Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 20, 2015

Can Pacifica be saved?

Filed under: Pacifica — louisproyect @ 1:53 pm

Screen shot 2015-02-20 at 8.50.48 AM


Matt Lasar has an article in the Nation titled “Can Pacifica be Saved?” (http://www.thenation.com/article/197825/pacifica-radio-worth-saving) That’s a good question. Lasar doesn’t talk much about the programming, mostly about the dysfunctional financial/organizational setup.

I sort of gave up on WBAI, the NYC affiliate of Pacifica, about a decade ago but still have it preset on my Boston Audio tabletop radio (a fantastic piece of electronics) in between two sports stations, WFAN and ESPN. While going between WFAN and ESPN last night, I thought I’d give the station 30 seconds of my time.

A guy was giving a talk about how rotten “the system” was in the USA focused on the two-party system and its major donors, Koch on one side and Soros on the other. He pronounced Koch as “Katch” rather than “Coke”, which I thought was odd but not nearly as odd as his take on Soros. He said that Soros was trying to make people “dumb” so that they would be more obedient and the way he was doing that was by promoting marijuana. He supposedly wanted it to be dispensed in high schools. Now the truth is that Soros’s fight against repressive drug laws is one of the best things his foundation does.

I kept it on until they announced the name of the speaker. It turned out to be Webster Tarpley, a former member of the Larouche cult who has made a name for himself as a conspiracy theorist par excellence. Here’s some info on him from Wikipedia:

“Tarpley maintains that the September 11 attacks were engineered by a rogue network of the military-industrial complex and intelligence agencies as a false flag operation.

“On November 21, 2011, while traveling to Syria, Tarpley told Syria’s Addounia TV that the Syrian Civil War was a NATO-CIA ploy to destabilize Syria using mercenaries and death squads against the population and the Syrian government.”

Here are some of the books he has written:

–Obama – The Postmodern Coup: Making of a Manchurian Candidate

–Just Too Weird: Bishop Romney and the Mormon Takeover of America: Polygamy, Theocracy, and Subversion

Tarpley was a guest on Bonnie Faulkner’s “Guns and Bread”, a show that originates from KPFA, the Berkeley Pacifica affiliate. If you have a taste for that sort of thing, you can hear the Tarpley show here: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/111349 Faulkner, like Tarpley, is a long-standing 911 Truther.

Can Pacifica be saved? That’s a good question.

January 14, 2014

Alarming Pacifica developments

Filed under: Pacifica — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

Doug Henwood

This was just posted to the Pacifica Radio Supporters group by Andrew Leslie Phillips, former program director at WBAI, KPFA, and very briefly at WBAI again. It contains some dire information about the leadership of Pacifica and their plans for the network. If you care at all about that institution, please read this. As you can see, this does not seem like a promising future environment for Behind the News, since what I do has a lot in common with Ian Masters.


Andrew Leslie Phillips

I understand that KPFA interim GM, Richard Pirodsky is now interim manager of both KPFA and KPFK; that yesterday (January 13th at 3pm) Bernard Duncan stepped down or was moved aside by Summer Reese and very likely given a pay-out to make way for Pirodsky. Yesterday Summer Reese turned up at KPFK with Pirodsky to take the reigns. The respected current iPD, Alan Minsky is also targeted for dismissal by Summer Reese. Minsky is a supporter of Ian Masters, Reese’s nemesis (Minsky) meet Reese in the KPFK lobby yesterday by she refused to acknowledge him – would not even shake the guy’s hand! So his future looks shaky. He was previously paid senior producer at KPFK but that position is now occupied by Christian Blodsdale (who is the highest paid producer at KPFK) but produces nothing. She pitches with Null (and others) flying around the network pushing sketchy infomercial-like product but has minimal radio experience. She is a PR flack – http://www.goodkarmapr.com/team/team.htm.

Meanwhile the current PNB steps down at the end of this month and a new board steps up and apparently will insist that Summer Reese produce her heretofore withheld personal information – details of parts of her background are included in this message. But none of this information has been vetted by the PNB. Perhaps at last it will be. Pacifica is currently led by people who seem to have very little radio background about whom we know very little. How and why has this happened and why has the current PNB not done their job to protect our valuable network?

Ian Masters, who was suspended by Reese for bringing some of this to the air, says his job is also on the line. Anybody challenging Reese faces termination. I certainly know that from my own personal experience. Masters, with no premiums, consistently returns the most money per hour at KPFA. Masters pitches programming.

