Wednesday, July 30, 2008

KPFA Takes Financial Guru off the Air

Charges of censorship are being leveled at KPFA, flagship station of the Pacifica Radio network, in the wake of a decision by station management to prohibit on-air appearances by financial expert Catherine Austin Fitts, a former Assistant Secretary of Housing in the Bush I administration and president of Solari, Inc., an investment advising company. According to Fitts, a frequent guest on KPFA’s Flashpoints, her latest scheduled appearance was abruptly cancelled without discussion due to a critical email received by the station.

Peter Byrne, a journalist who sent the email, subsequently wrote that he didn’t intend to create an uproar, but was expressing “concerns about financial advisors appearing regularly on news programs if business-related conflicts are not disclosed.” In a July 23 e-mail under the subject line, “Fitts is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Byrne called her a “Wall Street speculator” and “gold broker” who uses access to alternative media to “keep the [gold] bubble up for as long as possible, taking oodles of profit in their own investment pools while selling seminars that tell people one thing: invest in gold, oil and precious metals.”

In response, Fitts wrote that she does sometimes recommend gold as a safe haven, but “with caveats that it is not for everyone and should not be used unless it is understood.”

On the same day that KPFA received Byrne’s email, Interim Program Director Sasha Lilley informed Flashpoints that due to “some potentially very serious conflicts of interest” Fitts should not appear on the show until “we have a chance to investigate them further.” The notice came only hours before a scheduled talk with Fitts during Flashpoints’ “Community Business” segment. A CD by Fitts to be used as a premium for on-air fundraising was also pulled.

Fitts posted a public response to Lilley and Interim Station Manager Lemlem Rijio on her website, Solari Real Channel. “I have been doing Flashpoints because I have great respect for Dennis [Bernstein] and his team,” she wrote on July 25. “Consequently, I would appreciate knowing precisely what your specific concerns are and on what facts and documentation you base them. I would also welcome knowing why you have not communicated them to me before the Community Business show was censored.” Thus far, no additional explanation has been offered.

The next day Fitts followed up on her website with a look at Pacifica’s financial and banking relationships. In an article titled, “How Does the Money Work at KPFA Radio and the Pacifica Network?,” she noted that the “Pacifica Foundation maintains several bank accounts at one bank. Accounts at an institution are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for up to $100,000. Cash at these institutions exceeded federally insured limits. The amount in excess of the FDIC limit totaled $2,187,356 as of September 30, 2007.”

She also posed a series of provocative questions. For example, “Is KPFA/Pacifica investing in the banks and other private interests we have discussed during Community Business?” And, “Did Community Business coverage impact KPFA/Pacifica relationships with the CPB or with any key Congressmen or Senators, including from the Bay Area?”

She then noted that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting channels Congressional appropriations to public radio stations, and that, on the same day that Community Business was “knocked off the air,” Congress was attempting to debate and pass a bail out bill for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that would significantly increase Federal Reserve powers.

Writing in the third person, Fitts noted that, as a former Assistant Secretary of Housing/FHA Commissioner, former advisory board member of Fannie Mae and former board member of a government sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae, she “could be expected to be critical of the bail out.”

Fitts examination of Pacifica’s finances could also make waves. Due primarily to rising costs and shortfalls in fundraising, a financial austerity plan is being developed. The National Board has reportedly been unable to meet in person due to a cash crunch, and some payments have been delayed. The Board recently voted to give Executive Director Nicole Sawaya control over Pacifica’s national office accounts, and rumors are circulating about the absence of CFO Lonnie Hicks.

Fitts says that her current conflict with Pacifica “reminds me of my responsibility of doing some due diligence on KPFA’s/Pacifica’s banking and investment activities,” yet she expressed confidence that her Community Business appearances will resume once “some mysterious investigation finishes looking into some mysterious allegations.”

Commenting on the situation his email set in motion, Byrne wrote, “I do not know what the internal politics of KPFA are, but they appear to be brutal, and not based on trust and professionalism.”

Burlington: Evolution of a Business Town

Geography made Burlington the fastest growing part of Vermont as early as the 1820s, when a canal at the southern end of Lake Champlain created a trade route from Canada to New York. By the 1840s it was home for all Vermont’s boat building, over half its glass production, and a third of its potteries. When railroad lines were added along the burgeoning waterfront, what became known as the Queen City emerged as the region’s transportation and business hub. “In a commercial point of view,” crowed the Burlington Clipper newspaper, “Burlington is most favorably placed.”

What was true for commerce also held for immigrants. Waves of Irish, French Canadians, Italians, Jews and Germans rolled in. The effects were clearly felt by the turn of the century. Vermont remained a rock-ribbed Republican state, but an active working class emerged in Burlington and Democrats, albeit some of them prosperous “charter members” of the club, took control of City Hall. In the years that followed Burlington hosted “progressive era” reforms like a municipally-owned electric company, public dock and restrooms, an attractive train depot with modern amenities, playgrounds for children, and a public wharf – the latter despite determined opposition from the Central Vermont Railroad.

A central figure during this period was James E. Burke, first elected Mayor in 1903 and re-elected six times over the next 30 years. A Catholic blacksmith and son of Irish immigrants, Burke began his political career when he was over 50, becoming a champion of the poor, labor, and ethnic newcomers. Overcoming the resistance of an entrenched local establishment, he combined a commitment to public improvements with efficient management and a lean city budget. He also spearheaded changes in the city charter and, as a state legislator in the 20s and 30s pushed through reforms such as a municipal employees’ retirement fund.

Among his fiercely loyal supporters Burke was known as honest, fearless and filled with high ideals. His enemies meanwhile questioned his motives and called him a demagogue. Describing his speaking style, a writer for Vermonter Magazine remarked, “The ideas were expressed with the intensity of conviction that struck a popular chord in the hearts of the proletariat among whom his strength has been greatest.” Speaking for himself, Burke proclaimed, “I believe in a progressive spirit, no going backward.” Upon his death in 1943 the Burlington Free Press, a frequent critic, called him “the grand old man of Vermont Democrats, a tireless fighter “stirring the smoldering embers of democracy when they seemed to be dying out.”

Nothing lasts forever, though, and the Queen City drifted back toward conservatism by the 1930s. The Irish led a growing opposition, but old Americans – “Yankees” with civic and financial power who still believed in their Anglo-Saxon superiority – continued to dominate local culture. Upper class residents, many of whom literally lived up “on the hill,” fought against unions and the minimum wage, yet offered little charitable assistance through their churches. People should “help themselves,” they advised. And they weren’t beyond covering up their own faults. After a housing survey was completed in the 30s, it was quickly buried. Some of Burlington’s leading citizens, it turns out, owned several of the shabbiest tenements.

