Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Today's Nicaragua and the US left

The US left is divided over Nicaragua.
One side feels that Ortega and the Sandinistas can do no wrong.
The other could do a better job explaining itself to the left and the public at large.   
This weekend Nicaragua will hold a farse election under repressive conditions.  The US left is well placed to either not explain the bad news well, or to tell us that the bad news is not true. 
I nearly lost my life building that revolution.  Be clear that I too wish that the bad news was not true.  But to be a revolutionary is to have a commitment to the well being of the people, and to seek out the truth, not matter how upsetting.  We have a duty to know the nuance and contradictions of any political situation in which we work.  Denial is bad psychology and worse politics. 
A few years back Ernesto Cardinal, my former culture minister, a poet, and a priest who was on Pope John Paul II’s shit list for being a member of the Sandinista government, was the star presenter at the San Francisco “Flor y Canto” poetry and music festival. 
He read some poetry and talked a bit; while doing so he said that President Daniel Ortega had become a new Somoza.  Anastasio Somoza Debayle was the dictator of Nicaragua that the Sandinistas, including Ernesto Cardinal and his brother (and fellow priest) Fernando, overthrew in 1979. 
I knew that things were bad in Nicaragua and had been so for some years, but to say “the same as Somoza” to me meant a lot, especially coming from a man I respected so deeply. 
For clarification, the Ortega-Murillo marriage are president and vice president of Nicaragua and also run the current version of the Frente Sandinista. When people refer to the Sandinista revolution, they are talking about the period from 1979 to 1990.  Some people think that the current government is a continuation of that revolution while most independent analysts think that Ortega-Murillo government is repressive and much to the right of traditional Sandinista views and ethics. 
Recently I have attended two Zoom meetings that both called themselves a left perspective on the current situation in Nicaragua. 
The first supported the current Daniel Ortega government treating it like the ongoing triumph of the revolution that I worked for in the 1980’s. It was hosted by a local Veterans for Peace group. 
ICSS 20210801 Revolutionary Nicaragua in the crosshairs of Imperialism Gerry Condon - YouTube
And the second was organized by the North American Congress on Latin America which opposes and denounces the current Daniel government.  The main takeaway from that one was to focus on getting political prisoners released.
The Nicaraguan Crisis: A Left Perspective (October 7, 2021) - YouTube
I found the second one disappointing and the first one seriously misguided. 
The disappointing one more closely reflected my own views, but I did not find that the answers that they gave would mean much in our discussions with the other part of the left represented by the Daniel supports.  The answers were too dismissive of other concerns in my view.  It felt like a good opportunity missed.
The first concern they just pushed back on, but did not really discuss, was the concern about US involvement and support for some of the opposition that has emerged in Nicaragua. 
Recently a friend sent me a pro Daniel article that got published on the Black Agenda Report website.  The Black Agenda Report is a damn good show and I doubt that they know how badly publishing this article damages their credibility. 
The article is called:
Why Defending Nicaragua is Important | Black Agenda Report by Stephen Sefton 26 Oct 2021
It starts with the line:
The U.S. effort to destabilize Nicaragua is an ongoing crime against that nation's people.
Is that really true?
American Imperialism is an ongoing reality, especially in Latin America but I do not believe that the US State Department is trying to overthrow the Danielista government.  For all the years since Daniel was elected back to the presidency, they seemed totally fine with his pro market, pro neo-liberal policies not to mention his anti-union and anti-farmer strongarm tactics.  US concern for the increasing authoritarianism and eroding democracy did not even include lip service before 2018. 
For imperialism to be inactive in a Latin American nation means a lot. The CIA does not just go away. I do not believe that they are totally dormant at any time. 
So, for the CIA to not be doing anything serious is an important event. 
The pro Daniel folk point to the grants and scholarships that some of the opposition leaders received from US based organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy.  The other side waived that aside saying that it is minimal, and it is true that it is minimal. When the speakers just brushed those scholarships off, they lost an opportunity to explain that it is NORMAL and LEGAL in international relations to offer students above-board education in hopes that it will influence the educated in their favor.  It is sleezy, but not subterfuge. 
Today’s CIA is built on a long tradition of interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations funding political groups, unions and supporting military coups, insurgencies and US invasions.
Scholarships is not what we mean by imperialist interference in other nations internal affairs.  In the past, and in other nations, we have seen and still see, such tactics as pouring cash into opposition groups, including armed forces and militias (as in Venezuela recently, and many places, including Nicaragua, historically), putting the heat on to get a congress to recall a president (Honduras and Paraguay) and supporting a takeover by the police and military as in Bolivia.  This is today’s CIA. 
I was disappointed that the speakers did not give the accusation of US intervention more credence and provide a stronger argument as to why this is not the case in today’s Nicaragua.
In the course of the conversation there was only a passing mention that the participants do not support any US government interference.  In my book that should take top bill with some clarifications.  And we should also discuss the international human rights organizations that we do support getting involved. 
Keeping the US out of Nicaragua is always important.
I also felt that the Sandinista critics were too dismissive of the social welfare aspect of the Daniel version of Sandinistas.  It kind of gave away where they fit in the social-economic pyramid. 
Yes, the nation is poor. Yes, Ortega-Murillo practice savage capitalism.  Yes, the government is corrupt and people are losing their labor and land rights. But no, roads, schools, sewage, drinking water and such are not nothing. 
Try living without them! That was true for much of Nicaragua only 30 years ago.
There is a reason why the unaccompanied minors turning up at the US boarder are mostly from Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  Well, two reasons.  One is that to be poor in Nicaragua is not as bad as in those three countries to their north.  The other reason, and I feel it is a big one, is that the Nicaraguan street is not under the control of the gangs.  The national police, formally called the Sandinista Police are repressive, but they are also efficient and powerful.  A Honduran does not have basic security and a Nicaraguan does, and both know it.
A pro Ortega-Murillo friend just sent me a digital election poster.  It lists 20 things that the government has done since this second Sandinista period began.  Some are debatable, most not. 
No-one on the panel mentioned any of that. They just pointed out that Nicaragua is still dirt poor and capitalist. True.  Nicaragua does not have the social network of Cuba.  But it is better than before and better than the neighbors to the north. 
Poverty and social welfare in Managua is one thing, poverty deep in the countryside is another.  Out in the rural areas many people still have reasons to support the Sandinistas, avidly. 
I was happy to see that former Comandante de la Revolución Luis Carrion Cruz (member of the committee of 9) is still willing to speak out and has taken a good stand.  I just wish that he had done a better job of reaching the American left, as the hosts said that they set out to do.
The first Zoom meeting I saw, the pro Daniel one, was not disappointing, it was upsetting, and I feel that it was spreading the Ortega-Murillo talking points, may of which are lies and distortions.  According to this crowd:
·        The protests were all just US backed instigations. 
·        The protestors are pro-imperialist, pro-contra right wingers.
·        There is no repression Nicaragua.
·        All the arrests are justified. 
·        The Nicaraguan government is socially progressive.
·        The US hates Nicaragua because it is anti-imperialist. 
I think you get the idea.  This crowd was mockingly dismissive of anything that the Ortega-Murillo has been accused of. Their far-fetched justifications for every arrest and repressive action were akin to what we hear from the Republicans who just cover for their leaders even when they zig zag on policies. 
This presentation was also upsetting to me personally.  I have met a lot of these people and at one time they had my respect for what they did to oppose Regan era wars in Central America.  The host was a local group where we used to hold meetings in person before the pandemic. At one point they showed a video of two Americans being guests of honor at a Revolution Day event in Managua.  Both don’t speak enough Spanish to beat their way out of a wet paper bag, yet they felt that “they were there and saw it for themselves” and could lecture us on the reality of Nicaragua.  It was kind of sad and pathetic. 
A good friend of mine looked at it and said that she feels that some people are trapped in their own nostalgia. Being part of the Sandinista revolution was the high point of their lives.  
What bothers me is that some people are very active telling the US left, and anyone who will listen, that the current Ortega-Murillo is just great and once again what we are hearing in the press is all just imperialism up to its same old tricks. 
That seems to be the entire Stephen Sefton writing franchise brand. After I saw his awful article in the Black Agenda Report, I spent some time looking him up.  He has about a half dozen pro Daniel articles running in about a half dozen places in the alternative media.
I consider that mis-leadership. 
What should the left do? 
Continue to fight for the respect of nations.  We should be for noninterference into other people’s affairs ALL the time, whether we like that government or not.
We should continue to stand up for human rights ALL of the time.  There are credible, independent human rights groups and agencies.  We should take their lead, and not that of our State Department.
And we should educate our own people on imperialism as practiced by our own country, wherever that may be.  In this case, the history of interference and military intervention explain much of what hurts the people of Central America today.   
On a personal note, it is hard for me to be objective about anything in Nicaragua.  That place ate up 7 years of my life, 5 years of my employment and 3 years of military service. 
We left a lot of people dead because we were fighting to defend the revolution.  The revolution meant education, it meant development, but above all, we had a promise to the people of Nicaragua that they would never suffer the cruel repression of the dictatorship again. 
In that, I feel betrayed. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Time to vote in the KPFA station board election

