Calling All Mugwumps to Desert Trump

Songs Grover Cleveland's Presidential Election 1888

Songs Grover Cleveland’s Presidential Election 1888

Seattle    The day’s papers told the story of Donald Trump’s self-inflected political barn burning pretty well. Here’s a sampling:

  • From Steven Law, a Mitch McConnell acolyte now running Crossroads America PAC: “The Republican Party is caught in a theater fire; people are running to different exits as fast as they can.”
  • From comedian Jena Friedman: “If only we could gauge American misogyny what percentage of American democracy would rather have a tweeting asteroid crash into American democracy than a woman leading.”

And, that’s about as nice as it gets. A Republican strategist, Steve Schmidt, commenting on MSNBC before the debates mourned the fact that we have never had a debate where there has to be a warning that the content was not going to be acceptable for children because it was going to be so X-rated. All reports indicate it was, if anything, worse.

Republican elected officials deserted Trump in droves over the weekend. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who has led the two-handed vacillator caucus in Congress as he chides Trump for bad behavior and then still “stands by his man,” found himself having to withdraw an invitation to Trump to campaign with him in his home district in Wisconsin. Senator McCain was finally clear that Trump would not have his vote. Women Republican Senators from New Hampshire and Nebraska jumped off the train. Utah legislators were calling for Mike Pence, the VP running mate, to step into the first chair.

None of that is going to happen. Trump is going down with this ship, and might take the whole Republican ship to the bottom of the sea. It seems like it is time for a revival of the Mugwumps.

In 1884, Republicans elites, moralists, and businessmen, calling themselves Mugwumps, deserted the Republican nominee in that contest, James G. Blaine of Maine, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to support Grover Cleveland, the Governor of New York, for election. The reasons they did so were concerns about reports of Blaine’s corruption and his ambition. Let me know when anything sounds familiar? Cleveland went on to win the 1884 election, lose the 1888 election, and in a rare and little remembered comeback, win both the 1892 election and a second term in the 1896 election, being one of the few three term Presidents ever, and the only one in history to win non-consecutive terms. None of which is to say that he was great shakes, since he also was famous for intervention in the Pullman Strike, had some questionable moral issues of his own, and presided over a dismantling of much of the Populist movement, but we’re talking about the Mugwumps, and now should be their time.

With so many Republicans running for the exits, how could it be so hard for some Republican so-called leaders to jump to the front of that line, if for no other reason to try and save some of their gang with some late efforts at a kind of courage even as most still hide in fear of offending Trump and what’s left of his base.


Government and Peer Pressure are Hobbling Scientists

usa-climatechange-marchNew Orleans   Just when I thought I might be out of my element and moving into the quicksand of squishy opinions in areas outside of my expertise, I just caught a lifeline thanks to Scientific American.

Ok, what the heck am I talking about?

Careful readers and listeners may remember my objections to the way super lead-head West Virginia research, Dr. Marc Edwards, who has been mega-helpful to Local 100 and ACORN’s efforts around lead testing in schools and elsewhere, was characterized by headlines in the New York Times Sunday magazine calling him a “zealot,” as well as quotes from other scientists that seem to be taking him down and denigrating his research, because he was speaking out on lead dangers. A year earlier, I trumpeted Professor Naomi Oreskes’ work in looking at how scientists had banded together to research explaining continental drift because it was not part of prevailing elite scientific consensus at the time. I’ve even argued that maybe Tom Wolfe has a point on linguistics, if for no other reason to encourage scientific argument about prevailing consensus, if it advances knowledge. Some might wonder what this has to do with organizing and my usual interests and concerns, and the simple answer is that the heart of organizing is a way of thinking critically and looking past prevailing consensus in order to advance the empowerment of people, so science is not off limits to that broad definition. Now, the October issue of Scientific American pulls the curtain aside and lets us understand better a couple of prevailing trends that make a mockery of the ideology of the scientific method.

