SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 10:41:00 AM

Will the KPFA Building Be Up For Auction?

It is both ironic and tragic that an historic, anti-war media institution like the Pacifica Foundation should find itself repeatedly engaged in a war for survival. And, once again, Berkeley's own KPFA finds itself at ground zero on the media battlescape.

Dedicated KPFA members will soon be asked to respond to a ballot that would fundamentally alter the station's operational bylaws. Members of a listener group called Rescue KPFA are warning that the new bylaw changes will be "anti-democratic and dangerous"—the work of a "rogue KPFA management" seeking to overturn Pacifica founder Lew Hill’s vision of an independent, anti-war, community based operation. According to the RKPFA partisans, the new rules threaten to turn "KPFA into NPR."

Rescue KPFA believes the current face-off involves an "engineered financial meltdown" brought about through "deliberate fiscal mismanagement" to set the stage for "an imminent auction of the Berkeley building."

Adding to the growing concern: a violent seizure of the WBAI studio in New York during a successful fund drive and "repeated failure to submit timely audits, causing a loss of Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants." A statement from Rescue KPFA references "secret KPFA Foundation incorporation papers in 2013" intended to "enable a bankruptcy judge to order the WBAI license and other station assets to be sold for tens of millions of dollars, allowing KPFA to use the proceeds to pay down debts and operate KPFA under new anti-democratic bylaws."

"This is exactly what we successfully defeated in 1999," Rescue KPFA notes. "Are we moving backwards?"



The reference is to a long factional battle between Pacific Foundation officials and local KPFA staff that culminated in a July 1, 1999 police siege of the KPFA building and the physical removal of station staff—including Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein—while hundreds of station supporters gathered outside and blocked traffic from Martin Luther King Jr. Way. (In April of that year, KPFA broadcast icon Larry Bensky also was fired for daring to discuss the struggle on the air.) 

The Pacifica Foundation's violent take-over of the station followed the accidental release of an internal email from a Houston real estate broker who served on the Foundation's board. In the email, Michael Palmer wrote: "I was under the impression there was support in the proper quarters, and a definite majority, for shutting down that unit and reprogramming immediately." Palmer was among a faction of Pacifica boardmembers who was considering (in his words) "the possibility of selling one of the stations to put the national network in a better financial position." 

According to Rescue KPFA, all five of Pacifica’s Local Station Boards have overwhelmingly voted NO on the substitute by-laws. 

What Is at Issue? 

The concern is that the new bylaws would: 

  • Enable a self-selected board to accept corporate or major donor contributions, instead of listener support
  • Eliminate community-elected Local Station Boards and oversight
  • Eliminate staff representatives on the Pacifica National Board
  • Disenfranchise more than 200 affiliate stations.
Disaffected staff and listeners are also concerned that Pacifica’s anti-war mission is "under threat by continually airing the fake opposition politics practiced by mainstream media and both major parties." 

The Rescue KPFA activists charge that management "has canceled popular programs with no due process: Guns and Butter, Twit Wit Radio, Discreet Music, Work Week." Instead, it chose to fill precious air-time with repetitive "gavel to gavel coverage of what every other media outlet is covering." 

The closing sentence of the appeal reads: "Vote NO on the substitute bylaws and prevent the NPR model of corporate control so KPFA can once again become the leading voice in opposition to endless wars." 

Meanwhile, the situation is growing dire. Because the station's management has failed to pay $486,000 in property taxes on the Berkeley studio for the last six years, the Alameda County Tax Collector’s office has announced its intention to seize the property for public auction. 

For more information, you can click on Rescue KPFA. Media Alliance executive director Tracy Rosenberg also recommends checking out the Pacific Radio in Exile webpage

A public press conference is planned at noon on February 12 at the KPFA studio (1929 MLKJ Way) 

Reviews on Trump's 'Exoneration' and his State of Disunion Address 

Senator Doug Jones (R-Alabama) 

"I just voted to convict the President on both charges brought against him by Congress. I made my decision based on evidence. I didn’t consult my party or polling – I took my Constitutional oaths seriously. That isn’t going to make Mitch McConnell or the extremists he supports in Washington happy, but it was the right thing to do." Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) 

"From the start, Mitch McConnell did everything he could to protect Trump and block the American public from seeing crucial White House documents and hearing from relevant witnesses that could have provided us with important information. This wasn’t a fair trial at all. This was a complete sham."  