The city remained divided along Yankee-foreigner, Protestant-Catholic lines until the late 1950s, when a political alliance was forged between moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats to control city appointments and services. This open conspiracy, known as the Republicrats, was still running the show two decades later.

The leading Republicrat was Mayor Gordon Paquette, a working class guy from the “inner city” who started his political career as a Democratic alderman in 1958 and became Mayor in 1971. “Gordie” was a street-smart pol who managed to unite the Irish and French Canadians while cutting deals with the business elite. Comparisons with Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley were common. But his willingness to demolish an old ethnic neighborhood and replace it with an underground mall, hotel and office complex made him some enemies.

As I entered the local scene Gordie looked invulnerable. But some cracks in the system were opening up. Speculation was driving up land values and rents, deepening a chronic housing shortage. A restless youth culture was emerging. Despite commercial growth, revenues couldn’t keep pace with the need for services. Plus, the next steps in the city’s “urban redevelopment” plan would be highly disruptive – a connector highway into the center of the city, private waterfront development, and a pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown. The total cost, including public and private funding, would be at least $50 million. The local atmosphere was nervous and unsettled.

Through friends from my “bureaucrat” days I made contact with local advocacy groups. The most effective (and ideologically conscious) was People Acting for Change Together, or PACT, a coalition of community and university-based activists who focused on a low-income neighborhood known as the Old North End. PACT combined attention to bread and butter issues like welfare rights, food and housing with development of a class analysis. On the other side of downtown in the city’s South End, the more pragmatic King Street Area Youth Center downplayed ideology and emphasized services to neighborhood families.

Both groups were building bonds with local residents, focusing mainly on bread and butter issues while avoiding identification as part of a “counter-culture.” The goal was to dig into the community for the long haul, incorporating rather than rejecting its basic values. However, few activists were aware of the big plans being hatched in City Hall and how they would affect everything.

Burlington College (called VICI at the time) had rented a small, second floor office suite on Main Street downtown, just half a block from City Hall. This brought me into Burlington more often. One day I noticed a sign on a door across the hall. Frayed Page Bookstore, it said. I tried to visit but the place was closed. It took several more attempts before I finally got inside. There I found a friend of the absentee owner, who explained that The Frayed Page was about two years old and not doing much business. The owner wasn’t likely to return. Looking around, I saw a thin selection of used books on makeshift shelves. But the space had a homey quality and the “business” had established a minimal presence. If the price was right it might provide the means to build a local base.

My partner liked the idea and we decided to make an offer. But there was a hitch. Another couple had also expressed interest. Their vision was less political and more literary but they were willing to partner up, sharing the work of improving the stock and keeping the doors open consistently. In early 1975 the four of us became owners of the city’s only used bookstore.

Part Three of Prelude to a Revolution

Next: Alternative Voices in COINTEL Times

Monday, July 28, 2008

Barack Obama: The New Jimmy Carter

Since Barack Obama emerged as the Democrat’s choice for president, the national mood has frequently been compared to the late 1960s, another time when an unpopular war polarized the nation. A recent ad for Republican candidate John McCain makes this explicit, starting off with clips of 60s protesters and “flower” children before warning that hope can be a slippery slope. But the dynamics in 2008 may have more in common with 1976, when a GOP discredited by Watergate, Richard Nixon’s resignation (under the threat of impeachment) and his pardon by Gerald Ford was defeated by a newcomer to national politics, Jimmy Carter.

Carter, an obscure but charming agribusinessman, became Georgia’s governor in 1970 with the support of an Atlanta establishment in need of someone who could talk populism while remaining in tune with corporate interests. Similarly, Obama looks like an “anti-establishment” politician but has played ball during most of his career with the Chicago political establishment. He ran for the state and US Senate as an outsider while operating like an insider, supported by Mayor Richard Daley and the city’s wealthy Gold Coast.

By the mid-70s, Carter was the darling of Eastern opinion-makers, meeting with David Rockefeller and lauded as a leader of the “New South.” In 1973, he was recommended for membership in the newly formed Trilateral Commission, a private international group that brought together leaders from the North America, Western Europe and Japan. Joining Carter on the North American section of the Commission were Rockefeller, Time Magazine Editor Hedley Donovan, corporate lawyers Cyrus Vance and Warren Christopher, Bendix Corporation chairman W. Michael Blumenthal, IBM director Harold Brown, UAW president Leonard Woodcock, and eight other business, union, and political figures. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a close friend of Rockefeller, became director of the Commission.

Carter subsequently used Commission sources for much of his presidential campaign strategy. A key document produced during this period was The Crisis of Democracy, co-authored by Brzezinski associate Samuel Huntington, who advised Carter during the campaign and subsequently coordinated security planning for Carter’s National Security Council. Brzezinski became National Security Advisor.

Huntington advised that a successful Democratic candidate for president would have to emphasize energy, decisiveness, and sincerity while coming across as an outsider. But the real lesson of the 1960s, he added, was that political parties “could be easily penetrated, and even captured, by highly motivated and well-organized groups with a cause and a candidate."

The appeal of Carter to the establishment was a combination of charm, an “interesting” family, traditional values, and his outsider image. But they knew he was essentially a “centrist” eager to be all things to all people, as Laurence Shoup explained in The Carter Presidency and Beyond. The same can be said of Obama.

Like Obama, Carter went from local curiosity to national phenomenon in less than four years, during a period when the public lost faith in the presidency and other national institutions. By 1975 The New York Times was regularly publishing pro-Carter editorials, articles and columns. Time Magazine was even more enthusiastic, in one feature describing him as looking “eerily like John Kennedy from certain angles” – and hammering the point home with a cover rendering. The drumbeat continued right through primary season with coverage that belittled competitors like Fred Harris, a real populist, with headlines like “Radicalism in a Camper.” Carter meanwhile received cover hypes like “Taking Jimmy Seriously.” The rest of the mainstream media soon came on board.

Why was it happening? As Brzezinski noted in an interview, there is no need to believe in hidden conspiracies. Groups like the Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations don’t conceal their intentions, he noted; you can easily find out what they hope to see happen. Huntington’s diagnosis and prescriptions were blunt, and remain relevant. The authority of government depends on confidence and trust, he explained, and when these decline both participation and polarization increase. “If the institutional balance is to be redressed between government and opposition, the decline in presidential power has to be reversed…”

Describing the surge in democratic aspirations as a form of “distemper,” Huntington advised that some of the problems “stem from an excess of democracy.” It’s just one way to exert authority, he argued, and sometimes should be overridden by “expertise, seniority, experience and special talents.” He also explained that “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” People sometimes make too many demands, thus making democracy a threat to itself, he wrote. The basic prescription was to restore respect for authority, particularly in the presidency as an institution, and lower the general level of expectations about what government can do.