I understand his story is about to break on major media in LA and The Nation. As of now very few are aware of these shenanigans. It’s time of staff with backbone and certainly the Pacifica membership take the time to learn what is happening behind the curtain and step up to save what’s left of Pacifica’s legitimacy.

Here is Ian Masters plea for a listener intervention including links to Summer Reese’s background. This information has been forwarded by Masters to the PNB. But don’t hold your breath for the PNB to step up unless “feet are held to fire”.

January 3, 2014

Dear concerned KPFK listeners,

Happy New Year and thanks to all of you who emailed me at savekpfk@gmail.com and who visited our new website at listenerpoweredradio.org or Googled save pacifica radio and offered to join in a listener intervention to save Pacifica and KPFK. We are moving ahead but I have been warned by many inside of Pacifica who support this effort that I will be immediately fired by Summer Reese and Gary Null if I post the following on the website…
As we begin this New Year, Pacifica’s future hangs in the balance and will be determined by a background check. And while I am under a strict gag order on “free speech” radio not to say a word about the dire situation we are in, I can share what I know with you even though it may be difficult to convey just how disastrous our new leadership is and for you to realize that on the inside, the “peoples radio” now operates along totally authoritarian lines.

These dysfunctional boards that represent barely 10% of our listener/members, that tend to attract the most extreme among Pacifica’s various factions, were never meant to be a conduit for the one-eyed person in the land of the blind to maneuver themselves into a paying job. We are supposed to recruit professional management from the outside and our Executive Directors are supposed to administer, not hand pick cronies and micro-manage programming.

The lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum and today the Pacifica foundation is already in the hands of someone with such a dubious background, who is so demonstrably unqualified for any job, let alone running a radio network, but yet has shown sufficient bureaucratic cunning that both Stalin and the Koch brothers would be impressed by her “stealth” right wing takeover of America’s only left wing media outlet.

Pending a background check, Summer Reese will be officially in the position she already occupies and, once approved, she will quickly erase any vestiges of journalism and credibility Pacifica has left. News and Public Affairs will become a joke and so-called “health and spirituality” will be elevated to prime time, meaning that conspiracy and quackery will become our brand, if it hasn’t already come to that.

It is important to stress that I have no objection to “health and spirituality” programs and that many of my friends enjoy Lisa Garr and Nita Vallens and find their guests and ideas interesting and helpful. But just as Oprah is on during the day and not in prime time, so too should these programs be segregated from News and Public Affairs which listeners expect to hear in prime time.

A simple Google search reveals that Summer Reese’s only professional experience was as an office manager for a tax avoidance scam artist, Peymon Mottahedeh, who is not a lawyer but runs the Freedom Law School in the California desert that is neither a school or has anything to do with the law except for breaking it through tax avoidance.

As one of their “paralegals”, Ms. Reese’s job was to con people into believing that the $6,000 package they were buying from the Freedom Law School would immunize them against an oppressive and illegitimate government’s efforts to collect taxes they owed.
Like the “sovereign citizens” movement, these far right wing anti-government conspiracy peddlers don’t believe in paying taxes or having social security numbers. According to information gathered so far which sources inside have leaked to me so it is yet to be officially confirmed, Ms. Reese has not paid taxes and does not have a social security number and operates on false identities.

Her other claim at having a professional background is that she was a lawyer for Sirhan Sirhan. Apparently she impersonated a lawyer representing a client who happened to kill Bobby Kennedy and claimed to be one at public meetings where she billed herself as Sirhan’s lawyer before gatherings of RFK assassination conspiracy theorists.

As for the merits of the case she falsely claimed to be presenting on Sirhan’s behalf, he was not responsible for killing RFK because the hapless assassin was a government-brainwashed “Manchurian Candidate”. Need I say more.

With no clue how to address the network’s declining listenership and slide towards bankruptcy, and with total disregard for Pacifica’s 501-C3 non-profit status, Ms. Reese is now turning our airwaves over to “Doctor” Gary Null whose miracle cure “products” are unregulated and whose fraudulent credentials have been exposed as mail order diplomas by the independent consumer watchdog website run by medical professionals, Quackwatch.com.

