Students – Your Thoughts on School Violence?

We’re planning a series of interviews and discussions about violence in Baltimore schools beginning next week.  We’d like to invite everyone to share their thoughts and experiences on the topic, especially those involved in the school system as students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other school workers.  We’d love to hear from as many students as possible, and set up interviews with interested students, so please pass this request along to any friends or family you have attending school in Baltimore.  You can comment here, or if you’d like to reach us directly but not publicly, email justinlevy2@gmail.com.

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4/17 from Marc, on WYPR BOD meeting

I heard from a number of people what occurred at the WYPR Board of Director’s meeting.

I suppose some of you heard what happened to Kay Dellinger when she left the meeting. She was among the last to leave, and encountered WYPR GM Tony Brandon in the parking lot talking to one of the police officers sent to guard the board from its listeners. They were talking about whether the building was empty.

As Kay passed Tony Brandon she said to him, referring to the board, “You are a bunch of cowards.”

Tony replied :”F**k you, Get a life…”

So, elite, well-mannered, calm, cool, collected, tough-minded business mogul tells a woman who is his elder to F**K herself. It shows you what kind of man he really is.
Tony has misled the board, and most of the board has bought his claims, hook, line, and sinker. The board has never asked to talk with me. The board never asked to talk with Ray Blank, the consultant who worked with Tony and me over four years to manage our station

WYPR has attempted to mislead the public with its ever-changing excuses for why it fired me.

At the meeting, board chair Barbara Bozzuto said that I was fired because of philosophical differences. Previously, they claimed that my show was replaced because it focused too narrowly on Baltimore and they wanted a “statewide” show (easily disproved by looking at the list of topics the show addressed and by the fact that they had no “statewide” show lined up to replace me). Then they claimed that there were “personnel” reasons for firing me, but they have never provided any specifics to me, nor to the public, despite my public waiver of any claim of confidentiality. The falsity of their claim is demonstrated by the fact that they offered me $50,000 to keep quiet (which I would not accept) — not the sort of offer an employer makes to an employee who has done something wrong. Then they claimed they dropped me because ratings were down. But Chris Kaltenbach of the Sun showed that the numbers didn’t support their claim. Moreover, the station had cut back on promoting the show. Most importantly, public radio isn’t supposed to be driven by ratings.

Now, it is “philosophical reasons.” At least they’re getting closer to the truth.

Yes, there were philosophical differences — I believed in putting the public in public radio, they did not.. That in combination with Tony Brandon’s ego and determination not to manage the station as a team (but on his own, something he made clear at the first board meeting back in 2002) led to them ousting me as Vice President in the summer of 2005. There were philosophical reasons then, but since 2005 we have hardly said a word of importance to one another. They won control of the station, and we lost, and I decided to produce my show and serve the community as best I could.

Bozzuto said they were moving beyond my “narrow audience base”. Narrow audience base? When they canceled the show, fired me, or as NPR’s Andre Codrescu put it, “carried out a palace coup,” the support for our show and for our public radio was broader than most other public radio shows. Conservatives like Bob Ehrlich and Richard Vatz, leaders of the Jewish and Arab American communities, heads of universities, inner city activists and Hunt Valley dwellers, artists, doctors, lawyers, social workers, teachers, black, white, Asian — that “narrow audience base” for our noon show — have expressed their support of me.

If there were philosophical differences that erupted in the last three years, they revolved around what we did on the air. Some of them took umbrage that I had the temerity to raise questions about their powerful corporate friends and investments, that we did too many “urban” shows, that we brought voices on that did not sound like them. I was given grief about “Just Words,” the very series that won my producer Jessica Phillips and me a Peabody. The voices of the working poor wasn’t considered real journalism.

Well I am sorry, I thought I was finished with this, but maybe I am not. It gets so frustrating at times.

I really appreciate the almost 1,100 people who have now signed the petition to bring back my show, as well as those of you who have stood outside the station, who have written letters to WYPR’s management, made public and private statements, stood by us, taken a stand on public radio and personally supported me and Valerie through all of this.

When people ask would I go back, of course I would love to go back. I loved what I did. As Valerie often says, I lived and breathed my work. Could I do it in that atmosphere, with that leadership in place, after all that has been done? No, I could not.

When you ask what to do, I say keep the pressure on to make public really the public’s radio. It does belong to us.

This week we will be launching our website to bring you great stories and interviews every week. Our site will be a place for unheard voices. I am excited about what we are building with your support.

Keep in touch-

Marc

4/16/08 Andrei Codrescu Podcast!


