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Big D Democrat Party/Caucus Power and Influence at KPFA/KPFK and the Pacifica Mission
by Bob English
Tuesday Jan 15th, 2008 5:01 PM
Tune in to KPFA 94.1 FM rebroadcast of the Green Party presidential candidate forum on KPFA tonight Jan 15 7-10 PM.
Corruption of the Pacifica mission of peace and justice occurs when: 1) coverage and analysis of government and electoral politics is reduced and focused on traditional two party politics and candidates to the exclusion, dismissal or diminished coverage of third parties and alternative movements; and 2) corporate interests and/or Democratic party/club members and operatives organize and collaborate with station and network management to gain disproportionate access, influence and control of Pacifica democratic governance, institutions, news and public affairs programming.
Big D Democrat Party and Caucus Power and Influence at KPFA/KPFK and the Pacifica Mission
Green Party Forum Rebroadcast On KPFA 94.1 FM Tonight Jan 15 7-10 PM

The recent announcement that KPFA will rebroadcast this evening of the Sunday Jan 13 Green Party presidential candidate forum in San Francisco (Tuesday Jan 15 7-10 PM, see initially seems surprising because of the rarity or relative lack of coverage of third party politics and events on KPFA. Apparently in response to long term, cumulative criticism, advocacy and pressure from the Greens, Peace and Freedom Party and media activists, this special evening public affairs program, preempting two hours of the station’s mainstay music programming, is a prominent exception to the primary access and power of the Democrat Party (DP) at the station and the routine running of the corporate two party horse races every two years. With the repeated news reports and announcements of the rebroadcast, and the assignment of Larry Bensky and Aimee Allison as hosts, this looks like the station’s (“interim” management/key staff) power clique’s way of co-opting and controlling that advocacy and demands for expanded, equitable reporting and coverage of alternative parties and social/political movements - maybe with some intentional taunting of critics ("see you're wrong, we do parties"). Also, I should note that Bensky is again appearing on air in defiance of a prohibition issued by the Pacifica National Election Supervisor as a penalty for Bensky’s campaign practices violation (use of station e-mail/server resources to endorse the Concerned Listeners candidate slate) in the recent Local Station Board (LSB) election.

Beyond this exceptional program there are fundamental problems and issues with the disproportionate presence and influence at KPFA of big D Democrats, local Democrat clubs and caucuses, DP supporters and apologists, including left establishment media “notables” such as Norman Solomon, Doug Henwood, Sasha Lilley, Larry Bensky, Phillip Maldari, David Bacon and other news/public affairs department managers and staff.

The question is not whether liberal Democrats or progressive activists who choose to work through the DP, notably some of the Concerned Listeners (CL) and other members of the Wellstone Democrat Renewal Club (WDRC), have a place in the KPFA community, obviously they do. In some Bay Area communities, notably San Francisco prior to the emergence of the Green Party and Matt Gonzalez, progressive politics had been pretty much Democrat Central Committee and Democrat club politics. Up to the 1999 KPFA/Pacifica crisis I was active in the UFW SF Support Committee and Potrero Hill Democratic Club - but walked my last precinct for Democrats after the club endorsed Clinton for a 2nd term and Gov Gray Davis, even as the alternative to the dreadful Dan Lungren, became intolerable from a progressive perspective.

So with his critical assessment of the WDRC in recent Indybay/media articles, Felipe Messina may be somewhat, although not entirely, overstating the case (see KPFA: New Outreach Effort--TV Broadcast on Comcast Channel 29 in S.F.--Whistleblowing... I can’t comment from direct experience beyond KPFA manager Lilley and Station Board CL candidates with Wellstone club roots, but the general impression is that the WDRC is neither typical of nor beyond the reach of the mainstream national DP (and its corporate interests and support) at election time.

