Someone Sit Obama Down and Make him Watch ‘Boogieman’!

boogiemanI had the pleasure this morning of interviewing Stefan Forbes on my radio program, Uprising, about his new documentary, Boogieman: The Lee Atwater Story. I had only heard vague mentions of the name Lee Atwater but really had no idea how influential to American political campaigning he was, until I watched the film. This young Republican upstart from South Carolina, wrote the script-book for today’s GOP election tactics. Not surprisingly he was Karl Rove’s mentor.

Coming of political age in the College Republicans, Atwater learned early in life that he enjoyed engineering political wins rather than winning himself. He compared politics to war and decided that winning at all costs was worth it. In that spirit, Atwater spread rumors about people’s personal lives, played to the racism of white working-class Americans, manipulated the media, and even planted lies. All, in order to win an election.

Atwater helped Reagan win election, earning a place in the White House while only in his thirties. Eventually he came to be George H W Bush’s chief campaign strategist, a role that marked the zenith of his career. Engineering a win for an unpopular candidate meant discrediting rival Democrat Michael Dukakis using any means necessary. Including the racist Willie Horton ads.

Eventually his disgraceful behavior and extremely high stress caught up with him. In 1991 Lee Atwater was diagnosed with brain cancer and in the last years of his life was thought to have apologized to his political victims. According to Boogieman film maker Stefan Forbes, this is debatable and in fact Atwater was spinning lies all the way to his grave for political effect.

But think about it for one moment. If the Republican Party needs to resort to such low-down dirty tricks in order to get candidates elected, it follows that they would lose election after election if Americans started to see through them. The party’s platform is so unpopular among ordinary Americans, that they have to be driven by their basest fears into voting Republican. What does this say about so-called Republican values?

Still, Republican strategists like Atwater and Rove would never be able to pull off what they do, without such an easily manipulated and lazy media. The smears only gain traction because they are reported uncritically. When they are retracted it is often too late to matter.

Atwater may be dead but his ugly legacy lives on. Think Florida 2000, Ohio 2004, Valarie Plame, Swiftboat Veterans, and on and on. Even John McCain himself has been a victim of the type of disgusting underhanded political campaigning that Atwater exemplified. During his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, Karl Rove started a rumor that McCain fathered an illegitimate bi-racial daughter – a stain that contributed to his loss in favor of George W Bush. In fact that dark-skinned daughter was adopted by McCain and his wife from Bangladesh. Despite McCain’s vow never to resort to that type of negative political campaigning himself, once his poll numbers started sinking in this year’s election, he shamefully hired a man named Tucker Eskew, a close friend of Atwater who was interviewed extensively in Boogieman, to prepare his running mate Palin for prime-time.

The ghost of Lee Atwater lives on in this year’s presidential election. His colleagues and apprentices have managed to turn the Black, deeply Christian candidate with middle class roots and a background in community organizing, into an elite professorial type who is out of touch with the middle and working classes. Oh, and he’s a closet Muslim too. And he plays the “race-card.” Meanwhile, McCain has been transformed into a God-fearing man of the people, despite his lack of devoutness, despite losing count of the vast number of houses and cars he owns, despite being married to one of America’s wealthiest women who flies around in her own private jet. Shockingly, it is McCain who is portrayed as having become the victim of Obama’s reverse racism.

Near the end of the film Boogieman, a contrite Michael Dukakis reveals the major lesson of his political life – when mud starts slinging, don’t just stay silent and weather the storm: fight back. Trying to “rise above it” as he tried to do during the 1988 race against George H W Bush, Dukakis remained tainted by Atwater’s ghastly smears and lost the election.

Quick, before its too late, someone sit Obama down and force him or his aides to watch Boogieman.

Go See Persepolis!

