Counting Down, But All Over But the Shouting – and Hard Work!

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

2000 after Gore-Bush election protests & counting every vote

New Orleans   Donald Trump’s campaign manager is a political professional. She has now admitted that they are behind without any hanky-panky accusations or artifice. She argues that there is still a possible path to a Trump victory but it is minuscule. Aggregates of all polls and predictions are rating Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 90%. Clinton is now putting money and time into states where Senate races are in play on the chance that with her victory and four seats swinging to the Democrats with the VP as the deciding vote on a party line division, control would shift. Few see a flip of thirty seats in the House, but most seem to believe that the margins will tighten and it could fall. President Obama is putting muscle and work behind more than 150 state legislators to see if control of some statehouses and chambers can be jilted to achieve more balance in the states. Obama has also committed to supporting former Attorney General Eric Holder’s project to try and impact redistricting in 2020 and reduce gerrymandering.

All good, but here’s the big but….

Turnout predictions are way down. Early voting is happening in Florida and North Carolina, and Clinton is pushing for more turnout, but numbers coming from Ohio so far are considerably down compared to the two Obama elections. This is even true among African-Americans where Clinton’s strength is huge.

In fact, television interviews and newspaper reports with black millennials are depressing. I read one wondering “why would I waste my time?” I saw a television piece interviewing a half-dozen very bright black millennial activists, and no matter how many times the interviewer posed the threats of a Trump candidacy, they were immovable on voting for Clinton, and perhaps voting at all. The third party candidates, god love them, don’t seem to have picked up the Sanders movement, so that seems less of a monkey wrench in this election, but voter antipathy to the candidates and a feeling that it’s over before it begins could spell trouble.

Here’s where the hard, usually invisible work of a field program comes to the fore. The AFL-CIO says it’s putting 100,000 volunteers on the streets of battleground states over the coming weeks. The Clinton campaign has invested deeply in offices and staffing in many battleground states in order to maximize the get out the vote effort, while Trump’s ground game still seems to consist of multiple rallies of the faithful. This is also where having a financial advantage helps the Clinton campaign by allowing them the resources to fuel the field. I even heard about a unique effort by some techies to encourage vote trading from blue to red states, but I doubt if that’s a movement. The additional incentive that Trump has offered the opposition is the need to pile up the score in order to de-legitimize any allegations of election rigging by administering an electoral beat down.

Nonetheless, it all boils down to getting yourself in gear and down to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th. Don’t go alone. Do your piece to make democracy work a bit better. Pressure your relatives, call your friends, post on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever, and let your small voice roar one way or another.


Is This Really the End of Email?

password-creator-for-androidNew Orleans   In the wake of massive and disruptive hacking of emails in the corporate and political world, there was a piece in the paper the other day essentially announcing the end of email. The author was making a case that it was time to return to direct and telephonic communication on any matters pretty much more important than a grocery list. We might wonder about all of that even if it is abundantly clear that soon email systems should come with a caution or a cigarette pack warning that pops up before you hit the “send” button. In fact, is there already an app for that? If so, we should all get it!

We think of email as ubiquitous now with a gazillion messages sent daily, but is it? There’s every indication that texting, Facebook messaging, Snapchat, and even Instagram are more common communications tools for many of the under-30’s in the developed world than email. No small part of that may be the ability to utilize a more informal language and briefer protocols than even common in emails. On the other side of the divide, there are the old dogs, and there are some of them still barking in union halls, corporate corridors, and even political offices who have their assistants print out their emails and often handle their replies.

Some of these dogs know how to bury their bones or at least keep others from uncovering them. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina was quoted during the first of the Democratic National Committee released by WikiLeaks that he had never used email yet, and had no plans to ever use email in the future. I’ve often told the story of Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, now the longtime head of the National Urban League, based in New York City, telling me he looked forward to leaving office so he could see what a Blackberry was like and use email. Politics is almost the ultimate transactional business, so at the best some were huge fans of the Animals and were always humming, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and at the worst, well, as Hillary Clinton’s email program has demonstrated, let’s just not go there. On the other hand we had John Podesta a former White House Chief of Staff and ultimate political professional using a Gmail address, when he must have known even if never hacked, Google never destroys emails leaving a permanent record just out there waiting.

Can we keep email and use encryption? I’d like to think so, but then there’s the federal lawsuit trying to break Moxie Marlinspike’s best-in-class system. Can messaging encryption like WhatsApp be better? Maybe, but then I read a long article in The New Yorker about the coup in Turkey and how the Gulenists were in deep trouble once the Turkish intelligence got into their homemade app called ByLock that had 200,000 users forcing them to “go underground” with something else called Eagle. We’ve all read about the FBI having to pay big bucks to “unlock” an IPhone. You have to wonder whether or not there’s anything that cannot be hacked?

