Sunday, April 7, 2019

Report back from the California Progressive Alliance

The last weekend in March I attended the California Progressive Alliance foundation conference. 
By paying $5 a month dues, I have been a member from the beginning.  109 members were present to vote at this conference held in San Luis Obispo with about 300 people in attendance over the weekend.  There were a number of Our Revolution Berniecrats, DSA and “progressive” Democrats along with a significant number of Greens from across the state among those present.    We had guest speakers, proposals, by laws and all that kind of good stuff on the agenda.
I am suggesting that Greens join the progressive alliance as individual members, who are the only members with a vote, and that the State Greens and local County Green chapters sign on as supporting organizations, which for the moment, don’t have much of a roll.
There are some aspects of this alliance that give me pause and there are some serious drawbacks to what we have so far, but despite that I suggest we engage the process for four reasons:
1, There is a strong potential to advance inside state government some of the agenda and values that we as Greens hold and have been working on for decades.
2, This could help us form local alliances to do the same in our city and county governments contesting local elections with a platform and a slate of candidates as the Richmond Progressive Alliance initiated.  
3, There is a politically inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and none of the people involved are dissolving their organization affiliations or asking others to do so. 
4, We Greens have a lot to offer in making this alliance successful.  I will go into this more in depth in my conclusion. 
The upsides: 
·        The fact that this has been happening AT ALL is a sea change in California politics.  Here we are seeing the short term after effects of Occupy and the Bernie Sanders phenomena and the long-term examples of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and other local efforts turning into some kind of systematic action.
·        The atmosphere is welcoming, inclusive and pluralistic.  (I said that, it is worth repeating)
·        This alliance has attracted to it many individuals with practical personal experiences.  We have former candidates, former office holders and current office holders along with many others who have participated in movements that have obtained changes in regulations and laws. 
One of the people who spoke was Matt Gonzales.  He had some very important practical proposals including the need for some kind of think tank to develop progressive draft legislation and ordnances that would give progressive elected officials an advance start on implementing our ideas.  This is the kind of practical proposals that many participants offered.
·        The positions taken set us out on a good course.  Especially important was the no-corporate-money commitment and the opposition to the corporate takeover of government.  There were other great positions taken on health care, war, economic development, protecting our public schools and other items that really matter.  The political direction of this alliance is clear, and for those who remain Democrats, they have a family problem, but the progressive left would have no problem with the endorsed platform.  For those of us akin to myself, who are socialists, this is a reform agenda, and not explicitly a socialist agenda, but these are the simple reforms that our reactionary affluent class resists and that the people really need in their day to day lives.
The downsides: 
·        This was an event heavily over representative of elder white men, including myself. (at 61, I qualify).  A group of people of color held a meeting to discuss this and the related boorishness of a lot of the speakers along with some inappropriate sexual behavior. I personally, as a working-class person who is quite outspoken, felt that this event was heavily weighted towards the highly college educated, many of whom, men and women, white and of color, were not listening, but just ready to pontificate about their pet projects and personal ideas.  When I listened to the concerns of the people of color, I felt that they were totally justified and in keeping with what I had seen myself.  I also wonder how the younger people there felt.  There certainly were a few people well under 25 and I was glad to see and listen to them.  I hope that they felt listened to and welcomed to lead as well as join in.  
We should not under emphasize this problem, it cuts across most left political movements in our nation and certainly the Greens have much of the same problems internally.  A woman of color put forward a code of conduct that was adopted, but she personally decided not to continue because of a man present who was the cause of her “me too” experience. 
If we are going to build a state-wide alliance to advance a people’s agenda of environmental sanity, economic equity and well being and social justice, we need to learn and get past various forms of elitism, racism and sexism inside our movement to make everyone welcome as leaders and valued contributors. 
·        And if we are going to do it in California, we have to speak Spanish. 
This convention did not in any way, shape or form.
 