On the other hand in the context of Pacifica/KPFA, supporters exaggerate by insisting CLers are also “boots on the ground activists” (see comments on Indybay article noted and linked above). They may be respected activists in their community organizations and business unions, but at KPFA the CL candidates elected to the LSB for the first time in 2006 and 2007 have been practically unknown and missing in action. It’s fair to ask: Where were they in the 1990s and 1999-2002 when Pacifica and KPFA really needed them, when the listener and volunteer staff activists of Take Back KPFA, Coalition for democratic Pacifica (CdP), North Bay for KPFA and other grassroots groups organized, agitated, worked and acted against the old Pacifica regime hijackers? Were they on the lines when we picketed and forced old PNB hijackers to resign, when we picketed the Pacifica law firm, when we boycotted to cut off their funding - and so on? Where were the Concerned Listeners in the early 2000s when CdP and other activists developed and established the new Pacifica bylaws, democratic institutions, democratic elections and elected governing boards that they now presume to serve on and lead? In fact did they even attend any meetings, work on committees of or become familiar with the business and issues of the new elected LAB and LSB? Sure, two recently re-elected CL stalwarts were around: Sherry Gendelman had an important legal/political role and Sarv Randhawa was a CdP member, but they hardly if ever had their “boots on the ground” in the grass roots or served as champions of listener democracy (in fact Sherry publicly opposed elected boards); the hard “grunt work” of organization, political street action, boycott and elections was left to the rest, hundreds of us locally and nationally. Maybe somehow I missed the new CL class of 2006-2007 but never saw or heard of them in the Free Pacifica, listener democracy movements, or at a single LAB or LSB meeting until Conn Hallinan and a few other CLers showed up for one before the 2006 election.

Back to the main point introduced at the top of this commentary: from recent Pacifica history and LSB elections at KPFA and KPFK and from monitoring news and public affairs programs on KPFA over the years, we know there is a potential for and actual corruption of the Pacifica Mission of peace and social justice when: 1) coverage and analysis of government and electoral politics is reduced and focused almost exclusively on traditional two party politics and the candidates offered by the two corporate parties - both of which support and serve the American Empire, the so called War on Terror, continuing wars on and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti; threats of expanding the war to Iran, on and on - especially in the lead up to the Congressional and Presidential elections every two and four years; 2) third parties and alternative political/social movements are excluded or diminished in coverage and access to news and program air time; and 3) corporate interests and/or Democratic party/club members and operatives organize and collaborate with station and network management to gain disproportionate access to, influence and control of Pacifica democratic governance and institutions, as well as public affairs programming.

In many ways both subtle and blatant, and for as long as I can recall as a regular KPFA listener before and after the 1st war on Iraq, we are continually, especially in election years (i. e. every other year) urged and reminded by programmers, guest commentators and news items of the practical necessity of supporting the Democratic party alternative as the “lesser of 2 evils,” the extra inch of slack that the underclass lives within, appointer of moderate Supreme Court justices, whatever. Radical, left progressive or third party candidates, politics and actions - such as Kucinich, Nader, Green/PFP party campaigns, 9/11 Truth and the Million Worker March of summer 2004 - are generally if not entirely marginalized, ridiculed or treated as distractions from this supposed practical necessity. On this point, the Q & A exchange between Bensky and Nader in the Green Party forum is particularly revealing, and as usual Nader’s reply is devastating to the notion that when the chips are down, third party candidates and voters must bow out and cross over to ensure a Democrat victory over the Republican candidate.

Yet we all know the Democratic national candidates of the conservative leaning Democrat Leadership Council who we are encouraged or led by default to embrace – Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Clinton - have consistently joined with their Republican counterparts in bringing us corporate welfare, international chaos, war and repression and in undermining our class interests, democracy and social justice, planetary peace and survival. They say we have to go with moderate Democrats or we’ll be in deeper shit, as if we haven’t had a full dose and loads of it under the last extended Democrat administration, including NAFTA, welfare deform, “reinventing government” (downsizing public services and assistance programs), anti-terrorism national security legislation and structures that paved the way for the Patriot Act regime, bombing and sanctions that wiped out a generation of Iraqis. Can we really expect much different from Hillary who always supported these wars and occupations, or from Obama who has supported bombing Iran? The issue is not a lack of political alternatives to the Democrats or the nightmares and extremes of the Bush/Republican/Neo-Con administration. For us as progressives and members of a radio media founded by pacifists to promote world peace through interracial, intercultural understanding and education, the primary problem and issue is simply this: when Pacifica provides extensive air time, news and political commentary support for pro-war corporate party candidates and office holders - while regularly excluding coverage of third parties, peace candidates and alternative political/social movements - the Pacifica mission is corrupted at the deepest, most fundamental level.