Should we worry about this at all? Most of us not only have nothing to hide, but pretty low key, boring correspondence and lives for that matter in the eyes of the outside world, even if vital to ourselves, our work, and families. Nonetheless, we’re somebody, too! Do we just sigh and accept the tradeoff between privacy and convenience? Do we exchange paranoia for openness?

Where is this all going? My companera and I watched an episode of a widely touted, and supposedly “most relevant” show on television the other night on Netflix. The episode featured an implant behind the ear and a small thumb drive size device everyone carried around constantly that filmed and recorded every part of everyone’s lives, allowing someone to search back in old experiences from their past, unless they had deleted it. Is that where we’re going? If so, I guess we should enjoy email while we have it, and start calling these days, the good old days!


WikiLeaks without Assange or WikiLeaks without Internet?

511004-keyboard-hackNew Orleans   First there was a note that the daily surge of WikiLeaks email dumps had suddenly stopped for two days prompting speculation that maybe Ecuador had cut the internet connects to Julian Assange in his hideout apartment in the Ecuadorian embassy in an upscale London district. Then there was confirmation, including commentary from Raphael Correa, Ecuadorian’s President, that, yes indeed, they had cutoff Assange’s internet access until after the United States Presidential election.

The explanation was short and sweet from Ecuador. Having had long experience with foreign intervention in Latin American elections, Ecuador didn’t want to be accused of having any role with interfering with another country’s election, and that included the current one in El Norte.

Clearly they were also bridling over the argument being made by US cyber-pros and politicians that WikiLeaks was essentially funneling emails in a silent partnership with whatever the Russian name for the KGB is now. Assange undoubtedly has also stepped on some toes with his blatant partisanship and disdain for the Clinton candidacy, while welcoming the sudden surprising embrace of the alt-right wing of the Republican Party and its banner man, Donald Trump. Correa had indicated earlier that he favored Clinton in the contest, though he felt, somewhat contradictorily, that Trump might be so bad that he would be good for the resurgence of left parties in Latin America, making an argument that was extremely hard to follow. At the same time Correa and the official Ecuadorean statements were clear that Assange would still be harbored in the embassy, and they had rescheduled the Swedish interviews on Assange’s remaining rape charge until after the election as well, presumably to allow Assange access to the internet to prepare with his lawyers.

What an interesting turn of events! Now, we’ll see if WikiLeaks is more or less than the sum of Assange’s parts these days.

WikiLeaks claims, likely truthfully, that it has no idea who is sending them these hacked emails, no more than we can name the individuals who are named in our daily spam messages. Computer pros can suss out some clues from the IP addresses in messages, but it would be surprising if these dumps weren’t encrypted and sent through VPN channels making them hard to trace as well. But, surely these dumps are not going directly into Assange’s personal account for goodness sakes. The WikiLeaks website has the ways and means to receive blind data transmissions for goodness sakes, so technically, if they had something, they could continue to merrily attempt to poke their emails in the eyes of US-voters and the candidates.

Maybe despite the internet anarchist reputation of WikiLeaks, we are going to find that it’s really top down, command-and-control. Now we’ll find out if there is anything or anybody really involved in WikiLeaks other than Assange and a close clutch of comrades. There was a time when WikiLeaks seemed to be an organization of sorts that had people who could flesh out their claims to being a journalistic enterprise of a sort. As Assange’s legal troubles increased along with his bizarre efforts to find safe houses and escape extradition to Sweden, WikiLeaks seemed to be imploding around him.

The internet certainly hasn’t been shut down, so we might find out if WikiLeaks is just a one-man band or has a life separate from Assange. Or, alternatively, was there a message to Assange from Ecuador that said not only, “dude, sorry about that internet,” but also, “stop this stuff until after the US election or you are so out of here!” We’ll seen soon!


Rigged Elections and Sore Losers

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

New Orleans   Polls are showing a consolidated lead for Hillary Clinton with three weeks to go and many states already beginning early voting. Republican strategists are warning that it may be too late for a Trump turnaround. The cascade of issues from racism to tax dodging to misogyny and sexual harassment and abuse seem to be baking all of the negatives into Trump’s prospects. Republicans from Speaker Paul Ryan on down the ballot and outsiders, including influential and deep-pocketed donors, have either deserted Trump or are actively arguing that he must be abandoned in order not to inflect permanent damage on the party.