Andrei Codrescu left Romania as a teenager, made his way to the United States via Italy, and after spending time in many parts of the country including Detroit and New York City, eventually settled in New Orleans.  He teaches English at LSU in Baton Rouge and has been providing commentary for NPR’s All Things Considered since 1983.  In “After the Deluge: A Letter to America” he writes, “…it’s okay to be alive and you don’t have to work like a dog without any joy in this lifetime.”  Still, he must work pretty hard because he’s published a huge stack of poetry, fiction, and essays over the last four decades.

CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast of Marc Steiner’s interview with Andrei Codrescu last Friday. Running time is 49:13. Topics sprawl from Andre’s writing, to New Orleans, chess, mysticism, the Holocaust, and more.  Click here to read the transcript of the interview.

Click here to go to Andrei’s website and click here for an archive of his stories from All Things Considered.

This is a video of part of Andrei and Marc’s conversation, as the topic turned to communism.  It contains footage that is not included in the podcast!

4/15 from Marc

School Violence

Any of you who saw the tape of a student beating art teacher Jolita Berry were rightly horrified. Any of you who work in our schools understands what led to this and knows that disrespect for teachers and the threat of violence felt by students and teachers is a common occurrence in our schools.

It cannot be tolerated.

First, the school administration must stand by its teachers. Students who physically attack and assault teachers must be arrested. There has to be zero tolerance for those who perpetrate violence against their peers and their teachers. It cannot be tolerated. You cannot teach or learn in atmospheres of violence.

That is short term. That is a necessary immediate response. Long term, it takes an administrative and pedagogic strategy to end violence and disruption in our schools.

Does it make any sense to suspend students back to the street corner? Does it make sense to kick them out of school into the hands of communities and families that bred and feed that behavior in the first place? I don’t think so.

About fifteen years ago, Lombard Middle School had a very successful in-school suspension program. I am not sure, beyond funding issues, why that program was dismantled. It must be resurrected throughout every school in the city.

Suspended students should be required to come to school attending special classes taught by volunteer staff members, counselors and social workers and ex-felons from the community. It might require special partnerships with local schools of social work, universities and our medical community. It would mean changing the rules to allow trained ex-offenders and community members to work with our most troubled young people.

The goal would be to successfully reintegrate these children into the mainstream student body.

I think Dr. Andres Alonso is right to call on 500 volunteers from the community to enter our most troubled schools. It will be an incredibly powerful message and a step in the right direction.

Long term policy needs to complement that to address the problem of violence and disruption in our schools. If not teachers may walk out. The best students and teachers will leave the system.

We can make it work.

Development

This is just a modest proposal as a reflection on the closing the legislative session in Annapolis.   I have been thinking about how you create equity in our state and protect our land, environment and the Chesapeake Bay that we all love so much.

Let me offer some thoughts that would be a terrifying anathema to most people in the legislature and maybe a portion of our citizenry, as well.

Many of us worry about the increased development of our open spaces, the removal of the poor for housing for the wealthy, and the nature of much of that development.   What can you really do about it?

A man who I have known for 25 years, former state senator Gerald Winegrad, who was the original environmental warrior in the state legislature, suggested that all planning and zoning be taken away from local jurisdictions and given to the state Board of Public Works.   He says it is the only way to control development, save our forests and manage our agricultural lands.   When he said this on my show last year, I really had to stop and think about the consequences of this proposal.    I understand the frustration at watching our natural environment be devastated and our waterways becoming polluted beyond repair that led to this radical proposal.

The loss of local control is anathema to Americans.   Local control is a philosophical and pragmatic sentiment since the Declaration of Independence.   As unwieldy as it might be,  it really is the core of the American spirit.

So, in that spirit and pondering the proposal of that great patriot (he is a Navy JAG officer Lt. Commander I think) and environmentalist, Gerald Winegrad, let me offer an alternative.

If Maryland had one state wide property tax we could numb the power of developers in our local jurisdictions.   Counties and Baltimore City’s zoning and planning agencies are susceptible to the power of developers.    Development means property tax dollars in local coffers.   County and Baltimore City roads, schools and social service agencies are only as strong and funded as property tax revenues allow.   If there was a statewide property tax divided evenly between our jurisdictions then they could plan without pressure from outside development and capital power.    Then we could have local control that makes decisions that benefit the environment and citizens of localities.  It would create real local power.

If at the same time we equalized state funding for education it would add to local power and control.   If the state spent the same per pupil statewide each jurisdiction would be free to add as much as they want to their schools beyond that state number.    Counties and Baltimore City could be managed by elected boards, elected/appointed boards, appointed boards or no board at all.   They could create their own pedagogical policies.