·        There were also some serious process errors that reflect our individual based, self-appointed politics.  We in the US do not do organizations well, especially membership organizations that are transparent and accountable to the members. Between the Democrats and the non-profits, where would we learn that? Some of our unions are good, others have staff that shepherds the members. This group needs to improve our process. 
·        The next time a California Progressive Alliance meeting is held, I would like to see us voting members consulted ahead of time as to WHAT is on the agenda before putting out draft proposals.  Those draft proposals need to be provided long enough in advance to allow for research, amendments and counter proposals. 
·        Part of the problem of not having time to work on proposals is that the hand-to-mouth quick solution is to support the official Democrats at whatever they are doing.  Some attendees seemed to assume that everyone was a Democrat and that the internal Democrat agenda was THE agenda.  When discussed in the Green New Deal group, that was not what people there decided. 
·        The danger of this Alliance becoming manipulated is large.  The mainstream Democrats are good a lip service, empty token symbolism and making themselves look like they support what the do not.  When the Alliance gets popular, the opportunistic careerists will want photo ops.
·        And frankly, overloading the agenda and then cutting short discussion because we do not have the time is a mistake.  If we don’t have time to discuss things, then we should not vote on them.  Time would have been better spent working on our new platform, by-laws and the election of the steering committee.  Some of the support items could have been referred to that steering committee for more in-depth consideration and deliberation and I think that they would have done a better job than we did as a convention.  It would have been better to delegate that to our leadership and trust them to decide.
A few people spoke to this de facto lack of democratic process and I would ask the leadership to show more attention to those concerns.  “Asking the proposer if they accept an amendment” is not empowering. Real democracy is about having a choice, not a managed choice. 
One item on the long list of 17 documents that shows the shortcomings of last-minute proposals that we don’t have time to discuss, was support for a pollical party’s reelection in Barcelona.  I follow the news closely and am probably one of the few people in that room that had even heard of them before. I also speak Spanish and have a friend in Barcelona.  I like them but I have serious concerns about taking sides in anyone’s internal affairs.  That was not talked about.  And things like keeping our own government from taking action to overthrow the government of Venezuela was not on the list.
A proposal was made to do some kind of racial sensitivity training as part of our meetings and to have some kind of resources for those who feel cut out or mistreated.  I feel that this is a good idea. I would like to see that idea expanded to include young people, Spanish speakers and working-class folk. 
These problems of inclusiveness, language use and process can all be overcome, but it will not just happen by itself.  The proposals made need to be put into action to expand this movement.
There are other challenges.
The ideas need to be more flushed out. 
Personally, I put myself out there for the education plank and the “Green New Deal”.  Neither of which had much of a description.  There is good news on both counts.  As a writer, I volunteered to write some drafts to begin discussions.  A Green New Deal action committee formed and had a long and productive talk and we will be meeting by phone conference call once a month.  There is a good mix of backgrounds and ages in that group.  An education group did not meet, I think for lack of time and resources given that the people of color and other discussions were taking place at the same time.  But a couple of us did talk, and there too we are going to start up a more in-depth proposal. 
Hopefully by next convention the different groups will all have something to contribute with time enough for the members to review and time enough for discussion at the meeting before voting. 
Another challenge is: “Who is going to do all this work?”
Obviously, this cannot remain an all-volunteer organization if it is going to be effective.  Gayle may not want to be paid to chair the steering committee, and I hope she has the time and resources to work on this for free.  I suggest that the position include funding for the individual holding it. Sooner or later we need some other staff for fundraising, on-line presence, scheduling and organizing, travel, regional meetings, the next convention and so on. The group needs to raise funds, not a lot, but some. We Greens also suffer from the lack of a paid, full time, state organizer and fund raiser. 
Finally, there is a question about us participating as Greens. 
We certainly have seen many a liberal Democrat drift away over the years.  One of the things we Greens have to offer is a lot of experience.  With that experience we can ask for practice, policies and funding that are based on policy and do not depend on an elected official to be some kind of hero. 
We Greens have also worked on the issues a lot.  In the school districts, the city governments, the unions and out in the economy, there are active Greens skilled in all kinds of governmental policies. 
As usual, there were a number of Greens present, probably as many as many other groups, and as usual one would not know it.  Mike Feinstein said he counted Greens from Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
The good side of that is that we are not hucksters always flogging our brand, the bad side of that is one could walk away thinking that the Greens were not there.  I think we Greens should coordinate a bit more, be a bit more visible, but keep on our good practice of being honest contributors who roll up our sleeves and help make things work. 
As a political party, we Greens also have the advantage of a lot of experience of taking progressive ideas to the street through our grass roots election campaigns.  I would like to see more of our former candidates involved in the California Progressive Alliance to help keep it grounded and focused on public outreach.
And we are the GREEN party.  There is no small number of environmental biologists, farmers, firefighters, builders and other skilled people in our party to help develop the environmental alternative practices that are so needed in these critical times. 
So, I am suggesting that we go in and try to make this potentially effective project work and at the same time keep our eyes open to the pitfalls and possible problems that we would work to avoid. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