Time to vote in the KPFA station board election 

And by that, I mean that I am asking you to vote for me.  

If you are a member of KPFA you can vote for me now. 
Your ballot should have arrived either via email or a post card. 

If you are not a member, please become one.  
The community radio part of the progressive community needs all of our engagement.  It is too late to register to vote for me, but it is not too late to join and help build this local radio station and our national network.  

A lot of friends have let me know that they are concerned with the age group that KPFA seems to center on.  I am concerned too, that is why I am on the board and running for a full term.  It takes board members to advocate policy changes.  The biggest change that I am standing up for is a change in generations.  We need new and younger people on the air, in the production studio and on the board.  That way we make needed steps forward and older people like myself can step aside.  

My other concerns are membership recruitment in general, our spending and fundraising, and better coordination of our news resources, especially local news. 

Most people have heard of the faction fighting at KPFA.  As a current board member, I have to say that it looks worse from the inside than it appears in public.  I am extremely disappointed and offended by the antics of the “New Day Pacifica” group even though I know some of them personally and have respect for their work in other parts of the radio station and around town generally.  

There is a difference between having alternative opinions and being on a warpath to be in charge.  Everyone should put their ideas out there; that is what a board is for.  There are a few tendencies around KPFA.  They are currently called New Day Pacifica.  When it comes to fighting for power, there is just one faction who is fighting for control any way they can.  There have been attempts to change the rules.  There has been a lawsuit.  There have been underhanded attempts to close a station (in New York). Meetings are not respected.  There are farfetched motions of censure.  

Members of this faction have some very good ideas and important points to raise.  But they need to stop trying to be the only people with a say in the present and future of KPFA and Pacifica.  Please do not vote for anyone that they recommend until they agree to stop abusing the system.  