Are we not one nation, are we not one state, and are we not one people?   Why should the vagaries of poverty or wealth of one jurisdiction over the other determine the well being and future of us all!

It seems to me that these ideas are the marriage of the best social democratic principles with our age old traditions of local control.

Your thoughts?

-Marc

4/11/08 Andrei Codrescu is in town

We started the morning off today with a visit from Andrei Codrescu, writer of many formats and NPR commentator.  He’s in Baltimore for a reading and talk tonight at CCBC Essex as part of their Creative Writing Forum.  Click here for all of the info on tonight’s event.  Marc and Andrei sat down and spoke for an hour or so.  We’ll be bringing you a podcast of their conversation at the beginning of next week.  Also stay tuned for the launch of the new CEM website, expected for next week, as well.  We’re working on a piece that goes behind the scenes of the new documentary Body of War which will premier on the new site.  Hope everyone has a good weekend and enjoys the spring weather!

-Justin

4/09/08 from Vietnam, to Annapolis, to the movies

This has been an interesting week.    First, the Peabody Award comes for our work on the series we produced called Just Words.   It was funded by the Open Society Institute and aired on WYPR for a little over a year.    We submitted the work for the prestigious Peabody but had no expectations of winning one.  It is a little overwhelming to be in the company of Steve Colbert, Planet Earth, Sixty Minutes, and other incredibly important national shows (including Project Runway, which I watch at my 11 year old daughter’s behest).  It is quite an honor.    

From 2005 to 2007 dozens of NPR stations around the country aired our six part documentary series, Shared Weight.   I don’t know how many of you heard them (all six will be up on our new website for you to hear and podcast).    They are six stand-alone hours produced with and about Vietnam veterans from both sides of the conflict.  We spent six weeks in Vietnam recording and three veterans of that war went with us.   

At any rate, we planned to return to Vietnam sometime in June or July to finish one of our stories.   The first hour in our series was the story of Vietnam Veteran Homer Steedley and North Vietnamese soldier Hong Ngoc Dam.   Homer killed Dam on his first day in Nam.    They met coming around a bend in the road.   There they were alone face to face.  Homer got his gun our first.  Dam died.   Homer took the documents off his body.   He kept them in his mother’s attic.  For over thirty five years the image of that young man’s face and the documents he kept haunted him.   He had to find Dam’s family to give them back that piece of him, of their son, husband and brother.   We found the family.    That first hour was called Wandering Souls because Vietnamese Buddhists believe that souls of the dead wander if their bodies or something of theirs is not returned home.    Dam was one of 350,000 Vietnamese MIAs.  

Now, Homer is going back to Vietnam for the first time since the war.    He wants to meet Dam’s family and together they will journey to Kontum to find Dam’s body.   We want to be there to finish this story of healing.  

Well, we found out this week the trip is moved up to May.   So, producer Jessica Phillips and I will be journeying to Vietnam.   Hopefully, we will be sending back stories to you, with any luck with sound and pictures.

When we get back, we will head out in early June to the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  They want to hear, and we want to tell, the story of what happened at WYPR.   We want to tell the story of this community’s efforts to keep the public in public radio and to build and keep our sense of community.   There will be thousands of people there who are dedicated to keeping alive and creating community non-corporate-controlled media.   We will let you know what we find.

Then I am off for a week to the Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico to teach radio to a national gathering of Native American high school students.   It is a camp called Native Visions started by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.  It is not my first time there over the last fifteen years, but I love teaching at the place.   Hopefully, more stories for me to share.

 

ANNAPOLIS

OK, Annapolis is done.   The session is over.   So, what really happened?  

The biggest crime was the Constellation Energy deal being ratified by a bullied State Senate and House of Delegates.   It was 1999 deregulation redux.   I know, I know, the reregulation debate can still occur.    The Public Service Commission was not granted subpoena power.  This is the single most important failure of that deal and legislation.   Read Sun Business Columnist Jay Hancock’s column today.   We still do not know why energy cost so much after the 2005 auctions or what goes on at the auctions.   The control of the grid and wholesale electric market is opaque, at best, at the state, regional and national level.   It is controlled by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is controlled by the federal government, which, as we found at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration, is controlled by big oil and coal.   Remember Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001 that would not release its report and never did.   Do you remember that it was made up of all his friends in oil and coal and their ancillary industries? 

What we needed was a bill that put teeth in the PSC, that changed laws to allow full disclosure of deal making in that industry and encourage our elected Congressional representatives to demand reform at the national level. 

