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Willing recruit: a “grandmother for peace” at the Colonie Center Mall armed forces recruiting station.

photo:Teri Currie

Take Us Instead

Peace-activist grandmothers attempt to enlist in the military

‘I’ve led a full and reward- ing life; take me instead!” read a line from Barbara Cooley’s personal statement. She and about a dozen other grandmothers gathered in front of the military recruitment offices inside Colonie Center Mall at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, and tried to enlist in the armed forces.

“The young Americans who are returning home in coffins will never have a chance to pursue their dreams, to experience life and love,” said Trudy Quaif, another grandmother, in her statement. Some grandmothers wore big red heart-shaped signs around their necks, with pictures of their kids or grandkids, to emphasize their point. About 25 non-grandmother supporters sang songs like “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” A small number of people passing through the crowd as they exited the mall paused and looked amused, but did not stop to listen.

Valentine’s Day was the enlistment date of choice because the day represents love, and because of its custom of giving gifts to loved ones. Similar “Grannies for Peace” demonstrations were held in at least a dozen cities around the country, partially in support of the “Granny Jailbirds” from New York City who were arrested while attempting to enlist last fall.

The recruiters refused to speak with the grandmothers and remained inside their office. Mall security and Colonie Police were called, and the protest ended 20 minutes after it began. As Pat Beetle, a member of Peace Action, attempted to negotiate with the police, the group sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

However, the police were unwilling to compromise, and the group had decided ahead of time not to risk arrest, so they did move, to a Sears parking lot on the corner of Wolf Road and Central Avenue where much of the media were waiting because they had been prohibited from entering the mall.

There, the grandmothers read from their statements and explained their “take me instead” rationale. “You know, we’re not too threatening, we’re grandmothers,” said Maud Easter, 62, of Delmar. In her statement, she explains, “A deployment of grandmothers would bring wisdom and experience needed to negotiate immediately to end the illegal U.S. military occupation and begin effective United Nations-led diplomacy to redress the terrible destruction and conflict generated by the Bush administration.”

After 10 minutes in their new location, mall security and Colonie police told the grandmothers to leave the premises if they did not have the permission of the mall’s general manager.

—Katherine Lee

What a Week

Ending Where You Should Have Started

After carmaker General Motors suffered a $4.8 billion loss in the final quarter of 2005, cut more than 30,000 jobs, closed nine North American factories, froze pension payments and capped contributions to employee health-care plans, the company’s chief executive recently announced that he and other company executives would be making some “personal sacrifices.” The sacrifices include halving the chief executive’s $2.2 million salary (along with the salaries of other top executives) and giving up the bonuses the company’s executives had been scheduled to receive despite the massive losses.

Paid Invitation

Friends and associates of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff told the Los Angeles Times that when Malaysia wanted to mend ties with the United States in 2002, it got in contact with Abramoff. According to these sources, Abramoff bragged that he called Karl Rove and set up a meeting at the White House between then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and President Bush. (They also say Abramoff was fond of proclaiming “I’ll call Karl on that.”) Abramoff was paid $1.2 million for lobbying services rendered to Malaysia between 2001 and 2002. White House officials claim the meeting was arranged through “normal channels.”

Umm, We Knew That

In an attempt to protect its cultural heritage from patent attempts by multinational corporations, India has launched an ambitious online encyclopedia of everything from herbal remedies to yoga poses, culled from traditional texts. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is even employing software to translate information from ancient and medieval Indian languages. The TKDL was inspired by India’s successful fight in 1997 against a U.S. patent on turmeric’s wound-healing effect, which India’s chief of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research told the Christian Science Monitor “practically every Indian housewife knows and uses.”

Didn’t We Hear This About Rambo 3, Too?