Senator Michael Bennet (D-NH) 

"Since Trump was elected, we’ve acted as little more than an employment agency for a legion of unqualified, partisan judges and other nominees." 

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) 

"Here’s the bottom line: This vote wasn’t just about whether Trump solicited a political bribe from a foreign leader in a corrupt abuse of power for his own personal gain (which he undeniably did). It was also about what kind of country we want America to be. My Republican colleagues just sent a message to the American people that their President answers to no one—even when he invites foreign interference in our elections. This exact situation was our Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare and why they established impeachment powers in the first place. 

"I still believe that this President should be—and will be—accountable to those he was elected to serve. The facts will come out. The truth will matter. And it will be because of the bravery of dedicated public servants who had everything to lose and nothing to gain by coming forward—and because of the free press doing the investigative work that Senate Republicans were too cowardly to face."  

Senator Mitt Romney (R-CO) 

The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it . . . . To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a president defies reason . . . . This verdict is ours to render. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty. The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.” Yes, he did.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 

Rip. Rip. Rip. Rip. Rip . . . . 

The Real Trump Super Bowl Ad 

Over the Super Bowl weekend, the feisty lefty documentarians at Brave New Films released a short video designed "to shine a bright light on the claims made in the Trump campaign's multi-million-dollar Super Bowl ad." BNF explain they believed it was “in our national interest” to address Trump’s ad and tell the truth. 

BNF has also released a longer "investigative video" titled Trump Inc: Lining Their Pockets: White House For Sale. As BNF explains: "#TrumpInc didn't drain the swamp, they flooded it. In this film we dive deep into how the Trumps are #LiningTheirPockets with taxpayer dollars." Check out for ways to mop up government corruption. 


Free Speech Movement Cafe Marks 20 Years at UC Berkeley 

On January 26, the Daily Californian saluted the Free Speech Movement Café, which had recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Located in the Moffitt Library, the café was created to "publicly spread awareness of the movement to future generations." 

Lee Felsenstein, an FSM veteran and boardmember of the Free Speech Movement Archives noted that the Cafe came about because of a donation to the University Library by Steve Silberstein, a UC alumnus who wanted to honor Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement. 

A personal confession: As an FSM vet, every time I visit the FSM Café, I find myself thinking of contacting the concessionaire to propose the cafe consider offering complimentary java for FSM vets. (It should be affordable since we are a shrinking demographic and there are not that many of us within striking distance of an FSMC cappuccino.) 

Welcome to America — Kick! Punch! Jab! 

I recently took a friend down to be fingerprinted at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office on Edgewater Avenue near the Oakland Coliseum. The service was friendly and quick. We were in and out in less than 15 minutes. While waiting, I noticed the walls were decorated with portraits of American heroes—including foreign-born Alexander Hamilton (St. Kitts & Nevis). 

But there also was a DVD running on a single large-screen in the lobby. And what were all the aspiring Americans compelled to watch as they waited for their numbers to be called? The 2017 Avengers spin-off, Thor: Ragnarok—a full 130 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, running, yelling and jumping while kicking, punching, and jabbing fellow actors and a humongous CGI Hulk. 


Is this the best way to exemplify the "Spirit of America"? 

How about showing human-scale, inspirational flicks instead—like Rocky, Forest Gump, Selma, Rosa Parks or Harriet

Sticking It to AARP 

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) prides itself on providing useful tips for its older members to protect their health, avoid bad habits, and spot scams but they somehow overlooked the fact that they've been mailing out member gifts wrapped in carcinogenic envelopes. A close inspection of AARP's plastic gift-bags reveals a tiny sticker (about the size of two breath-mints stacked end-to-end) that reads: Warning: Cancer and Reproductive Harm. The warning is only displayed on shipments addressed to residents of California, where Prop. 65 requires the display of health warnings. 

While a legally required warning label is a nice gesture, wouldn't it be preferable to pass laws that simply outlawed cancer-causing products in the first place? 

OK, Boomers. It's Time to Update the Voters' Guide 

In advance of the March 3 Presidential Primary Election, California cities are mailing out a Voter Information Guide that continues to look like an artifact from the 1940s. I'm referring to the Sample Ballot on the inside front cover. The mock-up contains six names and a blank line for a "write-in" candidate. 