I personally have thrown in my lot with Rescue Pacifica and I recommend that you vote for the same people that they endorse.  Rescue Pacifica is not a faction, it is an alliance of people who want to run the station together with everyone.  There are Democrats, Greens and others in this group. For more information visit https://rescuepacifica.net/ There are some independents running worth a listen.  Vicente Cruz is an old friend and a very ethical person who I endorse.  Thomas Lord I have never heard of, but I agree with his idea about bringing in youth and scrappy, innovative reporting.  

Right now, California is going through a fire and water crisis of historic proportions.  We need KPFA to be looking into the causes and solutions and keeping people informed.  The corporate media gives us a view that they call balanced.  That is a balance between agribusiness and real estate developers.  Yet environmental biologists agree with the traditions of the native peoples on land management.  Alternative media like KPFA should be our front on this issue.  

Just as we should be out front on all other climate change issues, other environmental issues and be a main source of honest news on race relations, economic justice, military intervention and all the other things that matter to most of the public.  

So, my message is to help us build our community radio, and its on-line counterpart, to represent the community and cover the news that our people need.  You can do that by joining.  You can do that by listening and sending feedback to the shows.  And you can do that by electing people who want to make something better out of what we have.  

And I hope to be that person you trust to elect.  


Over the past weeks there have been some questionnaires and debates.  
We were also asked to make our case in a 1-minute spot. 

You can see the debates and other information here:

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Nicaragua and the crisis in solidarity

Nicaragua and the crisis in solidarity 

Perhaps we in the United States would do a better job of making good international solidarity decisions if we had any serious resistance to capitalism and imperialism of our own. 

There are a lot of things that we as a people could do to stand up for ourselves and oppose what our system, and its government, does here and around the world, but we don’t really.  We get a few great marches in at the beginnings of wars and such, but without any socialist opposition political party or other sustained, organized popular movements, the resistance always fizzles out.  

After a short time, the Democrats switch the public conversation back to something they like better, such as the right to be gay in the military.  The Republicans oppose.  The press follows. 

What little popular resistance we have is fragmented, and depends on the legal status of the shrinking remains of our union movement and even more fragmented opposition electoral politics.  The spaces that could have been organizations of people’s power are dominated by the bunch of private businesses called the non-profit sector.  Very few of our popular organizations even have a voting membership; of those fewer still have real, contested elections for the leadership.  Our government is not really a democracy, so what tools do we have to do better with organizations that should belong to the people? 

As a culture, we do not do grass roots led organizing very well, any more. 

So, how does a society that does not really have a strong movements practice solidarity with the peoples of other nations that do?  

For the most part we don’t.  

What we have instead is individual advocacy work, often embodied by some self-appointed people who set up some of those non-profits.  Such groups do a lot sometimes.  The boycotts of South Africa back in the day and the current Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement would be the two big cases of such an advocacy practice making a lot of political noise when noise is needed.  

Many would say that our Bernie movement, the AOC squad and the other left Democrat efforts being made with some success around the country are that kind of a popular opposition.  I disagree on two levels.  First is that they depend on our advertising model of expensive campaigns to get elected.  Second is because I do not feel that it works.  In Oakland we live in an area represented by such heroes as Ron Dellums and after fifty years, I am not sure we have a lot to show for it.  

In any case, the US practice is that advocates advocate for their thing and for the most part do not represent any consensus of our popular movements.  That is not solidarity; it is supporting a cause. 

What we do not have is some kind of agreement between trade unions, civil rights associations, political parties, immigrant associations, etc. that some part of US foreign policy or some outrageous human rights crimes of other nations should be opposed, by us, now. 

That would be a real solidarity movement.  We only have bits and pieces at best.  

On the positive side we have had some good “hands off” movements. Now would be a good time to be clear on the hands-off Cuba idea.  

A wish was expressed that Cuba resolve its current crisis peacefully without external interference. That is not coming from our liberal Democrat left, it is the position of the president of Mexico. He also offered to send food and vaccines to Cuba, if helpful, and expressed a desire to see an end to the economic embargos of Cuba.  

Less productively we have seen more than a couple “call your congressman” campaigns directed at the internal affairs of other nations.  

That finally brings us to the current situation with Nicaragua.  The last thing any nation in Latin America needs is some kind of self-declared left progressive movement in the United States advocating for US government involvement in their internal affairs.  

Why be willing to boycott Israel but not Nicaragua?  That depends who is doing the boycotting.  When it is the United States government in Nicaragua, there is an inconvenient truth that changes everything. 

The history and current reality of US imperialism in Latin America is a war crime itself.  It is a century and a half of invasions, subversions, proxy wars and military coups that we in the US should classify in our history as one of our national shames alongside the genocidal displacement of the Native Americans and the enslavement and subsequent oppression of African Americans. In Nicaragua all those things happened and that nation suffered death and destruction at our government’s hands.  We should not be asking our government to sanction Latin American individuals or nations or to be involved in any way any more than a German should be asking their government to sanction Israel.  

That does not mean that people in the United States should not be aware of, active around and opposed to the recent political arrests and the repressive actions of the Nicaraguan government.  It just means that we should be just as adamantly opposed to our own government doing anything about it.  

So, what can we do, how should we do it?  

Respecting the sovereignty of other nations does not mean that we don’t choose our own friends.  

We may not have the mass movement we really need here, but we do have some organizations we can trust to be consistent in supporting human rights and opposing US intervention.  Let’s work with them.  Let’s convince them that the arrests of the opposition leaders in Nicaragua is really repression.  