California at the water’s edge


For Californians, being at the water’s edge is akin to standing at the edge of a cliff.  One needs to back away slowly, making sure you are holding your child’s hand and avoid standing where the cliff is crumbling away. 
About twice a year I write a rant that has to do with water use and land management. 
Once when it burns. 
The other time when it floods. 
So, while Oakland teachers were on strike, Trump officials were before the committee or a sentencing judge and suspect aircraft were on the ground, Guerneville and the surrounding area was once again underwater. 
This is nothing new there or in many places around California. Floods hit regularly in places as urban as San Anselmo and as wild as the South Fork of the Eel River where residents love to place signs way up on polls to show the 1964 high water mark. 
The floods and fires are both natural.
The severity of both is a product of bad land management. 
And bad water management.
Forestry experts, environmental biologists and experts in related fields have been telling us for over two generations that we should learn from the practices of the older, native cultures here and preserve creek beds and set small managerial fires at specific times. 
Keeping brush and forest coverage around the water ways, big and small, is the key to having a healthy watershed.  This keeps top soil from washing away, provides natural fire breaks, allows more water to seep back down to the aquifer and softens the blow from heavy rains. 
A healthy stream is clear water and we all know it.  A healthy watershed gives us healthy streams that flow long after the rain stops. 
Watersheds composed mostly of fields, pastures and parking lots are the exact opposite of that.  The fires burn right past where cows have been allowed to graze to the muddy edge of the ruined creek beds and across our structures and the rain runs off them as if it were a tin roof.  Not only was the water high on the Russian River, it was brown with washed away soil. 
And it is no laughing matter.  Homes and lives were lost in Guerneville, Paradise, Santa Rosa, Ventura and places I don’t know, all in recent times.  I keep having a reason to write the same things. 
There is no way that we can go back to the system of land management that the Yurok and Ohlone peoples had because there are too many of us and too much has changed.  But we can go back to the wisdom behind those ways of life and blend it with what we know as a society that practices industrial engineering and claims to follow the evidence before our own eyes.  Once called science. 
We need to start a sophisticated reforesting effort and we need to start yesterday.
And when we think of reforesting, we need to see beyond trees and think about the whole web of life that thrives in our environment.  Reforesting is a community of plants and animals that survive the burns and absorb the rains.  When we reforest, we need to think of exactly where we reforest and how that relates to fire and flood. 
We also need to make our planning contemplate the extremes.  There never was a California normal, just an average between wide swings.  Nature was already full of big highs and lows out here down wind of the Niño and jet stream effects.  We will always see times of drought and high water and need to make that the measure of our “normal”.  With climate change, we know that we need to expect those swings to become wider and the results more unpredictable than they are already. 
We need to carefully back away from the water’s edge and get out of the way of fire.
And we need to back away from the environmental cliff edge that we built for ourselves with over a century of playing God with water channels and fighting fires we should have let burn.  Those high-water marks on the Eel river reached that high because of aggressive and indiscriminate lumbar cutting. There are parts of California where the fires burned so hot that little survived because we fought fires and did not replant a full spectrum of fire ecology trees and scrub and did not do controlled burns. 
There are places in our state that look like the surface of the moon they were scorched so bad.  The Eel river never recovered from its messed-up watershed and in most places a person can walk across it, most of the time. 
In other words, leaving it alone and letting nature come back is not a realistic option unless you want to allow enough time for us humans to die out. 
We need to be part of a healing process for our environment. 
No part of an aggressive reforestation program will keep us from having fires because we live in a set of natural fire ecology biomes. No part of reforestation will provide more water, at best it would provide fire breaks and clean up the water ways while moderating the flows. 
If we are going to fully bring back our rivers to the point that we can have the salmon run again, some of the water we divert from one river to another needs to be left where it was. 
But there is another source of water that we mostly ignore.
We are flushing it down the toilet. 
Yep, our sewage is a resource we can reclaim.  How?  Two parts, first is to stop the use of cleaners and chemicals that turn it into poison, and second, it to pump it back uphill and treat it there with natural methods.  Most people do not know this, but California has pioneered the use of artificial wetlands and sewage treatment.  Arcata has a working model. 
Obviously to make such ideas real, we need to spend a lot of public money and think of environmental restoration and stability as an infrastructure project, as essential to a modern society as freeways. 
And we need to act fast.  The situation is already a series of disasters.  Real improvement over a short decade or two requires an aggressive plan.  To put all the parts together, I offer this proposal: 