PersepolisI didn’t think Marjane Satrapi’s coming-of-age-in-Iran memoir could be much improved by animating it, but having just seen the Oscar-nominated film Persepolis, I realize I was wrong. I described it to a friend interested in viewing it thus: a black-and-white, animated film in French with English subtitles about a young girl growing up in revolutionary Iran. That description sets up a number of obstacles to a mainstream American audience. But Persepolis is absolutely worth watching. About 10 minutes into the film, you forget it’s black and white, you forget it’s animated, and you forget it’s in French. Satrapi’s story is honest and authentic, personal and political, all at once.

The type of story Marjane Satrapi’s weaves about her life is too often told by Western storytellers who can’t help but exoticize, trivialize, and patronize readers in the telling. So many things about her experience reminded me of my own: figuring out how to be a “normal” kid in a fundamentalist culture, grappling with the alienation of being a foreigner, suffering the pain of separation from one’s family at a young age. So, when I first came across part 1 of Satrapi’s deeply moving graphic novel about her early years, I read it in one sitting. I read part 2 in the book store before I could even finish paying for it.

The women in Persepolis, like the storyteller, are strong-willed, real women who struggle for their rights heroically. Satrapi’s relationship with her smart-talking grandmother is central to the film. Her grandmother teaches her to believe in herself, scolds her when she is selfish, and reminds her to take a principled stand in all things. It’s an image of Iranian women we rarely see in Western media.

The simple lines of her pen convey volumes about family, society, war, and religion and are a testament to her artistry, both as a story teller, and a graphic artist. It would almost have been too easy to make a traditional film based on her books, complete with actors and location shoots. In translating her graphic novels into an animated film, she chooses to keep her story in a realm that is one step away from reality: just like our own memories.

Selective Outrage

Published on Alternet.org on March 30, 2006

by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls

Daily media reports over the case of Afghan Christian convert Abdul Rahman have revealed a sudden concern over Afghanistan’s repressive human rights environment. But routine human rights reports of the ongoing oppression of Afghan women, suppression of the media and underlying Western complicity have barely been noticed.

In the West, government officials, media pundits and right-wing commentators have expressed vocal concern over the life of one Afghan man who chose, 16 years ago, to convert from Islam to Christianity. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Rahman’s arrest for apostasy (renunciation of faith), a crime that carries the death penalty was “beyond belief.” U.S. President George W. Bush said he was “deeply troubled” by the case. The New York Times opined that “the case is more than deeply troubling, it’s barbaric.”

These same officials, whose governments underwrite the Afghan government, were apparently so moved by Rahman’s situation that they pushed for President Hamid Karzai to have Rahman released. In what the Associated Press called “an unusual move,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Karzai to convey “in the strongest possible terms” her government’s wish for a “favorable resolution.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also appealed to Karzai and got positive results.

Three days before Rahman was released, Harper said, “[Karzai] conveyed to me that we don’t have to worry about [Rahman’s execution. He] assured me that what’s alarmed most of us will be worked out quickly ,T (Bin a way that fully respects religious rights, religious freedoms and human rights.” Not surprisingly, the case was dismissed on March 27 due to “insufficient evidence.

Prior to the dismissal, Bush boasted, “We have got influence in Afghanistan, and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values.” In other words, the Afghan courts are free to come to their own verdict, so long as the U.S. agrees with it. On CNN’s Late Edition, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., warned, “Let’s hope they make the right decision. If they don’t, I think there are going to be a great many problems.”

Behind Roberts’ words was an unmistakable threat that the United States and other Western governments would withdraw their support for the fragile Karzai government. Gary Bauer, president of the conservative group American Values, sent an email to 250,000 supporters warning that Rahman’s execution would “result in a complete collapse in support for the war.” The New York Times echoed these sentiments: “What’s the point of the United States’ propping up the government of Afghanistan if it’s not even going to pretend to respect basic human rights?” The newspaper’s editors threatened, “If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States.”

The implication is clear: By “liberating” Afghanistan, the Christian West now stakes a claim in its internal affairs. Recognizing this influence, vocal leaders have discovered a sudden interest in international law and universal values — but it is a piecemeal recognition, avoiding the systemic issues of human rights violations seen in Afghanistan on a daily basis. Before one applauds the outcome, it is important to understand that Rahman’s religious freedom case is a symptom of a much larger problem.

While Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins laments that “such a ‘trial’ is a flagrant violation of Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he does not cite Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to education. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reports that the number of educational facilities for women has actually been reduced in the past year. In southern Afghanistan, the United Nations reports about 300 girls’ schools were burned down in 2005. Nationwide, women’s literacy rates are half that of men. Some provinces report literacy rates of 3 percent for women.

For Afghanistan’s approximately 15 million women, “universal values” do not include women’s rights. A UNICEF report released last week warned of the grim statistics concerning Afghan women and children:

[A]n estimated 600 children under the age of 5 die every day in Afghanistan, mostly due to preventable illnesses, some 50 women die every day due to obstetric complications, less than half of primary school age girls attend classes, while a quarter of primary school age children undertake some form of work, and an estimated one-third of women are married before the age of 18.

In 2001, similar statistics were routinely reported as a justification for the war on Afghanistan and women’s “liberation.” Yet, five years later, the situation has scarcely improved.

The case of Abdul Rahman has drawn attention to Afghanistan’s judicial system, which has been in dire need of reform since it was set up at the end of 2001. But, other than Rahman’s case, most commentators have a meager understanding of how this system has affected the lives of Afghans, especially women, its greatest victims. Amnesty International notes that “the current criminal justice system is simply unwilling or unable to address issues of violence against women. At the moment (October 2003) it is more likely to violate the rights of women than to protect and uphold their rights (emphasis added).”

The main legal document of Afghanistan is the constitution, drafted and passed in early 2004 with the oversight of then U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. In March 2004, we warned of the constitution’s ambivalent stance toward women’s rights:

[P]ossibly negating any rights of women is the ominous inclusion of the supremacy of Islamic law in the constitution: “in Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” As if to underscore the threat this statement presents, the Chairman of the constitutional convention, … Sibghatullah Mojadidi, said to the women delegates at the convention, “Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man.”

Islamic law in the constitution was meant to appease extremist right-wing factions, including the Chief Justice Fazl Al Shinwari. Shinwari is a close ally of the fundamentalist warlord and U.S.-Saudi protege of the early 1990s Abdul-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, now a member of the Afghan parliament. Human Rights Watch reported that Shinwari and his deputy “do not appear to act independently, the first requirement of a judge, instead making political judgments in close collaboration with warlords like Sayyaf.”

Shinwari has taken full advantage of his position and the new constitution to appoint judges who share his extreme beliefs to the lower courts, and handing out misogynist decisions on cases involving women, particularly in family law. He refuses to appoint women to high court positions, saying, “If a woman becomes a top judge, then what would happen when she has a menstruation cycle once a month, and she cannot go to the mosque?”

Shinwari has banned cable television in Afghanistan, arrested journalists for blasphemy, and forced Women’s Affairs minister Sima Samar to resign her post after she was charged with blasphemy for making “irresponsible statements” criticizing Shari’a law. As with apostasy, the penalty for blasphemy is death. Yet, we hear no criticisms from the West regarding the court’s numerous medieval blasphemy accusations.

The consequences for women of such a repressive justice system have been dire. The AIHRC noted 150 cases of self-immolation among women in the western region of the country in 2005 alone. Women who burn themselves to death often do so as a result of forced marriages, which are sanctioned by extremist interpretations of Shari’a law and are occurring at an alarming rate. Cases of violence against women are also rising. A young woman named Gulbar in the Baghdis province was repeatedly abused by her husband, who finally set fire to her. While she attempts to recover from extreme burns covering 40 percent of her body, no steps have been taken by local authorities to hold her husband accountable.

In late 2005, the well-respected 25-year-old poet Nadia Anjuman was beaten by her husband and died of injuries. U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards condemned the killing: “The death of Nadia Anjuman ,T (Bis indeed tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan. It needs to be investigated, and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law.”

