votes or presidential decisions. It was under Hoover that COINTELPRO was born (the acronym for the aptly-named Counter Intelligence Program), a comprehensive system of surveillance that the Church Committee found "had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity. The unexpressed major premise of much of COINTELPRO is that the Bureau has a role in maintaining the existing social order and that its efforts should be aimed toward combating those who threaten that order." Combating the Civil Rights movement, the Native American movement, and the anti-Vietnam War movement to be specific. Through this program, the FBI served as thought police in the 1950s and 1960s.

The mindless destruction caused by COINTELPRO is still coming to light. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a particular target. Over several years, the FBI wiretapped King's home and office phones and put bugs in his hotel rooms.

At the same time, it worked to deny him awards and honorary degrees, and even tried to prevent an audience with Pope Paul VI. Hoover was quick to exploit the results of the wiretaps—proof of King's illicit affairs—that he then had his agents mail to King's supporters and to the media. Finally, the FBI mailed copies of bedroom tapes to King himself, along with an anonymous letter suggesting he commit suicide rather than having his wife, family, and the nation know about his marital infidelity.

The FBI vendetta against others was just as brutal. Leonard Peltier sits in a federal prison today, framed for a murder that most historians doubt he committed. The role of the FBI in his extradition from Canada and the withholding of over 12,000 FBI documents from his trial is another low point in the violation of civil liberties. Among the documents withheld was a ballistic test which proved that the fatal bullets could not have come from the gun tied to Peltier at the trial. According to Amnesty International, he is a "political prisoner" who should be "immediately and unconditionally released."

The Church Committee Report was released in 1976. Senator Church told the nation at that time that the FBI's COINTELPRO had been "a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association." He also reassured U.S. citizens "that never again will an agency of the government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers a threat to the established order."

But by 1980, things were back to normal for the FBI, at least according to Frank Varelli, who infiltrated a CISPES office in Dallas for the Bureau that year. In a statement to Congress in 1987, he revealed a complicated pattern of surveillance, theft, and dirty tricks. CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) was founded to promote peace in El Salvador. Specifically, it worked to expose U.S. military aid that funded right-wing death squads operating there. Varelli was hired by the FBI as part of an "international terrorism investigation," but his tactics included the familiar cameras and sound equipment in bedrooms, this time as part of an attempt to smear and blackmail the Dallas head of CISPES.

Varelli also provided the El Salvadoran National Guard with lists of U.S. citizens traveling there "who were not friendly to Reagan policies..." Just one year before Varelli supplied these lists, three nuns and one church worker, all U.S. citizens, had been raped and murdered in El Salvador by members of this same National Guard.

The FBI has admitted to launching this investigation from 1981 through 1985, but has refused to reveal on what legal authority it did so. Over 50 CISPES offices were broken into during this period.

In 1990, environmental activists, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, were arrested and accused of making and transporting bombs, a charge the FBI knew was false. Historian and writer Howard Zinn's testimony in a successful lawsuit against the FBI explained: "It seems clear that the history of the FBI is consistent with the charges that it sought to discredit and 'neutralize' Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, and the environmental cause they were working for, by smearing them publicly with sensational false charges of possession of a bomb, and that it did not hesitate to violate their constitutional rights to achieve its ends."

The fact that the average American citizen is unaware of all of this is a testament to the FBI's skill at public relations. Of course, the FBI has done some crime fighting in its history, but even its campaign against the Mafia has been exaggerated in the media. Anti-crime efforts in places like Boston are now being exposed for what they were: the FBI allied themselves with certain crime families to arrest and take the credit for convicting members of other families.

The FBI, as well as similar federal law enforcement agencies, has done a much better job of protecting us from dissent than of protecting us from crime. As for terrorists, in the entire history of the FBI, there were precious few of those caught among the tens of thousands detained, bugged, discredited, falsely charged, and publicly humiliated. Looking at the history of the FBI, is it any wonder that 19 men were able to board 4 domestic airliners and fly them with such deadly accuracy into their targets? They learned to fly at U.S. flight schools while the Bureau was busy tracking down and playing dirty tricks on students protesting corporate "trade" and the World Bank.

Police forces all across this land have followed the lead of the FBI in snooping. The Denver Police Department revealed a 40-year program of gathering and storing information on the usual suspects, such as Sister Antonia Anthony, a 74-year-old nun who taught destitute Indians, and Shirley Whiteside, who, along with her husband, ran a community soup kitchen. These were the types of people labeled "criminal extremists" in the database developed by Orion, a software company with ties to the Pentagon.

When asked how over 3,000 Denver citizens ended up with this label, the police said that it was up to each officer to "use his own judgment" in characterizing people.

On Friday, September 24, 2010, the FBI raided seven homes and an antiwar office. Fourteen activists in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan were also handed subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury. The usual groups were targeted, including: the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, and Students for a Democratic Society. All had been involved in antiwar marches and attended the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Tracy Molm was one of the activists targeted in the raid: "I heard a pounding on my door in my apartment. That was pretty bizarre. I opened the door and they shoved their way in saying, 'We are FBI agents and we have a warrant.' I was in my bathrobe and they told me I had to sit on my couch and they were going to search my apartment. They pulled my roommate and a friend out of her room and told them to sit on the couch, too. They took my phone and my computer. They proceeded to go through everything in our apartment. If we wanted to go to the bathroom, an FBI agent had to come with us. We were told we could leave, but couldn't come back.... I was outraged. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this could happen. Everything I have ever done has been around peace and justice issues and particularly U.S. foreign policy."