We should be able to form a consensus that demands the release of those political prisoners, the reopening of the media groups and the operation of Nicaragua’s own human rights organizations.  

And we can tell the Nicaraguan government directly how we feel about it.  
We can get more than a few hundred names on petitions, if we worked on it. 
We can get some unions and grass roots groups to sign on to prison release.  

We should find our friends in Nicaragua using the same criteria.  There are groups and organizations who are asking for civil liberties, but do not want a return to imperialism.  We can help them get their voices heard outside of Nicaragua, here and in other nations.  Sending some money might help.  A popular boycott of Nicaragua’s tourist resorts might help. We should ask our Nicaraguan friends what they would like us to do. If it jives with our values, then we should do it.  

There are other Nicaraguans who are not the friends of solidarity because they are wanting to impose a right-wing government totally allied with the US State Department that would roll back all that the revolution in Nicaragua ever did.  They deserve civil rights and their political prisoners should be released too, but be clear, they would not support democratic rights for anyone else, especially anyone on the left.  

Both the left and right have allies and friends in Nicaragua, and pretty much anywhere else.  

Finally, we and those of like mind around democracy and civil rights should make our voices heard, while we respect the fact that Nicaragua needs to sort its own problems out.  

And we as Americans have a lot of problems to sort out too. 
We would be doing the world a favor if we made some progress here.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Can I have your vote for KPFA Station Board?

 I am running for reelection to the KPFA Local Station Board because our community needs community radio. As our country drives itself over many social and environmental cliffs our airways are jammed with a worthless discussion between the pseudo left, the center right and the extreme right. Community radio is where more encompassing news and ideas give us one of the few counter balances that we have in our national dialogue. 

KPFA is in a long-developed crisis of low listenership and low membership coupled with high costs and serious budget problems. In the SF Bay Area, an independent, progressive, community radio station like ours with developed programing and resources should have a much larger audience and support base. We need to correct this and put much more effort into recruiting. 

We need younger people as members. We need them on the air making new programing. We need them helping to run and lead KPFA and our Pacifica Network. We need more members of every age and background. This should be the job of EVERYONE at the station; the board, the management and all of the shows on the air. Every program should be promoting new members into leadership roles. Every program should be doing outreach out in the community, not just on the air. 

We also need to put more effort into improving our on-air offer. We need a better plan for the reporting on and regular delivery of local news. The current programming is very split up and individualized when some better cooperation and sharing of resources would give us a better coverage. 

The constant infighting and multiple attempts by one faction to take total control distracts us from fixing problems. I am not, and will not be part of the dubious actions taken such as the lawsuit, the bylaws takeover attempt, the midnight closure of another member station or anything else that will shut out voices on our governing boards. If that group becomes a minority at KPFA, I will not support the new majority shutting them out as they currently do to everyone else. I feel that to be on a community radio station board is to hold a public trust and will not have anything to do with tactics and actions that are not ethical. 

On the board I will work for complete and understandable reporting to the board and membership. If needed, I would be glad to server as a board officer to help turn things around. 

My personal background is that I am 63 years old, of white English-speaking extraction, a machinist, union member, shop teacher, retrained computer network engineer, small business owner, father of two and a polyglot with a deep, antiimperialist international background. Hopefully some of my developed skills and experiences will add to the human resources of our board and our station. 

It is what we can do, combined with what we are willing to do collectively that will determine the future of the KPFA-Pacifica project. 

If you are a KPFA member you can help me get on the ballot by signing my nomination. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

vote NO on the new KPFA/Pacifica bylaws

You might know that I have been a member of the KPFA Station Board for a few months now.  Some friends have been asking me what (the F) is going on at KPFA radio? and what should they do about these new Pacifica Foundation bylaws changes that they are getting email and postcards advocating support?
Vote NO is what I think people should do.
Why?  Because the proposal is not only about bylaws.  It is also about a long-standing faction fight. The fine print in the bylaws proposal will put one faction in control and shut everyone else out permanently. 
Part of the experience of being on the KPFA Board is to get to see this faction act badly.  I don’t get shocked by much anymore, but this group has really gone too far several times.  The used to call themselves SaveKPFA, now they have a few other names including New Day Pacifica.  It has been personally disappointing to see people who I once respected a lot more justify all kinds of questionable maneuvers to get control of the network and to shut the others out.  Now they send you a slick post card full of nice photos of on-air personalities who support their proposal.  What you do not see is that they are all in the same faction.  The other factions have just as many on-air personalities opposing the bylaws, but what you are seeing is not a debate, it is political advertising. 
In the short time I have been involved this is the second time these faction fighters are trying these trojan horse bylaws referendum.  They have also tried a lawsuit against our own movement and attempted to shut down a sister station.  It is hard to describe how undemocratically they run the KPFA board where they hold a majority.
Are there financial problems at Pacifica?
Of course there are!
But the sky is not falling, no matter what you have heard from New Day Pacifica. 
Could the stations be doing a better job in programing?
I think so and I wish we were talking about how to make things better
instead of lurching from takeover attempt to takeover attempt.
Should we have better, more efficient governance?
Probably, but not at the cost of one side just getting rid of the other. 
A change in the bylaws would need to have support from all sides, not just one. 
Does something need to be done about the constant power struggle at our community radio network?
You betcha. 
I feel that democracy is messy and difficult.
And I don’t see how authoritarianism leads to something better.
Start by voting NO on the bylaws and then vote for new and younger voices to our station boards later this year.  We need some new leadership and distance from the toxic dynamic that has been holding us back. 
My seat on the board is filling in for someone who dropped out.  I will run for a term of my own this next election and I will let you know who I think are some of the other quality candidates.
And if you are willing to run for the station board yourself and help make KPFA a better community radio station, please get in touch. 
Don Macleay

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

On this day in 1987


On April 22 of 1987 I turned twenty-nine years old in Spain. After a very short visit to Forlí I was invited to visit the Spanish coast by two friends from BLINK, the Bristol Link with Nicaragua, one of the solidarity groups where I knew people. 