The New York Times sarcastically commented that if Rahman was to be executed, “maybe Afghanistan should also return to stoning women to death for adultery.” Perhaps the Times will recall last spring, when 29-year-old Amina of Badakhshan province was stoned to death after being accused of adultery by her husband and convicted by local officials.There was no international outcry from the United States or other foreign countries and no attempts to get President Karzai to enforce universal human rights.

It is likely that, given the current atmosphere in Afghanistan, justice will not be served for Gulbar, Nadia Anjuman, Amina or the uncounted women who have been stifled by a judicial system that was designed to work against them. The complicit silence from Western media and government officials indicates that Bush’s “influence in Afghanistan” is not worth exercising to protect women’s rights.

Note that Bush administration officials have remained entirely silent on the fate of a brave Afghan woman named Malalai Joya. Joya is one of the youngest members of Afghanistan’s parliament and a fierce critic of U.S.-backed fundamentalist warlords. She has survived four assassination attempts and has received over 100 death threats. The only action the Karzai government has taken recently is to withdraw the security guards that she was previously provided.

In early 2005, the position of U.N. independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, held by Cherif Bassiouni, was eliminated at the request of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Just before he was fired, Bassiouni had published a report describing “arbitrary arrest, illegal detentions and abuses committed by the United States-led coalition forces,” as well as activities by these forces which “fall under the internationally accepted definition of torture.”

Abdul Rahman’s case is not unique — it provides an example of the fear with which most ordinary Afghans, especially women, live. Even if one were to take seriously the Western concern for religious freedom, there appears to be less concern for the everyday violations of women’s humanity ensconced in the Afghan legal and political system, or for the criminal behavior of Washington’s own troops in Afghanistan. Most expressions of outrage at Rahman’s plight disregard the human rights violations for which the West is directly responsible and reveal an unstated contempt for the rights of women, the most common victims of the current Afghan justice system.

Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls are co-directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and the authors of the forthcoming book, “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence” (Seven Stories, 2006).

Dirty Recall Games: Schwarzenegger and the Media

Published on commondreams.org, September 30, 2003

The latest CNN/USA Today poll in the California Recall Election betrays a dangerous trend: a large majority of Californians now polled think that the recall is a good idea — 63% compared with 59% three weeks ago. So now the candidates running to replace Gray Davis really do matter– not all 135 of the registered candidates whose number seems to be the object of much amusement across the nation — but the top candidates, one of who will most likely be our new governor. This means either Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, or actor and body builder, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger scored the highest in this latest poll which is the second most disturbing aspect of the poll. His popularity is now at 40%, compared to Bustamante’s 25%, a drastic turnaround compared to 25/30 three weeks ago. Not withstanding the sheer power of popular culture to catapult any celebrity onto the political stage, Mr. Schwarzenegger has played a very dirty game, and those who have bent rules to help him, are equally culpable.

The 1934 Communications Act has an Equal Time provision which asserts that any media program, barring purely news programs, cannot provide an unfair share of broadcast time to any single candidate in an election without making available equal time to all other candidates within 7 days of the original broadcast date. To date, Schwarzenegger’s friends in the media have bent over backwards and widely featured him in apparent violations of the Equal time rule. Clearly these media spotlights are much more beneficial to a candidate who has little to say and refuses to debate other candidates unless given the questions beforehand. But if you look closely, it is not simply Howard Stern, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King who have bent the rules of fair game, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) itself. In a September 9th ruling, the FCC decided that the Howard Stern show was a “bonafide news interview program and therefore exempt…[D]ecisions on format, content, and participants are based on newsworthiness.” It is difficult to see how a show that features banana sucking contests and dates with porn stars as prizes qualifies as news. The FCC justified this by saying that “guests that happen to be political candidates are not selected to advance their candidacies.” It is comforting that the FCC, charged with overseeing our airwaves, places such deep trust in the agendas of Stern, Winfrey and other tabloid talk show hosts.

