December 18, 2014

Denying Palestinian humanity

GUEST: Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American activist and the author of the bestselling novel, “Mornings in Jenin,” talks about her founding of the NGO, Playgrounds for Palestine.

This interview was a long time in the making. Our first attempt was a call-in interview, but Ms. Abulhawa thought I was to call her. Next we recorded a Skype interview, which got off to a rocky start. I pointed out how important it was to have stories about Palestinians in our media, since their suffering is never acknowledged. Ms. Abulhawa replied that Palestinians shouldn't have to prove their humanity, and she was upset that anyone would think that. You may as well listen to the interview. We were able to come to terms, about the need to present Palestinian suffering, and the unfairness of a racist media in the US that constantly denies that Palestinian lives matter.

Added to this, the RCA inputs at the station are broken. I had to play the interview in mono if I wanted to have it heard at all. Luckily, Eli was there to talk as I tried all sorts of inputs, looking for one that could be heard on the air.

We are independent radio, after all. Lack of corporate sponsorship gives us a can-do attitude. Plus we talk about things you are not going to be hearing on your local dial. Like Susan Abulhawa discussing the human rights of her people.

December 11, 2014

Stoking the fears of Americans

GUEST: Bennett Weiss, human rights activist from Orange County, will talk about The Newburgh Four trial and subsequent documentary, “The Newburgh Sting.”

I am looking forward to seeing this movie at Vassar College this coming spring. How far our justice system has come, in promising people a quarter of a million dollars to plan crimes. 

The victims of this sting would never have done this themselves. The "ringleader" became vulnerable when he lost his job at Walmart, and turned to the undercover FBI agent for financial help. The agent did the rest, chose targets, ordered the fake guns, even drove the men to the attack site since they didn't have cars. It would be the plot of a Monty Python movie if it wasn't so disturbing. 

Ben was great in discussing the ramifications of an FBI allowed to fool vulnerable street people into plots that send them to prison for 25 years. Of course, it is all about building a positive image for the FBI, something the agency has always excelled at. But stoking the fears of Americans is also an important FBI goal. Without fear, American's might resist the destruction of their civil liberties. 

December 5, 2014

Parallels to the African American experience in our country

GUEST: Jamie Levato, human rights advocate for the LGBTQ Task Force in Kingston, NY, talks about to undoing mass incarceration and institutional racism on the local level.

Jamie and I had an interesting discussion of LGBTQ rights within the prison industrial complex and outside of it. LGBTQ prisoners are beaten, raped and harassed at rates several times higher than for other inmates. This stems from a general lack of respect for LGBTQ people within our society, and even within their own homes. They are second class citizens in what is supposed to be a free society. 

The parallels to the African American experience in our country hardly needed to be made. Of course, when an LGBTQ prisoner is also black, the discrimination is compounded. 

Is it the mostly white and mostly hetrosexual judicial system that allows this to happen? Even the Supreme Court seems to care less and less about voting rights for blacks or about abortion rights for women. Or is it the many politicians who encourage racism and sexism in their campaigns to win elections. Hatred generates support from the huge number of white voters who are angry about low wages and diminished expectations. From Reagan's "welfare queens" to George H. W. Bush Willie Horton ads, stirring up hatred should be a crime, not a road to the presidency. 

Are we in a period of social activism that can make changes in our racist, misogynistic, and homophobic system? Perhaps a larger change is on the horizon, a challenging of America's military empire that thrives on violence and discrimination directed at citizens of the Third World. Maybe our police come home from shooting "sand niggers" in Iraq to shooting black people in our streets. Perhaps our country's occupation and exploitation of other nations comes back to poison our own society as well. 

Here is the type of racism that our political system is capable of producing:


November 21, 2014

Give our species a fighting chance

GUEST: Orion Kriegman, food sustainability activist, writer and Co-Director of NET New England, will talk about an alternative food paradigm that fosters public health as well as social justice.

Both Gary and I share an interest in the exploration of the local food revolution. It seems to me that it offers a template for other revolutions, perhaps even the non violent peeling away of the empire. The Soviet Union accomplished it; why can't the United States?

In a way, the corporations have gone beyond America already. The multinationals are using trade agreements to free themselves from any democratic control. Although the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated in secret, it will surely erode further the people's right to set labor and environmental standards. Think child workers, and pesticide laden foods. Think the end of safety standards for any product produced by the global monopolies. 

The multinational corporations have reduced the United States government to running the war and spy machines, instruments of their global domination. Think the Pentagon and the NSA. The rest will gradually be cut away, including any services that benefits those who are not extremely rich already. The political fights in Washington will be about who gets the bigger paycheck from the corporate lobbyists. 

Can we the people resist by asserting local control? Can we refuse to send our sons and daughters to fight in the Middle East? Can we pay our taxes for education, healthcare, housing and things that matter to our lives. Can we starve the empire from within?

I know it is a lot to ask the food movement to do. But I think it is a template we can begin to use, if just to give our species a fighting chance against this century's Horsemen of the Apocalypse, nuclear war and global climate change. 

November 16, 2014

It's time we got over it

GUEST: Rebecca Martin, local water rights activist and founder of Kingston Citizens, talks about the adverse environmental impacts of the proposed Niagara Bottling Company and its plans to bottle water from Cooper Lake reservoir in Woodstock.

We haven't done much on water rights, except for some news stories about Detroit. Water privatization has been coming for some time, and may represent the Brave New World of neoliberal thinking. Can the privatization of air be far behind?