I have never much liked Benjamin Franklin's famous quote about civil liberties: "Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." It seemed somewhat elitist, suggesting that some people haven't earned the right to enjoy freedom of expression. Perhaps they have no need for it, like the woman in Budapest saying that the secret police would never come for her. Or maybe Franklin was simply saying he had done his part and the rest was up to us. In many ways, we have failed Franklin and we have failed ourselves.

I like to think that there is still time to win back our basic civil liberties.


Fred Nagel, a veteran, is a filmmaker and political activist. A resident of Rhinebeck, New York, he also hosts a show on Vassar College Radio (

December 5, 2013

Two corporate, pro-war parties

Phil Restino, U.S. Army veteran, radio show host and founder of the Central Florida chapter of Veterans For Peace, talks about Resolution 2013-10 to apply the same impeachment standards to President Obama as were applied to former President Bush.

All three of us got into it: Phil, Gary and myself. Should there be a call from Vets For Peace to impeach Obama. Or would that just be allying VFP with rightwing bigots who hate Obama for the color of his skin?

Actually, there were four of us. Tarak had called me right before the show to stress that VFP can't afford to even look like a racist organization. According to Tarak, who has served on the VFP executive board, the organization has to be protected from that image.

Searching for images to use on this blog, I was struck by how racist many of them were. Yes, there are still whites who hate blacks, and who are eager to see Obama fail because he is African American. He is educated, sophisticated, and wealthy. How can that be when so many of America's whites have none of these measures of success? Marginalized whites taking their anger out on blacks; it's an old story of the capitalist system encouraging division among the dispossessed. 

But I think that the VFP leadership should have acted upon their convention's vote for impeachment. The organization can take a principled position on war crimes, while at the same time speaking out against white racist groups. Pro Palestinian groups in the US do that all the time. We criticize Israel's apartheid policies, yet reject any person or group that espouses hatred against Jews.

We had only begun to explore the two party system's role in all this. Democrats want to own the antiwar movement, while giving Obama the cover to bomb and invade other countries. The call to impeach is especially needed now to expose the utter hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. We have two corporate, pro-war parties in America, and a bunch of people who don't want to admit how bad things really are. 

November 21, 2013

Tyranny comes in all shapes and sizes.

Guest:  Carl Strock, journalist and author of “From D'burg to Jerusalem: The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman,” talks about the role of advertisers like Price Chopper in controlling what stories get printed in local papers.

Carl is a great guy. I can tell from talking to him for 15 minutes on the radio.

He says, and writes exactly what he thinks, a formula that worked for 25 years at his small town newspaper in Schnectady, NY.

Then a Jewish peace group, J Street, persuaded him to visit the West Bank. On his return, he couldn't stop writing about the humiliation and suffering of the Palestinians. "I used to think they were terrorists" he told us. That was before he stood at a checkpoint with them for hours in the hot sun.

The Israeli Lobby soon found his writing distasteful and branded him an anti-Semite. A large advertiser in his newspaper, Price Chopper, joined forces with a local synagogue and some national Zionist organizations to scare his paper into limiting what he could write on the subject. Censored for the first time in his career, he retired.

The Lobby preaches racial hatred of the Palestinians, and uses the established Jewish Religion and wealthy business interests to throttle anyone with an opposing view. Think they are not powerful? There isn't a person in Congress who dares criticize Israel, and few who even have the courage to question the Lobby's relentless efforts to push America into another war.  

Tyranny comes in all shapes and sizes.

The edge of tyranny

Guest: Tom Burke, one of the 23 antiwar and international solidarity activists raided by the FBI and subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago on Sept. 24, 2010, talks about Rasmea Odeh as well as the Supreme Court decision declining the appeal of the Holy Land Five. (Do to technical problems, Tom's talk was prerecorded.)

The impossible sometimes happens. You grow up thinking that you live in a free country, and then the FBI is in your house taking away your computer. Yes, you know that they have targeted dissent since their founding more than a century ago. But that junior high history course never really leaves you. It's a fair country, a just country that little voice keeps telling you. It's a democracy where the government is of, by and for the people. This must be a dream.

For Tom Burke it was a nightmare. We live in a national security state that has been a long time coming. To even think about it raises the risk to yourself. They are spying on everything you do.
Can we come back from the edge of tyranny?

November 11, 2013

Taking on the liars in high places

Guest: Kevin Gosztola, writer for on WikiLeaks, whistleblowing, secrecy and various issues created by the national security state, talks about how the Obama Administration avoids scrutiny from the press.

The Obama publicity campaign became the Obama presidency. Mr. Gosztola details the way form trumps substance in an administration as secretive as any we have ever had. 

The fact that Obama campaigned on governmental transparency just proves that he knows exactly how to lie to the American people. Promise them what they want, and then hide the fact that you are doing the exact opposite. 

Mr. Gosztola is the bright spot in all this. Have charlatans like Obama spurred a new generation of muckrakers, willing to take on the liars in high places? Restoring democracy can be done no other way than by discrediting the plutocracy we have now. 