The California Integrated Land and Water Management Plan.
This plan would be a combination of pubic works and state land management codes.
Reforest the watersheds.
·        Set aside a zone of at least five times the waterway width at the ten-year high-water mark to be reforestation reserve, independent of ownership.  Ownership need not change.  Inside that zone, we need to conserve the natural tree and brush, or replant it if the land has been cleared. 
·        The reforestation of the watershed would apply to all identifiable stream beds, even the seasonal ones, up to the top of the watershed.  The set aside land would never be smaller than 10 meters either side of the waterway. 
·        If the adjacent land is in agricultural or pastoral use, a supplemental margin of land equal to the natural set aside, will be zoned for orchards, lumbar or other soil stabilizing agriculture. 
·        If the adjacent land outside of the land zoned for orchards is for grazing, there must be a solid fenced barrier to keep livestock out. 
·        Land that is suffering exposed soil erosion needs to be fenced off and have a soil stabilizing cover planted, commercial or nature reserve, or both. 
·        In lands that were private and are becoming natural reserve, develop a system of recreational use for the owners to use for themselves or to let out as tourism properties.  Homes already built inside such areas would have public support to upgrade and modify to have less or no negative impact on the watershed or reforestation.
·        New buildings inside private watershed reserve areas would have to be built to an environmentally friendly code.  The state would help build environmentally friendly access, bike paths, raised walk ways etc. to make these areas accessible for recreational use. 
Forest and Agricultural Land Management.
·        The state would have a schedule of small, local, controlled burns in areas that are ready. 
·        State law would prohibit wide pastures or fields of dried grass or other monoculture fire hazards.  There would be an obligation to cut and mulch. 
·        Areas that are not prepared for controlled burns need to be restored.  This could take the form or removing, or mulching on site, the dead trees from disease and drought and undoing the biodiversity damage that a century of fire fighting and monoculture tree planting has caused. 
·        The restoration of forestry lands will prioritize biological diversity and stability, fire and watershed management and the retention of bio-mass. 
·        Tree farming practices will be introduced and land dedicated to planting lumber farms where it can be the most sustainable and productive.  We will intentionally have farms dedicated to growing lumber in a way that does not allow for a major fire. 
Develop a sustainable water use cycle
·        Limit water extraction to what allows for healthy rivers and fish stocks and do not take water out of the aquifer faster than it can be returned. 
·        Set aside absorption areas to replenish the watersheds and aquifers. 
·        Regulate the chemicals that go into the residential and agricultural waters.
·        Physically separate “grey” water from sewage and agricultural run-off.
·        Pump all residential waste water, including drains, to reclaim facilities strategically located uphill in the various watersheds of the state.  Process grey water and sewage separately.
·        Start a multi-step reclamation process using this waste water to grow fiber for paper, lumbar (the tree farms) and other agricultural products that are no part of the food chain. 
·        In a second step, runoff from the first sewage treatment would then go into the environment in reserve forests or controlled wetlands in a way that it would be naturally cleaned before joining back to the watershed or aquifer. 
·        Treat agricultural run off with artificial wetlands and reserve land allowing the treated water to go back to the watershed and aquifers. 
Fire Management
·        State code would regulate fire resilient building codes that local law could not override. 
These codes would include:
o   Ceramic roofing
o   Nonflammable siding
o   Fire break landscaping around residential areas
·        Environmental buffer zones between urban and rural areas
·        A retrofit program to bring existing structures to a higher fire resilient status.
·        A system of emergency water sprinklers around all housing in fire danger areas
·        A full-time fire force that works on land management between dry seasons and manages the controlled burns during dry seasons. 
·        A strict enforcement of the fire control measures indicated in the state land management plan. 

Over the years I have made this proposal in different forms.  Sometimes with more details and sometimes with less.  I am sure that people who actually work in the related fields would do a much better job than I am doing.  Some of what I am proposing is probably wrong.  Something else important is probably left out. 
I write this because I want to provoke the discussion. 
We need such a law and we need such a plan.  If not this one, then a better one. 
And I dedicate this version of my bi-annual rant to my good friend who lost his home, his daughters home and a lifetime of their possessions in Paradise.  They were grateful to get out with their lives and we all are respectful of those who did not. 
And I think of my friend in Ventura watching the landscaping burn around the oil wells near her home or my friend who tells me that his old Guerneville neighborhood was an island for a few days and the whole thing just feels personal.
Another friend tells me that the only reason he had a hospital to work at after the Santa Rosa fire, was because heroic staff went to the roof to stamp out the blowing cinders and keep them from lighting the roof on fire.  Yep, a hospital with a flammable roof in a state that is mostly fire zone.
And a couple times every year I visit the South Fork of the Eel river, long after anyone remembers that I once lived there, and I see those high-water marks way up over my head in the middle of a small town.  And I walk the rocky ruins of the depleted river, and feel that we all must do something. 
It is already late. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

We fight, we win! Win what?