I was impressed with how much and how little Ms. Martin had to do with local officials. She is obviously good at organizing local meetings and inviting elected representatives. But she keeps away from local politics. In other words, her Kingston Citizens group is obviously much more than a front group for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. By keeping her organization independent, she does not risk it shriveling away after any given election (like the peace movement after Obama's first win).

Although we didn't talk about it, the approach is much closer to Howard Zinn than to Move On. Zinn teaches us that social movements create change. Party affiliations only detract from a movement's effectiveness.

You would think everyone would know that by now anyway. Look and Andrew Cuomo or Hillary Clinton. Could there be any two candidates closer to Wall Street, the military industrial complex, and neoliberal privatization? Can anyone still believe that party matters? 

Voting the "lesser of two evils" only makes sense when the parties stand for something different. They don't, and it's time we got over it. 

October 30, 2014

What else is life really for?

GUEST: Ashley Malloy, who has traveled to many campuses playing the part of Rachel Corrie in the theater production of the same name, talks about art, idealism, and her next performance at Vassar College on Nov 2.

We asked Ashley whether it was hard to play the part of Rachel Corrie. 

She replied that as an actor, she can't separate herself like that from someone she is playing. Ashley lives Rachel Corrie on stage, and goes through her discoveries, disappointments and fears. 

"I have also learned a great deal from her," Ashley said. "I am more political ... and more dedicated to social change."

I had a similar experience just watching the play. The horror is always there in her room, which is the set of My Name is Rachel Corrie. But there is pride too, that this nation could produced someone as dedicated and fearless as she was. Is it the innocence of youth? The idealism that fades as we go through life? But it is there, and white hot, in the words she leaves us. We can do what is moral and right in our lives. 

What else is life really for?

See the play when it comes to a campus near you.

-Sunday, November 2 in Poughkeepsie: ”My Name is Rachel Corrie,” live production starring Ashley Malloy, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm in Rockefeller Hall, Room 200, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Ave. 

October 23, 2014

Could the empire just melt away?

GUEST: Amy Dalton, an activist from Rockland Co, talks about the work of the Stony Point Center in combining locally sourced food with social justice issues, including their farm to table gala on Oct. 26.

Amy is part of an intentional community that has decided to use homegrown foods to finance its social justice initiatives. Gary and I asked questions about food justice in the Hudson Valley. Can the rich just buy their way out of eating poisoned food, while the poor are left with all the unregulated products that come out of Big Ag? In an era of privatization, the wealthy buy organic while the inner cities get pesticides and GE produce.

Perhaps intentional communities organized around food are a way to fight back. Maybe they are they the beginning of a regionalized breakaway from the corporate state? Could the empire just melt away someday like the Wicked Witch of the West, leaving thriving mini communities in its place?

Amy and millions like her around the world are experimenting with post capitalist social orders.  The conversation covers growing kale and driving veggie cars, but the vision is all about the replacement of a system based on murderous exploitation. 

October 16, 2014

We can transcend hate and learn to love

GUEST: Tarak Kauff, local activist and board member of the national Veterans For Peace, talks about his trips to Ferguson and the fight against racism in America.

"While holding a sign that said 'YOU ARE KILLING US' on one side and 'DON'T SHOOT' on the other, Sister Dragonfly approached a Ferguson officer and attempted to make eye contact. She implored him to look at her, and when their gaze connected, she asked, 'Why do you all hate us so much?' The officer responded, 'I don't hate you, ma'am.' She replied with 'I don't want to hate you, I'd rather hug you.' And when he said, 'Then hug me,' she promptly put her arms around him, and they embraced whole-heartedly for nearly a minute."

Our guest, Tarak Kauff, describes this emotional moment when a black protester and a white policeman, an Army veteran, decide not to hate each other and embrace. Are we on the left so focused on the racism of police officers that we discount the possibility of any change in their behavior? Young military volunteers went to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they sometimes did terrible things to innocent civilians. Are these men and women beyond all hope of redemption? Or as a young man said at the Winter Soldiers Testimony in Washington, DC, "I was a monster once, but I am not that monster any more." 

As Tarak tells the story of this picture, he recounts what a young veteran said to the same police officer a few minutes before. "We called Iraqis 'sand niggers' and I don't want to be part of that racism over there or here in Ferguson." Veterans overcoming racism together. 

Gary and I had a good discussion after Tarak's interview. His point was that racism always has an underpinning of financial exploitation. Common people get caught up in the racial hatred, but they are always being manipulated by the capitalist system. 

I agreed, but wanted to look at racism as a moral issue as well. Whites and blacks, working together, can overcome. We can transcend hate and learn to love.

October 10, 2014

"Apartheid" isn't a nice word for Vassar students to be saying

GUEST: Yasmeen Silva, senior at Vassar College and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, talks about human rights and freedom of speech on campus.

Yasmeen was such an interesting guest to have on Activist Radio. She had experienced all the ups and downs of Students for Justice in Palestine last semester, and was willing to talk about it.

Mondoweiss provedes a good view of how Vassar's president clamped down on SJP for supposed lack of curtesy on campus. Then there was a graphic posted by a member of SJP that may or may not have been anti-semitic. The SJP organization did not post the graphic, but again received a warning letter from President Hill.