November 4, 2013

Much harder to condemn America's principal ally

Guest: Paul Rehm, local human rights activist who has completed his sixth period of service with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank, talks about facts on the ground in occupied Palestine.

This interview was the most Paul has talked about the day to day routine that Christian Peacemakers follow when they volunteer in the West Bank. Standing outside a checkpoint following children's progress through the barbed wire and steel gates must be one of the most helpless things a person can do. Each search is recorded and each child taken away is noted. And sometimes when there is obvious abuse and intimidation, the peacemakers ask the Israeli soldiers why. 

The more we know about occupied Palestine, the more we all ask why. The rest of the world is asking why this brutal occupation has gone on for so long, and how our country can use its immense power to support the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians. Read The Diary of Ann Frank and then study the Israeli Defense Force's treatment of Palestinian children. Never again you say? It is easy to hate the Nazis because they are long gone. It is much harder to condemn America's principal ally, the apartheid state of Israel. 

October 25, 2013

The fight against sophistry

GUEST: Harriet Malinowitz, Professor of English & Writing Center Director at Long Island University Brooklyn, talks about her college's attempts to curtail freedom of expression on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I wish we had longer to talk about this. Perhaps we will ask Harriet to be back on Activist Radio at some point.

Describing herself as a "rationalist" in explaining propaganda and racism, I see several examples of this in our interview. According to Harriet the attachment of Zionism to the Jewish religion was an attempt to keep Jews from wondering too far from their own culture. Israel became the way to protect the Jewish religion in America as more and more young Jews were marrying those of other faiths. She also traced the refusal of her college to grant her a sabbatical to recent fundraising initiatives. How to ask wealthy Jews for contributions when the college is supporting a book writing sabbatical that questions the morality of Israel? These are not devious or sinister pressures against freedom of expression on campus. Just the rational need to increase the endowment. 

I wonder if all immoral actions can be viewed like that. Of course, a dependence on logic can also have its drawbacks. The fight against sophistry can never be as emotionally compelling as the fight against racist injustice. But maybe that depends on what motivates people to do the right thing.  

In any case, Harriet is someone who is deeply committed to social justice and human rights. Perhaps she is just more effective in explaining the illogic of those who would deny us of these basic rights. 

October 17, 2013

Military expenditures and belligerent interventions

GUEST: David Vine, assistant professor of anthropology at American University and author of "Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia," talks about his research into the over 1,000 US military bases in the rest of the world.

We are looking forward to Dr. Vines new book on the US bases that have been established all over the globe. Is it empire? Dr. Vine prefers to call it something else. Why alienate people when you want to teach them something about their country?

The Congressional debate, however, is crying out for a word like empire. Where do our representatives think the money has gone? Cut aid to children, the poor, seniors! Make life miserable for anyone who isn't a multimillionaire! But never mention the staggering cost of America's obsession with occupying the rest of the world. Maybe it's like alcoholics who are often the last to realize that their disease is fatal. Will the American Empire eventually collapse when our military spends too much, and the very rich take the rest? 

“Official Washington cannot tell the American people that the real purpose of its gargantuan military expenditures and belligerent interventions is to make the world safe for General Motors, General Electric, General Dynamics, and all the other generals.”
― Michael ParentiAgainst Empire

October 13, 2013

Your work shows us the way

GUEST: Alan Levine, New York civil rights lawyer who has written about the assault on academic freedom in the name of pro-Israel orthodoxy, talks about Jewish peace groups involved in the US campaign against Islamophobia.

Alan was forceful and persuasive. It doesn't do Jews or anyone else any good to encourage racism directed at Muslims. In fact, Alan spends a lot of his life defending those who are denied their fundamental rights in America.

When I asked about this, he referred to his religious tradition, noting that Jews have always supported those who have been downtrodden and discriminated against. I left the interview with a lot of respect both for Alan and for that tradition that is so apparent in our nation's history. Whether it was workers' rights in the First World War, or African American rights in the Jim Crow South, Jewish activist have always been there, and have at times payed a high price for their dedication to unpopular causes.

Thank you, Alan. Your work shows us the way.

October 8, 2013

Labor activism that felt safe to the corporate word

Stephen Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times and author of "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker," talks about the low wage dystopia being faced by our nation's workforce.

Stephen Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times and author of "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker," talks about the low wage dystopia being faced by our nation's workforce.

It was great having Stephen Greenhouse on the show. His book breaks ground, at least for mainstream Americans who read The NY Times. Something is amiss in capitalist America, and even our newspaper of record can talk about it.

Bringing up the history of labor revealed some differences in perception. Stephen maintains that the media has essentially treated the labor movement fairly over the last half century. Critics of the media may find that statement astounding; I certainly did. Stephen also brought up the need for labor to be more "active" if working people are to make any gains in America. But the type of activism that Stephen was talking about didn't include the IWW's in the beginning of the last century, or the wildcat strikes of the late Thirties and Forties. According to Stephen, the IWW included terrorists who "sent bombs to people," and the wildcat strikes "threatened America's prosperity." Stephen meant only labor activism that felt safe to the corporate word of The New York Times.

September 27, 2013

Come back Emma Goldman

Dr. Judith Butler, professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, talks at Vassar College about Zionism, anti-Semitism, and Palestinian rights.