Walking along the Spanish beach in springtime was warm weather for the mostly naked northern Europeans. I had never seen a nude beach before and would have enjoyed it more if I had not found my new Italian jacket not quite enough to block the cold. 

It was near Easter I think, in any case, someone threw some fire crackers. 

And then I had a memory of no memory. One moment I was feeling kind of out of place with boots, jeans, shirt and jacket standing less than ten meters from women dressed in only bikini bottoms. Next I knew, I was looking at them again from inside a depression in the sand. There was a mound of sand that I had not consciously noticed with a dip in the middle. I found myself poised nearly flat on the ground, touching spider like, only with my hands and feet, peeking over the top of the sand looking for where the gunfire had come from. All I saw was the mostly naked girls and their family exactly where I had last seen them before I had apparently dived for cover. Quickly it came to me what I had done and I dawned on me that the bangs had only been fireworks. Feeling totally embarrassed I stood back up, dusted off the sand and looked around. If anyone had noticed me jump, no one was showing any signs of it around me. I tried to calm myself and walk back down the beach to where we were staying. I felt like I had exposed myself more than any of those girls on the beach. 

My hosts had some kind of cake for me, as they knew the next day was my birthday. I was too shook up to really feel it and enjoy it. The next morning it became clear to me that I was really an emotional mess. One more thing happened to show that I was there and not really there at the same time. I decided that my birthday present to myself was going to be a train ride back to Italy and distance from anyone who might want to be emotionally close to me. Vacation with lovely women in Spain was too much for me. 

My walk through Florence in springtime 

I had had an acquaintance in Managua, an American guy who, like me, had had a connection with Italy. He was a professional baseball trainer in Italy and did much the same in Nicaragua. He threatened to write a memoire of Nicaragua called "Missing Italy". If he never wrote it, he should still. 

In my own way I had lived the last couple years missing Italy. Going back to Italy was on my mind when fired from the tractor school. When working in El Cuá I was preparing to move to Germany when the job was done, having started my bit of book work on the German language. 

With the war and the losses of war, I kept telling myself that I was going to live through that war and survive to walk in Florence in springtime. This became a mantra. Friends in Italy knew I had said this. Friends in Nicaragua and Germany knew it too. It was sort of my method to keep my focus and survive the war. 

I will walk through Florence in springtime = I will live through this. 

There were many reasons that I went back to Italy from Spain, but I mostly my ticket went there.  Beyond that I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going to work, and only half planned to continue on to Germany to work and finish learning German. I was not thinking about the Florence in springtime pledge. 

I was more of an emotional mess than I knew, but it was becoming obvious, even to me, that I was not OK and that I needed to calm down, get used to peacetime and just plain get a grip. One of my friends in Brescia tried to get through to me telling me that what I had just experienced was very unusual and well outside of what most people found normal or could relate to. I'm sure she saw signs of me being too close to the edge too.

When I got back to Forlí I started putting together the first notes that would eventually lead in a roundabout way to this book. It had taken a moment to come back to Forli and I had not even asked my hosts about how long I might stay, or start the process of finding a job. If you had asked me, I think I would have said I planned to debrief with the Forli solidarity group and go to Germany to find a place to stay and make some money. There ended up being no time to discuss any of that because on my second morning there, everything changed. 

My host was Italian, sister of the head of the Communist Youth Federation who had originally invited me to visit Forli and connect them to a project in Nicaragua. Their father was the mayor and head of the local Communist Party. It was their mom who had chaired the meeting to decide to support the Cuá-Bocay project. 

Her husband was a South American and the least political of the bunch. They were very welcoming but we did not know each other well. 

That morning I came into the kitchen, bribed by coffee and sat alone at the table. The husband got me my coffee and seemed very awkward around me. He left. I started to wonder if maybe my visit here needed to be shorter. It was a small place and they may not have been up for having a visitor, or maybe not up for having me as a visitor. 

After the jump into the sand in Spain I had lost trust in my own reactions. Other things I had done were making me think that it would be reasonable not to want me around. Maybe they were being too polite by offering me a room? 

He came back in and sat next to me for a moment. Something was obviously wrong, yet he did not seem upset with me. He asked for the name of the guy I worked with in Nicaragua. I told him that meant a lot of people. Why? He did not answer. Telling me that he would be right back, he left the room again. I heard him and his wife in the next room talking in hushed voices, but not arguing. Someone got on the phone. My mind was on how to collect my stuff and get on the road to Germany. 

Then they both came back as I finished my Italian breakfast of cigarette, pastry and coffee. They asked me with dispelling kindness to stay seated as sat both sides of me. 

They placed the newspaper on the table open to a photo of Ben Linder, 
dead in a casket. 

Funny how one can do well in a crisis even when emotionally broken. From that moment on I went into action. The Forlí branch of the FGCI, (again that is the Italian Communist Youth Federation) took me around to speak out on what was happening in Nicaragua. I got in touch with the solidarity people in the US. Others got in touch with me. 

