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 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.