She was great and the hall was packed full of people. What more did I want? Well maybe the recording could have been better; I did it on my iPhone.

No, there was something else missing. The students thought so anyway. By the end, they were playing video games on their phones or just dozing the way college students can do if they have been up too late the night before.

Maybe it was passion. Dr. Butler says the right things: Zionism has taken a militaristic turn, has fused the Jewish religion to the fascist state of Israel, and has excused that state's apartheid ways by using the Holocaust.

According to Dr. Butler, Jews have always taken the side of human rights victims against their oppressor. Now influential Jews in America attack the critics of apartheid Israel by calling them anti-Semitic. How that cheapens the term, and makes it unusable in really fighting the anti-Semitism that still exists worldwide.

But the talk left me wishing for that fiery Emma Goldman. She would have left the crowd cheering or maybe chasing her out of the hall. Social justice can't be divorced from passion. Human rights should get us worked up; it should be the center of our being.

September 22, 2013

The most vicious lobby

GUEST: Jeff Cohen, media critic, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and founder of the media watch group FAIR, talks about his "inspiring" trip to the West Bank.

We had to record Jeff before the program because he teaches during our Thursday broadcasting time. I recorded Jeff on Skype the night before.

I knew why Jeff had called his visit to the West Bank "inspiring" because I had read his recent article. But I asked the question anyway. Read the article rather than my summation, but he was impressed with the nonviolent courage of Palestinians facing such enormous odds in the occupied West Bank. People can show immense courage when faced with almost impossible odds.

I asked Jeff how his view of the Israeli Lobby fits with Chomsky's. While expressing great respect for Chomsky, Jeff said that he had spent more time in the Washington media environment, and thought that Chomsky didn't give lobbying groups like AIPAC enough importance. Jeff thought that the Israeli Lobby was the strongest and most vicious lobby in Washington, able to take down almost any politician. And the US policy towards Israel and even towards the entire Middle East often comes directly from AIPAC.

Listen to the interview on I think it is one of the best we have done.

September 17, 2013

Support WVKR, a highpoint on the FM dial.

Today we have our once in a year fund drive for WVKR, 91.3 FM broadcasting from Poughkeepsie, NY. Please call us at 845 437-7178 and pledge any amount to support Independent radio, a highpoint on our FM spectrum dominated as it is by corporate propaganda and Jesus talk.

When you call in, thank WVKR for bringing back Democracy Now, and pledge any amount to ACTIVIST RADIO!

September 9, 2013

Bezos and The Washington Post: You May Not Want to Step In It

by Gary

When Jeffrey Bezos, founder and chairman of, laid down $250 million to purchase The Washington Post, one of the most important journalistic enterprises in the world, people, understandably, had questions.  What did this Internet retailer know about the newspaper business? 

The primary impact of Amazon on the world of publishing has been about the same as it has been on many other businesses: a massive beat-down.  Those local stores that managed to survive suburbanization, mall-ization, and WalMart-ization were now confronted by an even greater competitor: a company that enjoys a global clientele, pays a pittance in rent and taxes, and does sufficient volume to be able to undersell anybody and everybody.   It is a measure of this catastrophe, but of little consolation to the “mom and pop” stores on Main Street, that they are hardly the only victims.  They’ve are now joined in the life raft by many of the big box stores.  Circuit City?  Borders?  Swept away.  While we were busy lamenting the loss of the beloved local shops where one might not only purchase books, clothing, and music, but might actually have the opportunity to engage a human being in conversation – perhaps even ask a question! – Hurricane Amazon changed the entire economic geography of America.

While the book publishing industry had, like every other industry in the world, seen a steady stream of mergers and consolidations, the Amazon onslaught made such consolidation less a matter of competitive advantage of more a question of survival.  If you’re going up against Amazon, size is not (to paraphrase the thickheaded but practical Vince Lombardi) everything, it’s the only thing.  Quality?  Personal service?  Amazon has relegated these concepts to the dustbin of history.

As far rich people’s toys are concerned, a newspaper has always had a certain appeal.  Any piece of owned property can bestow pride and profit, but a newspaper is a public megaphone with few rivals for power and prestige.  William Randolph Hearst was hardly the only mogul to understand this (James Gordon Bennett and Joseph Pulitzer preceded him), but he was the first to seize the full power of the press to feed his own ego and ambition.  Not satisfied to merely influence public opinion, Hearst realized that this tail could wag the dog of national policy.  He didn’t just create reading material, he made wars.

I’m not suggesting that Bezos is in the same class as Hearst or his contemporary step-children in media manipulation, Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi, but exactly what class (other than upper-upper 1%) is he in?  This guy knows how to run an efficient warehouse without wasting money on air conditioning in summer of heat in winter.  He knows how to keep a strict ceiling on wages (other than his own, of course).  He knows how to avoid taxes.   What interest might this titan of click-commerce have in producing news?

In view of these understandable questions, Bezos followed the news of his purchase with a pilgrimage to the newsroom to face his new employees and assuage their concerns.  He told the assembled parties that he was really, really committed to quality journalism.  Being in the presence of people who make their living with words, one would think Bezos would choose his carefully.  What he said, among other things, was, “Getting a subscription to the Washington Post should be as easy as buying diapers on Amazon.”