Yasmeen was able to see this in a larger context (it's happening on campuses all across the country). She also didn't pull any punches when it came to criticizing an educational system that puts alum contributions above the intellectual pursuit of the truth. Of course, the whole debate is about running a college as a business, and selectively encouraging points of view that bring in the most cash.

Making campuses comfortable for Zionists is good for business, insuring that alums don't get angry. There is even enough money left over for ever increasing administrative salaries. Left out is the ability for students and faculty to have an open debate about whether Israel was justified in killing 500 Palestinian children during the recent slaughter in Gaza. Big money trumping the pursuit of truth all across America's colleges and universities. 

And "apartheid" just isn't a nice word for Vassar students to be writing or saying.

October 9, 2014

The gift of being able to do the right thing

GUEST: Kathy Sheetz, human rights activist and member of the first boat to break the blockade of Gaza in forty years, talks about her amazing journey and what it meant for future attempts to free Gaza by sea.

We all have things that we are proud of. The selfish things don't seem to last. They all involve taking from someone else, the system that we have had thrust on us by a rapacious and inhuman form of capitalism.

Jewish citizens of Israel lead prosperous and productive lives on land that they have stolen from the Palestinians. Not content with taking most of the Palestinian homeland, they simply want it all. The barbaric blockade of Gaza, the thousands of Palestinians in prison, and the sinister racism in the West Bank are all part of the apartheid treatment of people that Israel wants to get rid of.

The joy of resisting apartheid only comes by taking chances. Israel is a murderous regime, and sailing a boat through its blockade is to risk one's life. But the joy of doing something you know is right transcends these risks, and our guest, Kathy Sheetz, will always have that gift in her life. She wouldn't brag about it during the interview. All she said was "Many people have traveled this road." But she didn't deny it either.

Danial Berrigan told a congregation in the Hudson Valley several years ago that "God gives us the gift of being able to do the right thing." Accepting that gift affirms our humanity, and gives us joy.

September 26, 2014

Consummate charlatans

GUEST: Howie Hawkins, UPS worker, member of the Teamsters Local 317, and Green Party candidate for Governor of NY State, talks about changing the system before climate catastrophe and endless war destroy our planet.

We were very pleased to have Howie on Activist Radio. I have been a member of the Green Party from its beginning in the US. Its ten principals are much closer to what the majority of our citizens want for our country. The problem is that our two major parities have long ago sold out to the major corporations and to the Israel Lobby. Both parties are very much like the private corporations that fund them. Once in power, they do what is most profitable for them, and that is always to serve the rich elite. 

Of course, that is not democracy. It is not even close. Millions of Americans now recognize the fraudulent political system they are presented with each election cycle. The revolution in people's minds has already happened, and we just need the spark.

Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor was on NPR yesterday talking about how he will bring an end to "crony capitalism" that robs the middle class. Just like Obama running on the "99 Spring" two years ago, the words are there but have no meaning. Astorino is nothing but a crony capitalist, and so is Obama. What they say is meant to appeal to voters, not to reflect their past practices or future priorities. In short, they are nothing more than frauds, shameless political actors in a simplistic and deceptive electoral performance. Cuomo is similar fraud, sitting on 35 million from his crony capitalist friends and mouthing what he thinks New Yorkers want to hear. 

I was interested to hear what Howie said about how the Green Party fits into this system. He indicated that the campaign was only one step in changing how America is governed. The elites allow third parties to run, so it is a way to encourage citizens to ask questions and work for real reform. Not the reform advocated by the Working Families Party (a paid appendage of the Democratic Party), nor the "hope"spouted by consummate charlatans like Obama. What America has to do is to end the hegemony of the billionaires and their transnational corporations. At stake is far more than the success of our country; it is the continuation of all life on earth.

September 22, 2014

Recognizing and overthrowing privilege

GUEST: Peter Heymann, member of The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) and the Anti-Racist Alliance, talks about the focus of his organization and their workshop called Undoing Racism Workshops in bringing a clear and deliberate anti-racist structural analysis to social service, education, corporate and community institutions and practice.

Peter, Gary and I were all in agreement about white privilege. We don't have to worry about our kids arrested on the streets and taken to jail. White kids are exempt. We don't have to worry about a cop shooting first and asking questions later. They don't shoot white kids.

Our kids' teachers in school aren't paid less. They don't run out of supplies and books for their classes. The average amount spent on educating our kids is much more than in the city schools. Westchester schools spend about twice per student as the inner city schools in NYC.

So would it help if white people became more aware of their white privilege? Confronted with an economic and criminal justice system that is blatantly unfair to people of color, would whites join the resistance? Would they start insisting that their candidates for public office refrain from using racism in campaigns? Would they begin to hold the criminal justice system accountable for the New Jim Crow? Would they protest the unequal distribution of educational resources in the state? Would they demand that TV programs stop depicting black men as criminals? Would they march with African Americans when another unarmed black kid is shot down?

Like the assault on our climate, racism is built into our economic system. Separating the few haves from the many have-nots has always been good for the people at the top. Recognizing and overthrowing privilege should be the goal of the multiracial 99%.

September 12, 2014

Turn them out to wander and starve

GUEST: Ken Churchill, creator of the American Homeless Land Model campaign to set aside public land for citizens without shelter, will talk about his efforts in small towns across the country.

Ken was a good guest, and politely shared his table with the two college students, who were collecting pledges being called in. Yes, it is pledge week, where we try to keep WVKR a valued part of the Vassar College community. Some colleges have sold their independent stations to the giant media corporations. Giving to WVKR keeps the corporate hounds at bay. 