Gary Null is a private corporation. His annual revenues are $12.2 million. Should Pacifica become Gary Null’s private Home Shopping Network offering dubious products over our airwaves under the guise of fund raising? His fraudulent claims have certainly turned away a lot of our thoughtful and ethical listeners and I am personally disgusted when desperate terminally ill people are conned into spending money on expensive and unproven vitamin cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s.

“Doctor” Null actually claimed Patrick Swayze would be alive today had he taken his products. And then there are the young men who died following the advice of this HIV denier that Gary Null’s products could cure AIDS. So much for the hollow claim made by the “peoples” radio that we don’t take money from corporations. Meanwhile our non-profit foundation status is being placed in jeopardy from the FDA, the IRS and the FCC.

So I suppose it should be no surprise given Summer Reese’s and Gary Null’s similar backgrounds of scamming gullible folks by distracting them with right wing anti-government dogma as they fleece them, that these two are working hand in glove. And while Gary Null is already on all the other Pacifica stations except Berkeley, the reason he did not participate in KPFK’s latest fund drive was because he is leveraging his position to get on prime time at KPFK and to make a better deal in the next fund drive so that he will be in a position to control the network before it goes into bankruptcy.

The experienced professional Program Director at WBAI Andrew Phillips (who discovered Amy Goodman) resigned when Ms. Reese demanded he take “Background Briefing” off the air at 10 AM in New York City to have it replaced by guess who?…Gary Null!

And in cavalier disregard of a petition from KPFK programmers, she has maneuvered to remove Alan Minsky the current Program Director at KPFK to have him replaced by a loyal flunky from Berkeley who, rumor has it, will propose moving the Pacifica Evening News to 5 PM to get “Background Briefing” off the air.

The head of Pacifica’s Jurassic Jazz station in Washington DC has already been replaced by a person with no prior radio experience who comes from a moving company who helped with the relocation of WBAI. Now Ms. Reese is moving to replace the current General Manager at KPFK in the coming months with a compliant functionary who will unshackle the 9/11 “truthers”, the RFK, JFK, MLK assassination ambulance chasers and the “Chemtrails” proponents waiting in the wings with evangelical zeal to get the real truth out.

Meanwhile, based on its latest public audit, Pacifica Radio’s working capital has declined from positive $2,835,309 in 2007 to negative $1,034,153 as of September 30, 2011. At this rate of decline the Pacifica network is probably already bankrupt, given the millions they owe Amy Goodman and the piles of unpaid bills and lawsuits to collect past dues.

While I am merely road-kill and collateral damage compared to the death of Pacifica, you might ask why is Summer Reese on a Jihad to get rid of me? Well apart from the sin of telling the truth on “free speech” radio, my only personal contact with Ms. Reese was when she strongly urged me to read a book about the Fluoride conspiracy.

As you know, four days a week and on Sunday’s I seek out the best experts to discuss domestic and international events and issues of importance. Iran, Syria, unemployment, the decline of the middle class and the downsizing of working Americans, corporate greed, declining education, etc. So I did not follow up on uncovering the government’s Fluoride plot and that’s apparently how I ended up on her enemies list. But therein lies the tragedy for Pacifica; we will soon be no different from Fox News in our denigration of science and our disregard for facts.

Fox propagates “birther” conspiracies; Pacifica mirrors them with “truther” conspiracies. It’s no accident that the Producer of the “truther” Bible, the movie “Loose Change”, is the far right wing sovereign citizen Alex Jones. By pandering to the anti-government sentiment of Pacifica’s left-leaning listeners, stressing the legalization of pot and opposition to foreign wars, “stealth” right wing libertarians like Alex Jones and Summer Reese count on gullible Pacifica listeners not to notice their real agenda. They are careful not to mention their obsession with government plans to take away their guns and that we can do away with government altogether and have the Koch brothers run America.

We have only days left to mobilize every listener, activist on the left, and every liberal and progressive voice in the land, as well as the few in our politics like my friend Bernie Sanders. We all have to wake up and rescue Pacifica from its impending suicidal implosion. If only for the sake of political diversity in America’s already right wing-dominated media. We are about to lose the country’s last tenuous outlet for bottom-up voices and alternative opinion.

I am embarrassed that we even have to talk about this and that I have to explain the grubby antics of these tawdry characters but, in the short term Summer Reese will accelerate Pacifica’s self-marginalization, and then as the network goes bankrupt, Gary Null will pick up the pieces.