When Carter became president, he packed his administration with members of the center and liberal wings of the Eastern establishment. At least 27 high level officials were members of the Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations, including Vice President Walter Mondale, Vance, Brzezinski, Blumenthal, Christopher, Brown, and Donovan. Pointing to an “alarming deterioration” in international relations and the threat of “long-term disaster,” Brown – as Secretary of Defense – prescribed leadership that would persuade people “to make sacrifices of individual and group advantages in order to produce long-term benefits of international economic and political partnership abroad.” Carter’s job was to restore trust and “renovate” the domestic and international system while leaving its basic structure intact. The fact that he failed in many respects is beside the point.

Now that Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee, it’s becoming apparent that his administration would have many things in common with Carter’s. The leader of his foreign policy team is Susan Rice, an assistant Secretary of State for African affairs in the Clinton administration and, more to the point, a current member of the Trilateral Commission’s North American Group. Until recently, Trilaterial member James Johnson was on Obama’s vice presidential vetting team. He stepped down after questions surfaced about loans he received from Countrywide Financial Corp., a key player in the U.S. housing crisis.

Other North American Trilateral members in Obama’s inner circle include Brzezinski, former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Michael Froman of Citigroup, and former Congressman Dick Gephardt, along with Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy for Clinton and the first President Bush, and James Steinberg. Additional Trilateral members of Team Obama include Warren Christopher, Clinton National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, and the Commission’s North American Honorary Chairman Paul Volcker.

According to a recent New York Times article, Ross, who accompanied Obama to the Middle East in July, is often asked by Rice and Lake for help in framing Obama’s comments on Iran and Israel. Steinberg, a Dean at the University of Texas and member of both the Commission and CFR, authored a white-paper titled, “Preventive War, A Useful Tool.” In this telling essay, he wrote, Unilateralism is not the only alternative… regional organizations and a new coalition of democratic states offer ways to legitimize the use of force when the council fails to meet its responsibilities. The problem, he says, isn’t the Bush doctrine of “preventive force but that it too narrowly conceives of its use.”

The renewed prominence of Brzezinski – architect of the “secret” war in Afghanistan three decades ago – along with the appointment of James Rodney Schlesinger, CIA director and Secretary of Defense during the 1970s, to lead a senior-level task force on nuclear weapons suggests that the process of moving from a neo-con to a Trilateral approach is already underway. The prospect of a military showdown with Iran would decrease during an Obama presidency, but confrontations with Pakistan, China and Russia become more likely.

Faced with such harsh realities, some conclude that an Obama presidency is still preferable to the disaster that is likely with John McCain. Others contend that the evidence reinforces the need for a third party alternative. Both arguments have merit. Despite Carter’s surrender to Trilateral logic, his presidency was a necessary reprieve from morally and ideologically bankrupt Republican rule. And it’s certainly vital to look beyond the two-party monopoly, however long the road may be. But the truth is that, in Obama, a worried establishment has found the vessel through which they hope to restore international and domestic stability.

What do they hope to accomplish? Part of the agenda was revealed during an April meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington, DC. During panel discussions, the “suggestions” included increased foreign aid – especially for Africa, paying back UN dues, intervention on behalf of “financial institutions under stress,” and a more liberal immigration approach. On the other hand, there was much rationalizing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And what does Obama say? While he pledges to end the war in Iraq, he wants to leave behind a “residual” force of about 50,000 troops. He says his administration will emphasize diplomacy, yet describes Iran as a terrorist state and pledges to use “all elements of American power” to deal with it. “If we must use military force,” Obama told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), “we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.”

As far as Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned, he wants to send at least 10,000 more U.S. troops to reinforce the 36,000 already there, taking unilateral military action inside Pakistan if necessary, whether its government agrees or not. “This is a war that we have to win,” Obama explains. In Berlin last week, he called on Europe to provide more troops to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The size of the US military is likely to grow during an Obama presidency, and the projection of US force, combined with diplomatic carrots and sticks, will certainly continue.

Still, Obama’s Trilateral-influenced vision embraces reforms that may bring some relief from the theocratically-infused Bush approach. Supreme Court appointments will be more centrist, the health care system may improve, and some of the worst abuses of the Bush years could be rolled back. These are not insignificant changes, and the pragmatic wing of the establishment, rapidly shifting in Obama’s direction, seems to recognize that relief is essential if trust in government is to be restored.

As Huntington noted more than 30 years ago, “democratic distemper” makes allies nervous and enemies adventurous. “If American citizens challenge the authority of the American government, why shouldn’t unfriendly governments?” So, Obama – like Carter – can be useful in calming things down and re-establishing confidence in the legitimacy of the current political order. In short, he can reinforce the argument that “the system” still works. For those who want real change, he’s bound to be a disappointment. But perhaps, along the road to inevitable disillusionment, at least he may do a bit to ease the pain.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dionysian Alternative

It is a radical premise – that groups, businesses, even societies need not depend on predictability, hierarchy and control, that another way is truly possible. In reaching to command and shape natural forces, other living beings and humanity, so-called “rational managers” have smothered their instincts in a machine-made blanket of so-called facts. “Total systemic predictability became an imaginary carrot dangled from the calibrated stick of science,” I argued in 1974. “As a result, tools have been used to shape human beings in an image that appeared to Renaissance philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, and certainty-bound mechanics. In the 20th century, the reflex doctrine of controlled and controlling humanity has become the central prophecy of our age. “

The alternative, initially outlined in my master’s thesis at the University of Vermont, is a revolutionary approach called Dionysian leadership, a reference to the much-misunderstood archetype of inspiration. Perhaps it isn’t the most commercial choice for a name, especially given the association of the word Dionysus with excess, drinking, and dissipation. But that’s precisely the point. Exaggerating the threat of chaos – the essence of the much-exploited fear doctrine – rationalists through the ages have hidden and denied humanity’s Dionysian potential: the ability to produce inspiration, joy, and blessing.

Artistic methods like metaphorical thinking and intuition can be used to build and sustain more humane organizations. Metaphorical method relies on both sense experience and spontaneous creation. The first – observation by the senses – is a traditional scientific tool. When combined with abstract thought it leads to scientific theory. 

Leaders don’t have to be insulated "professionals" or executives within a hierarchy. Instead they can act as integrated group members whose specific contribution is their ability to create images of whole systems, and to initiate change while maintaining a harmony of meaning between their groups and the environment.