Turkish theatergoers broke box-office records last week for Valley of the Wolves—Iraq, an action film featuring heroic Turkish soldiers fighting against a bloodthirsty, oppressive American occupation force (led by Billy Zane). The movie’s creators say the film isn’t anti-American, but rather a form of “group therapy” to deal with already-present attitudes.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Opponents of last year’s lame-duck Holland Avenue rezoning aim for legislative and legal relief

Little-used procedural moves and hours-long comment periods dominated by angry residents marked last December’s rezoning of a parcel on Holland Avenue in Albany [“A Little Highway in the City,” Newsfront, Dec. 8, 2005]. Neighborhood activists decried the rezoning from commercial office to highway commercial to accommodate a proposed Walgreens as spot zoning and said the move privileged one business owner at the expense of others.

One of the first official actions of incoming Councilwoman Cathy Fahey (Ward 7) has been to introduce legislation to reverse the zoning change.

Councilman James Scalzo (Ward 10), who championed the original proposal, said reversing the previous decision would send a bad message to the business community that they could face “double jeopardy” on zoning issues. Fahey responded that December’s decision was so “extraordinary” as to warrant an extraordinary response.

Louise McNeilly, president of the Delaware Area Neighborhood Association and one of the central organizers against the highway-commercial designation, added that she agreed that zoning should not swing back and forth or be unpredictable. But, she said, that is exactly why December’s change, which was possibly illegal spot zoning for the benefit of one owner, should be nullified. “It’s just bringing it back into compliance.”

Nonetheless, the newly formed group Citizens for Responsible Zoning may well have to fall back on their threatened strategy of a lawsuit. In a petition filed on Feb. 6, Picotte Companies, the owners of the Holland Avenue parcel, invoked the state’s General City Law Section 83(2)(a), which requires three-quarters of a municipal body to approve any zoning change that is the subject of a written protest by the owners of more than 20 percent of the land in question.

CRZ has hired lawyers Joshua Sabo and Lawrence Howard to file an Article 78 proceeding against the city for illegal spot zoning, and are busily fund-raising to cover the cost of the lawsuit. McNeilly said that the negative effects of the zoning change are already being felt, as other business owners have come to the neighborhood association saying they think they should get zoning changes as well, rather than the more appropriate use variances.

Meanwhile, speculation on the motives for the council’s actions in December continues to spread through the neighborhoods. Dan Van Riper of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association noted that two letters have surfaced that indicate that the mayor and his corporation counsel may have been working quite closely with the developers of the Holland Avenue plot.

The first letter is from the developer’s lawyer, Peter Lynch, to assistant corporation counsel Patrick Jordon on Dec. 2, 2005. It advises Jordon about the legality of changing the order of business in order to get the zoning change through in one meeting. The other is from Jordan to Scalzo on Dec. 5, and outlines the proper procedure for passing an ordinance whose sponsor has not brought it for a vote, the method Scalzo followed to the letter when then-Councilwoman Shawn Morris tried to hold the ordinance until January.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

On the mic: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

photo:Chet Gordon

Democracy Now!, Now

Fight to get WAMC to carry national progressive news program leaves those on both sides feeling ill-used

Alan Chartock, the president of local public-radio station WAMC, isn’t in the habit of ripping up donations to his station’s fund drives—and certainly not when the station is involved in one of its most ambitious fund-raising efforts to date. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what listeners heard him do during the station’s recent fund-drive broadcast.

Why the rejection? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

“I made it clear that I didn’t want anyone calling in and saying they would only give money if we did something for them,” said Chartock during a recent interview. “Some people got very angry about this,” he continued, “but we don’t let anybody take over the radio station.”

While this year’s fund drive set a variety of records, it wasn’t all sunshine and dollar signs for the National Public Radio affiliate, thanks to a small group of media activists who made their presence known throughout the event.

“We wanted to try and have a more organized impact on the fund drive this year,” said Andi Novick, founder of Northeast Citizens for Responsible Media.