Ian Masters

September 17, 2012

Radio Unnameable

Filed under: Pacifica — louisproyect @ 5:19 pm

Opening on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York, “Radio Unnameable” is a loving tribute to WBAI’s Bob Fass as well as an examination of the station’s sad decline. For anybody who has listened to a Pacifica station over the years, this is a film not to be missed. Established in 1949 as a listener-sponsored radio network by a pacifist named Lew Hill, it is one of America’s most important voices for the cultural and political outsider. And as this documentary by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson demonstrates, there was probably nobody at WBAI who better expressed the affinities between cultural and political rebellion than Bob Fass, who is now 79 and approaching his fiftieth year at the station.

Like Lew Hill and many other important on-air hosts at WBAI and other Pacifica stations over the years, Bob Fass has been a long-time member of the largest group on the left in the U.S. This is the non-party “different drummer” tendency whose patron saint Henry David Thoreau once said, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

Fass showed up at the station in 1963 to audition for a gig as a player in on-air dramas and readings from classic literature, a type of show that sadly disappeared long ago from a station now largely devoted to preaching to the choir.  Once he got his foot in the door, he wrangled himself a show that came on at midnight and deserved the name “unnameable” in the sense of uncategorizable. It consisted of free-flowing conversations with his listeners over the phone and in-studio guests, including some of the marquee names of the past half-century from Arlo Guthrie to Allen Ginsberg.

Although a good ten years older than most people who got involved with radical politics in “the sixties”, Fass made connections with Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman who despite all their foibles did define the “new left” for millions on campus and in the streets. What Fass shared with the “yippies” was a hatred for authority and a Dada-like sensibility that was expressed on a fairly regular basis in “flash mob” type happenings organized out of the WBAI studio.

One of the most controversial such events was a “yip-in” at Grand Central when hundreds of his listeners showed up at Grand Central to raise a non-violent ruckus. When a couple of anarchists removed the hands from the railway station’s landmark clock in a protest against rules and “the man” one supposes, the cops waded in with billy clubs and tear gas. As the confrontation unfolded, Fass kept track of the melee from behind his WBAI microphone.

But for the most part, Fass has become best known not for his activism but for his intimate and even familial ties to his listeners, who are termed “the cabal”. With his avuncular and soothing manner, he is the polar opposite of the typical commercial radio call-in hosts like Howard Stern even if Stern would be the first to admit that he learned about “free form” radio from listening to Bob Fass.

As befits a documentary about radio, most of the content is aural with prime examples of Bob Fass in conversation with his legion of fans. While the conversation progresses, we see some fascinating photos or motion pictures of New York in the 60s or 70s that have a distinctly film noir quality in keeping with the schedule for “Radio Unnameable”, from midnight to 3am. When Fass first broached the subject of launching the show at midnight, when the station traditionally went off the air, the management asked whether anybody would be up to listen. Fass replied that people worked at night getting the city ready for the next day, from people at switchboards to taxi drivers. One of the interviewees is a Verizon technician (with a nose-ring no less) who tells us how much Bob Fass has meant to her over the years.

I got a big chuckle out of one fan’s devotion to the show, a man who lives in Ellenville, New York, just about ten miles from where I grew up, and 90 miles from Manhattan. Since there is a mountain range that blocks the FM signal, he jerry-rigs a solution that involves connecting a cable from his car radio to the radio in his house.

This is a solution that reminded me of my own in 1959 when I begged my parents to help me find a way to listen to NY FM stations, especially WBAI. My father hired our TV repairman (back then you did not replace TV’s since they were so expensive) to erect a 25-foot antenna in our back yard. This was before Fass was a fixture at the station and even if he were, his virtues would have been lost on a 14 year old kid whose only goal was to listen to interesting music. Dion and the Belmonts et al were deluging the local stations, and I wasn’t having any of that.

WBAI introduced me to some of the most incredible programming I ever could have imagined. Gunther Schuller was the host of a 60 part series on the evolution of classical music in the 20th century. I can remember almost like it was yesterday Schuller explaining how the shifting harmonies of Debussy’s <em>Afternoon of a Faun</em> influenced Schoenberg. He would play a moment or two of the Debussy side by side with some of Schoenberg’s 12-tone music and explain their kinship. Composer Henry Cowell, who surveyed folk music of the world from the Roma people to China, hosted another memorable show. Cowell was a left-wing composer who was part of the broad popular front of the 1930s and 40s. His interest in folk music, which was reflected in his own great compositions, reflected the same kind of internationalism found in Paul Robeson.