“In Dionysian collectives, structure emerges gradually as a by-product of activity. History combines with the sum of individual perceptions to shape the future of the group. The leader is a generalist. Others may move toward specialization as they increase their awareness of interpersonal relations and the meshing of individual and group purposes. The leader assists them in shaping and reshaping their group meaning, and varying their individual experiences. Although leaders assume ‘operational’ tasks along with everyone else, their central assignment is the continual posing of questions that promote spontaneity and change. Rather than relying on analysis – the orderly sequencing of thoughts – they use association – the relationship between ideas.

“Taken together, these approaches make the leadership role a force away from centralization. Large systems are broken into more functional units, each one operationally autonomous yet sensitive to the infinitely varying purposes of other groups. It is at the level of purpose that Dionysian collectives relate, and their leaders open the gates for the transfer of energy. The assumption that unifies these entities is that belief regulates all structures. Dionysian leaders expand the limits of belief and restrict the limits of resulting structures.”

It sounds utopian – on the surface. But my project team had made it work and we’d collected some verifiable evidence. When I finally presented my thesis to the Dean of the College of Education and other university officials in early 1975, they considered the research and arguments convincing enough to recommend the manuscript for publication.

By then, however, the suits had ended my government career.

Over the summer of 1974 I had arranged to launch the next phase of para-professional training through the state college system. Education and college credentials were essential to success, so it seemed like an ideal marriage. But the suits had no intention of letting me continue working for the state, and threatened to withhold revenue sharing money unless the chancellor agreed to move ahead without me. Peter Smith, a friend and then president of Community College, had to deliver the bad news.

“They compared you to John Froines,” he confided, a reference to the former Chicago Eight defendant who had become Vermont’s director of Occupational Health and Safety. I took it as a compliment. Froines was bringing serious attention to the potential health risks of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in southeastern Vermont. “They say you have a poison pen,” Smith added, “and they don’t need another John Froines.” Since Froines was a classified state employee they couldn’t do much about him. I had no such protection.

As I finished the thesis my career as a public servant came to an end. Fortunately, one of the colleges I’d worked with had a faculty opening. The Vermont Institute for Community Involvement – then known as VICI, later to become Burlington College – was a new school catering to “non-traditional” learners, many of them Vietnam War vets. It provided the chance to design their majors and take courses that traditional colleges weren’t offering at the time. Some of the faculty had been on my project team.

It was disappointing to see that, despite rhetoric about “empowering” communities, revenue sharing was another scam, but I’d learned a valuable lesson. Experience was producing a critique of centralized power based on both theory and practice. Yet the research had also left me skeptical about the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. In his scientific philosophy, the material world was the only relevant reality. Strained to the limit through the replacement of humans by machines, workers would ultimately unite in a "cooperative form of labor-process" and overthrow the capitalist system, he predicted. However, he favored increases in production tied to technological improvements, what he called "conscious technical application of science," and had no sympathy for inefficiency.

For Marx and his followers, changes in the mode of production were what determined social change, a force assumed to be beyond human control. The individual was the object and sometimes the victim of external forces and institutions that could only be changed by "objective" experience and labor. At the heart of Marxism there seemed to be a false prophecy – that control by external forces would ultimately lead to productive relations between human beings within an efficient, cooperative society. In this imagined classless society, tools that had previously increased misery would serve humanity. I didn’t share such faith in the promise of technology, the seductive idea that a technical cure could be applied to the spreading disease of mechanism.

The real problem was the dominance of centralistic, authoritarian, and absolutist thinking. My proposal was to replace them, along with rationalization and hierarchy, as the road to personal liberation and global harmony. The more people allow themselves to be represented from outside, the less community life is left. I was counting on community, on the joint and active management of what we hold in common, to promote genuine freedom and spontaneous social action. Soon I would get the chance to test these bold assertions.

Chapter Two of Prelude to a Revolution

Next: Evolution of a Business Town

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vermont Progs Play Independent Card

"Anthony Pollina is one of the founders of the Vermont Progressive Party. He has been our standard bearer, running for statewide office as a Progressive twice before.”
- Progressive Party Website

The announcement by Anthony Pollina, a Vermont Progressive Party leader running for governor, that he will appear on the ballot this fall as an Independent raises intriguing questions about the reasons for his switch and the future of the movement he leads in the Green Mountain State. At a news conference on July 21, Pollina said that running as an independent “is by far the best way” to build a coalition. He didn’t mention winning, but that clearly also figured into the decision.

In making the announcement, Pollina mentioned US Senator Bernie Sanders and his predecessor Jim Jeffords, noting that both were embraced as Independents. However, Sanders became an Independent in the late 1970s after several disappointing runs for statewide office as a third party candidate. At the time, he said that the timing wasn’t right for a new party. Sanders served four terms as Burlington mayor and eight as a US Congressman before running for the US Senate in 2006. He ran as an Independent in all those races.

Jeffords, on the other hand, was a life-long Republican, serving in the US House and Senate. He left the GOP in 2001, citing deep differences with the Republican leadership and the Bush administration. It turned out to be his last term, and there’s no way of knowing how Vermont voters would have responded had he attempted to run for re-election as an Independent.

Pollina’s reasons are obviously different. He has devoted many years to building Vermont’s Progressive Party, and declined to enter the Democratic primary earlier this year, saying that he had no intention of running as anything but a Progressive. “You know, I’m a Progressive,” he told columnist Peter Freyne. “I’m not going to leave the Progressive Party to become a candidate of another party.” Doing so “would undermine people’s faith in me and also in the process,” he added, “and I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were Democrats who would accuse me of being opportunistic in switching parties.”

Now that he’s announced his intention to switch his ballot status from Progressive to Independent, Democrats are doing exactly that. “This is about opportunistic decision-making,” Democratic Party Chair Ian Carlton told the Burlington Free Press. Taking Pollina at his word, the reasonable conclusion is that he remains a Progressive, but has decided that running on the party line will reduce his chances of winning. The presence of Progressive Party Executive Director Martha Abbott at his side for the announcement, and her statement that “most Progressives will support his decision,” makes it clear that running as an Independent is a tactical choice.

Pollina also told Freyne, “The idea of leaving one party to join another party for political purposes does not go along with my own principles.” Technically, he hasn’t done that, but running as an Independent does suggest that he feels his Party could hold him back. It also could make it harder for the Party to retain its Major Party status, which requires at least one candidate to win at least five percent of the vote. The Vermont Progressive Party has yet to announce a candidate for any other statewide office.

Pollina actually entered statewide politics as a Democrat, winning the Democratic primary for US Congress in 1984 but losing to incumbent Jeffords. He didn’t run again for 16 years, but was Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Sanders for five years during the 1990s. He subsequently advocated for campaign finance legislation that established public funding for statewide political campaigns. In 2002, when his campaign for Lt. Governor failed to qualify for public funding, he filed suit in federal court to overturn the law.