I, for one, am not reassured.

First of all, selling newspapers is not like selling diapers, or any other product for that matter.  Journalism is the only professional practice that is afforded protection by the U.S. Constitution, and rightfully so.  Without a functioning system of news-gathering and dissemination, along with a repository for previously published stories, democracy is simply not viable.  This is not the place for a discussion about the benefits of print in comparison to broadcast or Internet news, but there are a couple of quick things to be said.  First, the title of Danny Schechter’s book The More You Watch the Less You Know is not ironic…it is the simple truth about television news.  Second, although the Internet contains an amazing amount of information and opinion, unless you are on the reliable website of an established, credible news organization, it is a risky proposition.  News on the Web is a cornucopia without a context and, as such, is as tool that does as much harm as good.

Second, the diaper analogy is a bit disturbing.  In a situation in which Bezos was trying to demonstrate his respect for the journalistic profession, to compare a newspaper subscription to plastic repository for shit can only be seen as a Freudian slip.  I would wager that Bezos actually has less respect for writers and editors than the average parent has for poop.

I suppose we should suspend judgment until Bezos begins to play with his new toy.   It’s not as if the Post wasn’t in decline, editorially and financially.  But the Post is a venerable newspaper and its role in the nation’s capitol, and therefore on national politics, cannot be overstated.  I cannot help but think that Bezos’ takeover is just the first of many of stories in which the news is mostly bad.

-- Gary Kenton

September 5, 2013

The rigid boundaries of "normalcy"

GUEST: Eli Mann, local activist and LGBT speaker, talks about transgender rights.

Eli was a great guest. He brought up and explored a number of provocative issues, and I was thrilled our audience was listening to something that would make them think about sexual stereotypes and personal liberty.

The term was so intriguing that I was glad we had a chance to talk about it. Have some gays sacrificed a part of their identities to fit better into the straight culture? Is creating their own nuclear families and having children another capitulation to straight society? In a sense, transgenders push the boundaries and force the straight community to consider what sexual identity really means to them.

Why can't a society be free of sexual identity fears? Who benefits from maintaining the rigid boundaries of "normalcy"? Why have fascist systems always resorted to state violence to deny citizens the right to their own sexual identities?

We hope Eli will be able to come back at some point and help us explore these issues as well.

August 29, 2013

Push TIAA/CREF into doing the right thing

GUEST: Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Advocacy, talks about boycotting corporations that profit from the illegal Israeli occupation.

One such corporation is TIAA/CREF. It invests in many Israeli companies that make products in the illegal settlements of the West Bank.

TIAA/CREF also puts shareholders assets into companies like Caterpillar that sells the special bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes.

Many of us can raise these objections with TIAA/CREF because we have invested a part of our college salaries in the firm. Where is the "moral investing" that TIAA/CREF talks about in its literature? 

But there is progress. 
Steve Tamari, TIAA-CREF Investor said: “I welcome the news that as a TIAA-CREF investor, I am no longer profiting from SodaStream, whose main production facility operates in an illegal settlement on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. I urge TIAA-CREF to drop the remaining companies in their portfolio profiting from confiscating Palestinian land and contributing to illegal settlement expansion. I hope in the coming year to see TIAA-CREF divest from the French multinational Veolia, which operates transportation, water-treatment, and garbage services for illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.”
Now is the time to do your part.

August 28, 2013

Arc towards justice

GUEST: Ellie Bernstein, Hudson Valley activist and director of the new film, "Ghost Town: The Hebron Story," talks about the challenges of film making in the occupied West Bank.

We all do what we can to bring justice for the Palestinians. I used to think it was a simple matter of letting enough people know about Israel's ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. But things must be more complex to have lasted this long. There is the Israeli Lobby with its money, religious fanaticism, and virtual chokehold over Congress and the president. There are the weapons manufactures and defense contractors that have put us all on the "cross of iron." There is the disinterest of the American and Israeli people. Human rights for Arabs?

So we just keep plugging along, with boycott stickers, letters to the editor, film showings, etc., hoping that one day Martin Luther King's view of history will prove to be correct. Let us continue our work to bend that arc towards justice.

August 15, 2013

Journey back from the abyss

GUEST: Rami Efal, former Israeli guard in a maximum security prison for Palestinians, talks about his journey from being a member of the Israeli Defense Force to meditating in a Buddhist monastery and translating "Breaking the Silence" testimony into English.

One of the first things that Rami did when he came to America is to find a Palestinian to talk to. He had never really met one, even though he had served for a time in a maximum security prison for Palestinians.

Rami is political in his brutal honesty about growing up in a country that doesn't think about its occupation of the Palestinians. Palestinians  are only dangerous non people. That is where Rami started his journey of self discovery, and I think that peeling back the layers must have taken a lot of courage.

I particularly liked Rami's connection to Breaking the Silence. The IDF soldiers we have interviewed on Activist Radio have never been angry. Only honest, brutally honest.

Rami talks about becoming centered by acknowledging of the truth around oneself. For peace to come, Israel has to make this same journey back from the abyss of racism and militarism.

