Can Pacifica Live Up to Its Promise?

In an age when "progressives" seem segmented at times, each faction focusing on specific issue areas; and at a time when the power of media seems central, the promise of the Pacifica network could be of enormous importance.

Pacifica was founded by radical pacifists who refused to fight even in World War II; nor were they content to wash their hands of the situation and be quietly hidden away in camps. Rather they wanted to disseminate their ideas; so after World War II, they established Pacifica radio, in the words of its mission, to "gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between" and to "contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and ... individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors." Hopefully the Pacifica board, which meets this weekend in New York City, will live up to this legacy.

In the late 90s and early in this decade, problems long-festering within Pacifica spilled out and resulted in a series of lockouts, lawsuits and conflicts that gripped the network, which owns five stations. By the time the cataclysmic events of 9-11 happened, the network was in a state of internal war; crucially, its flagship program, "Democracy Now!", was eerily being censored from Pacifica's stations in New York City and Washington, D.C.

This occurred largely because "Democracy Now!", unlike much of the other programming on those stations, sought to report on moves by the Pacifica national board, which seemed intent on mainstreaming the network, and possibly selling off parts of it. There was some indication that these actions could even have been motivated by goals of personal profit for board members (the stations are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars).

Some listeners, board members and programmers struggled to resist these attempts. By 2003, the lawsuits were settled, Pacifica's bylaws were rewritten and new Local Station Boards with more power were elected by listener/members to oversee the stations and in turn elect a national board. This new structure seems to have assured that there will not be a "hijacking" of Pacifica, but it has not shown that it is leading to a vibrant network -- which is what is desperately needed.

While there have been some positive developments since that time, their pace has been rather slow and there have also been some negative changes.

Imagine a Pacifica that has reporters going to the major news conferences: At the White House; at City Hall; at the State Department; at the Pentagon; at the place they call the Department of Justice; at the big think tanks. All asking tough, timely questions.

The WPFW (Pacifica's D.C. station) local board, when I was chairing it five years ago, called for this.

Had Pacifica reporters gotten into the White House regularly, or even the State Department or Pentagon, could they not have increased scrutiny on false claims for the Iraq war before the invasion? Had Pacifica had someone effectively covering Homeland Security issues, could that not have highlighted the vulnerability of the levees in New Orleans before Katrina hit? When progressive forces don't set up the structures necessary to avert disaster, should we really be surprised when it strikes and the flood waters -- and death -- come?

There was one WPFW programmer who was occasionally asking tough questions at the White House briefings, Russell Mokhiber who edits the Corporate Crime Reporter newsletter. But the program he hosted, "Challenging Corporate Power," brought on to WPFW in 2002, was cancelled. WPFW General Manager Ron Pinchback had -- after I voiced concern when the program was regularly preempted in late 2004 -- assured me the program would not be cancelled. In short order, it was.

Imagine a Pacifica that does not merely pretend to be brave, that and that avoids the cheap shots of demonizing Bush supporters as "brownshirts"; instead, actually building a news and information infrastructure that will help change the world for the better -- by providing information that changes hearts and minds.

Imagine a Pacifica with programmers who have the knowledge and wit to regularly bring on officeholders, mainstream pundits and others and expose their fallacies on the air.

Imagine a Pacifica that, rather than bringing on people who agree with each other, or at least pretend to, actually have open discussions. Advocates of different movements, say liberalism and socialism, can and should be in dialogue; should be critically examined, including by each other. The worst elements of all should be exposed; the best aspect of each should proliferate. As it is, too often advocates of each of various "schools" undermine each other behind the scenes. Similarly, too often, cultural and political programming have been pitted against each other when they should be complementary.

Imagine a Pacifica and WPFW that helps organize people around Washington, D.C. so that the collective conscience of the people around the nation's capital is felt on a daily basis by federal government officeholders. Imagine WPFW being used to announce timely protests at crucial events and places in DC. Imagine a Pacifica that has training programs to bring in new talent. The DC Radio Coop, just such an initiative, has been purged from WPFW by the management of the station.

