Struggle over Berkeley public radio

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A simmering battle at KPFA radio in Berkeley, Calif. boiled over this week as armed guards took control of airways, dragging a disc jockey off the air during a live broadcast last Tuesday. In the melee that followed, Berkeley police, outfitted in riot gear, arrested 52 people, including many KPFA staff members and volunteers who refused to leave the station. A crowd of several hundred protesters spontaneously gathered in front of the station in downtown Berkeley. Since that day, protests have been held daily, with a crowd of approximately 1,000 marching down Berkeley’s main thoroughfare, University Avenue, on Wednesday evening.

This front page article in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE gives the latest update on the deepening crisis, by far the most serious in the station’s 50-year history. The dispute is between Pacifica Radio, the nonprofit organization which owns KPFA (and several other public stations), and the KPFA staff. Tension began to mount in February when KPFA’s popular station manager, Nicole Sawaya, was abruptly fired by Pacifica. Since then, relations between the station staff and Pacifica have gone into a tail spin.

Established 50 years ago, KPFA was the first listener-supported public radio station in the nation. As the archetype for public radio, it’s fate has powerful implications, real and symbolic, for public radio stations across the country.

The dispute at KPFA is over some of the fundamental issues facing public radio stations in general. In recent years, there has been growing concern over the loss of local control over “public” radio stations. Expanding bureaucracies, like Pacifica, and increased funding from big national charities are two ways that control over stations has begun to shift beyond the boundaries of the individual communities the stations serve. At KPFA, the forces of expansion, and those who wish to maintain local control, have come into open confrontation. With the outcome destined to set a precedent for similar disputes, the current battle at KPFA effects public radio stations all across the country.…

For additional information from the KPFA staff’s perspective:

KPFA’s official Web site, controlled by Pacifica:
(A prominent banner reads, “KPFA is hiring!”)


Missile expert refutes TWA 800 findings

July 15

A missile expert involved in the 1996 TWA Flight 800 crash investigation says there is a “70 percent chance” that the plane was downed by a shoulder-launched missile. This anonymous source, who approached the VILLAGE VOICE with his story, claims that the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board deliberately covered up the truth about the crash. After spending more than $40 million on the investigation, the two agencies have yet to provide any definitive reasons for the disaster. But they have ruled out the possibility of a missile attack.

The expert cites various pieces of compelling evidence: more than 100 eyewitness accounts of a “flare-like object”; a videotape of a rocket trail in the area in the weeks preceding the crash; the disproportionately high level of damage suffered by the plane’s left wing. At the very least, these facts make a compelling case for further investigation. The NTSB, however, prefers to stick to its favorite theory that an electric spark ignited jet fuel vapors in the center fuel tank. According to the missile expert, most military labs have been unable to reproduce the sequence of events outlined by the NTSB. “The labs told the NTSB there’s a big problem — it can’t happen [the way they claim],” he claims.

The FBI’s denials of the expert’s allegations have been weak and evasive. And when put together with the unexplained details of the crash, the government’s response does increase the possibility of, if not a cover-up, then at the very least a juicy Tom Clancy thriller.…


Vatican cans gay ministry

July 14

The Vatican succeeded Tuesday in its 15-year campaign (personally endorsed by Pope John Paul II) to shut down a Catholic ministry in Maryland which has served gays and lesbians for more than two decades, according to the LOS ANGELES TIMES.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent were ordered to close down their New Ways Ministry, and were further barred from holding any other office in their religious orders and from all other religious work relating to homosexuality. Church doctrine teaches that homosexuality itself is not sinful, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsicly evil.”

The Vatican’s statement to the ministers specified that the fact that the group ministered to gays and lesbians, and that in doing so, they had not communicated the full teachings of the Church on the issue. According to the Church, “[T]he promotion of errors and ambiguities is not consistent with a Christian attitude of true respect and compassion: Persons who are struggling with homosexuality no less than any others have the right to receive the authentic teaching of the church from those who minister to them.” Apparently, the compassionate thing to do to parishioners in need is to inform them of their fiery destiny in hell, and send them on their merry way.…


Making hate pay

July 13

Since it is very difficult for lawyers to put hate group leaders in jail, many argue it’s best to stop trying. Instead, they plan to haul back and hit them where it hurts. In the wallet, that is. In light of recent crimes by members of white supremacist groups, some attorneys argue that if bringing criminal charges against group leaders is too daunting, civil trials, which have a lower standard of proof, can still put them out of business. Attorney Randolph Scott-McLaughlin argues, “If you can’t put them in jail, you take their money.”

The tool is effective because fighting lawsuits ties up resources that could be put towards inciting hate, according to lawyers quoted in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Federal investigators are currently deciding whether to bring civil charges against the World Church of the Creator or its leader, Matthew Hale, in connection with a racist shooting spree in Chicago this month. Benjamin Smith, who killed two people and injured nine others, was a former member of Hale’s Church. In addition, investigators found World Church of the Creator materials among the belongings of two brothers suspected of burning three synagogues in Sacramento, Calif., and murdering a gay couple in a rural town north of the capital.

Lawyers have to prove that hate group leaders directly incited violence — not just that they made racist statements. However, in civil cases, they only have to prove that it is more likely than not that these leaders inspired the crime. In criminal cases, they must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.…


NASA to astronauts: Die quietly please

July 12

The 30th anniversary of the moon landing is approaching, and instead of getting all sentimental and wishing that you’d become an astronaut instead of an accountant, just be glad you were never at the mercy of NASA’s rescue-mission planners. According to the BBC, a memo found in the U.S. national archives describes the government’s back-up plan in case the “Eagle” lunar module had not been able to take off from the moon’s surface and return to Earth: Shut off radio communications with the astronauts inside and let them die. Pretty harsh.

President Nixon even had a moving speech prepared in case Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ended up stranded on the moon, which read in part: “[E]very human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.” According to the BBC, the astronauts say that they were never told of any disaster plans. Maybe that’s because there weren’tany.…



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