Yet we have seen and experienced, as a major force and factor in Pacifica over the last 2 decades at least, the infiltration by state, corporate and DP interests and influence, operatives and supporters: first, the old regime PNB/management hijackers; then continuing with senior “entrenched” staff, “interim” management and left establishment influence and control during the new bylaws regime and partial democratization period at KPFA and other stations. The latter power clique is being consolidated - against the perceived intrusions by listener and volunteer staff in democratic Station Board elections and governance - through collusion with DP progressive club and caucus-based groups, notably the Concerned Listeners at KPFA and Committee to Strengthen KPFK, including recruitment, support and election of LSB candidates committed to the interim management regime status quo (see related information and comments toward the top of this piece).

While serving as chair of the old Pacifica PNB, for example, Mary Francis Berry was the Clinton administration appointed head of the federal Civil Rights Commission. Executive Director Lynn Chadwick chided and discouraged programmers’ criticisms of President Clinton. Norman Solomon, who alternately supported Clinton and made money writing a book criticizing his Presidency as “false hope,” led the debate and attack on Ralph Nader and the Greens in favor of the Kerry campaign in 2004, while at the same time Larry Bensky denigrated and discouraged participation in the Million Worker March (organized and supported locally by labor and radical leaders Clarence Thomas and Ralph Schoenman). Of course, Bensky and Solomon, as well as Lilley mentor and ally Doug Henwood, also spearheaded the censorship and marginalization of the 9/11 Truth movement. Radical political and community based programs like Guns and Butter, Flashpoints and La Onda Bajita are the exceptions, surviving various attacks, marginalization, lack of resources and management support through grassroots support and revenue to the station. Meanwhile KPFA and Pacifica news and public affairs programs continue to dutifully and constantly cover the corporate party horse race primaries and campaigns.

One critical question for the new LSBs at KPFA and KPFK and their progressive Democrat members (besides the legitimacy of candidate selection through a corrupt election processes) is whether they are committed primarily to protecting and promoting the Pacifica peace and justice mission rather than the status quo centrist, moderate to liberal interests and programming supported by their DP affiliations and allies.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

As Joan Didion once said in a rather different context: "Oh, wow."
Great Article, Bob. Sasha Futran, Member KPFA LSB
by John Coles
Wednesday Jan 16th, 2008 5:10 PM
Is this a joke? Doug Henwood is a unapologetic Marxist (and his program is on WBAI, not KPFK). And everyone knows that Sasha Lilley is a flaming Trotskyite.
by Stan Woods
Wednesday Jan 16th, 2008 5:14 PM
This is an excellent and completely accurate piece re the problems those to the left of not only the G.O.P. but also The D.P. encounter at Pacifica .
Stan Woods
KPFA Local Station Board member (until 1/12/08)
by Felipe Messina
(messinamorrissey [at] Thursday Jan 17th, 2008 9:47 PM
Right on, Bob. Nice, very nice. Succinct, fair, and accurate: you are a fair person. Many thanks for your historical perspective and much-needed truth-telling. I hope many more such articles follow in this tradition, so we may all collectively write the truth of the rather hidden history of KPFA and Pacifica, both recent and past.

On your analysis of my perspectives: Thanks for your feedback. I demand to be taken to task, if I am in error. Just as I demand to take to task others who may be in error. Only when we allow for free and substantive critique of one another can we acheive dynamic cohesion to organise against the moneyed "Liberal" interests.

We must never forget the lockout of 1999 nor the 100s of us who immediately rallied to the station heeding Dennis Bernstein’s call on that fateful day, nor the many thousands of us who also marched and camped out to Take Back KPFA. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, right in front of the station, had to be closed off for a spell. Where were they?, indeed. It seems many of these entrenched programmers and staffers have forgotten the commitment and sacrifices many of us with our “boots on the ground” also made. I remember Khalil out on the streets and I remember Van Jones out there in those critical early moments, but I have zero recollection of any so-called “Concerned Listeners” or any “Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club” people or even Sherry Gendelman out there in the streets (despite her high-profile testimony and legal spotlight).