Problem is: the names in the box all reference celebrities many-generations-removed from the present. Most of today's voters would not recognize these candidates for the imaginary post of "Directors of Entertainment"—Billy Rose, Carole Lombard, George E. Jessel, Kate Smith, Isadora Duncan, and Edward "Duke" Ellington all belong to a previous, long-gone century. 

Isn't it about time we updated our Sample Ballot to reflect the century that we now inhabit? With this goal in mind, I'd like to propose the following updated list of faux candidates: Billie Eilish, Tom Hanks, Beyonce, Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga, and Dolly Parton. 

If the rule is that (to avoid balloting confusion) the sample list cannot include anyone who is still living, here's an alternate list of celebs—Florence Henderson, Marlon Brando, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Robin Williams, and Gwen Ifill. 

ACLU Statement on Charges Against Glenn Greenwald

On January 21, Brazilian authorities charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald with “cybercrimes” for his crusading reporting as head of The Intercept. Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, issued the following statement in response: 

“The United States must immediately condemn this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognize that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad.” 

Salud and Adieu to the Great Kirk Douglas 

Kirk Douglas—the son of two illiterate Jewish migrants from Russian and Ukraine—died on February 5 at the age of 103. In addition to being a Hollywood icon whose roles ranged from Spartacus to Vincent van Gogh, Douglas was also an author (The Ragman's Son, Climbing the Mountain, My Stroke of Luck) and a fearless champion of political freedom. 

In 1960, Douglas challenged the Hollywood blacklist that targeted left-leaning writers, forcing them to abandon their careers or work under the cover of aliases or "frontmen." It was Douglas who insisted that Dalton Trumbo be named as the screenwriter of director Otto Preminger's Spartacus. When the film became a runaway box-office hit, it signaled the end to the blacklist. 

Douglas appeared onscreen over a 60-year career that saw him has a cowboy, a pirate, a prizefighter, and a hard-boiled reporter. (Former Chronicle film critic Edward Guthmann has written a fine piece on Douglas that you can read here.) In addition to his other leading roles, I fondly remember Douglas for his performance as a guitar-strumming deckhand in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Government Employees Behaving Badly 

ICE has fired a contractor who frequently posted comments on a neo-Nazi site and tried to start a hate group. CoreCivic, a private prisons-for-profit firm that operates the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, Nevada, fired shift supervisor Travis Frey after the disclosure that he had posted more than a hundred comments on a white supremacist website. 

Among Frey's postings: “God used the white race in Europe to build western civilization. You'd be bowing five times a day towards Mecca if not for the Church and her Crusaders.” Frey, a pro-Trump activist, also attempted to start his own chapter of a neo-Nazi group while working at another CoreCivic facility in Indiana. 

Meanwhile, over at the US Border Patrol, Carla Provost retired as acting chief after it was revealed that she had been a member of a racist Facebook site that mocked the deaths of migrant children who died in the agency's custody. 

Trump's new chief, Border Patrol official Rodney Scott, has run into similar difficulties when he was outed for being a member of the same "racist and hateful" Facebook group. According to a Pro Publica investigation, as many as 70 Border Patrol agents were found to have regularly participated in exchanges on the site. 

Government Employees Behaving Badly 2 

There's a porn problem roiling the ranks of our country's well-paid federal office workers. According to a January 7 report in the Judicial Watch Corruption Chronicles, the US is experiencing an "epidemic of government employees watching porn on taxpayer time." 

Investigators discovered employees at the Department of Agriculture were more interested in porn than corn and were exchanging pornsite content with DoA contractors. Some government veterans at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management were discovered to be using their workstations to download child pornography. The "porn crisis" at the Securities and Exchange Commission involved not only dozens of regular employees but also a number of "senior officers with lucrative six-figure salaries." As Judicial Watch put it: "While the economy crumbled, the SEC was preoccupied with pornography." 

Over at the National Science Foundation, an audit revealed that one NSF executive spent "at least 331 days" engaged in "workday porn surfing," using his government computer for "chatting online with naked women." 

It is, of course, illegal for federal employees to engage in porn-oggling during business hours. The misbehavior has become so rampant that, several years ago, Congress introduced the "Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act." But the problem still festers. 

Meanwhile, in another odd collision between government oversight and X-rated uncovered sights, the FBI has created an "Anti-privacy Warning" for the Internet that cautions that "unauthorized reproduction or distribution" of copyrighted videos risks punishment of "up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000." Bizarre as it may seem, this warning mainly seems to pop up on websites featuring porn films.