First, they raise the issue of what are called “close-hold embargoes” being increasingly used by the government to release their research and by many other elite universities and research institutions in order to curry the most favorable press. An embargo in the press world is common. It is a message to the media that they are getting the information early so they can pay attention and give it priority, but they cannot write about until the date named when everyone has their shot at the news. A close-hold embargo is often in secret to a select number of papers or in this case science reporters, which gives them the research release early and restricts who their ability to even get comments or reactions from other experts and scientists in the field in exchange for the exclusive report. One professorial observer who writes a blog about these embargoes argues that they are reducing reporters to little more than stenographers, simply mouthing whatever the government or university wants them to write. The reporting by Charles Seife was eviscerating on this practice with universities and government response fumbling and dissembling. For all of us biscuit cookers the message becomes, “be careful about believing what you read” when these science reports come out until they have a chance to ferment in the community.

Perhaps as devastating was another piece in the same special section of Scientific American which looked at the way the scientific community bans together in a sort of elderly high school clique to punish so-called “celebrity scientists.” You know scientists like Marc Edwards who are in the news and acting as advocates for the public. The authors had interviewed and surveyed scientists who had written popular works allowing the general public to access scientific information better or who were regular commentators or public spokespeople for their work. Overwhelmingly, the message from all of these scientists is that their best advice was “keep your mouth shut” until you had tenure protection at your university or were well-advance and established in your field or you would be punished. The scientific community seems more like a secret society than a public good.

I find this scary and dangerous. It allows there to be concocted controversies on issues like climate change, chemical and pollution dangers, food, environment, space, and almost every area where modern life intersects with basic health and welfare thanks to manipulation of the public by our own government and the scientific community based on what they believe we “need to know,” rather than what we “want to know” by taking away our ability to decide and act in our interest on what we need to know.


The Politics of Negativity

636036954806290135-306513333_vote-2016New Orleans   As I drove out of Little Rock before dawn, I started flipping through radio stations to hear what was on besides KABF in a bit of informal early morning market research. I listened for a bit towards Pine Bluff to a panel of politicos who headed the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian Parties in Arkansas along with a couple of political scientists try to puzzle out something they called the Arkansas “electorate.”

Needless to say, there was at best imperfect agreement on anything other than the fact that at least in this moment in time they felt that Arkansas voters might be among the reddest, most Republican voters in the country. Independents have migrated, largely in reaction to Obama and the Obama presidency more clearly to the Republican column, leaving them with more than 40% identification, Democrats in the mid-30’s, and Libertarians and Independents sharing the difference. Yet, paradoxically, it was interesting that they thought the top of the ticket was almost irrelevant to Arkansas voters this election, because they were focused on different ideological issues. In some ways that didn’t compute. In a reaction to Obama,they went more Republican, yet in a reaction to Trump they were going more local? The Democratic Party chief gamely argued he thought it was more “fluid” and would go “cycle to cycle.” I would have thought he would have doubled-down on the potential impact the top of the ticket would have?

This is not just an Arkansas story. It is likely to be an American story.

There is also a huge contradiction embedded in one of the professor’s arguments about what she felt were the ideological commitments of the voters. One person interjected a point that seemed the most insightful of their arguments about what he called the “politics of negativity,” which seemed spot on and would undermine any ideology. He pointed out in this election and many others, people were not voting “for” something or someone as much as they were voting “against” someone and something.

His point drifted away as so often occurs in these kinds of he say, she say things, but it’s worth keeping front and center. The identity crisis the Republicans find themselves struggling with around issues about values, trade, immigration, and even social programs with the base migrating to Trump, even though he is nowhere near the Republican Party line ideology on any of these issues, is partially explained by this notion of “negativity politics.” Negativity equals no ideology. Negativity is the absence of ideology.

The same in a very troubling way can be said about the Democratic Party situation, even if they have not admitted to an identity crisis in the same way the issue is facing the Democrats. The Democratic Party has become the party of the bi-coastal elites, highly educated, and upper middle class and more wealthy, while its base, even though not rebelling yet, is lower income, blacker, browner, younger, and more voting against than for its leadership and any notion of ideology.

The other night I watched the first episode of “Borgen,” the Danish political television drama on politics, and if that’s a guide of any kind, this may be a global contradiction as well. The woman minority party leader wins the debate at the end of the first show, becoming prime minister, by arguing much the same case, that the politics of negativity should be rejected, and that voters needed to rally to an ideology that reflected the more aspirational national identity and culture. Seems that day might need to leave fiction and become reality here and elsewhere soon as well.