Running for governor as a Progressive in 2000, Pollina received 9.5 percent in a crowded field led by Republican Ruth Dwyer, with 37.9 percent, and incumbent governor Howard Dean, who won with 50.4 percent. Two years later, Pollina ran for Lt. Governor, again as a Progressive, receiving 24.8 percent of the vote in a three way race, behind Democrat Peter Shumlin, with 32.1 percent, and Brian Dubie, who won with 41.2. That year, Michael Badamo, running as a Progressive without much support from the Party, got only .6 percent in a race won by the current governor, Jim Douglas.

In 2004, Peter Clavelle, who was in the midst of his last term as Burlington’s Progressive Mayor, returned to the Democratic Party and challenged Douglas’s bid for re-election. Douglas won with 57.8 percent, and Clavelle received 37.9. The Progressive Party didn’t field a candidate for governor that year, or in the 2006 race.

Given this background, it’s easy to see why Pollina has made the switch. A politician identified as a Progressive but running as a Democrat would have some difficulty convincing elements of that party that he or she wasn’t switching teams just to get elected, while running as a Progressive would limit appeal to the state’s many independent voters. As Pollina told Vermont Public Radio journalist Bob Kinzel, a number of independent voters “feel that party affiliation is a liability.”

By running as an Independent, therefore, Pollina hopes to build on his Progressive base, possibly as high as 25 percent, attracting voters who have no allegiance to the other two major parties. If he’s successful, the chances increase that neither Democratic challenger Gaye Symington nor Douglas will get 50 percent of the vote. If that happens, Vermont’s Legislature will pick from among the top three vote getters.

Traditionally, the lawmakers go with the person who receives the most votes – but they aren’t required by law to do that. Vermont Democrats have a 60 vote edge in the state legislature, not counting the six Progressives and two Independents in the House of Representatives. If Symington, who is Speaker of the Democratically-controlled House, comes in first or a close second, the legislature might choose her over Douglas. But if Pollina manages to beat them, even by a few votes, he will undoubtedly argue that picking anyone else would be undemocratic. He could, at least theoretically, create that situation by getting no more than 34 percent.

Progressive Chair Abbott’s endorsement indicated that the Party’s leadership is backing his play. As Pollina argues, they apparently don’t want to let a label get in the way of possible victory. But the Progressive Party’s leadership has misjudged the voters in the past. In the 2006 Burlington mayoral race, Clavelle and other leading Progressives backed Democrat Hinda Miller to succeed him, assuming that a Progressive candidate couldn’t win. The Party ran a candidate anyway and, in part due to instant run off voting, Progressive Bob Kiss defeated Miller and their Republican opponent.

The question raised by Pollina’s decision is what’s more important, continuing to build a strong party or possibly winning a race. More than 30 years ago Sanders made that choice, and has held office in Vermont almost continuously since 1981. Although he remains the unofficial head of the state’s progressive movement, he has never joined its party and doesn’t feel obliged to follow any party line. At times he has been criticized for not doing enough to help build support for an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats.

Pollina’s loyalty to the progressive movement runs deep, and he is more likely to draw from his Party’s base for ideas and personnel if he does pull off a political upset. However, by the time November rolls around most voters may realize that he is actually an Independent in name only. It’s a bold move; aside from Sanders, no Independent candidate has ever won statewide office in Vermont. But if the tactic fails to dramatically increase Pollina’s appeal, the consequences for the future of his Party could be severe.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Prelude to a Revolution

Vermont before the People’s Republic, Haiti under Baby Doc, and how the FBI manufactured a terrorist scare

Chapter One: Heart of the Problem

The suits were out to get me. I could see them, a gaggle of political appointees who headed various state agencies, conferring behind a glass wall at the other end of the floor.

We were in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, putting together a massive application for federal revenue sharing funds. My job was to coordinate the researchers and writers, pull together the available data, and provide enough boiler plate language to assure approval. Their job, apparently, was to divide up the money without regard to what communities around the state wanted – or my staff discovered along the way.

When I pointed out the disconnect between the analysis and their plans, the head of the new Office of Manpower services ordered me to stop talking to the locals and asking inconvenient questions. When I didn’t comply and started circulating critical memos, he and his agency buddies decided I would have to go.

It was August 1974, the end of a whirlwind year. My partner and I had moved to the Champlain Valley and enrolled at the University of Vermont the previous summer. She was finishing her bachelor’s degree. I had entered the graduate program to study administration and planning in the College of Education and Social Services. At the same time I was Research and Development Director for Champlain Work and Training Programs, a statewide non-profit with Department of Labor contracts. And, because I could listen, conduct an interview and write grants, the head of Champlain Valley W&T frequently farmed out my services to school systems and other groups he hoped to woo.

The boss was a retired businessman from St. Albans, a small, buttoned-up city near the Canadian border. He knew how to organize an enterprise, build a budget and tell the feds what they wanted to hear. A straight talking guy with a 50s white crew cut, he had little respect for political hacks, and some of them felt the same. Still, he knew how to meet federal guidelines, so they treated him with grudging respect.

After three years with his organization, I’d arranged to run a statewide operation on my own, a Department of Labor-funded “new careers” project designed to create para-professional jobs within the Social and Rehabilitative Services system. The idea was to identify the needs, find qualified people, and subsidize their wages while providing training and education that would help these new “Case Workers Aides” keep their jobs once the project ended. It was pretty ambitious and hadn’t been tried before.

By Fall I’d recruited a staff, negotiated with SRS, and arranged for accredited courses with colleges around Vermont. Since some of the money went to the University, the school provided space in the College of Education’s research office. I was a graduate student, but also a project manager with people to supervise and interns across the state. It was my most challenging work to date.

Over the next year I studied harder than at any previous time in my life. Courses in planning, research methods, counseling, and ethics led to the latest theories in management and human services. But I went well beyond the required reading, soaking up anything I could find, particularly political science, philosophy and history. I needed to make sense of what I’d experienced so far, and knew my situation provided a unique opportunity to compare theories with how organizations worked in the real world.

Especially influential were the writings of Paolo Freire, the brilliant Brazilian educational philosopher who had written Pedagogy of the Oppressed and later inspired Nicaragua’s literacy crusade. I also drew inspiration from systems theory, anarchism and Marxism, Abraham Maslow’s humanistic psychology, the linguistic and political writing of Noam Chomsky, as well as John Lilly, Colin Wilson, E. F. Schumacher, Gregory Bateson, William Irwin Thompson, Louis Mumford, Ivan Illich, Wilhelm Reich, Thomas Szasz, Ervin Laszlo, Alfred North Whitehead, and a growing attraction to Buddhism.