Imagine a Pacifica that organizes "town hall" meetings between the people of various cities in the U.S. and the people of cities around the world where our government is exerting its violence and threats of violence. Imagine a Pacifica that builds on this and uses the power of the Internet effectively, that builds local and global connections.

What needs to be scrutinized is the collusion of incumbent programmers, many of whom were put in place by the previous utterly corrupt management, with the current management that seems resistant to change -- and stays in place largely because of support from incumbent programmers. Some local board members seem to be joining such cliques; others seem reluctant to assert their power to reform the network.

People need to demand excellence from their independent media; not simply to repeat platitudes, but to provide a serious news, information and cultural infrastructure that exposes the mainstream media as the dinosaurs they are.


Sam Husseini is a former chair of the WPFW local advisory board. Many of his writings are at husseini.org.

[originally published at husseini.org on June 2, 2006]

More Breaking -- or Fullfilling -- the Law

Today was also the second anniversary of Mordechai Vanunu being released from prison. He revealed Israeli's nuclear capacity and suffered in Israeli prisons for it for over 18 years, most of it in solitary confinement. Daniel Ellsberg has called him the "prophet of the nuclear age." Vanunu is still under a series of travel and speech restrictions by the Israeli government. He can't leave the land Israel claims as its own; and he is violating Israeli dictates by meeting with non-Israelis like myself. On his web page, he calls for "a congressperson or senator, to support and stand firm and bold with me, in Jerusalem, demanding my freedom and criticising Isreal's nuclear weapons, one who will come here for a press conference, and then take me with them to the U.S." People might want to give their "representatives" a call, if that they are; and even if not.

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I met with Vanunu in the afternoon, but if you look at his watch, you'll note it's set to the morning. For several years, he's had his watch set to New York time. A hungry soul finds a sliver of freedom where ever possible.

[originally published at husseini.org on April 21, 2006]

Some Hope on Sad Friday



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It's orthodox "Good Friday" and I always wondered why it was called that. And here, it's not. The Arabic-speaking locals where Jesus was crucified call it "Sad Friday." Still, even here, Jesus is pictured as a European and does not have facial features resembling people from the region.

On the way from Ramallah to Jerusalem, one passes the Kalandia checkpoint, where art has sprung up on the wall Israel is building through Palestinian territory, helping to decimate Palestinian life.

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Gandhi was fond of saying that he was a Muslim and Hindu and a Jew and a Christian. That might have had an effect on me when I went to enter the grounds of the Dome of the Rock where both the Muslim guardians and Israeli soldiers asked me if I was a Muslim. I indicated I was.

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The Muslims were rather accepting; the Israeli soldiers less so; it was on their prompting that I said "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet," which I think technically makes me a Muslim and for that I have the Israeli military -- and Gandhi -- to thank. One Israeli soldier was quite disbelieving of my claim as I was leaving the grounds of the Dome of the Rock. In the midst of his interrogating me, a large group of Jews who seemed intent on praying on the ground of the Dome of the Rock appeared; the Israeli soldiers stopped them and -- after they were permitted to sing for quite a while -- they were shoved back.

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I've heard of right-wing Jewish groups who are intent on doing away with the mosque on the presumed hope that they will find a temple beneath it, but this group seemed act as thought they thought the mosque was theirs.

[originally published at husseini.org on April 21, 2006]

I'm not in Israel

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I'm in Ramallah and am filled with thoughts. Here is a simple one: Upon traveling from Amman to Ramallah yesterday, had a long hassle with Israeli authorities at Allenby Bridge; I had to fill out their form if I wanted to enter. It "asks": "IS IT YOUR FIRST VISIT IN ISRAEL." I responded "Yes" since I have been inside Israel in the past and wanted to get past the border military personnel; but I was going from the Allenby Bridge, near Jericho, to Ramallah. I am not going "in Israel." Which begs the question: What does Israel have to do with this; why are they controlling the border?

[originally published at husseini.org on April 20, 2006]

End the Myth of "Preemption"

The Bush administration has just released their National Security Strategy document which re-affirms the U.S. policy of so-called "preemption." The document actually states that "no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression."

But that is exactly what the Bush administration did.