Trump’s response has been to question the very validity of the election and raise the specter of refusing to accept the results of the voters in a direct threat to long and deeply held democratic traditions. Governor Pence, the VP on Trump’s ticket, has said in essence, of course we will accept the results, but Trump has pulled his Twitter-finger and seemingly backed off that pledge, so who knows.

None of this is new. In fact, this has been the Republican tradition in all of the recent elections they have lost and part of their concerted effort over the last eight years to deny President Obama the legitimacy of his two victories. The Atlantic magazine quoted a study in a recent issue saying,

“Backing a losing candidate can also damage voters’ trust in the political system. An analysis of surveys from 1964 to 2004 found that over time, voters who supported losers were less likely than others to see the electoral process as fair. They also tended to be less satisfied with democracy generally.”

It seems that what we are witnessing now is something on the order of “pre-emptive sore losing.” Preparing for a humiliating defeat for a candidate enamored of calling everyone but himself a “loser,” it was predictable that he would whine that he couldn’t win because the election was “rigged” against him and everyone ganged up against “poor little me.”

But, this has been a recurring Republican theme from the very base of the party for years. How else could we explain the fact that the majority of Republicans surveyed without a shred of evidence continued to believe for close to seven years that ACORN had stolen both Obama elections? Or the fact that almost a majority of Texas Republican voters already believe that ACORN is stealing the election for Clinton this time around.

The commitment to democracy of many Republican leaders and much of their hardcore base seems extremely weak. The finger pointing about rigged elections at large cities with minority populations like Philadelphia and others seems totally racist. Inventing excuses for losing elections so that no one has to face the consequences of politics and program seems to argue that party leaders do not want to either learn from their errors or listen to the voters.

It will be interesting once this campaign is over to see how we rebuild a semblance of democratic practice from the thin soup we’re being served in this election. Perhaps I should say “if” we can rebuild a semblance of democratic practice after this election.


Mental Health Consumers Organize: One Foot in Dirt, Other in the Clouds

public participation at the first board meeting of MCAN

public participation at the first board meeting of MCAN

Juneau   I’ve often said that to be successful an organizer has to have one eye squarely planted on the ground where she’s walking and the other high in the clouds where she is trying to go. That has never been truer than in the case of the formal founding of the Mental Health Consumers Action Network (MCAN) of Alaska in Juneau, as the board, some members, volunteers, and supporters convened at the Vocational Training and Rehabilitation Center of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes.

The first, formal meeting of a new corporation’s board is stuffed full of the bureaucratic and legal requirements common to nonprofit organization everywhere: approving bylaws, conflict of interest and equal opportunity statements, electing board officers, enacting corporate resolutions, and so forth. In this case, I was chairing the opening meeting so had to warn the board members and others in the room that perhaps watching paint dry would be more interesting, but no one could make the case that MCAN was not formed in an open and transparent manner, because we were hanging it all out there.


When we got past the nuts and bolts, the more interesting part of the meeting was when we opened the discussion to the issues that mental health consumers felt need to be addressed as well as the vision and future direction of the organization. This is where the hard ground and the fluffy clouds become clearer in everyone’s sight. It is also where we can easily stumble at the horizon line!

Members had a litany of issues, many of which we had heard before: the stigma, the lack of intermediate or respite services to resolve critical episodes without full hospitalization, discrimination and non-existent employment opportunities, lack of short and long term housing availability, and more. One member though broke through the laundry list and argued that at the root of all of these issues was money. Not just money for programs and services, but more critically, the fact that mental health consumers facing the challenges of their disabilities without adequate housing or employment simply didn’t have the personal financial resources with SSI or any other disability payments to solve these issues individually. This was another lesson in organizing proving once again why listening is so, so important, especially to keep an organization and organizers from overlooking the obvious. The one thing no one had mentioned in my week of discussions was the simple fact that MCAN, as a membership organization of consumers, needed to aggressively fight for more money for consumers in order to allow them to leave independent and stable lives.

Wade Rathke and Greg Fitch

Wade Rathke and Greg Fitch, former ACORN organizer and founder and executive director of MCAN


Non-members perspectives on MCAN’s work in the future tilted towards service provision and aspirations for what I had been calling “brick-and-mortar” solutions like creating treatment and multi-centers and expanding housing opportunities. Others suggested MCAN could become something on the order of a one-stop shop for consolidating information and referrals on services through its website or office and sorting out existing capacity and addressing gaps. Those with connections in the business community were heartened to hear that some existing services were being moved away from tourist areas that serve the lucrative cruise ship trade during the summer months.