The Equal Time provision that required Schwarzenegger’s movies to be barred from network TV in the run up to the election has done little to prevent his star power from grabbing Californians’ votes through the idiot box. Cable stations, which are exempt from the Equal Time rule, have routinely run the Terminator movies in anticipation of the elections – only two channels, the Sci-fi and FX channels have chosen voluntarily not to air Schwarzenegger’s films. “People will go on seeing his movie on cable channels anyway,” said Martin Kaplan, professor of communications at the University of Southern California. “In any case he gets so much attention from the media that he is still the person most in voters’ faces” (AFP, 08/14). Schwarzenegger didn’t have to bankrupt his campaign in order to buy publicity – the media are providing it for free.

Even with the free ride from major media and the FCC, the Schwarzenegger “Total Recall” campaign is about 2 million dollars in debt. “Total Recall” is outspending all other candidates’ campaigns on paid advertisements on the airwaves, and incurring the largest debt of any of the candidates. With his rhetoric of cutting spending while keeping taxes down in an already bankrupt state, Schwarzenegger has promised that his business acumen is just what California needs. In a post election California, one hopes that quality schools, hospitals, jobs and elder care are at least as important to Mr. Schwarzenegger as winning an election.

This essay is not about Arnold’s accent, or his physical appearance, or even his extra-marital affairs. Recent comments from the left or Democratic Party on such issues are spiteful personal attacks that have little to do with Schwarzenegger’s fitness for office. His past life is relevant only in as much as it reflects his attitudes toward women and people of color. Schwarzenegger’s notorious bragging of sexual and otherwise degrading assaults on women have clearly struck a deep chord in women who have largely rejected this candidate. His persistent use of the “n” word, now publicized by two black fellow body builders, far overshadow the Lieutenant Governor’s similar mishap. His assertion that he is a poster child for immigrants, while opposing drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers and supporting the racist Proposition 187, speaks volumes about the race and class privilege he will undoubtedly preserve if he wins.

Having a pro-choice, pro-gun control position, Schwarzenegger is an anathema to the traditional conservative Republican, and yet most Republicans back him, not necessarily because he has specific ideas on how to run the fifth largest economy in the world, but because “he can win”. Mr. Schwarzenegger imagines that talking down to the public through clichés based on his movies will be enough to sell his qualifications. This is what he has to say when he is not engaging in Terminator-speak:

“The mass [sic] wants to hear one thing and wants to see one thing: Do I trust this guy? Does he have answers? How does he handle himself with the media? How does he handle himself out there? And this is someone that I can rally behind him and say, yes I want to go with this guy, he’s bringing me hope. And that’s what I want to bring to the table here, not the details. … ” (AP, 09/04).

Schwarzenegger has certainly figured out how to “handle himself with the media”. State-wide and national media have done little to challenge this type of condescending and self-serving rhetoric, choosing instead to hold Schwarzenegger’s hand all the way into Sacramento.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and producer of KPFK Radio’s ‘Uprising’, a daily drive-time morning public affairs program in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. KPFK is part of the Pacifica Radio Network. Sonali is also the co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a non-profit that works in solidarity with Afghan women.

Outwardly Progressive, Internally Corporate: Pacifica’s Next Challenge

Published on Znet online (www.zmag.org) in September 2002

In an article on Pacifica entitled “Gloves Off”, Michael Albert wrote: “progressive organizations should employ participatory and self-managing rather than corporate structures … advocating self-managing structures has not only long-run but also short-run relevance to Pacifica, because Pacifica activism will grow quicker and be stronger and wiser if it pursues positive aims.”

As a listener and subscriber to KPFK, Pacifica’s Los Angeles station, I kept a close watch on the campaign to “save Pacifica” and wrote letters, and supported efforts to reclaim Pacifica. At the height of the crisis I heard Juan Gonzalez resign on the air on Democracy Now! and began withholding my donations from KPFK.