The project went well. More than 20 people got jobs in the social services system. Most also completed courses and received college credits by documenting their life experiences. It was an early attempt to make skills and knowledge acquired outside classrooms credit-worthy. By the following summer my crew was developing a follow up project, applying the tools and process we’d developed to emerging jobs in mental health.

Meanwhile, I used my management role to test some ideas about how people could work together effectively without relying on traditional, control and hierarchically-oriented crutches. A new perspective was taking shape. The idea that managers can only succeed if they’re ethically-neutral, objective professionals who rely exclusively on “rational” tools looked increasingly antiquated and dangerous. I rejected the basic assumptions – that managers and other leaders must be predictors and controllers of behavior, and that organizations are essentially machines.

For several hundred years most humans had believed that nature was nothing more than a complex mechanism, a machine whose secrets we would eventually unlock, I argued in my master’s thesis. We considered ourselves the “lords of nature,” destined to control the cosmic factory. We extended our quest to the very heart of matter – and smashed it. But we were wrong. Atoms aren’t solid, nature isn’t a machine, and the universe can't be divided and dissected without the gravest of consequences. Domination of nature had led us to a dead end, just as domination of humanity had brought misery, poverty and the devastation of most of the world's peoples. The legacy of our mistakes was insecurity and alienation, war and waste.

At the heart of the problem, I concluded, was the set of values underpinning life in the developed countries. A desire for endless material advancement, the basis of our addiction to growth, prevented us from setting limits or ending the domination of nature to suit our current fancy. Yet that’s what it would take. In essence, we had to transform our way of life, turning away from accumulation and toward sustainability:

“Our old approaches – rationalism, competition, inventions and invasions – will leave us with nothing but a deadened, artificial world. If we want to save the planet, therefore, we must turn from the mechanical to the creative, from Apollo to Dionysus, from domination of nature and human beings to cooperation with both nature and one another.”

Next: The Dionysian Alternative

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planet Pacifica: Making Democracy Work

Excerpts from remarks at a KPFT planning retreat, January 2008

When rumors fly through the Pacifica Radio community or attacks get especially nasty, people often blame provocateurs and charge that the government is out to get radio’s voice of the people. There’s some basis for this suspicion. The FBI had Pacifica in its sights as early as 1958, and took a special interest in 1962 when former Special Agent Jack Levine gave KPFA an interview. Levine exposed the Bureau as a threat to democracy and a tool of J. Edgar Hoover, its vain and obsessed director. According to Mathew Lasar, who reviewed Freedom of Information Act files, the Bureau poked, prodded, and harassed the organization for years, even planting agents disguised as private citizens.

In the last decade, however, charges of counter-intelligence operations directed against the organization have been speculative at best, and occasionally excursions into free-range paranoia. When messages critical of program hosts or local activists are posted on Internet lists and websites, their authors – some long-time Pacifica members – are sometimes charged as accomplices in an alleged government conspiracy to destabilize the organization. Board members and station managers aren’t exempt from insinuations that they’re part of the plot.

Personally, I found no solid evidence of a government operation during my tenure as Executive Director. But even if a disinformation campaign was being pursued, it would be overkill. At this point, the Pacifica community is capable of destabilizing itself without a federal assist. Outside forces aren’t responsible for the current bylaws or listener activist distrust of staff, the slow response to the digital age, confusion about the basic mission, programming gridlock, financial decline, or misbehavior of board members and volunteers.

Part of the problem is the version of democracy put in place after Pacifica was “saved.” The five stations have about a million regular listeners. Of this total, about 10 percent make financial or volunteer contributions, qualifying them to participate in local elections. Of that total, little more than 10 percent actually return ballots. Due to proportional voting, it takes at most about 300 votes for election to a station board. In other words, LSB members draw their right to govern from less than one percent of the listeners. And in order to win, candidates often resort to negative appeals, especially charges that the process is corrupt and Pacifica isn’t democratic enough. In general, the elections tend to perpetuate an atmosphere of confrontation and suspicion.

They also take at least eight months to conduct, cost more than $200,000 each time, consume considerable staff and airtime, and lead to interminable legal disputes. Most non-profit boards recruit people with specific skills needed by the organization. Pacifica has replaced this with an election process that creates warring factions on every station board.

In the past, Board meetings have frequently featured rude outbursts and other disrespectful behavior. Roberts Rules of Order are often abused, becoming weapons of obstruction rather than tools to promote rational discussion. E-mails are used to spread rumors and promote debates of marginal relevance. In many cases, factional alliances manipulate the rules. Productivity suffers and questionable behavior opens the organization to legal liability. All this has the effect of alienating potential supporters or future board members.

Voting is not a panacea. It’s a mediated form of political engagement, and can sometimes divert energy from more effective forms of political and social action. Just because a group is elected, that doesn’t always mean it makes the best or even the right decisions.

Since the status-quo encourages competition rather than cooperation, a viable alternative would need to provide incentives for actively seeking common ground. For elections to be constructive, the process must reward helpful ideas rather than negative appeals. Pacifica might consider having some at-large, appointed board members, people who have needed skills and aren’t so entangled in the internal political struggles.

The organization could also benefit from some form of open-source governance, an emerging “post-national” approach that draws from the collective wisdom of a whole community. An open-source model could help de-couple setting policy from station management. A small step in this direction is to post all the policies – local, national, financial – in one accessible public registry and update it regularly.

The current structure is, in part, a form of grassroots democracy. As much decision-making as possible is granted to the lower geographic level of organization. This sounds fine, but means in practice that power resides with local institutions – the stations – and not with individuals. In contrast, participatory systems give people equal access to decision-making regardless of their standing in a local chapter or community. The question is who and what Pacifica seeks to empower.

In the digital age, people can listen to any station they want, at any time they want. They are no longer bound by geographic proximity or access to an FM frequency. Some way needs to be found for people who support Pacifica, but don’t work at or contribute to a specific station, to participate as members. They represent a vast untapped audience and certainly shouldn’t be viewed as outsiders. In short, claiming to have a democratic structure doesn’t end the discussion. The real issues are what form of democracy works best, and who is really a member of the community in this new era.

Beyond a fresh look at listener democracy, Pacifica also needs a serious review of its outdated mission statement, which currently adds to the confusion, and a radical overhaul of its bylaws. Perhaps being the loyal opposition, covering the stories that other media ignore, is the path ahead. But if so, where and how do dialogue and national programs fit in? Is it really a network or merely a convenient umbrella for local stations that basically go their own ways? Resolving such questions will help to determine the best formats and schedules to serve the mission and attract more listeners. It might even lead to less internal warfare.