My friends and the Communist Party in Forlí took very good care of me, fed me, and housed me and if I had asked for it, they would have provided a doctor. This despite my erratic and irresponsible behavior on all fronts. I feel forever grateful to them all. They even took the time to help me make a phone call to my father. We went late at night to their dad's office because of the time difference. My step mother took the call. She asked where I was calling from and I had to tell her that it was the office of the Communist Party in Italy somewhere. She let me know that the phone was probably tapped and that there were some kind of FBI type guys sitting in a car near the house looking absolutely ridiculous because they did not blend outside a farm house on an isolated dirt road. She promised to let my dad know I was OK. We both knew that I was probably going to go back and that I was not OK, but that was inferred as we ignored our phone tappers. 

One of the places that the FGCI took me was called a "reader's circle" for the Communist newspaper Unità. These groups would gather for newsmaker interviews and talks. Since I was connected to an international story, they wanted me to meet local Unità readers and talk about what we were doing in Nicaragua on the project and to tell people who Ben Linder was and what my relationship to him was. I got used to it quick. 

Some of the questions took me by surprise. One man asked me if in the Nicaraguan militia, we had bullets for our guns. I asked him where one would be in the army and not have bullets for their gun. The answer was Italy. To that I told them I would love to join the Italian army and spend my service near the beach at Rimini, which was not far. We got just as much laughter when I was asked how it was we spoke Spanish in Nicaragua, English in the US and French and Portuguese elsewhere in the Americas. I explained that this was based mostly on which imperial power had dominated which areas and that Spain was the top dog in most of the two continents. His reaction was to say that Italy had never done anything like that. The stunned expression on my face joined the laughter in the room and a few people asking the guy what he thought of the Roman Empire. 

Two questions always came up. 

1) Come mai? Literally 'how never', but used along the lines of 'how the hell'. 
'Come mai' was the prefix to a sentence about being an American, who worked in Nicaragua and happened to be here and speak Italian. That was the question I was glad that immigration did not ask. I had a good two-word answer that was accepted with a laugh and no request for further explanation: 'una donna' a woman. 

2) Why? Why have you made this lifestyle choice? Why are you involved?
To this I had no answer. I did not feel like I had really had a choice and I said so. 

I knew that the call was going to come. It came. It was Mira Brown and Rigoberto Gadea who made it. Could I come back and help the project get back on its feet after losing Ben? Sure enough. I let them know that I was on the other side of the world, without any money or a job and... and they told me that they could take care of that. The solidarity around the project had grown, people were raising money. Could I come back and make sure that a project would get built in Bocay where Ben had been killed. I would have never asked to go back, but I could not say no. 

One friend understood entirely that I did not have a choice. It was me to have this kind of life. It was me to help with this kind of thing. It was me to go back. 

"Florence is there for you any time of year" 

I promised my friends in Italy that I would be back soon, just as soon as this crisis was over. 

Sure I would. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

There was no riot in Oakland last night

There was no riot in Oakland last night 
Because a police officer was found guilty 

The boards on my local stores will stay up 
Because we have unfinished business 

Now people are claiming that they are going to start 
What should have been finished long before we were born 

The boards will stay up 
And a black man will stay dead  

When I heard the words of the verdict 
I came close to tears  

I grieve for the man who will not benefit 
From the small victory that carries his name 

He will not take that lover back into his arms
No child’s eyes will look at him with adoration 

A friend of mine was murdered by our country 
Long ago his name was known by everyone 

He too never got to grow old 
Frozen in time as a hero 

The story gets retold 
Because it is mostly forgotten 

Pilgrims leave flowers at his grave 
As do I, in solitude 

Every day three of us are shot by police 
How many are bombed?  

Our soldiers and our cops are not changing much 
Three generations have learned something from them 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Yes Stadium

That is YES to the stadium that we already have. 
And NO to the Jack London Square deal.  

When Jean Quan was Mayor of Oakland she told me that she wanted nothing to do with a stadium deal involving a team owner who was also a developer.  

Is that still the case?  
If so something is missing in the news coverage of the proposed ballpark. 
Considering that there is this guy who is probably on Libby’s speed dial. 

There is probably a big difference between what the rich people involved say that we need and the full story of how they will benefit.  

But that is not why I am opposed to the new park.  

I just want us to invest in fixing the old one.  

The Oakland Coliseum complex is two large venues linked to BART, with a freeway off ramp and a direct link to Oakland Airport.  There is really nothing structurally wrong with the building and not so much upgrade needed that the A’s have stopped playing their games there.  Former councilman Larry Reid used to point out that the site could be modified to include an Amtrack station.  

So, is Oakland so rich that we can throw a couple stadiums away because the sports press whines about Mt. Davis?  How about some better comfort for the people who attend?  More efficient and cleaning food services?  Clean and modern bathrooms?  Better child centers from which on could see the game while the kid played on a slide?  A moving walk to BART would be nice too.  The sum total of these things will not cost anything like what the new ballpark at Jack London will run us.  

And we are so rich we can throw away some of our port?  

The port needs some help.  A land grab is not the help it needs.  

And Jack London Square?  Will that put the stadium under the authority of the Port Commission?  What kind of transit do we offer there?  The ferry to San Francisco?  Is this our N-th gimmick to profit off of Jack London Square after spending so much time driving the main draws out of business?  A new stadium is supposed to help the vacancy rate?  The public has already paid for two white elephants in the area; is three the charm?  What does the place look like on days without a game?  If we are talking about setting up some kind of full time local business and services there, then why not do it at the Coliseum complex that we have now? 