Now that the seven-day Oakland teachers’ strike is over my son has gone back to his high school and the local parent-teacher’s association list serve it telling us what we can do with the wooden sticks that had been used for picket signs. 
The union leadership has been on the air and on line claiming a victory. 
The district management tells a story where everything is back to normal, nothing to see here. 
And on line, there is grumbling.  Only about 60% ratified the contract in a vote that had lower turn out and a lower margin than the strike vote. 
Why the grumbling? 
Let’s start with the money.  What the teachers were asking for was not that much to being with.  They wanted 12% over the next 3 years, and about 4% back over the year and a half that they had worked without a contract.  Given the local cost of living inflation, driven by ever higher rents, the union proposal was just barely above breaking even, maybe. 
What they got was a 3% ratification raise and 11% over 4 years.
Not bad for collective bargaining, not great for paying rent if you teach. 
But that is only some of the dissatisfaction.  There were more issues on the table of importance to the teachers and the public in general. 
They were:
·        the loss of funding and real estate to a charter movement running roughshod over our public schools,
·        distrust in the district's financial reporting,
·        school closures and
·        the high cost of upper school management. 
The group of school officials who stood in front of the press to give us their version of the settlement probably cost the public over a million a year, and back in their offices are many more like them. 
So, let’s step back and take a look at the bigger picture. 
This settlement is a big win GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. 
Circumstance number one is that the majority of the school board members are friends of Great Oakland Public Schools (called GO and GO Advocates for the PAC).  Despite the name, they are really advocates of a school choice and charter version of our school district making our education system Balkanized at best.  In practice, many privileged people in Oakland send their kids to either a preferred school or a charter and some of our schools are being allowed to fail based on some sociopathic Social Darwinism ideas and practices.  And of course, working class students, especially working class students of color, are getting the short end of the charter movement stick. 
This fact, Circumstance One, casts a shadow and influences every other aspect of our local problems. 
Closing schools?  That publicly owned real-estate suddenly becomes available.  The charters and the developers are first in line for the ugly land grab, and in the Bay Area, anything to do with real estate development, acquisition or use has become very ugly.
High priced staff?  An amazing percentage of our high price staff and superintendents of recent years comes from that same GO charter movement.  Every voter in Oakland should know the name of Eli Broad and know about his academy where he trains administrators to “reform” school districts according to this privet business model.  All kinds of people kicking around GO and the OUSD have this kind of “training”.  If we just fired them, we could have our libraries staffed. 
And one could go on and on about GO and its deceptive antics in our local schools, and I often do talk about these corporate raiders, but let’s step back and look at a bigger issue still.
All across our nation, schools are not getting the resources that they need.  Not the K-12, not the trade schools, not the Junior Colleges and not the state university systems. 
Why? 
Because rich people have decided to stop paying taxes.
In California we have our property tax “reform” called Prop 13, which is something of a scam, and the state Democrats do not have the backbone to either straighten it out, or simply stop taxing real estate just for value and find some other, more equitable way to raise money.  In any case, they have not raised taxes where money is being made and they have not provided an alternative way to fund schools, libraries, parks, health centers, the arts, youth activities or much of anything that serves the greater public. 
The long and short of it is lower taxes on the rich translates to austerity in public services. 
Some people think that this is too big a problem to fix.  Somehow, we should do some more minor, practical thing first, and…. well I have good reasons not to be a Democrat.  Let’s just note that currently the Dems hold both houses of the state legislature and the governorship and have appointed most of our state court justices, yet somehow, they are not able to submit some kind of comprehensive tax and equalization system to the voters? 
The Republicans had no such self-limiting hesitations when they pushed their anti-social shift of taxes from the rich to the middle and lower classes.  They still talk BS about Prop 13 as if it saved us somehow and the Trump tax cut as if it was the engine of our economy. 
So, thinking about how we live in a time when public spending is always leaving our basic needs begging and the politics does not really support the “public” in public schools, what the Oakland Education Association got as a settlement is not bad indeed. 
They got more money than was offered.
The got some movement on class size and made it a bargaining item. 
And they got the school board to hold off on school closure decisions and commit to hold a vote on a charter moratorium.  (a vote of the board, not the people of Oakland) District staff tried to say that those items were not subject to collective bargaining, but they were and the union got a small step. 
State wide, this strike and the one in Los Angeles just before it has made a shift in the public discourse.  The state Dems might want to pass the buck on school spending back to the property tax deprived counties and cities, but the public wants state action and some has come forward.  It is not enough money and some of the motives have nothing to do with teachers’ strikes, but there is motion after a long period of neglect and throwing up their hands at the dreaded Prop 13. 
And locally something great happened. The public came out in support of their teachers. 
Here in Oakland we had solid student and parent presence on picket lines and among the general public there is a consensus that they need higher pay, much higher than 11% over 4 years. 
And after many years of not getting the attention from the public and press that it deserved, this walking scandal of a trojan horse school board is getting some scrutiny. 
On the fist day after the strike, the school board met to vote even more questionable budget cuts and try to qualify for a dubious state assistance under law 1840.  Hundreds of parents were there to complain, as were hundreds of students who skipped their freshly re-opened schools to be at the meeting and demand to be heard. 
The board did not listen, but the greater involvement of the public can only be a step towards a better group of decision makers getting elected next year. Then maybe we get the long overdue independent forensic audit we need BEFOR deciding what needs to be cut or closed. 
I would call all of those things a partial win, all things considered.
The state Dems have already come up with a deflective half measure that they are calling a “start”.  If we had a dollar for every one of their first steps never followed by a second step, we could fully fund the schools.  This time it is some kind of lame law to make the charters “more transparent”
What we really need is real district control over district charters. What we have now is private or nonprofit schools operating with public money on public real estate.