Planet Pacifica will resume sometime in the future. Keep in touch with Maverick Media for frequent updates on politics, perception management, alternative media, Vermont, and Pacifica today.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Assessing Pacifica’s Deficit of Trust

During an early March 2006 meeting with Pacifica Radio’s attorney in the lawsuit with Noelle Hanrahan, as well as Hanrahan and her lawyers, the terms of a possible settlement were put on the table. The questions were whether the Board would agree to the financial demand, and whether people at KPFA could handle having Noelle back at the station. As it turned out, money was less the issue than her future in Pacifica.

There were also meetings of the PNB, the Finance Committee, and the ad hoc committee set up to select an ongoing corporate counsel. In between I searched for someone willing to step in as manager of KPFA on an interim basis. Most potentially qualified candidates turned down the opportunity. The people I thought could handle it felt the station was virtually unmanageable, and those few who wanted the job didn’t seem quite right.

Eventually, I persuaded Lemlem Rijio, the station Development Director, to take the job in April. She remained “Interim” GM for the next two years as the local station board struggled over a “permanent” choice. It was a controversial decision for some (Lemlem had been a critic of Roy Campanella and was considered too close to so-called “entrenched” staff), and was both praised and criticized. If nothing else it was a change, an inside management promotion rather than an outside “star” like Roy or Gus Newport, and did calm the mood at the station for a while.

In a report for the March National Board meeting, my first attempt to describe my assessment and plans, I pointed out that any decision made by the Executive Director could potentially be nullified by the board. Therefore, I asked for more and clearer delegation of authority. I mentioned the problem of civility, especially criticisms that crossed the line to “insulting characterizations, paranoia, and a deep well of distrust that tends to poison the atmosphere.” I criticized myself for raising expectations “about what could be accomplished without adequate knowledge of the organizational constraints,” and for, at times, becoming “too forceful with my own opinions.” For some it was the first time they’d ever seen a Pacifica manager admit to making a mistake. I discussed fairness, inclusion, and management instability, the problems facing fund drives, and the need to balance autonomy and cooperation in programming.

I also praised the accomplishments of the Affiliates Program and the Archives, but warned that the importance of Internet technology services had been underestimated for too long. “The risks include interrupted service, uneven quality, security breaches, and unanticipated technical failures,” I explained. “IT maintains the architecture that makes much of what stations do easier – or more difficult. Along with a programming coordinator, hiring additional IT staff (rather than the current ad hoc approach) is an important step.”

The underlying issue, I argued, “is that Pacifica’s identity as a network is a bit unclear. Like the other words I’ve mentioned, this one too is not adequately defined, in part because there is some concern that being a network could be disempowering to local stations. During my cross country trip, people occasionally questioned whether being part of a network is even important, suggesting that stations might do fine without any national staff or presence. Even if I wasn't the ED of this organization, I would find that proposition an unacceptable abdication.

“Pacifica is not only a national network, with the potential to reach literally millions of people; it is a unique national resource that must not be under-utilized. That said, reaffirming the terms of our social contract is vital, including assurances that persuasion rather than force will be the standard practice. On the other hand, Pacificans – boards, staff, volunteers – need to agree on high priorities, and I would argue that projecting a progressive counter-narrative nationwide – through public affairs, news, and culture – ought to be on the list.”

While trying to avoid fights I laid out my assessment as frankly as possible. It wasn’t especially visionary; I was saving that for later, when I had a firmer idea of what reflected both the possible and the ideal. For the moment, my bottom line was that the time had come for Pacifica “to retake its place as a leading voice and moving force in community-based media. “

As I prepared for another trip – according to the bylaws, it was time to meet in Los Angeles – my mood was relatively optimistic. It wouldn’t be easy but maybe I could accomplish something after all. I had just turned 59 and assumed the leadership of a large and legendary media organization.

Back at home in Vermont, the news was encouraging. Twenty-five years after local progressives had launched a peaceful “revolution” in the state’s largest city with the election of Bernie Sanders as mayor, a progressive had won again. Democrat Hinda Miller, a state senator and businesswoman, had been defeated by Progressive Bob Kiss, a state representative and ex-director of the local community action agency. The city had been managed by progressives, many of them friends, for all but two of those years. Plus, it was the first time a US mayor had been elected by instant runoff voting.

Going into the election, many people, even left-leaning stalwarts, predicted that the progressive “era” was over. Sanders’s successor Peter Clavelle, who initially ran for mayor as a Progressive, had returned home to the Democratic Party and endorsed Miller. But proportional voting put Kiss over the top. Former Governor Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign showed the power of the Internet to build a political movement – though Dean failed in the end – lauded the system despite the result. “I am a fan of IRV,” he said. “It is cost effective and will save the cost of a runoff election.”

If proportional voting could work in Burlington, I thought, maybe in time it will also net more constructive results for Planet Pacifica. It isn’t a magic bullet. But if more members of this virtual community can get past their resentments and anger, maybe, just maybe a deficit of trust can be replaced by a modest surplus of hope.

Next: Postscript-- Making Democracy Work

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pacifica Update: July Board Meeting Postponed as Cash Crunch Escalates

Despite a recent decision by the National Board of Pacifica Radio to hold an in-person meeting in Washington DC during July, it won’t be happening. During a teleconference on July 7, members noted that the national office hadn’t followed up on the board’s decision, citing lack of money as the reason.

The progressive network’s national board is currently debating how to handle an escalating cash crunch. According to Chief Financial Officer Lonnie Hicks and Finance Committee Chair Mike Martin, Pacifica owed about $150,000 as of early July and hadn’t been able to make scheduled payments to Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News, among others. Hicks noted that the amount owed would increase to $320,000 before the end of the month. He has suggested seeking a bank line of credit and inter-divisional loans, mainly from KPFA in Berkeley, to handle the situation. If something isn’t done soon, he warned, “Vendors may take action against us.”

To address Pacifica’s overall problems – loss of listeners and reduced revenues – the National Finance Committee has recommended reductions in the cost of elections and governance, increased off-air fundraising, and programming changes by stations. “Lawsuits are killing us,” Martin added.

During a March teleconference, the board instructed station management to develop expanded off-air fundraising plans by June. At the July 7 meeting, however, some members said that hadn’t happened yet. In March, the board also asked its Technology Committee and Sawaya to look into web-based conferencing as an alternative to in-person sessions. But that could run afoul of the current bylaws.

The immediate cause of the cash crunch, Hicks said, is that Pacifica stations fell $400,000 short of Spring on-air fund drive goals. In addition, both WBAI in New York and KPFK in Los Angeles are running hundreds of thousands of dollars below projections and may not be able to pay bills or meet payrolls in the weeks ahead unless something is done.