Today, I find myself in a unique position: from a listener/subscriber to a worker at KPFK. Since March 2002, soon after the lawsuit was won and the “old regime” replaced, I began hosting and co-producing KPFKs Morning Show on weekday mornings. As the months have passed, I have grown into my new job and have fallen in love with journalism, radio, and production for the purposes of raising progressive awareness and motivating to action. I have seen and continue to see Pacifica as not simply reporting on the movement for social and political justice, but as an integral part of the movement. I have grown to appreciate my fellow workers who are as passionate as I am to be a part of this station. Excited as everyone else was about the changes heralding a new era at KPFK, I embraced our new General Manager and new Local Advisory Board (LAB) with enthusiasm.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize that there are several aspects of KPFK and Pacifica that have changed for the better. Listeners have more power and input into station policies, new bylaws are being debated by listeners, there are plans for elections to the Local Advisory Board, etc. But, where working conditions and internal management structures are concerned, KPFK retains the structures that were designed to “corporatize” the stations in the first place.

While the players changed, the game remained the same. I should have been wary from the start about an essentially hierarchical structure working for progressive goals. Hence, the realization that KPFK, in my opinion, is replicating the very structures it replaced saddens me. A progressive organization like KPFK must reject corporate structures and “employ participatory and self-managing” ones. But that has never been the case. If anything, in the last seven months that I have been employed at KPFK, I have seen only a reaffirming of corporate structures. When I first came into the station, I was assigned an “executive producer”, a “professional” who, I was told, was ultimately responsible for the show I hosted and would be the one responsible for the show. This executive producer was hired after the lawsuit was won, and was not a product of the previous management. This acceptance of mainstream media power roles came as rather a surprise to me. I imagined that as the person on the air, the words I spoke were my responsibility. I spent months battling the philosophy that I thought died with the previous regime. Egalitarian in theory, authoritarian in practice.

Eventually the executive producer finally had enough of my resistance to this philosophy and asked to be taken off the show, much to my relief. The Morning Show is now run by myself and one other producer and newsreader. We make every attempt to share power and decision making on the show. About half our stories are pitched to us by members of the community whose lives are affected by the prevailing power structures in our society.

The experience with “professionalism” was only a taste of things to come. One of the actions by our new General Manager only weeks after her arrival at KPFK was to fire a beloved and dedicated staff member on impulse as a result of a dispute over a financial transaction. I have gathered that the official reason given was “insubordination”. The staff at KPFK was shocked. The event galvanized us and, over the course of several long meetings, collectively decided upon a course of action. The attack on one staff member empowered the rest of us to collectively demand that the fired staff member be immediately re-instated and that financial transactions be made transparent. It was this part of my tenure at KPFK that has been the most exciting. We were exercising workplace democracy and cooperation based on consensus-based decision making! Our solidarity reaped rewards: the fired worker was immediately re-instated. However, closed-door mediated sessions between the GM and that worker ensured that eventually no blame was assigned to either party even though one had the power to fire and used it, and the other had no say in the matter. We, the staff, were told to move on.

In 4 short weeks, an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment has returned to KPFK when the GM suspended the same worker. This time “for her own good” as the worker was apparently too stressed to work – a fact that was not supported by her or anyone else’s observations on the staff. We’re back to business as usual and old timers on the staff are reminded of the striking parallels between then and now.

When KPFKs new GM came on board, as part of her speech at the National Board Meeting in Berkeley she said her goal was to “take the hierarchy out of management”. Unfortunately her actions are vastly different. Staff members at KPFK have been derided for having unauthorized meetings to plot against the GM and for showing disrespect to the GM. Lately the GM has asked that she be informed when staff members have lunch together outside of the station premises. Even a small gathering of staff members in the parking lot for 15 minute breaks is questioned. When management meets without larger staff permission and summarily fires and suspends highly respected and hard working staff members, somehow that is not “disrespectful”. Staff has been told that the GM “does not report to them”. Of course, what she means is that staff reports to the GM and the GM reports to the National Board – that is how it works within a hierarchical system.

Some might say, so what? She is the General Manager; someone has got to have the power to make decisions unilaterally for the good of the station, for “practical purposes”. If I have learned anything from my six month tenure here, it is that many progressive thinkers find it disturbingly easy to separate political ideals of workplace democracy, egalitarian thinking and non-hierarchical decision making, from the actual workings of their own institutions.