The entire article is fabulously rewarding to read. Thank you for challenging the corrupt so-called “spoiler” argument as well. Also, thanks for expanding our scope and analysis of the current corruption of the original Pacifica Mission beyond KPFA and Berkeley and into KPFK as well. I’ve been meaning to research the current conditions of the other four Pacifica stations, but time is short and we’ve all got very busy lives. Indeed, the current crisis at KPFA/Pacifica (see below for a few details) definitely calls for all of us interested in listener-empowerment and fair, uncorrupted participatory democratic governance of KPFA/Pacifica to organise ourselves and redouble our efforts before the millionaire club LSB further stonewalls and shuts out independent, free-thinking listener-involvement through participatory democratic governance. Each one teach one, let us come together and dialogue so as to protect the original mission of Lou Hill and Pacifica as a pacifist/anarchist, grass-roots, free-speech radio network. Bravo, Bob.

Hasta la victoria siempre,

Felipe Messina, KPFA Listener-Member, Volunteer
94.1 FM

To John Coles—
What “everybody knows” (como dijo Leonard Cohen) is that Sasha Lilley is a descendent of the “Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club” doctrine. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. ‘Renew’ the Democratic Party? In terms of linguistics, then we are simply talking about making the Democratic Party new again. That’s not very impressive. When has the Democratic Party ever been truly progressive? Slavery, racism, imperialism, etcetera. Even if we were talking about reform, the implication would be that the Democratic Party was once not corrupt. This would be news to me. Besides, it is my understanding that Lilley fancies herself as more of a primeval Bolshevist (hence the dictatorial posturing), rather than a fully evolved Trotskyite.

"I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."
--Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)
by Bob English
Friday Jan 18th, 2008 7:26 PM
Thanks for the mostly favorable reviews and notes.

For John Coles, since you posted in your name, like everyone except my old buddy Henwood - who was so “wow”ed by my article and style (I love you/your style too, Doug) – you deserve a reply even if somewhat influenced by Henwood’s style of labeling and dismissing or attacking listeners’ ideas and writing, usually not for what they actually say but based on spin interpretation to fit the intended rebuttal and rebuke. I could give examples from unpleasant experience but that’s another story and subject.

On your comment that Henwood and Lilley are known left political brands (Marxist, Trotskyite): I don’t know about the Marxist variations and credentials of this dynamic duo and don’t think these old Left labels and classification mean much anymore. For instance in the recent KPFA Board election, Concerned Listeners supporters tried to and apparently partly succeeded in marginalizing Peoples Radio candidates like myself and Stan Woods as “ultra-left” “Trotskyites” – you may or may not support CL but have to agree that Sasha Lilley and PR can’t both be Trots.

Anyway, main point is I didn’t say they were Big D Democrats, as registered voters or party operatives, I said they appear to be among the prominent left establishment media gatekeepers, supporters and apologists for the Democrats and news and public affairs programming on KPFA/Pacifica that constantly covers and pushes the Democratic party agenda, politics and “practical necessity,” and the two party election horses races at the expense and exclusion of the 3rd parties that better reflect the views, politics and class interests of Pacifica listeners.

Doug Henwood is a frequent guest interviewed on KPFA by Lilley, Phillip Muldari (open DP supporter) and others. He doesn’t have a program here yet, but Lilley recently informed the KPFA Program Council (which she has autocratically downgraded to advisory status, one of interim management’s moves to undermine KPFA democratic institutions and elections) of a new program in the works, “The Doug Henwood Hour.” Lilley is the interim Program Director, partly responsible with the GM, staff programmers/producers and the LSB for ensuring that news and public affairs program content and coverage meet the interests and educational needs of communities served by the station.