So, there are some very practical reasons to upgrade the stadium that we have and invest in our port area in ways that run 7 days a week. 

So, why is this unwise and expensive project probably going to happen?

Money.  Developer money.  

If you are looking for elected officials who are willing to stand up to the developers, do not look at Oakland or anyone who represents Oakland at the county or state.  

And now the games being played have a long history at our stadium.  Most recently a group of A’s owning developers bought out the Alameda County share in a move so bold that even Libby could not put up with it without a fight. 

And the monied interests howled, threatened and got their way. 
Also note the price, 85 million dollars for half? 
Who set that price?  

This act of welfare for the rich and professional sport blackmail has a long history in Oakland and in professional sports altogether.  About 10 years back Desley Brooks, who was then council member for District 6 was kicked off the Coliseum joint operations group to be replaced by Rebecca Kaplan in a move that was never explained.  Now Brooks was voted out by a Libby backed candidate.  I wonder how he will vote on the stadium “deal”?  Before that we had the Al Davis extortion, where Oakland bent over backwards to his list of demands and now the Raiders are in Las Vegas.  

A few years ago The Onion published a satirical piece where the US Congress threatened the city of Washington DC that they would move the government unless the district paid for a new capitol building.  新华网 The New China News Service repeated the story thinking that it was true.  It certainly was no less bizarre than professional sports stadium deals. 

The Coliseum free ride for big real-estate is attention grabbing and happens in the context of all kinds of development deals helped along by friendly public officials at city, county and state.  The often involve public property getting sold to private hands at low cost and with little to no public benefit.  This is also an aspect of the state control of our public schools as we are forced to close some of our schools and developers and/or charters pick up properties for pennies on the dollar. If you want to find the ugly side of Oakland government and politics, follow the money going to construction firms, investment companies and banks and of course in the purchase and sale of land.  

What I wish we had was some kind of independent review process that would investigate all sales of public land to private interests before it is authorized and had the power to stop the loss of public property.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

KPFA and the vast conspiracy

KPFA and the vast conspiracy

It has been one of my firm beliefs that people accuse others of the crimes that they themselves are willing to commit. 

A prime example is the national Republican party’s complaints about voting rights. 

Republicans accuse the Democrats of wanting to create a permanent majority for themselves.  This coming from the folk who have voter suppression laws in a majority of states, most of which are so gerrymandered that the Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in their state and federal delegations despite only having a slim majority of the votes, if that. 

Yet Republicans accuse the Democrats of gaming the system.
They should, they have gaming the system on their minds. 

I have found it hard to focus on any one subject trying to describe the far-fetched arguments and proposals made by the local KPFA board majority.  So, for this bit of writing, let’s talk about conspiracy. 

At this last KPFA meeting we went through the looking glass to a world where being a local leader of the Green Party was equated to being an elected official. 

 My friend James McFadden sits on the KPFA station board.  He is also elected to the Alameda County Green Party Council.  Greens do this by county.  Democrats elect their delegates by Assembly District.  Who knows how, or if, Republicans, Peace and Freedom or Libertarians elect their internal leadership? When they do, the internal party election is usually tacked onto that party’s specific ballot at Primary time. 

[my friend Stan at Peace and Freedom assures me that they do hold democratic, internal elections]

KPFA has a very good rule that those on the payroll or who hold any leadership or elected position inside KPFA or Pacifica Radio cannot be an elected official or a candidate for elected office at the same time.  My own election to the KPFA board left me as the runner up.  One of the members of the station board ran for office in Richmond and I was asked to step up. 

Many of us in Oakland know of Cat Brooks.  She is on the air during the morning show on KPFA weekdays.  When she ran for Oakland Mayor, she suspended her employment at KPFA until the election was won by Libby Schaff. 

When I was on a nonprofit board, I voluntarily did not attend those board meetings when I ran for City Counsel and picked back up after that election was won by Dan Kalb.

This is all very normal. 

At the last station board meeting a member of the faction formally known as “Save KPFA” accused James McFadden of breaking this rule, demanding that he resign based on a highly contrived argument that conflates an internal Green Party election with being a government official. 

Then the accusations became bizarre.  It included the idea that the Greens have some kind of KPFA board candidate training program and together with the Worker’s World Party they (we) are plotting to take over the station and only promote radical programming because we want to wreck the station.

It sounded a lot like Republicans calling Joe Biden a “socialist”.

At that point, I had to say something about this vast-Green-conspiracy theory.  I pointed out that my recruitment to the KPFA board was because of my friend Tom Voorhees asking me to do it.  I have known Tom since we met in Nicaragua in the 1980’s and he helped us with our radios there. This is long before the US Green Party or Save KPFA even existed. 

And who the hell is the Worker’s World Party? 
If “Save KPFA” hates them, they must be doing something good.

And why does the faction formally known as “Save KPFA” have conspiracy on the brain?
Surprise! They have a very real conspiracy of their own they are working on.

It is a bylaws scam.  It is the second try at a bylaws scam. 

So, before I explain, hear this.


“Save KPFA” got some of their former opponents to join them and now call themselves something like United for Independent Radio. They now have a front group or sub group called New Day Pacifica.  That groups seems to have some serious cash for on-line promotion.  They have gotten enough signatures to put their bylaws change on the ballot.


This is the second time that a bylaws change is being attempted by the same faction.