Sadly our new General Manager not only has problems with challenges to her authority, but also seems to be bearing the weight of previous workplace conflicts. Various people have raised numerous questions about her background and the National Board promised to review any findings from an investigation. A month ago, the Pacifica Executive Director Dan Coughlin visited KPFK and happened to be in town when our fellow worker was first fired. As he tried to quell the staff over the firing, I asked Coughlin about this investigation. His response was that it had revealed nothing of concern. However, a few days ago, the person who conducted the investigation revealed to a few other staff members and me that this was a lie. This person’s inquiries, which were thorough and came from a geographically diverse array of sources, were a devastating indictment of the suitability, skills and honesty of our new GM. A pattern of mismanagement, quite consistent with her current behavior at KPFK also emerged – enough to raise red flags. I was more shocked to realize that the top management at Pacifica was protecting their political investment in this GM on whom their reputation was staked. We, the staff, and the listeners were lied to.

There seems to be growing participation between listener activists and management on a national level, and this is indeed a step in the right direction. More needs to be done, however, to engage the larger listening community who may not be activists. On the station level, a replacement of the General Manager seems to be the length to which reform has gone. A search committee that was representative and democratic picked the current GM. But, once she was picked, the functioning of the station was left up to her, just like it was left up to her predecessor. The figurehead has changed; the system has stayed the same. It is akin to imagining that the state of our country will change if a Democrat replaces George W. Bush. Predictably the same abuses of power are being seen today. Staff members who stand up to the General Manager are being fired or have their hours reduced. Staff meetings are conducted by the GM through intimidation and authority.

So remarkable is the parallel between what is currently happening and the previous struggle to reclaim Pacifica, that sometimes the same language is being used that the previous regime used in trying to undermine the “save Pacifica” campaign. A February 2000 letter by Saul Landau was entitled “An Appeal to All Progressives: Stop the Pacifica Bashing!” In a GM’s report to the listeners at KPFK, a caller began criticizing the station’s output saying that nothing had changed. The GM’s response was to berate the caller for “bashing Pacifica” and dismiss him without hearing him out. The parallels are clear.

Additionally, a few listener activists who are involved in rebuilding the station are vehemently opposed to airing dirty laundry and assert that it would only serve to prove the previous regime correct. It would just “play into their hands”.

If Pacifica and its network stations are to recover from this very difficult period, the most destructive path it can take is to follow in the footsteps of the previous management. And it seems to be doing just that. Have things really changed?

One can imagine a major corporation undergoing internal upheavals where the top brass has an embarrassing closet of secrets, which, if exposed, would require an entire re-organization of structures and a re-evaluation of transparency and accountability. The corporate world is based on hierarchical top-down style management of workers that is geared toward maximizing production and minimizing risks at the expense of workers rights and human rights. Why are Pacifica stations continuing to adopt structures where a lone person at the top makes decisions? Don’t we need to honestly assess our progress and risk exposing mistakes so that a truly revolutionary media institution can be rebuilt?

An excellent example of bottom-up structures is the Indymedia movement. The Independent Media Centers that span the globe first began in 1999 in Seattle, Washington when tens of thousands demonstrated against the World Trade Organization. Since then, there has been an explosion of these Indymedia Centers throughout the world from Los Angeles to Jerusalem. While I’m not suggesting that Pacifica needs to emulate this structure in order to be a truly progressive institution, I think many lessons can be learned. Namely that decision-making among those who create the output can be horizontally rather than vertically designed.

Ultimately internal honesty and a bottom-up structure are the only things that can build a station resistant to outside attacks. We need to move toward the “participatory and self-managing structures” that Michael Albert spoke of. Mimicking the very structures we criticize in our political analysis should never be an option. Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and co-producer of KPFKs The Morning Show, a daily drive time public affairs and political show on global and local issues. She was one of KPFKs Union stewards when she wrote this piece and subsequently resigned as steward.