A real public-school charter:
·        can be denied
·        is subject to oversight
·        accepts registered public-school students assigned to it.
·        participates in district programs.
·        has public dispute resolution.
·        Hires union member staff.

There is lots of room for experimentation and different types of school. That is what a real charter could be. What we have is not that. What we have is people opting out and taking public resources with them. A lot of them are not professionals. They run these "charters" like startups, and akin to a small business, many fail. Then the students come back to the normal schools who have the obligation to take all students who register.

These fake charters need to either come back and become public schools, or just go off and be private schools that pay their own way as other private school already do.
And all the schools need more funding, probably about double what they get now.
And to do that, the rich need to go back to paying taxes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Why Oakland Teachers Might Be Next to Strike


Why Oakland Teachers Might Be Next to Strike
More than 80 percent of teachers have cast a ballot — the highest turnout in the union’s history — and 95 percent have voted to authorize a strike.


https://progressive.org/public-school-shakedown/why-oakland-teachers-might-be-next-to-strike-macleay-190205/

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Say it ain't so Nicaragua

To read some of the “analysis” of the left one would think that the recent uprisings in Nicaragua are all a part of a well-orchestrated campaign from the same old enemies that the Frente Sandinista had during the 1980’s and the ones that the Left has in the region since way before that.  Those right-wing actors sure are still busy and it is easy to look at their fingerprints on other Latin American internal affairs, especially in Venezuela. 
Are events in Nicaragua another CIA plot? 
NO, but the CIA is trying to shape events and always has.
Understanding Nicaragua today is sort of like being involved in a family break up that involves a lot of denial.  Just as one’s ex will downplay that part where a fist was slammed on the table and a door was slammed during a stomp off, many on the left are looking for all kinds of reasons not to believe that the government of Daniel Ortega is the source of its own problems. 
There are two major denial arguments:
1 THE GRAND ANALYSIS.  This is where someone lectures us on the history of US intervention in Latin America and tells us what the US actions have been in Venezuela, Honduras, Paraguay (if they are sharp) and we get some kind of discussion of the Contra War.  We are told that today’s events MUST be seen mostly, or only, in this context, but then are offered few facts to establish how relevant the overall context is to current events in Managua.    This big picture is a great thing to keep in mind, but the arguments are usually presented backwards going over what the CIA has done, and likes to do and then rationalizing that this somehow proves that this is what is going on in Nicaragua today. 
2 CAUGHT IN THE ACT. This is where some statement from somebody, such as someone stumping for the National Endowment for Democracy (sort of the CIA’s 501c3) either claims credit they do not fully deserve or puts forward some of their own protégé’s as “representatives of the opposition”.  As Americans we should have no trouble spotting a non profit over stating their accomplishments. 
There are hard facts and good points in both of these arguments and behind them lies part of the truth of the current crisis in Managua, but only part.  As someone who worked for the Nicaraguan government in rural development in the 1980’s and who fought in the Contra War, I have a lot of suspicion of my own aimed at the CIA and most anything that any part of the US government or it’s wealthy right wing friends do in Latin America, especially when they open their mouths and tarnish the word “democracy”. 
There is no doubt that many political operations funded by the US government and its right-wing friends have never stopped being active in Nicaragua and have cultivated and sponsored many of the people emerging today as youth or opposition leaders. 
To think of the US role in Latin America as anything other than imperialist is delusion. 
But Daniel Ortega and today’s Frente Sandinista has it’s own inconvenient truths. 
It is an avoidance of certain facts on the ground to call what is happening there today mainly the result of some kind of grand CIA plot and therefore dismiss the demands of this uprising against Daniel Ortega, his family and cronies, and what the Frente Sandinista has become today.
So let’s stick to some facts on the ground and not think about what we think it must be because of our understanding of the larger political context and look at what we know for sure. 
The first inconvenient truth for the Sandinistas, is that they are not the same Sandinistas. 
The current Daniel Ortega government started when he was elected president in 2007.  Not only did Daniel’s politics change during the 17 years that the FSLN was out of power, the structure of the FSLN changed too.  It has the name, but it does not have a solid claim on the revolutionary legacy that it uses as political capital inside and outside of Nicaragua. 
The policy change is much more than their pro Catholic anti abortion law that took away a Nicaraguan woman’s right to choose.  During his 17 years in the opposition wilderness, the ‘new’ Danielista Sandinistas made a pact with the right wing Liberal Party president Aleman that was accommodating impunity to corruption prosecutions and also became the neo Liberal’s best friend falling in line with international (including US) finance and making common cause with the equivalent of the local chamber of commerce called COSEP in employment, tax and austerity policies. 
The Liberals, COSEP and the US State Department did not have a problem with authoritarian Daniel for a long time before these protests.  It is more they who have changed policies, not Danielismo. 
So for those who want to blame the US for the resistance to the Ortega government I ask “why?”.  The US already had a neo liberal, authoritarian strong man to keep the unions and farmers from resisting austerity and globalization in Daniel.  Why switch? 