The pledge drive ends on Monday, September 15th, so there is still time to call and give us any amount you want (845 437-7178).

There was a slight irony in Ken sitting with students in the Vassar College radio studio talking about the homeless, while we shamelessly plugged the station and our program. Then, one of the students taking pledges told us that her father was homeless. It was one of those revealing moments when I realized that my stereotypes about the homeless were all wrong. They are the invisible among us, whose bad odor and dumpster deaths (a Poughkeepsie man was crushed recently while he slept in one) are as damning of the American empire as any peace march. 

Over 100,000 homeless people are veterans, the dirty side of our ever expanding military dominance abroad. But more than that, homelessness reveals the lack of any safety net in a society devoted to killing people in foreign countries and robbing them of their resources. Why should America treat its own people any better? If they can't or won't work to make our nation's billionaires even richer, then turn them out to wander and starve on our streets. 

Megalomaniacal billionaires and their hoards of lifeless accountants

GUEST: Dick Hermans, owner and manager of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, talks about how and why local bookstores are coming back.

We talked about more than the invasion of digital books. We focused on the corporatization of the publishing industry, and how profits have driven out all other considerations. Values like promoting good literature and nurturing the next generation of gifted writers are just distant memories in the world of modern book selling. Where the bottom line was always about making a profit, now there is simply nothing else.

The resurgence of small bookstores is part of the resistance to neoliberalism. Barnes and Noble has boring books, with an inventory often limited to best sellers and remainders of coffee table tomes printed in China. Browsing a good local bookstore is almost like listening to someone else's ideas. If the bookstore is a good one, the owners invest time in finding and offering intellectually stimulating publications, the reverse of loading up on books that millions of Americans buy. 

Arts have never been about majority tastes. Profit diminishes the scope and intellectual range of a nation's writers. In this time of late empire, take refuge in independent bookstores, where ideas aren't limited by megalomaniacal billionaires and their hoards of lifeless accountants.

August 31, 2014

White and misinformed by the mainstream media

GUEST: Odell Winfield, cofounder and Director of the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library, talks about Michael Brown and the End New Jim Crow Action Network in Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Newburgh. 

Odell and I had a wide ranging discussion about African American rights. We were quick to agree on many points: that young black men are targeted by white police forces, that killings like Michael Brown's expose the long standing racism that has become institutionalized in our society, and that generally, white people prefer not to see it. 

We went on to the role of our media in helping whites avoid the ugly truths about how society treats people of color. The lies published immediately after the murder that Michael Brown had attacked and injured the police officer were discussed. So were the video that seemed to implicate Michael Brown in a stealing incident prior to his being shot. Those images stay with white people, even though later disproven by more thorough news coverage. No evidence ever turned up that an officer had been injured, and witnesses dismissed these allegations. Supposed video images of Michael Brown shoplifting were also called into question. 

Yet whites remember these lies and are often unaware that they have been disproven. After the show, I asked a number of educated whites about the sequence of events. To a person, they still connected an attack on a police officer and a shoplifting video with Michael Brown's shooting. Amazing! They hadn't paid enough attention, preferring to apply a racial stereotype to avoid being too upset with his murder. 

The NY Times was complicit in reenforcing this stereotype. Our premier newspaper reported that Michael Brown was a pot smoke, had "problems," and was "no angel." Would a young white murder victim have been described that way? The NY Times also printed misleading stories from "sources," rather than revealing that those sources were the Ferguson police.

African Americans, Odell informed me, don't get their news from The NY Times. We talked about other sources, like the Hudson Valley Press. Check them out if you are white and misinformed by the mainstream media:

August 26, 2014

Who will be reading such a history book?

Guest: Amith Gupta, Palestinian rights activist and recent graduate of Bard College, talks about his work in the Rashidieh Refugee camp in Southern Lebanon.

Amith spent four years at Bard, and worked with local Palestinian rights groups to hold rallies and bring in speakers. It was gratifying to see that he hadn't left his activism at college. 

His work at the Rashidieh camp helped me understand the the plight of Palestinians who are not directly under the boot of Israeli occupiers. In a sense, they have simply traded one set of guards for another. Isolated from the Lebanese community, they face a dismal future of unemployment and discrimination. Again, one is forced to think of our own native peoples, leading broken lives in squalid reservations. That is the fate that the US and Israel have chosen for the Palestinian people. And an international conspiracy of silence enables these war crimes to be committed. 

When the US empire falls, history books will tally up the millions killed by American imperialism. Israel will have its place too, with its deadly mix of religion, and racism. This apartheid state will personify the insanity of greed and violence that characterized the late empire.   

Who will be reading such a history book?

July 31, 2014

What criminals we have leading us to Armageddon

How could any human being justify the murder of 325 Palestinian children? What kind of monsters wrap the cloak of religion around them and proclaim this to be God's will?

Israel, like Nazi Germany, will define the depths of the human spirit for all future generations. And unlike Germany, Israel is a creation of the US, which is just now hurrying more munitions and missiles to the Israel Defense Force. Mustn't be a pause in the Genocide.

Living in the Empire is much worse than watching the slaughter from somewhere else. There isn't a hour that goes by that I don't remind myself that it is my country committing such butchery. All my life I have watched the carnage caused by America in the name of profit. What criminals we have leading us to Armageddon.