Beware the Neighborhood Watchman

By Gary

I was recently discussing the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case with David Marc, who is known for his books in the communications, but is also an astute political observer.  We were lamenting the fact that the legal case in Florida, and most of the media conversation, has focused almost exclusively on the question of whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense.  In a court of law in a state which has adopted “Stand Your Ground” legislation and the balance of justice is heavily tilted toward the person who pulls the trigger, this should not come as a shock.  But in the media, writers, reporters, and editors are not limited by the narrow prescripts of the law.  Their conversation need not be so blinkered; they are free (even obligated) to entertain broader concepts such as justice, ethics, and history.

David noted that in all the commentary regarding Martin’s murder (let’s call it what it is), no one, not even Al Sharpton, raised the history of Neighborhood Watch groups.  Zimmerman was not just a passing bystander; the sole reason for his presence on that Florida street was in the role of neighborhood watchman.  He was, in other words, looking for trouble.  In his armed defense of his turf, Zimmerman was following in the footsteps of the most notorious neighborhood watch group in U.S. history: the Ku Klux Klan.  Just like George Zimmerman, Klan members felt themselves to be protecting the safety of their neighbors and extending the arm of law and order.  And, just as many in the community have rallied to Zimmerman’s defense, the Klan was a fraternal organization that enjoyed broad support for much its history.  After a period of decline, which came after Jim Crow laws institutionalized the intimidation of Blacks, the Klan revived in the 1920s as a powerful anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, anti-civil rights group with an estimated 4 million members nationwide, many of whom participated in a massive march on Washington in 1925.  Only after decades of murder and mayhem did the Klan come to be seen by a majority of Americans as the terrorist organization that it was.

But is the Klan an extreme outlier, or merely the foremost example of a strain of violent vigilantism that runs through the history of the country?  There has always been a thin line in the U.S. between the reflex for self-preservation and self-determination on one side, and a faith in law and law enforcement on the other.  Anyone who has participated in a protest or committed an act of civil disobedience has crossed that line.  But such acts are borne of a profound (perhaps na├»ve) belief in the power of organized citizens to make things better by putting strategic pressure on the prevailing powers.  Amazingly few of such actions have been violent.  Protesters generally wish to improve the law, not take it into their own hands.  In other words, a protester may be an outlaw, but he/she is not a vigilante.

What is the difference?  The outlaw is driven to act by intolerable circumstances and takes only those measures which will restore the balance of fairness and justice.  Driven more by need than greed, he/she is likely to be an anti-war or environmental activist, a whistleblower, or just a shoplifter of food and clothing, but not a gun-toting bank robber or revolutionary, despite frequent media portrayals to the contrary.  He/she acts out of conviction or desperation, not fear.  The vigilante, by contrast, takes extra-legal action because he/she has allows fear of “the other” – someone of a different color, caste, or ethnic group – to overcome all restraint and empathy.

The great tragedy in the Martin/Zimmerman affair – beyond the murder of a teenager – is that Stand Your Ground, both the law and the mentality, has legalized and institutionalized vigilantism.   Stand Your Ground follows a long-established American tradition in which punishment is preferred to forgiveness, incarceration is stripped of opportunity for rehabilitation or redemption, and more energy is spent blaming victims than seeking social solutions.  It is a bold step toward a brutal, dystopian society in which fear and hatred are protected, and guilt or innocence is irrelevant.

But it is crucial to recognize that this is not an inherent human condition, a kind of survival of the fittest in which “fitness” is defined by who the quicker trigger finger.  Stand Your Ground doesn’t make our streets safer – quite the opposite – and it isn’t really intended to.  It is part of a larger campaign that seeks to maximize corporate profits, minimize public resources that cannot be monetized or exploited for competitive advantage.  Technically, Stand Your Ground is an extension of the so-called Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to use deadly force to defend their home.  But this law makes a radical leap.  This law is not about giving families the right to protect themselves, but creating a right for any White person with a pretext to shoot first and (maybe) ask questions later.

This break with legal and ethical tradition did not come as the result a grass roots movement, but is the product of a concerted campaign driven by an unholy alliance of three forces: gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Seizing the opportunity afforded when Republicans established majorities in many state legislatures, ALEC drafted model Stand Your Ground legislation and, supported with millions of dollars from gun manufacturers and other ALEC member businesses, joined the NRA in lobbying for its adoption.  In a remarkably short time, Republican officials in 22 states adopted the law, often word-for-word, from the ALEC template.

Usefully, The Tampa Bay Times has conducted an extensive case review of Stand Your Ground claims.  Their research points unequivocally to the fact that the Zimmerman defense, which played shamefully on racist fears of young Black males, is consistent with most Stand Your Ground cases that come to court (remember, law enforcement wasn’t even going to bring charges against Zimmerman until there was an outpouring of outrage).  When the shooter is Black, conviction is likely; when the perpetrator is White, much less so.  In America, a young Black man is simply not free; even if he is minding his own business, he can be gunned down and then portrayed as a perpetrator.  As one blogger put it, Trayvon Martin was put on trial for his own murder…and found guilty.

 If fear is the animating force behind most vigilantism, the truly scary thing is that race-based fears are so broadly shared and widely condoned.  The Zimmerman case is not an isolated incident; the violence is not the result of personal vendetta, but of tribal warfare.  The Southern Strategy, perfected by staunch segregationists such as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, and adopted almost whole in recent decades by the Republican Party, is based on planting fears among White Americans that their tenuous standing in society is threatened by Black people, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, or other “others.”  Recent demographic shifts only exacerbate these fears.  New voter suppression laws, which purport to fight a voter fraud problem that does not exist, are desperate attempts to maintain White supremacy by disenfranchising minority, immigrant, and student groups.