And that they did, peppering this year’s fund drive with letters and phone calls aimed at achieving one of the young group’s first goals: convincing the station to add the award-winning news program Democracy Now! to its broadcast schedule.

“Maybe if people heard real, independent journalism, it would wake them up from the box they’ve been thinking in for so long,” said Novick, explaining why her group is pushing for the New York City-based show to become a part of the WAMC broadcast schedule.

Hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! is an independent, nationally-broadcast news program that has become one of the top-rated shows among progressive listeners, especially activists. The Web site for the program includes advice on how to convince your local television or radio media to begin broadcasting the program.

“Some stations pick it up after being called by one person, while other stations, for whatever reason, are a bit more resistant,” said Denis Moynihan, outreach director for Democracy Now!

According to Moynihan, a growing lack of faith in both the government and the mainstream media has led many people to seek changes in the status quo—even, in some cases, with the media they’ve trusted and relied upon for years.

“They may have been satisfied with the offerings of public broadcasting in the past, but now they’re not,” he said. “With some public broadcasters running like private corporations, it can feel like there isn’t much of a way for the public to participate.”

But Chartock argued that by ripping up the contingent-on-programming donations, he’s actually affirming his station’s status as a voice of the public and avoiding the quid-pro-quo arrangement most corporate media have with advertisers.

Chartock added that he doesn’t have a problem with Democracy Now!, but is hesitant to put the program on because it’s already broadcast by WRPI, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s radio station, and on several local television channels. Anyone in the WAMC listening area who can’t tune in to the show via one of those media can always just listen via the Internet, he noted.

“If we were blocking people from hearing it, there would be reason for an argument,” he said, “but since everyone can hear it anyway, there’s no real reason for argument.”

And, he added, if WAMC decided to add Democracy Now! to its broadcast schedule, it would come at the expense of local programming.

While Novick acknowledged that Democracy Now! could indeed be tuned in via the Internet in areas where the WRPI signal doesn’t reach (like her home in Rhinebeck), she disagreed with the rationale in disqualifying the program on WAMC.

“You can stream the [National Security Administration] hearings on the Internet, too,” she said, “but that didn’t stop WAMC from broadcasting them.”

Yet, stripped of political and economic posturing, the controversy might just come down to a matter of bruised egos and rock-meets-hard-place interactions. Among WAMC’s fund-drive volunteers, stories abound of aggressive, angry calls from frustrated supporters of the Democracy Now! campaign. “I don’t like it when people start calling names,” said Chartock. “One letter we received said my mother must have raised me badly.”

While Novick admits that the experience has been frustrating for members of her group, she said she’s never condoned taking such an approach with the station.

Conversely, the people pushing for WAMC to add the news program—many of them longtime financial contributors to WAMC—said they were taken aback by the cold response (if any) they received once they took an interest in what would be done with their money.

While Chartock agreed to meet with Novick and her fellow activists at some point in the near future, he said the results of the recent fund drive are proof enough that WAMC has the approval of the public. And, with more than $700,000 in donations this time around, the station can afford to reject a donation or two.

—Rick Marshall



“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends
The Union Street Bed & Breakfast in Schenectady, which has come under fire by some neighbors because its owner hosts swinger parties on the premises [“Ack! Sex! With Strangers!,” Between the Lines, Feb. 9], was the target of undercover operations by Schenectady police last year, the Times Union has reported. Bob Alexson, the B&B owner, told the TU that people he believes were undercover cops offered to pay for sex, but he always refused. The city said the investigation is considered dormant. Opponents of the B&B’s parties have also argued that a classified ad Alexson ran for a few weeks this winter in Metroland’’s adult ad section shows that he was running an “escort service.” The ad, titled “Adult Fantasies,” sought “male and female models for domination and fetishes” and gave the B&B’s phone number. It did not mention pay or escorts, and Alexson says none of the respondents were paid. He said he had been seeking people to help party regulars fulfill particular fantasies, and that the ad would no longer be running.

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