July 25, 2014

Time to clean house

GUEST: Lawrence S. Wittner, award-winning American historian, writer, and activist for peace and social justice, talks about how American colleges and universities are increasingly being run on a business model.

We were able to get Larry on the line this time, and the wait was worth it (hope he thinks too). We got to talk about his book, and delve into the "savage capitalism" that has descended on most colleges in the US.

The adjuncts do the teaching, the students do the paying and the profits go to million dollar salaries for the big shots who run the place. Not only that, but large corporations are invited in take advantage of university research as well as to qualify for huge tax breaks from our government. Look at Cuomo's juicy plans for bringing in "partners" for the SUNY system. Millions in tax breaks for GE, a pittance for the adjuncts, and billions of debt for students. 

We have named our website ClassWars, in part because the mainstream media will not point out trends like the privatization of public services. The NY Times is owned and operated by the very wealthy and their dominant corporations (just take a peek at their board of directors). It is not in the interests of the elite of America to have the vast majority understand the swindles being perpetrated on them. 

At least we are not being slaughtered by a racist, fascist theocracy as are the Palestinians. Maybe if we can get out from under corporate dominance, we can also free our government from its subservience to the Israeli lobby. Time to clean house (and the Senate too).

Vast majority of workers may go postal

GUEST: Jay Galione, documentary filmmaker, talks about his new film, “Gone Postal: The Documentary to Save the People's Post Office,” produced by Sheila Dvorak.

Jay came to our studio for the interview, always a pleasure. We talked about his father's life in the US Post Office, and how the public service that he loved betrayed him.

It is a familiar story. The corporatization of all our public services is well underway, and the results are staggeringly bad. Teachers have to say specific words to their students for each lesson being taught and there is no deviation allowed. Postal workers have to work faster and faster as the sorting machines are speeded up. Workers become what the rich elite have always wanted them to be, unthinking robots on a production line.

The intellectual discourse of the very wealthy is just that limited. To them ("philanthropists" like Bill Gates and the Walton Family), life should be nothing but regimentation for the working class. There is no public good; there is no humanity.

The captains of capital in the 21st century are only half human. Privatizing everything is their goal, despite the suffering and chaos it brings to those who don't have millions in the stock market. They only understand profit and are even blind to the environmental catastrophe descending upon them.

Someday, the vast majority of workers may go postal, simply because there will be no other choice.

July 13, 2014

See "Buffalo Nation," and then work for social justice

GUEST: Leslye Abbey, activist and filmmaker, will talk about her latest documentary, "Buffalo Nation: The Children Are Crying” that will be screening on Friday, July 11 at 2:30 PM at the Long Island International Film Expo.

It is amazing how some people devote their lives to a cause that few others even think about. The genocide of the native tribes over the last several hundred years is so obvious, and yet few people spend very long thinking about it. As Leslye puts it, "If you have visited a reservation, then you know."

Leslye has spent several years of her life helping Americans do the next best thing, visiting a reservation through the lens of her film camera. Like the graphic novel "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" by Chris Hedges and Je Sacco, the portrayal of the Pine Ridge Reservation is unsparing. But should art be sparing of a country that locked its original inhabitants up in cages to wither away and die?

I asked Leslye whether the plight of the Palestinians was similar to the plight of Native American peoples. Without a moment's hesitation, she answered, "Exactly." Genocide looks the same wherever it occurs, be it in the Middle East or in our back yard. The saddest part is that the United States is intimately involved with both genocides. Our government is funding and supporting the elimination of the Palestinians in much the same way as it did the Trail of Tears.  

Self awareness comes first. See "Buffalo Nation," and then work for social justice.

July 4, 2014

Could such a peace come to Palestine?

Guest: Fred talks about the troubles in Northern Ireland, and Gary talks about the Marist College vote for an adjunct teachers' union. Our guest, Lawrence Wittner did call in, but we had an equipment malfunction and could not get him on the air (sorry, Larry). We will reschedule.

The Northern Irish understand Palestine like few other people. Their ancestors lived through hundreds of years of a brutal apartheid. 

The Britain invaded Ireland in the Sixteen Hundreds and proceeded to colonize it with religious sects and minorities it didn't want at home, particularly the Presbyterians. Most Irish in the US can trace their heritage to one of the consequences of that occupation, a genocidal famine that killed a million Irish and drove another million to the New World.

By 1922, the Irish had freed themselves of British occupation. That is, all but the northern counties where Presbyterians held a majority. Life for the minority Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland remained grim, with religious based discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and British funded death squads. 

Only when the English people at home tired of the slaughter was a peace between the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland possible. A treaty, brokered by the US in 1998, eliminated all forms of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland and insured human rights for every citizen. In fact, religion was completely separated from the state and all forms of apartheid made illegal. 

This summer, the city of Derry enjoyed a music festival that included both Catholics and Protestants participating equally. Although many of the physical walls between communities still exist, there was a feeling of hope in the Irish music being played on almost every street corner. 

Could such a peace come to Palestine? The citizens of the US are becoming increasingly tired of supporting the blatantly racist regime of Israel. Now that Jewish settlements in the West Bank have made a two state solution impossible, it is time for Americans to insist on an end to all apartheid in Palestine.

June 8, 2014

Flies in the watering trough

Guest: Eli Kassirer, local peace and human rights activist, talks about whether animal rights belongs on the list of progressive goals for a better social order. 