One might view these draconian laws on a superficial, Republican vs. Democratic, level.  But Stand Your Ground, Voter ID, and other so-called reforms aimed at reducing health care, privatizing education, or rolling back environmental and workplace protections, are part of a bigger power grab.  In each of these cases, the victims are either poor or sympathetic to those in poverty.  This divide, between those entrenched, moneyed powers (the 1%) who impose austerity, and the working stiffs (the 99%) who cling to their dreams of democracy even as their economic and social security is decimated, is a global problem that poses just as great a threat to the survival of the species as climate change.  Whether the agent is the Republican Party, the Tea Party, or the Klan, they are all doing the grunt work for the plutocrats. From their ranks will inevitably emerge vigilantes like George Zimmerman, a home-grown terrorist.

August 14, 2013

GUEST: Bill Moyer, co-founder and Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign, talks with us about the creative use of theater and spectacle in the resistance.

How to change the direction of our country from empire to constitutional democracy? Some countries have made the transition, but many have not. Empires always enrich the elite, but do so by first exploiting the rest of the world, and then by cannibalizing the home country.

Julius Caesar expressed his horror at what his fellow citizens had become. A few, very rich families owned everything, and everyone else lived on the breadline. Welcome to the New American Century.

Bill Moyer has found a way through his Backbone organization to resist our emerging dystopia. He does it with theater, satire, and a certain youthful bravado (see the projection on the Bank of America branch above).

Without fun, the revolution is a very stogy thing indeed. But theater brings more than that to our national discourse. It forces all of us to look at our surroundings in a different way. Instead of being inviolate, our banks can be exposed and even ridiculed for their constant lawlessness and overriding greed.

Break Up B of A! My hat is off to the Backbone Campaign!

August 2, 2013

Consequences of our flawed reasoning

GUESTS: Members of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign flotilla. We go to their encampment on the Hudson River.

I very much enjoyed my interviews at the encampment near Saugerties. I was impressed by the number of people in the flotilla, as well as their organization. There were hundreds of people being fed and entertained.

I also realized that my political thinking is somewhat restricted when compared to indigenous philosophy. Their subtile and polite message is that the "newcomers" to their world have been greedy and destructive, putting all life on earth in peril. In a way, their thinking is closer to the truth than so much of our political discourse. Our brightest minds are looking for a technological fix for our wasteful and self indulgent lives, so that we can continue living as we want. Many of us suspect that approach to be self deception. Our natural world is too complex for a new variety of GMO, a new oil pipeline or nuclear power plant to fix it. Our culture lacks the wisdom to save our species, and in our blindness will will destroy all life on earth.

Are indigenous peoples' warnings to be forever ignored until it is too late? Are they the Cassandra of our modern age, warning us of the catastrophic consequences of our flawed reasoning and hubris.

July 22, 2013

Why I Don't Support the Troops

Why I Don’t Support the Troops

During the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, there was a tendency on the part of young people to lump a lot of establishment players into the same basket.  If you were an elected official, a member of the military, or a policeman – heck, if you were over 30 years old – you were considered to be an enemy of peace.  Although I was never one who chanted “Hey Hey / Who Did You Kill Today,” I participated in rallies at which people did yell that -- and worse -- and it did not particularly bother me.  The only soldiers I came in contact with were those who had joined the protests and had not only concluded that the war was morally wrong and unwinnable, but often expressed a profound revulsion at the deeds they had performed under orders.  I don’t remember anyone suggesting that the people in the armed forces were more to be pitied than vilified.

When we hit the streets in early 1990, as it became clear that President Bush the elder was going to launch what is referred to as the Gulf War, it seemed in many ways to be a reprise of the 60s.  Many of the same players were on hand, many of the signs and rallying cries had been repurposed, and Pete Seeger was still strummin’ on the ol’ banjo.  It was a homecoming of sorts.  But there had been a significant shift in the attitude toward the men (and, increasingly, women) in uniform.   I think the change can be primarily attributed to a greater class consciousness.  Many of us came to view soldiers less as eager, bloodthirsty combatants than as cannon fodder.  While the draft had maintained at least a modicum of equality among the fighting forces, it had become clear that, although service was voluntary, the ranks were filled not only by gung-ho patriotic types seeking to be all they could be, in the words of the army advertisements, but increasingly by people for whom the military was the best of a limited number of bad choices.  The risk of getting killed or fighting a war that was hard to fathom, no less justify, was outweighed by the opportunity, often not available at home, to learn a skill, get an education, and earn respect.  No small things, especially if you are poor.

There was also a strategic (some might say self-serving) element in the tendency to be more supportive of the troops.  The protesters were not only older, and perhaps wiser, but held a standing in society that might be put at risk if they were perceived to be “unpatriotic” or “disruptive.”  Many anti-war activists were less inclined to be hated and marginalized as they had been in the 60s, when people used the word revolution openly, hopefully, and without irony.  Remember, neither the Tea Party, the Swift Boaters, nor Fox News existed in the 1960s.  There was a backlash against the hippies and peaceniks in the 60s, but it was overwhelmed by the zeitgeist.  The energies being poured into the anti-war movement were multiplied by those behind the civil rights, feminist, and sexual revolutions.  In recent years, as war as become a perpetual state, street protests receive scant coverage in the mainstream press, no less in the right wing echo chamber, and much of that energy, cross-fertilization, and public education simply does not take place.