The idea is simple.  Make sure that they, and only they, are in charge.  The bylaws change is to eliminate the Pacifica Nation Board that we now have, elected by all 5 station boards in the Pacifica Network.  Voting yes will appoint a 4-person junta to run things during the transition.  The local station boards will be stripped of all authority.  New elections under their new rules will take place sometime. 

So KPFA will become a province of Myanmar?

One of the people behind this new takeover attempt also explained why they have good reasons not to hold on-air debates about these bylaws for the listener members. Instead, we will hold obscure discussions out of the limelight and broadcast on-air announcements worthy of George Orwell. 

Your will find that statement on the front page of the kpfa.org website.

The New Day Pacifica slick email has a long list of notable endorsers.  (So do the opponents.) Where does the money come from for such a media campaign?  How did they get the membership list? Will equal time be given to the other views?  Can they send an email to that same list? 

“Save KPFA” sounds like the Republicans, and many Democrats, when they talk about how the sky will fall if they are not put in total charge.  They throw around language where they are the only competent ones, and everyone else involved in KPFA and Pacifica does not know what they are doing; thus, disaster is always just around the corner. 

The last time they tried a bylaws change it got overwhelmingly voted down.

And now the accusation out of their mouth is “conspiracy”.

I do not doubt their expertise on the subject. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

No shame

No shame

There are times that one knows what one thinks, but has no idea what to say. 

Between our November KPFA Station Board meeting and the one we had on a Saturday in late December a group of board members from the majority setup some shell non-profit and then filed a lawsuit to put KPFA into receivership.

The reason I do not know what to say is because I am at a loss for words to describe how outrageous a thing that was to do.

First and foremost, this was outrageous because it boiled down to attempted theft of a member owned radio station by a number of board members acting on their own to get their hands on the considerable value of the station, the building, and above all it’s license.  They had a non profit all set up to sweep the wealth into; a non profit controlled only by them. 

It was also outrageous because this lawsuit was a surprise to the rest of the board, the rest of the KPFA community and the Pacifica Foundation to which KPFA and the other stations belong. If they had gotten away with it, a narrow majority at one station, KPFA, would have had control of all five Pacifica stations. 

It was outrageous because they acted in the dark and struck by surprise. 

Last meeting ended with us wondering if there was even going to be a December meeting.  The only reason to hold one would be if the bylaws said that we had to re-elect board officers before the end of the calendar year.  There was no mention of an impending lawsuit wanting to take control. 

So, this meeting had an extra item added to the agenda.  The motion was to censure and remove the three board members who had sued the organization that they claim to represent.

The meeting degraded into a shouting match. When people were not shouting, they were making harsh accusations.  A few people dominated the Zoom chat with nasty comments and attacks on each other’s personal histories on all sorts of subjects not related to the problem at hand. 

I have not seen such dogmatic, sectarian infighting since I was a young leftist in Montreal in the 1970’s.

If you have not seen Monty Python, The Life of Brian, watch it. 

Friends warned me about the so-called Save KPFA faction and I should have listened. That clique added some new members and now has a new name or two, but does not seem to change much.  Before I just disagreed with their proposals.  Now I question their sense of ethics. 

At the December Local Station Board meeting we heard a lot of why they think that they are the only ones to hold the right views, but as they went on, we got nothing about why they feel that their lack of respect for the process was helping anything, or what justified them acting unilaterally like that. 

So, what do I think?  For me, filing that lawsuit is sort of like suing for custody of the kid and then thinking that you can still sleep in my bed.  How could such a thing not wreck the relationship? 

In the course of the discussion, we were given all kinds of interesting arguments that if addressed differently would have been valuable.  Worthwhile discussion should have been held BEFORE throwing such a bomb.  There were also some strong accusations made by the majority that needed more support than Trump style belligerence. 

Among other things, we were told:

·        Pacifica’s board is not democratic, so it can be ignored
·        Only their faction is doing anything for the station
·        That everyone else has “never done jack shit” for KPFA
·        That people who oppose them are part of the Workers World Party (that I don’t even know)
·        That “somebody” had to stand up for the station because nothing is being done
·        The financial crisis risks losing the whole network (if so, show us the numbers)
What did not get an answer to, was the question “what gave them the right to unilaterally do this”?
Had the situation that they consider so dire been brought to the board with supporting documentation and then the board have been asked to back such a legal action, we would be talking a different story.
Somewhere in there would have been the step where the local KPFA board would file a well-documented complaint to the national Pacifica board, who actually manage the network. 
By the way, the judge seemed to think the same thing about these guys lack of standing and lack of support for their accusations, and then summarily threw the whole receivership request out. 
The December meeting then took a long time electing board officers because discussion of the lawsuit was all over the public comments period and the election comments period.  In the end, the majority faction fell into line like Republicans and voted in officers who included a lawsuit plaintiff.
A plaintiff in the receivership suit now leads the local board of the foundation that she just sued.
We had this in Oakland for many years on the school board, where the public schools were being run with a pro privatization majority backed by a billionaire’s movement.  It is only so analogous, but it feels like we are down a similar rabbit hole. 
And now we will have to finish discussing the motion to remove the 3 board members involved next month.  I asked for a written abstract from both sides with links to supporting documentation WELL BEFORE the next meeting.  I have no idea if we will get that.  I will write the board secretary. 
So what do I say? 
I have no idea because I don’t know how to talk to people who have done a thing like that. 
What will they do next?  Who will they do it to?
We have another week to find a way to talk to each other. 
Next meeting, Jan 9th, 11 AM
Meeting ID: 986 5391 8465