The circus is in town, and what better time to look at the animal rights movement. I have always been an advocate of animal rights. Even as a kid, I spent time taking flies out of a large watering trough that stood in a field of cows. Nobody seemed to mind; certainly not the cows that occasionally came over to watch a small boy dipping blades of grass into and out of their tank. Then it was the stray cats with various skin diseases. I beg my father for money to buy medicines and then put ointment on their reddened and chapped bodies. 

It is surprising to me that I am not more into animal rights after all these years. Perhaps it's because I now understand how many humans are tormented and abused. Maybe helping animals and humans stems from the same impulse. Cruelty should be stopped, whether it comes from a sadistic person, from a predatory capitalist system, or from the mysteries of our universe. Why do so many flies find themselves drowning in a large, metal watering trough?

Trivial indignities that make life impossible to live

Guest: Jo Salas, co-founder of Playback Theatre, international trainer, and author of "Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre," talks about an upcoming event featuring Ben Rivers, the director of the Freedom Bus Project in the West Bank.

Our interview with Jo covered many aspects of Playback Theatre and its integration with the Freedom Bus.

The Freedom Bus tours the West Bank giving performances to Palestinians based on stories suggested from their audiences. The theory of live theater as a way to better understand human emotions is as old as Aristotle's Poetics. But Playback Theatre adds another dimension in that the stories are factual and come from the actual viewers of the drama.

We talked about some of the stores that were done on the Freedom Bus tour. One in particular resonated with me, an account of a Palestinian shepherd who comes back after being arrested by the Israeli Defense Force to find his sheep missing. Even the telling of the story helped me understand the meanness of the occupation, as well as its trivial indignities that make life impossible to live. 

Later I listened to Ben Rivers and watched a sample of Playback's work. 

May 22, 2014

Those who kill and can't forget

Guest: Ann Jones, journalist, photographer, and the author of ten books of nonfiction, talks about her recent work in documenting the affect of the US wars in the Middle East on soldiers coming home and attempting to reintegrate into civilian society.

I talked to Ann Jones in Norway on our Skype connection. As I listened to the interview again today, I was struck by her history of war reporting. From the combat side to the often incomplete homecoming, Ann knows and cares about soldiers. She doesn't excuse what they have done in occupied countries. She doesn't spare us accounts of the mayhem that vets sometimes create when they attempt to reenter society. But there is a love in the understanding she brings to her readers.  

Ann Jones has no love for the American empire that creates such suffering. Our wars are started by lies, and run on propaganda. All the destruction is hidden from our view, and that includes the devastated lives of those who survive the combat. 

Ann Jones' untold story of our returning veterans should move us all, since we are the heart of what the empire has wrought. Without our acquiescence,  there would be no carnage abroad, and no endless torment for the young men and young women who kill and can't forget. 

May 16, 2014

We need revolutionary thought to save the planet.

Guest: Brian Jones, long time educator, activist and parent in New York City, talks about seeking the Green Party's nomination for the office of Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York.

We have had Green Party candidates before, but I have to say that each one has brought something new to the debate about restoring our democracy. Brian, an elementary teacher in NYC, directed our attention to charter schools, the pet project of the nation's billionaires. Why do people like the Walton heirs, the richest family in the world, want to destroy public education? 

I suggested that much of the energy behind the charter school movement comes from the very richest of Americans trying to get rid of the nation's last unions. Our twenty first century robber barons want all workers on Walmart wages.

Brian thought that it was more complex than that. The austerity craze that has been sweeping the country has our government cutting services to the poor and middle classes to the bone, in order to fight wars of aggression abroad and to make the richest of Americans even richer. The public doesn't want more austerity, but since there is no real democracy left, it doesn't matter. 

Polls do show that over 90% of Americans favor higher taxes on the very rich, but it as long as the 1% control both parties, it just isn't going to happen. Obama has done his best to cut Social Security and Medicare too. And to pass the worst trade treaty in US history, the TPP, that would send tens of thousands of jobs to Asia. In fact, the country would have been better off with Dick Nixon than Barack Obama. There is nothing like a phony progressive to really gut the interests of working people.  

We closed with a discussion of what it means to be a socialist (Brian makes no apologies for being one). I asked him how his ideology fit with the Green Party, and he replied that big changes have to come if the planet is to survive. The Green Party's agenda is in the right direction, even though he doubts whether our current political system is capable of the changes needed. We need revolutionary thought to save the planet.

May 9, 2014

Would a matriarchal society have brought our species to the brink?

Guest: Temra Costa, nationally recognized sustainable food and farming advocate, and author of "Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat," talks about the battle to keep our food safe from corporate weedkillers and GMO threats.

Temra brought out several points relevant to the battle against genetically modified foods. Most developed countries require GMO labeling, which reduces the number of these products in stores. Over 65 countries in the world let food buyers know what they are getting.

Temra reminded us that this is a battle first for women's hearts, since over 95% of food purchasing decisions in the US are made by them. But Farmer Jane, Temra's website, is about more than that. She highlights women farmers and women sustainable food activists to encourage more people to get involved. 

Are we talking about female values here? Less aggression, less greed, and more emphasis on community building? Would a matriarchal society have brought our species to the brink of annihilation by global warming or by nuclear war? 

May 1, 2014

They lived on bread donated by the state

Guest: Pat Lamanna and various adjunct teachers from Marist College discuss May Day and workers’ rights here in the US and all over the world. 