But now, 13 years into the 21st Century, I’ve arrived at another re-calculation.  I do not support the troops.

Let me be clear (as the politicians like to say).  I support almost any individual in any context.  As my friends in the Reevaluation Counseling movement have taught me, most people do their best.  No one fucks up on purpose.  We form our opinions and make our decisions based on our background, orientation (political, sexual, philosophical), and experience.  We honestly believe that what we think and do is right.  So I try to approach any individual with an attempt to understand their thinking in their context.  This is not always easy to do, but it is an effort that can lead, if not to agreement, at least to greater communication and, hopefully, understanding.

But I seldom support people in the aggregate.  People gain confidence in groups, and unfortunately this is true even whether the organizing principle is peace and progress or if it is racism, sexism, or homophobia.  So I regard most groups with a great deal of skepticism, especially if they cause, or condone, a lot of harm.  When someone says "to make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs" I am generally opposed unless I am convinced that the short-term pain truly justifies the long-term gain.  This is no longer the case with war, if it ever was.  For the past half-century, the wars that the United States engages in fights have been immoral, of benefit to no one except the Military Industrial Wall Street machine.  As a result, I cannot support the men and women who are waging the wars.  Whether they are are on the front lines doing the killing or enabling it to happen in some supportive role, they are acting  in my name and I want them to stop.

Without these enlisted people, the gears of the war machine might not grind to a halt – after all, we now have private subcontractors and drones to assure that the killing will continue regardless – but it would certainly be less popular and less effective.  Obviously, a mass exodus from the military would require a massive shift in economic priorities -- we'd have to spend more on job creation and education than on weaponry and spying, for example -- but the alternative is not only perpetual war but a ruined economy, a moral quagmire, and a dying planet (the U.S. military is by far the biggest polluter in the world).  The peace dividend, which we've been promised ever since the end of the Vietnam War, is not just the absence of international hostilities, but a re-setting of priorities.
There's only one way to truly support the troops: bring 'em home.

July 11, 2013


GUEST: Kevin Zeese, co-director of It's Our Economy, organizer of the National Occupation of Washington, and co-host of Clearing the FOG radio show, talks about capitalism in crisis.

Is it only me who is insulted by Obama's constant lying? He preached transparency, and is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in secret, so that people won't be enraged that he is going back on all his environmental and worker rights promises. 

I think Obama cares less about the truth than any leader we have had in the last few decades. Nixon seems to have lied compulsively, often to get himself out of a jam. But Obama lies with a sort of artistic flair, like he enjoys picking the right words to deceive his audience. Let's not forget that he ran on change, the very thing he was sure he would never deliver. He accurately perceived that the American people were hungry for a leader who actually cared about their issues. He crafted a perfect performance, seemingly without a thought about wether it was true or not. That is what leadership is like in the 21st Century American Empire.

Kevin's work is an inspiration to all those in our society hungry for someone to tell them the truth. We realize full well that in our society of universal deceit, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act." 

July 4, 2013

Right of the People to alter or to abolish

GUEST: Dr. Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and author of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, talks about US debt and the fight for a fair economy. (prerecorded in Rhinebeck)

The subject of debt works nicely into our July 4th program. Much of US debt is illegitimate in that it was foisted on borrowers without any beneficial social outcome. Dr. Ross separated debt taken on for basic human services like education and healthcare from other types of financial obligations. The government should be paying for these services with our tax dollars, instead of bailing out the big banks, cutting corporate taxes to zero, and fighting wars abroad for US businesses. And the failure of our government to protect the people from the predatory corporations results in the type of "debt slavery" we see today.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

How long will we endure a form of government that has so clearly failed its citizens? We don't have the tyranny of the British Empire to free ourselves from this time. More like the military/industrial/Congressional complex that the last truthful president we had warned us about.

July 1, 2013

The Reality Show

by Howard Winn

Image source: The Village Voice

I find no meaning in popular works about
zombies, human vampires, or extraterrestrial aliens,
nor even the legendary Texan chupacabra –
blood-sucker human flesh eating
monsters of the myths, ancient
and contemporary, even when written
by well-known authors to pander,
or to make the New York Times Best Seller List,
and pay for their next European tour,
not when
we have our very own investment bankers,
our hedge-funders, pyramid schemes,
insider trading, cold-calling predators,
off-shore tax havens, numbered bank accounts,
money-laundering, oligarchs, Russian
and other wise, bought elections
that subvert democracy to boot.
Reality is quite sufficient,
enough to raise the hairs on the back of the neck
in dread and distress.

Most recently Howard Winn had poems and fiction published in The Dalhousie Review, Descant (Canada), Cactus Heart, Main Street Rag, Caduceus, Burning Word,  Pennsylvania Literary Journal. Southern Humanities Review, Cutting Edgz and Borderlands. His B. A. is from Vassar College. His graduate degree is from the Writing Program at Stanford University. His doctoral work was done at New York University. He is a State University of New York faculty member.