When the outgoing FSLN government made a property grab on their way out of power in 1990, many many many long standing FSLN members quit the party.  Then the FSLN held internal elections making Daniel the party leader.                              
During the entire revolution and the revolutionary government period, Daniel did not have such power, he was part of a committee leadership group.  Almost all of the surviving members of that group, including Daniel’s own brother, are no longer in the FSLN and do not support his current government. 
There is an organized Sandinista Renewal Movement as an ineffective split off party, so not even all organized Sandinistas are in the Frente Sandinista.  Many other former Sandinista revolutionaries are very vocal public critics of “Danielismo”.
The Ortega government has become progressively more oppressive and repressive during the 11 years since he was elected.  The evidence for this has been documented far and wide with some of the primary investigators having close links to the 1979 revolution and first Sandinista government.  The reports of human rights groups from inside of Nicaragua have been confirmed by international human rights groups.  These are groups that often bite the CIA’s tail and call the United States out for their crimes in other parts of the world.   
The Ortega administration actions range from threats against the employment of critics and their family members to threats and actions of personal injury.  Such tactics as false legal accusations have been documented.  Critics and opponents have been vilified in the press in such a way that their personal safety is in danger from the public that believes the stories.  Attacks on protests and individual protestors became more and more common.  The pro Sandinista counter protest groups called “turbas” came back, not as counter protestors, but more like goon squads.
There has also been a series of different types of corruption under this government.  Here it is hard to tell who is who, what is the truth and what are the rumors.  There have been all kinds of land takeovers and accusations of land takeovers.  Many “Sandinistas” are obviously very wealthy and are publicly involved in a lot of investment schemes related to government activities. 
Easier to track is the very public stacking of the courts and strategic placement of pro Daniel appointees in key electoral monitoring positions, leadership in the army and police etc.  The second consecutive Ortega reelection is of dubious constitutional legality and even more dubious fairness.  They claim 72% and nobody wants to discuss the record low voter turnout.  Daniel was elected in 07 by a plurality, not a majority, and to be reelected a second time 8 years later with his wife as vice president and many of the other parties crying foul does not live up to the mandate that he currently claims.  Many observers consider that Daniel and Rosario got rid of any serious opposition before the vote was held. 
I was in Nicaragua just as the protests started.  The criticisms of the pension reforms had more to do with wondering where the money had gone than the reform itself.  There was much talk of Daniel’s son being involved in investing social security funds in a mixed economy real estate project that he was involved in.   There had been a recent uncontrolled fire in the Indeo Mais nature reserve. There too the question was less about the incompetence protecting this land and more about suspicions that burned forests were being handed over to agribusiness, friends of the government.  Similar accusations abound around the now bankrupted canal project.  There is no canal, but the companies still took the land concessions.   
For many Nicaraguans, this government lacks basic trustworthiness.
To argue about the pension reforms on the basis of the actual proposal is to miss the point.  But that is often exactly what those who want to blame the whole crisis on the US try to do. 
All by itself, the current version of the Frente Sandinista has earned itself a lot of popular distrust and disgust.  That last election seemed much a sham and his wife Rosario as Vice President is something of an embarrassment even for his supporters because she is kind of creepy and weird.   
All that said, the Danielista governments had some serious accomplishments in building infrastructure, especially in the countryside, and overall, living in Nicaragua looks a lot better than in the three nations directly north of it.  Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. 
In many parts of Nicaragua, the Frente Sandinista locally is a mixed bag, and better than the national leadership.  They contest and win many local elections.  They form the local opposition in many other areas and are more in keeping with the history, politics and practices of the Sandinista movement. 
In this context the dam broke. 
There giant protests against the pension cutbacks among students and pensioners, and the general public demonstrated their support in the thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.  The size of the crowds and the results of the polls say the same thing:  Any honest election held today would sweep the Danielistas out of power.  The protest movement has massive public support. 
The next inconvenient truth is that the Sandinistas tried to put this protest movement down by brute force.  There is no doubt about this.  In the age of the cell phone camera and the international human rights movement one can no longer hide such a thing.  The evidence is clear enough that any suggestion that the protestors have set up a false event or events such as right wing groups did in Kiev or Caracas doesn’t hold water.  
The Frente set up different types of attacks on different protestors and over 200 of the protestors and their friends and neighbors are dead.  There have also been a few deaths on the government side.  The police violence with the help of their para military helpers has been out there for the world to see. 
And repression failed. 
It is kind of sad and pathetic to see to watch Daniel Ortega try to put down popular protests when it was he himself and the Frente itself who once led the people of Nicaragua resisting military repression.  Did they expect people to just back down and fold?  That much of the revolution has not died. 