Claiming that an action is "preemptive" presumes that there's something to preempt. Of course, there were no Iraqi WMDs. There was no imminent attack. There was nothing to preempt. But the use by many, not only in the Bush administration, but also alleged critics of it, of such a term assists in the war plans.

James Bamford titled his book "A Pretext for War," which is a rather good term. A "pretext war" is waged on alleged motives which have no relation to the actual motives for war.

Some use the term "preventive" war rather than "preemptive" war, since one might argue that the U.S. is out to prevent the emergence of something that might one day be a threat. But this too is dubious given the circumstances. What we are talking about with the U.S. government in Iraq is exactly what the Bush administration is trying to deny: aggressive war. With Iran or Syria we are talking about the threat of the use of aggressive war.

The Nuremberg Tribunal, when prosecuting Nazi war criminals called the waging of aggressive war "essentially an evil thing ... to initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

I raised this issue of the term "preemptive" with some "anti-war leaders" before the war -- and got dazed looks in return.

Three years after the invasion of Iraq, with all the rationales for war debunked, many alleged critics of Bush are still referring to the war as "preemptive."

The administration understands the terms and how to twist them to suit its purposes. Those who claim to oppose those purposes should understand the terms and use them properly if they really want positive change.

This is an aggressive war.

[originally published at husseini.org on March 16, 2006]

Syriana

This movie, much lauded by U.S. liberals, which purports to explain the dynamics of the contemporary Mideast, makes no mention of Israel.

[originally published at husseini.org on March 6, 2006]

Port-Mortem

Bush seems to recognize profiling -- when the alleged victim has $1 billion in their pocket. "Security hawks" find flaws with "government secrecy." "Free traders" go domestic. God willing, all the hypocrites will be reduced to the dust bin of history; but preserved there in intricate detail.

[originally published at husseini.org on Feb. 22, 2006]

Pick Your Global Protests

Three years ago, on February 15, 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, there were quasi-global peace protests.

The streets of New York City, London, Rome, Madrid, Johannesburg, Hong Kong and many other places were filled with people protesting against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

It's a shame that those protests didn't happen earlier -- imagine if they happened before Congress gave its dubious "authorization" for war in October 2002, for example. It's conceivable at least that Bush would have had a harder time launching the invasion.

But it is more regretful that these protests have not grown; have not continued to include more of the globe and have not become deeper in nature. Quite the contrary, they have atrophied. Over a month ago I was on a program on Pacifica station WBAI's appropriately-named program "Wake Up Call" in New York with leaders from various groups: United for Peace and Justice, International Answer and International Action Center. I challenged them on their non-follow-up on global protests. They all ignored the point. [Listen at the Wake Up Call archive blog.]

In the last few weeks we have seen very different quasi-global protests in various Arab and Muslim countries sparked by the insulting depictions of Muhammad.

I don't think the two events are un-related. The "peace movement" in the U.S. has not meaningfully reached out to the rest of the world, most notably people in Arab and Muslim countries -- even as it criticizes Bush for his "unilateralism". Where are the regular global protests? Where are the global sister cities projects? Where are the internet chat rooms where people can cross cultures and learn about others' perspectives and organize for a more just world?

Why has the peace movement not built these structures? I suspect that it is because building a new just world from the ground up would first, require alot of work that goes beyond rhetorical denunciations of Bush; but it would also open the door to what I said: a new just world. That is, the global inequalities which currently exist would have to be addressed and ultimately eliminated. However much they are opposed to Bush, many in the U.S. I think must feel threatened by such a possibility. Working with others requires working with people raised in other cultures; that can be enrolling, it can also be uncomfortable and threatening.

So there are no global protests every month expressing solidarity and demanding justice. Instead, there are protests of the sort we are now seeing: a wounded and insulted people lashing out in an unproductive fashion.

So, we need to pick our protests. If people in places of privilege who say they want change really want to establish methods by which we can all interact with mutual respect and justice; then we need to have the courage to change and build a global peace and justice movement from the ground up. If we don't really want that, we'll do nothing substantial; gripe at Bush (and pro-war Dems for that matter) and then watch as other protests develop and gradually engulf the world.

Pick your protests. Pick your world.

[originally published at husseini.org on Feb. 15, 2006]