Several board members questioned the assertion that there isn’t enough money to hold a board meeting before September, the end of the fiscal year, and expressed concern that the national office hadn’t acted on the board’s decision to meet in July. According to Pacifica’s bylaws, four in-person meetings of the national board are supposed to be held each year. Thus far meetings have been held in January and April. Over the last two years, attempts to amend the bylaws to reduce the number of in-person board meetings have failed.

A committee formed by the board developed a plan to reduce the cost of a summer meeting by more than 50 percent and found three economical locations. The board approved the July meeting in June and instructed the national office to proceed.

Executive Director Nicole Sawaya reported that she has contacted staff, unions and various vendors about the financial situation, but did not publicly take a position on whether the board should meet. She did note, however, that Pacifica seems to drift from crisis to crisis and urged board members to be practical. In March, Sawaya cited the cost of governance as a long-term problem.

The board will meet again by phone in about a week to review specific proposals from management on how to handle the short-term cash flow problem. The July 7 teleconference, on which this report is based, can be heard at KPFTX.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pacifica Radio: Following the Money

I’d been on the road for three weeks by the time I reached Berkeley at the end of February 2006. My Saturn wagon was stuffed with clothes, books and files, and my head was bursting with impressions. Pacifica Radio had tremendous potential – radio licenses in major markets, plenty of talent, an extraordinary history, access to a potential audience in the millions. But it was deeply wounded by years of internal struggle that had left people raw and distrustful. If I was going to succeed – whatever that meant – one of my tasks as the new Executive Director was to act as a healing influence, to help people trust each other and see that reconciliation was a safe and realistic possibility.

That was obviously a long-term project. In the meantime, I needed to get on top of some practical problems. KPFA needed a general manager. The lawsuit filed by Noelle Hanrahan had to be resolved, hopefully without an expensive trial. Negotiations with Free Speech Radio News had to begin. My relationship with Lonnie Hicks, the powerful Chief Financial Officer, would also have to be clarified. Plus, the next in-person meeting of the National Board was only a month away. That meant reports, my own as well as those by about a dozen managers and staff members, would have to be ready in about two weeks.

Of course, there was also the unexpected to consider. A prime example was the visit of two disability activists shortly after I returned to the Bay Area. Pacifica had been dragging its heels in complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But a compliance consultant had been found and apparently a contract for her services had been arranged. I hadn’t been told a word about it.

The “contract” the activists showed me was actually an unsigned two-page proposal submitted the previous October by ADA consultant Francie Moeller. No one in the office had seen it. When I called her up, however, she confirmed that Ambrose Lane, Interim ED prior to my arrival, and she had talked about five months ago. “Was a contract actually signed?” I asked. She assured me that it had been and agreed to forward a copy before we met.

A few days later a fax arrived. It was the same proposal I’d already seen, but this copy had a small addition. At the bottom of page two, just below Moeller’s signature, was the handwritten word “Approved,” followed by the signature of Ambrose Lane and a date, 10/30/05. She also sent the cover sheet of a fax she’d received from Ambrose on February 17. “Dear Mrs. Moeller,” it read, “Please forgive my tardiness in returning this signed Agreement. Thanks for all of your interest and commitment. Sincerely, Ambrose Lane Sr.” And this PS: “My replacement ED of Pacifica is Mr. Greg Guma.”

The problem was that the signatures on the fax and the proposal were identical and had obviously been written with the same pen. The October date also sounded familiar for some reason. Looking back in my date book I realize that it was the very day I had been given my final interview for the job in Houston. That meant Ambrose would have decided, in the midst of the busy PNB meeting, to sign a preliminary proposal that could cost the organization up to $20,000, then set it aside for five months and not tell anyone what he’d done.

I took the papers to Lonnie, who said he knew nothing about an agreement. How could Ambrose have worked in the same office with him for months and not mention such a thing? I showed him the signatures. He nodded, acknowledging my concern, but advised that I drop the matter. There was little to be gained by getting into a fight, he felt, even though the proposal was vague, lacked specific performance standards, and might lead to disputes down the line.

The situation reminded me of another controversial matter on my desk. A year before the national office had spent about $66,000 on 18 iMac computers, supposedly for the purpose of enhancing remote broadcasting capabilities. The idea was promising but few people knew in advance that a decision had been made. As CFO, Lonnie was obviously involved. So was Don Rojas, then manager of WBAI. And it appeared that Dan Coughlin had originally suggested a similar project. But most station managers knew nothing about it, and when the computers arrived, they said the choice of Macs made them less than useful. Stations mainly used PCs, and these new machines required expensive, proprietary software. Most of the computers had remained unopened in storage rooms around the country for the last year. A couple shipped to New York had disappeared.

The Board knew about the computers and several members were demanding an audit. Who was responsible for this “boondoggle,” they wanted to know. And where was all the equipment now? I was expected to provide a report at the next in-person meeting.

The trail led back to Lonnie. Few things in Pacifica that involved a substantial amount of money happened without his involvement – and usually his approval. The only exceptions I’d seen so far were the settlement with Roy Campanella at KPFA and the ADA agreement, both arranged by Ambrose during his stint as Interim ED without Lonnie’s apparent oversight. On the other hand, Lonnie sometimes pursued projects he defined as part of his “development” function without Board review or ED agreement. In short, an ED couldn’t normally proceed on a project without the CFO’s sign off, but the opposite wasn’t always true. If I was going to effectively oversee finances, supposedly part of my job, my relationship with the CFO would have to be clarified.

According to the hire letter I’d received, I was the supervisor of the station managers and all national staff – except the CFO, who reported directly to the Board. But that suggested that I did supervise the finance staff in the Berkeley office. In addition, Lonnie’s original hire letter, signed by Dan Coughlin in 2002, said that the CFO worked “under the supervision of” the executive director. After reviewing the situation with the HR Director I asked Lonnie in for a talk.

As far as he was concerned, the CFO was completely independent, accountable only to the Board. And the finance staff reported to him, not me. In fact, if I wanted any financial information he preferred that I request it from him rather than go to the staffer who might actually have it. He was especially sensitive about any contact with Assistant Controller Lynn Magno, who I’d met early on and asked to serve as part of my transition team. Every time we talked, she said, he would come over afterward and grill her about the conversation.

It quickly became clear that Lonnie wouldn’t submit to increased oversight without taking his case to the board. It was too early for such a confrontation. He knew much more about the flow of money and the internal dynamics of the organization. In a board fight so early in my tenure I was apt to lose. Even if I won the office atmosphere would be terrible afterward. The best course, at least for a while, was to reach an accord. I won’t challenge your view of the situation, I offered, if you make sure to consult me about all financial matters from now on. “I’m happy to comply,” he replied.

Part Thirteen of Pacifica Radio: A Listening Tour

Next: Assessing the Deficit of Trust