It is an outrage to see a government calling itself “Sandinista” committing such crimes.  For those of us who worked for the revolution, it feels like a betrayal because it is a betrayal of the ideals and ethics of the revolution for which we worked, fought and many of us died. 
The protest movement has its own inconvenient truths. 
The first of those being that there is no single opposition movement.  One could roughly say that there are three:  1 this new civic alliance brought on by the protests 2 the same old right wing and its foreign backers trying to exploit the situation 3 disaffected or dissident Sandinistas who were either already opposing Danielismo at some level or for whom the violence against the people was the last straw. 
Inconvenient truth number two for the opposition is that some of the roadblocks are shakedowns by right wing thugs.  Sure, some of the roadblocks are for neighborhood defense, and some are an aggressive protest tool, but some of them are run by thugs who seem to be in the pay of right wing groups, many close to the Liberal Party in some form or another. 
Both sides have employed people from marginal ghetto neighborhoods who are little better than street hoodlums.  I have tried to write this avoiding as much jargon as I can, but now I have to introduce two words:  ‘tranque’ for roadblock protest and ‘lumpen’ a Marxist word for ghetto trash. 
So there is such a thing as a ‘tranque lumpen’ with petty criminals calling themselves political activists, stopping traffic, charging a shake down fee to pass and taking pollical revenge of people they consider to be “Sandinistas”.  They should be called Liberal Roadblock, but they are not. 
On the other side, the Frente has also hired ‘lumpen’ to attack protestors, not to be confused with the para military Sandinista volunteers who attack protestors.  At least some of the “turbas” counter protestors fall in this category and have been filmed hitting unarmed protestors with iron bars. 
By no means are both sides equally guilty. 
There are no para militaries on the opposition side.  There are two definitions of para military. One is a civilian satellite of the official military or police and the other is a stand alone force, such as a guerrilla army.  In this conflict, the Sandinistas have both and the opposition have neither. 
The right wing thugs are only running some of the roadblocks and in no way are reflective of the opposition movement as a whole.  And local threats and harassment notwithstanding, there is little to none of the systematic attacks on protests, door to door harassments and targeted attacks on individuals that has been typical of the pro Daniel side. 
And there have been few killings from the opposition side whereas the killings reasonably attributed to the police and the para militaries with them, are the overwhelming majority of all conflict deaths. (a good guess would be about 300 to 5)  The government supporter deaths are in part caused by people fighting back once attacked. 
In some places the public supports the ‘tranque’ because it advances the protest, protects the neighborhood, or both, in other places the public joins the para military to attack the ‘tranques’ and to open the streets back up for the public to use. 
All over Managua and across much of Nicaragua, the patchwork of barricades, protests, private groups, police units and petty criminals having a field day has caused normal life to come to a complete stop.  Work and commerce is basically sabotaged while there are many places where people fear going out at night.  Some of the old neighborhood civil defense has come back into action. 
Add to this looting, often encouraged by the government, sometimes by the opposition and arson or fake arson committed by both sides with the intention of blaming the other side.  There has been video of people taking their valuables out of their offices before a fire that they claimed set by the other side. 
Life for the average Nicaraguan has been seriously degraded in the last two months both economically and for their physical security.  The Nicaraguan economy has gone from boom growth to recession. 
Inconvenient truth number three for the opposition is that not all of the current Frente members and groups are part of the problem and many of them are under attack from local right wing groups. There have been death threats on both sides. 
In Managua the Frente is that of Daniel the autocrat.  In other towns the Frente is the local government or the local opposition.  Sometimes that is a very positive thing, and other places we have local reproductions of the problems in Managua.  There are also “Sandinista” popular organizations, farmers groups and trade unions, many of whom do good service for the people at the bottom.  Sandinismo means corruption in one place, it means civil rights and a new water system somewhere else. 
With both sides doing works of both good and evil in different places and communities across the country, feelings have hardened.  The deaths and death threats cross a line, making wounds that heal slowly, if ever. 
For many Frente rank and file there is total distrust for anything that has to do with the church hierarchy, the Prensa newspaper, the chamber of commerce, or the Liberal / Somozista right wing.  They simply do not believe the reports of police repression in the cities because it is coming from sources that have lied to them so often in the past. On the flip side, there are people in the opposition who just feel that Daniel needs to go right now because of that repression.  Neither group is feeling very patient. 
It is no surprise that the big blocking points in the national dialog negotiations are the Frente demanding an immediate end to ‘tranques’ and the opposition demanding an immediate end to para-militaries.
I get the feeling that leaders on both sides of this conflict have made the same political miscalculation:
The other side is not legitimate and will be easy to beat. 
Nicaraguan protests will not be put down by force and Daniel is not going to resign over roadblocks.
As I write this pro Frente para-militaries and police are clearing ‘tranque’ roadblocks but the protest movement against the Ortega government is not beaten and the protests are not over.