Pat discussed "fair trade," based on the concept that people in the Third World should be paid fairly for what they make. An alternative to the capitalist way, this is a model for a world based on mutual respect.

Gary and the Marist College adjuncts talked about respect too. Have colleges become just like corporations, paying those at the top outrageous salaries while their adjunct teachers earn less than minimum wage? That is similar to the exploitation of workers in the Third World, most of whom make a tiny fraction of what corporations charge for their products.

Does an empire that uses its military to exploit foreign workers ultimately bring that abuse of labor back home? We have seen the salaries of US workers slowly sink as the people at the top get richer and richer. Maybe sixty years of empire building has destroyed most worker rights in the belly of the beast. The Roman Empire had done that to its citizens by the end of the republic. They lived on bread donated by the state, while the filthy rich lived in their magnificent villas with hundred of servants. 

That was 2,000 years ago. Maybe the resistance has learned a few tricks since then. May Day reminds us of what we have yet to achieve in terms of social justice.

April 28, 2014

The creatively maladjusted

Guest: Evan Jenkins, activist and member of the Anti-Oppression Forum, an anarchist collective in New York's Hudson Valley, talks about the fight for an egalitarian and democratic society managed cooperatively by and for all of its participants.

Evan talked about his own awakening to political struggle. "Did you get a hold of a book by Chomsky?" I asked.

He had, and has not stopped reading political writers. We discussed alternative versions of reality, one the exceptionalism that comes with the acceptance of the American Empire. The other, the insistence on human rights and human dignity for all people. As Chomsky teaches us, the media "manufactures" consent for the former by only employing writers and intellectuals who have successfully internalized the contradictions of empire. In Martin Luther King's words, "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

April 25, 2014

Bringing their message back

Guest: Adam Roufberg, human rights activist and former radio host at WVKR, talks to us from the West Bank where he just completed the Freedom Bus Ride in support of Jenin's Freedom Theatre. (prerecorded)

It was great talking to Adam, who used to be a DJ right here on WVKR in Poughkeepsie, NY. 

He was his old self, full of confidence and good humor. We talked about his recent trip on the Freedom Bus, which made stops all over the occupied West Bank to do nightly performances of Jenin Freedom Theatre improvisations. Adam had witnessed the oppression of the Palestinian people during the day, and then seen it depicted in a theatrical performance every night. The combination of human rights and the arts is an important part of Adam's masters degree in peace studies he is completing in Switzerland. His Freedom Bus experiences will make up part of the research for his thesis.

I was particularly interested in how Adam got there through the checkpoints. He indicated that several people scheduled to take the ride didn't make it and were deported by Israel. That is always a consideration when doing human rights work in Palestine. 

He also described the rubber bullets that are supposedly shot over the heads of Palestinian protesters. The day before, a Palestinian medic had been hit twice. Adam noticed that some Israeli Defense Force snipers were firing from behind their jeeps, no doubt targeting some of the demonstrators. The ride was not without some dangers.

We also discussed people to people exchanges, something I have always seen as attempts to whitewash the occupation. But Adam thought such exchanges were beneficial, when predicated on a common understanding that the occupation is illegal and that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is a violation of internationally established principals of human rights. 

We ended by talking about the role of Jews in ending the occupation. Many Freedom Bus riders were young American Jews, who plan to bring their message back to the United States. 

April 14, 2014

The conversion of private colleges into corporations

GUEST: Alex Deane, student at Vassar College, talks about her organization, the Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue, and why an adjunct teachers’ union is needed in area colleges to raise poverty level wages.

Adjunct salaries are part of the conversion of private colleges into corporations. The adjuncts are the sweatshop workers that bring in huge corporate profits. Massive student loans are the fraud going on at the other end. Students are told that college results in better full time jobs, and they load up on debt because their parents can't pay college expenses. Once graduated, students can't find jobs and default on their loans, which are then backed up by the federal government.

In the midst of this drive for profit, the administrators pay themselves handsomely. The President of Marist made over 3 million in salary and bonuses last year. The whole enterprise is called a college, but is really run for the benefit of the very few at the top. Welcome to the Twenty First Century's Gilded Age.

Of course, there is fightback. The adjuncts at Marist College are forming a union, and there is broad community support as well. That is where Alex and the Student Labor Dialogue comes in. Students all over the country are coming to understand the corporatization of higher education, as well as their part in it. Each student in a class taught by a Marist adjunct pays $75 to the teacher. Full time tuition is over $15,000, meaning that each three credit class costs $1,500. Sort of like Nike in that the sweatshop worker somewhere making each sneaker earns one percent of what the company eventually charges customers.

Lead the way, Alex and the Student/Labor Dialogue.

April 5, 2014

Vote Green, but take to the streets!

GUEST: Carl Lundgren, Chair of the Bronx County Green Party and Green Party candidate for NY State Senate District 34 (Bronx-Westchester), talks about the dysfunctional two party system and why we need a better way. 

Carl expressed it perfectly. Why do a vast majority of the people believe in the same policies and values espoused by the Green Party, and yet continue to vote for Democrats?

As Obama has so well illustrated, there is no honesty in either party. He still talks like he is Martin Luther King, but has waged incessant war with his drone strikes, indefinite detention, NSA spying, and excessive secrecy. His "hope" was a public relations pitch based on nothing. Obama sold his soul a long time ago in Chicago when he was Mayor Daily's candidate, chosen to defeat black progressives in the city council. Ties to real estate developers, the nuclear power industry and Wall Street have determined what he really works hard for. Nixon was a wild-eyed leftist compared to our current charlatan in chief.