We can have openness, honesty, and a strong energy future with Constellation or anyone else.  These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

 

MORE – MOVIES NOW

OK, enough blah blah … what I want to know is when will these clouds go away?   I want sunshine. 

We saw the film Stop Loss the other day at Hunt Valley.   It was a powerful movie about the back door draft affecting the lives of so many American soldiers.  It was by directed by Kimberly Pierce, whose previous film was Boys Don’t Cry.   We went to a 5 PM show.  We were the only two people sitting in the theater.   I know Mondays at five may be a slow movie time but I think Americans don’t want to hear about this war.   So few of us know people who serve, who died there or who were wounded in battle.   What about you, do you know anyone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan?  After we saw the film I was thinking about my student’s brother who died in Iraq and another woman I know whose son was killed in Iraq.  This war makes me angry.

We also saw John Sayles’ Honeydripper at the Charles.    What superb acting, wonderful script, great music and uplifting.   God, it felt good to walk out of a movie smiling. 

And Thursday night, it is the Stones in Scorsese’s Shine a Light at The Senator.  I can’t wait.   Talk about feeling good.  I am afraid to tell you all that I saw my first Stones concert in the spring of ‘64 in Albany, New York.   I have been hooked ever since.  I was always more of Stones man than a Beatle boy.   Though I loved post 65 Beatles.   OK, too much information.

See you at the movies.

4/3/08 More on Iraq War

Yesterday in Washington DC, we interviewed Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, who co-produced the documentary on the Iraq War, Body of War.   The subject of the film is Thomas Young, an Iraq war veteran who was shot through his fourth vertebra and is paraplegic.  It is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen.  On Friday, we are going to interview Thomas Young.   Living with the injuries he sustained in that war tires him out, so, he could not join Donahue and Spiro when we interviewed them yesterday.  He graciously agreed to reschedule our interview and meet with us tomorrow morning.   Once we have that interview in the can, we will be producing an audio/videowebcast and public radio show on the Body of War.  It is coming soon.

This week I have been thinking a lot about the veterans of this Iraq war.  I watched Body of War three times preparing for our interviews with Phil Donahue and the others.  I have been talking with Josh Kors who exposed how the Department of Defense labeled over 20,000 veterans with “pre-existing conditions” so they could deny them millions of dollars in benefits.   And last Monday I gave a keynote address to veterans and those who work with disabled, addicted and homeless veterans.

On top of that, this week in Adbusters and Rolling Stone there were articles about the Iraq war’s Marlboro man, James Blake Miller.

 The photograph of him taken during the battle of Fallujah with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, eyes staring off, with blood and dirt on his face became the iconic image of the young, tough, swaggering American war hero.  He was a teenager then.  His image was used and abused to support the war and entice other young people to join up.  James Miller, who suffered severe PTSD, is now home in Kentucky, violent, angry, reflective and alone.  He refused to let his image or name be used to support Bush’s war. 

There are now over 4,000 American service people who have died in Iraq and almost 29,000 wounded or horribly maimed and crippled.    There are tens and tens of thousands more who were wounded in body and soul.  They estimate that up to 40% of returning vets will suffer from PSTD.  The National Guard, whose rate of PTSD is astronomical, gets few federal benefits.

Our advanced medical technology kept those 28,000 badly wounded service people alive.   If this were Vietnam, most of them would be dead.  Yet the system of medical care for our veterans is in worse shape now than it was forty years ago.  There is a scene in Body of War, when two veterans, one from the Iraq war and the other from the Vietnam war, both in wheelchairs, are talking.   The Viet vet said he was in the hospital for a year with his wounds and was taught how to care for himself.  The younger Iraqi war vet was in the hospital for only three months.

We went into this war without thinking about the consequences for Iraq, and for our veterans.  All this mayhem and blood spilled for what?!   For oil?  For strategic political hegemony? 

Yes, it was for oil.   Yes, it was a war to protect our oil interests and our allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.    We produced many shows on the lead to up to this war.  In that, we discovered Project for A New American Century, a think tank in Washington DC.   Papers written over a twenty year period by all the shining lights of the Bush administration (Abrams, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Libby, and others) lay it all out in clear detail why we need to invade Iraq: protect the oil and secure American political power in the Middle East.

So now the Bush administration has gotten us into this madness, we have to deal with our responsibility to Iraq, a nation we have torn asunder, and to our veterans.  We will be paying for the steep social and fiscal costs of this war for a generation, maybe more.

I don’t mean to rant or bring you all down, but when I meet and interview veterans of this war, and when I interview Iraqis here and in Iraq, I become so angry at what has been done to us.   Now, we as a people have to make it right.

-marc