Consensus was strong that MCAN wanted to look at all of these issues, and over time the organization would be able to climb higher towards the clouds, once it had proven that it could actually do its work successfully on the ground by building a mass organization of mental health consumers and giving them voice and an ability to take collective action. Even an ambitious organization at the beginning has to be able to first learn to crawl, then walk, then try to walk a little faster and farther, before being able to break out and run the marathon that is involved in building power and winning social changes, but MCAN is now on the track and moving forward.

picture of the MCAN board after the 1st meeting

picture of the MCAN board after the 1st meeting


Bruce Springsteen and Talking to Mental Health Consumers in Alaska

one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska

one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska

Juneau   Before coming up to help organize the Mental Health Consumers Action Network (MCAN) in Alaska, I only had one request. I wanted to be able to meet and listen to men and women who had experience in the system to hear their issues and ideas for improvements. I wanted to talk to the consumers who would be the members of MCAN.

In my first meeting, about ten of us gathered around a table at Polaris House in Juneau. Polaris House is sort of a mutual support center providing a “safe” space for “people whose lives have been severely disrupted because of their mental illness,” as one of their brochures described their work.

I had heard from state officials about so-called “gaps” in the system, but that was meaningless without hearing what people facing the gaps felt, so once I started asking questions it wasn’t long before everyone around the table weighed in with their views about what needed to be done. This was a language and jargon I didn’t know. People talked articulately about their own situations, bipolar with schizophrenia rising, sounding almost like an astrology prediction or various kinds or mania or disorders in this way or that, but all of them with medication and treatment that were as articulate and powerful – and invisible – as anyone you might pass on the street.

another view of one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska

another view of one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska

One woman spoke of the huge value of something she called a “respite center,” which seemed to be space or half-way house before having to be hospitalized in a crisis. Such centers served as a place someone could go to get right before it was too late. The woman credited the center and her several visits there with allowing her to keep a job as a state employee for more than 20 years even while trying to do her best to manage her illness. Her comments brought hearty agreement. Tragically, this program seems to have been shut down, and worse others complained that the state’s crisis intervention folks used criteria that often blocked people from the few hospital beds that existed, giving them now no place to go, essentially until they got worse.

Other issues came fast and furious, large and small. Mental illness is not a visible disability, and highly treatable, yet there is a stigma attached to it and a public fear in dealing with it. People talked about being fired from jobs once employers found that they had mental health issues. One man counted three times in Juneau alone. Of course this is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but without an organization of consumers, employers will get away with this until stopped. Others talked about being denied housing or evicted from housing once their situation was known. Of course the Fair Housing Act bans this, but once again without an organization saying, NO, that’s just the way things go. The meeting was an education for me, and an endorsement of what MCAN was seeking to do.

Alaskan Brown Bear in the lobby of Alaska State Offices Building

Alaskan Brown Bear in the lobby of Alaska State Offices Building

Coincidentally in Juneau I had been reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run, while here. The main theme of course is the hard, personal road he followed to become a rock star hero, but the sub-theme that was surprising was Springsteen’s own fight to find stability with his mental health issues. He was clear that he only made it with 30 years of constant therapy and the ability to reach out when he hit the wall and find doctors that were able to perform miracles for him with psycho-pharmaceuticals. He had the money and support to make it, but his issues were such that it was still startling to hear him write off whole clumps of years in his sixties. Yes, not weeks or months, but years.

Too many want to make the homeless man or woman the face for mental illness, but I’d like to be in the crowd hollering, Bruce! And, that’s not crazy. A brochure I picked up from Polaris, rattled off the stats: 46% of Americans will experience mental illness in their lives; 26% will face it in any given year; and 5.8% of Americans will face a “severe” crisis annually. Springsteen also represents because Polaris cites its experience that only a quarter of one-percent (.25%) of the people they serve need housing. This is a big constituency even in the small population of Alaska with an estimated 24000 adults with serious mental illness in the state, and a life expectancy of 25 years less than the general population.

MCAN has its work cut out for it as a membership-based organization, but the issues are there, people are angry, and change is needed, whether we’re talking about on the stage of rock concerts, the house next door, the co-worker in the cubicle down the hall, or on the streets of Juneau.

Totem Pole in the Lobby of Alaska State Offices Building

Totem Pole in the Lobby of Alaska State Offices Building


Please enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own. Thanks to KABF.