So is the system fixable at the ballot box? The Supreme Court decisions allowing hundreds of millions to be pumped into each election cycle are the final nails in the coffin of our democracy. By all means, vote Green as a protest against the system. But realize that the system lacks any legitimacy, and must be fundamentally changed.

Continued expansion of the US empire will bring nuclear war. Continued domination by Wall Street, big oil, and the military industrial complex will bring irreversible global warming. Are we facing Frost's fire and ice choice for the end of humankind? Only an enraged populace can save us from our insane leaders. Vote Green, but take to the streets!

March 31, 2014

Exposed them to all the cruelty

GUEST: Hannah Mermelstein, school librarian and Palestine solidarity activist who has lead 25 delegations to the West Bank, talks about her trips to Palestine and the film "The Great Book Robbery."

What makes a Jewish school librarian from Brooklyn lead 25 delegations to Palestine? It all made sense by the end of our interview with Hannah.

In a librarian's world of strict definitions, apartheid is wrong. And it's as wrong on the twenty fifth trip as on the first. 

We spent the interview, however, talking about those who went with her delegation. In the beginning, they were mostly young American Jews turned off by the "Birthright" trips to Israel, an all-expense-paid immersion in Zionist doctrine. For these young people, a trip to the West Bank exposed them to all the cruelty behind the apartheid propaganda of Israel.

As Hannah's trips continued, the makeup of the delegations changed. Participants became of all ages and faiths. The catharsis of discovery became something that all Americans could involve themselves in, and they did. Delegations, however, didn't include those still believing in Israel's right to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land. As Hannah put it, the trips don't change people's minds as much as deepen their understanding of racism and colonialism. 

Hannah will be our special guest this Friday:
Friday, April 4, KINGSTON: Films of Palestine Series presents “The Great Book Robbery” from: 7:00pm - 8:30pm. "The Great Book Robbery” describes the theft of Palestinian culture, a multi-layered story that includes dramatic location filming, eyewitness accounts, archival footage, pictorial material, C.G.I. computer generated images, documents and culture critiques. (60 minutes). 

SPECIAL GUEST: Hannah Mermelstein, school librarian and solidarity activist who has led more than 25 delegations to Palestine. Sponsored by: Middle East Crisis Response and Hudson Valley Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

LOCATION: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills, 320 Sawkill Road, Kingston, NY 12401. Contact: or 518 678 2076 or

March 23, 2014

Dragged through the slime machine

GUEST: Fran Knapp, former Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner, talks about local politics as well as the "partisan political warfare" at the Board of Elections.

Fran served six terms in the Dutchess County Legislature, and has worked for many years a leader of the County Democratic Caucus. She was employed for 10 years as the Democratic Elections Commissioner before being forced to resign in December of 2013. Fran was ultimaely charged with two misdemeanor violations. Was it a political coup or had she committed serious violations of state election law?

She had been very active in thwarting Republican attempts to block voter registration. In fact, students at four area colleges had won a big victory with her help (Pitcher v. Dutchess County Board of Elections). They had been arbitrarily denied the vote for years based on arbitrary criteria like the technical names of their dormitory buildings or their room numbers.

Fran was ordered to testify before a grand jury made up of Republican cronies, and then charged with over over 60 supposed violations. The Republican county executive, speaking on NPR, pronounced her "guilt" of serious violations before she was even tried, and the local newspaper ran scathing articles about her "corruption" without bothering to get her side of the story. What was worse, some Democrats who had cozied up to the Republican machine refused to back her, and the legal cost of defending herself was going to be at least $100,000.

In the end, Fran was given a weekend to decide on a "plea bargain" that involved a $175 fine and her resignation from the Board of Elections. All but two counts were dropped, and they involved two incidents of incorrect paperwork out of the thousands of voters registered by the county. 

Is our political process hopelessly corrupt, even at this local level? I felt sorry for Fran. She had given many years of her life to making voting registration fair, only to be dragged through the slime machine by the good old boy network of corrupt politicians and rubber stamp journalists. 

March 15, 2014

Mark of Cain

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 Palestinian nonviolent resistance against Israeli apartheid in the West Bank. (prerecorded)

Jeff spoke at a movie the Middle East Crisis Response showed in Kingston. He will be returning for a full presentation on Friday, May 2nd. 

This picture gives a glimpse of what Jeff talked about, the caging of millions of Palestinians based on their ethnic identity. Jewish immigrants from Brooklyn get immediate citizenship and are paid a sizable stipend to settle in the occupied West Bank. Here they turn into racist gangsters, encouraged and backed up by the Israeli Defense Force. They tear down Palestinian houses, burn their fruit trees and throw rocks at their children going to school. In short they become like animals, grabbing for more land and houses from an oppressed people. 

If you want to know how "good Germans" lived with themselves during the persecution of Jews prior to and during World War II, all one has to do is go to the West Bank. There is something about ethnicity, greed, and violence that brings out the beast in people. It is always there, waiting for the right circumstances to emerge. It is ugly beyond comprehension, and we can only return to our normal lives by averting our eyes and coming up with excuses for the suffering. 

But Germans never returned to that normal life, and neither will Israeli Jews. The mark of Cain will forever be part of both peoples' legacies.