Secrets? Who Has Secrets Anymore?

yahoohackLittle Rock   If you ever want to keep a secret, don’t ever write it down anywhere. Don’t walk, but run away the internet! That’s increasingly the single biggest clue to protecting your privacy.

The evidence mounts daily as the tidal surges of data seep out of every conceivable internet portal and stream into hands both nefarious and purposeful. Let’s look at some cases in point.

  • WikiLeaks has to be in the conversation, but someone has to explain Julian Assange to me these days. Is he about transparency or anarchy? Is he serving a greater cause or an agent of the KGB? The fact that we’re scratching our heads, means there is a big warning sign attached to anything with a WikiLeaks label these days.
  • Yahoo had all of the critical data lifted from a half-million customers in the latest and largest hackfest, including social security numbers and the whole enchilada. The biggest concern in the papers was whether it would lower Yahoo’s sale price to the telecoms.
  • The FBI arrested someone in August who had lifted the source code for hacking into foreign government websites (and just maybe we should discuss that sometime, too!), but now they aren’t clear if he was a Snowden wannabe or a hoarder who couldn’t keep himself from taking stuff home. Booz Allen has made billions subcontracting to NSA and other agencies for this kind of spy craft, but seems to be running a Swiss cheese factory.
  • Yahoo seems to have answered a secret subpoena from the government and created a scanner for its email to try and isolate messages for an alleged terrorist the G-men were tracking.

The list is endless: Apple, one bank after another, credit companies, department stores, hotels, and on and on. Pretty much if you operate in the modern economy, your data is eventually going to end up everywhere, partly because it cost money for companies to protect it, and they would rather apologize for the breech and say, “it’s happening to everyone,” rather than provide the security they are implicitly promising whenever you turn over your information.

No worries, you could go with encryption right?

Not if you follow what is happening to Open Whisper, reputedly the best encryption site out there developed by Mr. Encryption, Moxie Marlinspike, an eccentric, genius hacker and programmer. The government has secretly subpoenaed his company for information. We know this because the ACLU has won some court proceedings trying to protect Marlinspike and his operation. Nonetheless the government is still after Open Whisper because they are trying to collect information that the company expressly says that it does NOT collect.

We’re living in a catch-22 world now. We can’t live with the internet, but we can’t live without it. At this point we need to come to grips with the fact that unless we’re hand signaling to someone out in the wilderness somewhere, no secret is safe, and of course even while our lips might be moving and our hands waving, an eye in the sky probably has our GPS coordinates handy and some footage available.

Our lives are an open book. Get used to it!


Please enjoy Suzanne Vega’s We of Me. Thanks to KABF.


Gilmore Girls Blow up Fair Grinds Coffeehouse

dscn1914Little Rock    It all seemed simple enough. Through the on-and-off challenge of erratic email in Cameroon, I got an email from a marketing company asking if Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, our social enterprise fair trade operation in New Orleans, was willing to do something they called a “Luke’s Diner” pop-up for 5 hours on a Wednesday for Netflix. It seems they were trying to revive the old “Gilmore Girls” television show sometime later in the year. They would pay us for up to 250 free cups of coffee to giveaway. They would do the promo and send us cups, sleeves, and some t-shirts or aprons and such.

What did I know from the “Gilmore Girls?” I might have watched them for a couple of minutes sometime back in the day while flipping through channels perhaps. Sort of a rom-com, adult soap opera of sorts tilted toward a female demographic. I looked at the calendar. It was a Wednesday. Someone willing to buy 250 cups of coffee on a Wednesday morning, usually a somewhat slow day, what did we have to lose, I thought? I forwarded the message over to Zee Thornton, our manager, saying as much, but warning that I was buried, so she would have to pull the trigger on any contract, since I couldn’t sign and scan from Douala.