After moving to NYC in 1965, shortly after graduating college, I began listening to WBAI in order to get uncensored news about the war in Vietnam. Their reporter Chris Koch was based in Vietnam and exposed administration lies on a daily basis. It helped me to turn definitively against the war, which led to my radicalization. After joining the Trotskyist movement, I lost track of WBAI. In the various cities I traveled to on behalf of the SWP, there was only one that had a Pacifica station. That was in Houston, Texas where Pacifica radio and the SWP were two of the main targets of the Ku Klux Klan. Our bookstore had been destroyed by a pipe bomb a few months before I had arrived in late 1973. Meanwhile the Pacifica station’s transmitter had been dynamited twice.

After leaving the Trotskyist movement, I returned to NYC and made WBAI an important part of my life. During the decade of the 1980s, I was deeply involved with Central America solidarity and the station was literally part of the movement. I became friends with fellow CISPES activist Will K. Wilkins, who hosted a morning show. Will was also a big fan of world music, which WBAI scheduled frequently. I also listened to the last generation of free form radio personalities, like Larry Josephson. Josephson was a neo-conservative crank who hated the leftists who dominated WBAI’s programming. Like many 60s liberals, Josephson had shifted to the right. The only thing that made him interesting was his confessional approach, which was a combination of Woody Allen’s self-deprecating shtick and bitter tirades against the women who had dumped him. Anybody who listened to him for a few moments would understand why he was so lonely. He was an amusing but creepy person.

In the 1990s, program director Samori Marksman, a black Caribbean Marxist and no-nonsense sort of guy, purged the station of such personalities. The station became even more left-wing and more earnest. As somebody with a taste for the neurotically offbeat, I found myself listening to the station less and less, especially since the Internet has become my main form of entertainment.

I had hopes that the revolt against the “NPR-ization” of the station in the early 2000s would have led to a renaissance but unfortunately the station has gone downhill steadily. Essentially the station has become a kind of fiefdom for various shows that appeal to a defined demographic and that are ultimately designed to preserve the host’s “right” to an hour or two of airtime. This would not be so half as bad if the hosts had an ability to engage or entertain the listener. Mostly they came across as slightly obsessed, if not bordering on the insane on occasion. The station has become a hotbed of conspiracy theories, mostly involving 9/11. If Bob Fass has been associated with the nomenclature “Radio Unnameable”, the station unfortunately can best be described as “Radio Unlistenable”.

Much of the film appears to owe a lot to a profile on Bob Fass that appeared in the December 4, 2006 New Yorker titled “<a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/12/04/061204fa_fact_fisher”>Voice of the Cabal</a>” that I highly recommend. Although this magazine has gone into a decline as precipitous as Pacifica’s, the article is definitely worth reading. Marc Fischer, the author, states:
<p style=”padding-left: 30px;”>The station’s programming, which in Fass’s early years featured literary readings, classical music, and political discussions of an academic bent, has become a Balkanized schedule of shows such as “First Voices Indigenous Radio,” “Out-FM,” “Joy of Resistance” (“multicultural feminist radio”), “Beyond the Pale” (“progressive Jewish politics”), “The Largest Minority” (“issues affecting people with disabilities”), “Afrikaleidoscope,” and “Asia Pacific Forum.” Fass’s show is one of the few on the station seeking a broad audience. “It’s become very tough to be at the station,” Fass said. “I feel like there’s no ‘us’ anymore, just each group with its own little corner. There are black nationalists who don’t have much patience for white people. There are young people who don’t want any old fogies around. I always thought unity makes a lot more sense than separation. But a lot of people don’t want to hear that anymore.”</p>
The malaise at Pacifica can of course not be separated from the malaise facing the left in general. The health of the station from the early 60s until the mid-70s or so was very much related to the cohesion of the left and its esprit. An antiwar movement and a counterculture combined to maintain a focus at the station that inspired some great programming. As the movement declined, and as corporate America began to dominate our lives more and more, the health of the station was impacted. If there is any hope for the station, it is in a revived mass movement that can pull us all together—Black and white, male and female, gay and straight, and young and old. The Pacifica stations can prove invaluable in a period of deepening class crisis. Let’s hope that the station can return once again to its glorious status, even if the odds against it are formidable. Nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake.

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