In reality, from my view in terms of the article subject, they and others listed serve as left establishment gatekeepers of what they determine to be the acceptable and respectable range of political issues, dialogue and coverage on KPFA and other Pacifica stations, acceptable and respectable in terms of preserving their politics, positions and credibility of association with Pacifica, as perceived by other left establishment figures and powers, other alternative or public media colleagues and counterparts, probably including liberal to moderate establishment media and journalism such as NPR and the NY Times. Because they appear to be more or less invested in their image, standing and access within/to the left and liberal political/media establishment – and some folks think invested in the two party political and media status quo - they want and use their positions, influence and writing to restrict, exclude and discredit selected radical/progressive and 3rd party politics, movements, ideas and programs from Pacifica/KPFA, while more or less supporting the continued dominance of the traditional corporate two party political paradigm and programming. I gave some examples and some exceptions made for co-opting and control.
by Stan Woods
Saturday Jan 19th, 2008 10:15 AM
I echo what Bob wrote . To add a couple of things i don't know whether Henwood considers himself a '' Marxist '' or not . Maybe so. i do know that only in the dumbed down , politically stifling context of the US would Henwood's writings be considered especially 'radical '' let alone '' Marxist ''. If he was in say, Sweden , he would fit in fine with the Social democratic party (and not necesarily with it's left wing )
As for Lilly there is a glaring contradiction . I like '' Against the Grain '', a show that she has often worked on . They do take on subjects and have on guests that others , like Philip Malderi would probably dismiss as '' Ultraleft'' .
They have among other things strongly emphasized the need for democratic decision making in all spheres of society .
The problem is as intermin Program director her M.O. has been that of a corporate manager . Her stripping the program council of it's decision making powers , which Bob mentions , is only one of several major examples .
Not to mention her tireless work against democracy and transparentcy at the station as a whole .
Lilly may ''talk the talk '' of a radical socialist committed to democracy when she's hosting '' Against the Grain '' but she sure doesn't'' walk the walk .''
by Maggie Kaigler Armstead
Sunday Nov 28th, 2010 8:59 PM
Sasha Lilley, former Interim Program Director was, during the 3 years I worked in the KPFA newsroom, routinely rude either snarling questions or purposefully snubbing me, targeting me for her small minded and petty behavior, the trademark of any exchange she initiated with me. I recognized by her harassment, she was not hardly management material.

On one occasion, Lilley stood in the newsroom staring at me. She said, "..the newsroom is changing.". Her expression was severe. Someone observing this remarked, " ...and for the better.". She immediately covered with, "Oh yes, oh yes,...of course.". On another occasion while in the newsroom she invited Sondra Lupien and Mic Mylan to a party that weekend she was giving at her apartment. She then paused waited, looked at me-when I ignored her- she repeated the invitiation. She wanted me to say something-I guess she assumed I would want to be included-NOT. This stymied her. Similar attempts to snub, insult or prod me to react in response to her verbal abuse and insults was her typical, standard behavior toward me. This indicated to me that she was a fool with power. Not unknown or uncommon. I knew she could not possibly be capable of the job before her, she was too small minded and petty, sniping like a high school sophomore, a wise fool indeed.

Her ill tempered petty behavior was/is the trademark of the inexperienced and immature. She proved to me early on an inability to effectively handle the the authority which her IPD position gave her-

Aileen was worse. Bland, cold, cruel and pointedly mean. She was fond of using race based insults-Aileen is extremely insecure and is easily threatened by the presence of women in news. Period.

There are many women on KPFA staff not afflicted with this sad insecurity, lack of judgment and morality that allows for the above behaviors which create text book hostile environments. Amelia Gomez former Interim Assistant GM is another shrapnel tongued, petty, small minded, lost soul. Until and unless Aileen and Lilley and others with that same confused, low mentality, mean mindset are held accountable for their illegal behaviors they will continue and news integrity will be compromised.

These people talk the talk on air, while off air behaving like insecure neurotics, intimidated and threatened by the presence of a female; for whatever reason, they can not handle competition, and for these women-almost any female is competition.

Woods is right in his assessment of Aileen and Lilley, he and I have reached the same conclusion but arrived from different perspectives different paths if you will.