I was a little worried when I read the contract they sent over which had a line that they could unilaterally disregard everything they said in the contract on a whim, so I objected to the marketing company. Their agent replied. Hmmm. Then he suggested we just scratch that line out and sign it and see what might happen. That seemed a little sketchy to me, but, what the heck, Zee could handle it, and how bad could this be, Gilmore Girls, maybe 50 or 100 folks would show up. I would roll by and check it out as I left for meetings in Greenville, Mississippi, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

The “Gilmore Girls” blew up Fair Grinds! It was crazy! When I got there at 730 AM, an hour after we opened on Ponce de Leon, the line stretched from our counter, out the door, and snaked down the street, and around the corner of ’s grocery store at the end of the block. I took a picture from our balcony and, having seen many marches and demonstrations, it looked like Fair Grinds was the target of an action! Luckily Zee had showed up for a look too, so she was behind the counter with two baristas. The opener said that when he got there at 530 AM, there was already a line. I left at 8 AM to hit the highway after trying to reassure folks along the line that we were slinging the coffee, and it wouldn’t be long.


I asked the crowd of largely younger, white women, what was up? Many said they had watched it with their mothers. The series had run between 2000 and 2007. This would have been its 16th anniversary. One young woman on a bicycle who used to work at Canseco’s told me when she was working in the neighborhood, she had told her parents that this whole neighborhood reminded her of the Gilmore Girls neighborhood. Unlike most crowds, they were totally mellow, chitchatting as they inched along, patient, just sort of grinning about being at some kind of a Gilmore Girls lovefest. It could have been drugs, but I don’t think so.

It turned out we were out of the free coffee before 9 AM, and had used all 500 cup sleeves not much after that. Netflix worked this promotion in 200 coffee houses and cafes around the country. I’m not sure it cost them much more than $100 – $150000 nationally. We had radio, television, and newspapers before, during, and after the event. It was a total happening! I looked on-line, and USA Today had a story about a similar line and Luke himself showing up at a joint in Los Angeles.

Wild. My son, Chaco, the Fair Grinds assistant manager, who showed up luckily to restock and help out, posted on Facebook that he was going to have to check this show out now and see what was up.

You think you know something about organizing and moving a crowd, but there’s always something to learn!


Please enjoy Hiss Golden Messenger’s Biloxi. Thanks to KABF.


The Secret to Hillary? She’s a Scorpio!

scorpio200Little Rock    Ok, you’re going to ask what planet I’ve been living on right? You’re going to claim that I’ve been permanently damaged by too many time zones, too much jet lag, and too many alternate realities in airports and the weirdly artificial environments of airplanes. You’re probably right, but somehow over all of these years as I had scratched my head, just as so many have done trying to “get” Hillary Rodham Clinton, I had never stumbled on the huge clue in front of me: her birthday. More specifically the fact that her birthday is October 26th!

You don’t get it probably. You pooh-pooh astrology don’t you? Of course you do, so do I! Why would anyone pay attention to such mess? I still believe that adamantly, but….there’s one glaring exception that has been beaten into me over many decades.

I live in a Scorpio nest. My mother is a Scorpio. My companera is a Scorpio. For goodness sakes, my daughter is a Scorpio, as well. The organizer who runs the New Orleans office of our union is a Scorpio. It goes on and on, so I have been schooled and lectured on the amazing virtues of Scorpio-ness the better part of my grown life. And, these lectures always come with a warning label bigger than any you might ever imagine would be on a cigarette pack. If you miss the warning, sometimes there are other signs of trouble. Over the years that I worked with my daughter she would give me a sign when she thought I was crossing some kind of line or another by raising two fingers on each hand and wiggling them to mimic a scorpion’s stingers in what should be the universal warning to all of the world’s clueless citizens, like myself.

Here’s the short course on Scorpios as it has come to me. They are fiercely loyal, which is a great thing, but when crossed, or when they think they might have been crossed, they will strike you down in a heartbeat.

Now that I suddenly realize that Hillary is a Scorpio, it is like a new dawn for me. No one is going to tell me that doesn’t describe her to a tee. Loyal. Secretive. When crossed, a vengeful and unrelenting warrior. These are great character traits. As I have been told repeatedly as a student in the Scorpio nest, these are in fact the best traits, and Scorpio is the best sign above all others.

I’ve learned that it is possible to live and thrive in a Scorpio world. It just takes a lot of practice, trial and error to get to this heavenly space, but it’s absolutely worth it.

And, no, you shouldn’t start believing in astrology for goodness sake, but as I have learned, you absolutely need to learn to love Scorpios. Once you embrace the Scorpio reality, Hillary is another one of their gifts. It’s their world. We all just need to learn to live in it with them.