James O’Keefe is Just a Clown Now

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Illustration by Mike McQuade; Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty (man)

New Orleans    I’m tired of hearing anything about James O’Keefe, the discredited video scammer, whose one infamous claim to notoriety was his heavily edited attack on ACORN in 2009 in concert with conservative pundits and Congressional representatives. Luckily, I’m now in the vast majority as one escapade after another further exposes him as nothing more than an unethical, unscrupulous jerk. Even better than being little more than a boring footnote of these dark times, we can all find some joy in the fact that increasingly he is nothing more than an embarrassment to the conservative cause and a source of ridicule as the poster boy for sheer incompetence.

None of us can forget the Keystone Kops affair at former US Senator Mary Landrieu’s field office in New Orleans, where he and his co-conspirators were caught monkeying with the phones in a ridiculous effort to try and prove her office was not answer the phone about the Affordable Care Act. Huh?!? Well, they got off without having to do time on a felony beef for breaking-and-entering, and eventually pled out and outlasted his probation, but wow….what a bunch of boneheads.

He and his flub-a-dub crew have had one blunder after another to their credit from ACORN on. They stumbled around Texas looking for some evidence of mischief in Obamacare signups and were chased out of the Local 100 office in Dallas when busted. They bought a Hillary t-shirt with cash and claimed it was dirty money. Small potatoes. Thin soup. No one’s eating any more.

The latest from the O’Keefe gang that can’t shoot straight was some kind of attempted sting they were planning on George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Supposedly they were trying to make a point about how groups are networked or something, but god only knows.

Anyway, according to reports in The New Yorker and on the Media Matters website, they were trying to set up their operation claiming some Hungarian émigré wanted to work with them, as if that’s the way OSI operates. They had someone with a British accent who was going to pretend to be Hungarian. The whole scene already sounds unbelievably bizarre.

As they reported:

Conservative media darling James O’Keefe accidentally detailed his plans to infiltrate and smear progressive organizations on the voicemail of Dana Geraghty, an employee of liberal philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, continuing a string of embarrassing missteps in his attempts at undercover stings. After leaving Geraghty a voicemail claiming to be “Victor Kesh,” a “Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation,” O’Keefe held “a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros,” unaware that his phone was still connected to Geraghty’s voicemail. During the call, O’Keefe outlined plans to send an “undercover” operative posing as a potential donor to the foundation in a project he named “Discover the Networks.” O’Keefe’s plot involved using an English orthopedic surgeon with “a real heavy British accent” to secretly film Soros-linked progressive organizations. He later admitted that “some of us just forget to hang up the phone. The New Yorker continued:

 

The accidental recording reached farcical proportions when Kesh announced that he was opening Geraghty’s LinkedIn page on his computer. He planned to check her résumé and leverage the information to penetrate the Soros “octopus.” Kesh said, “She’s probably going to call me back, and if she doesn’t I can create other points of entry.” Suddenly, Kesh realized that by opening Geraghty’s LinkedIn page he had accidentally revealed his own LinkedIn identity to her. (LinkedIn can let users see who has looked at their pages.) “Whoa!” an accomplice warned. “Log out!” The men anxiously reassured one another that no one checks their LinkedIn account anyway. “It was a little chilling to hear this group of men talking about me as a ‘point of entry,’ ” Geraghty says. “But—not to sound ageist—it was clear that these people were not used to the technology.”

I mean, really, need I say more?

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Oppressing the Christians in Chin and Media Dreams in the Air

chin_stateYangon  Chin is a somewhat inaccessible state occupied largely by ethnic Chin’s along the western and northern mountainous areas of Myanmar strategically located along the Indian and Chinese borders of the country.  The state is geographically large, but its population is hardly 500,000, and perhaps significantly less given the number of Chin who have fled, largely because of religious oppression that has enjoyed government support and military implementation for years, as we learned in a lengthy meeting with the Chin Human Rights Organization.   With all the current news coverage about the ethnic violence involving Muslims in some of the rural areas, the religious oppression here involves Christians, and more precisely, Baptists.

            It seems that in the 1880’s, Baptists missionaries from the United States, began proselytizing among the Chin and somehow caught lightning in a bottle because of the alignment of animism and Christianity in a weird synergy.  Unfortunately, the military government has tended to build unity in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country by equating religion and nationalism.  We heard of a program of residential schools that seemed similar to the colonization of first Canadians and Native Americans in North America with the added incentives of promises of scholarships and jobs.   They shared a recent report entitled, “Threats to Our Existence” that detailed instances of forced labor used to build pagodas by Christians so that higher officials could win “merit” as well as sites where there were cross destructions.   Normally, the CHRO is left “documenting” these cases for the various United Nations bodies responsible for either refugees or human rights abuses, but now they were helping to prepare for a coming meeting in Chin State won as part of the ceasefire settlement that would organize a human rights commission, so they were more hopeful of real action.

            Later in our day we met with a representative of the Burma News International named Khin Maung Shwe.  As deeply rooted and methodical as CHRO was in its approach, BNI was all up in the air with plans and dreams.  They were an on-line news source, but also publishing two books on the political peace process and the economy, as well as trying to figure out how to build a national FM radio network with a host of foreign donors from George Soros’ Open Society to French media foundations.   Where days ago one of our group had asked about social networking and almost gotten a blank stare, BNI was deeply ambitious and uploading news to Facebook at one time, Twitter later in the day, and then finally on their website.  30 people were employed by the project and they were moving like a house on fire.  Did they have problems with censorship?   Sure, but this was their time!   How about the government?  Well, they met with them monthly along with others and were hoping to convince them to license their efforts. 

            Jay Hessey formerly of SEIU and now working in Mae Sot, Thailand with refugees, commented later that one thing that was most moving was the amount of hope everyone seemed to have.  His observation was inarguable, not withstanding any facts to the contrary.

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John Lewis and the New Fight for Voting Rights

Congressman John Lewis Speaking up for Voting Rights

Houston   The lion in winter is still a lion, and John Lewis, a beacon for the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and now a longstanding Congressman from Atlanta, roared in the halls of Congress the other night about voting rights once again.  The simple issue that pushed his button was the hater amendment from another Georgia Congressman Paul Broun trying to deny all funding to the Department of Justice for enforcement of the critical provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   Broun, caught in the act, by Lewis, smartly apologized and withdrew his amendment, but that was tactical not sincere.  The strategy of voter suppression continues to go unchallenged.

Broun’s amendment was meant to push back the Department of Justice, finally arising from its own slumber, and challenging Georgia and other states’ efforts to implement the Republican strategy of voter suppression through new voter identification methods.  Sadly, not all states are subject to the Voting Rights Act prescriptions, and many from Wisconsin to Kansas that have emerged as the “new South” in denying citizen rights to access the democratic voting process can escape with their strategy untainted.

Lewis’ roar reminds us that we critically need a civil rights movement now about the rights of the disenfranchised among the poor and racial minorities to vote, since they along with the elderly are the key components of the millions likely to lose their ability to vote in November’s election.  While the Obama campaign whined in the front pages of the paper this week that “they got this” on registration and turnout in answer to George Soros, the Democracy Alliance, and other consortiums of the rich stepping up to register and mobilize these voters, the truth is that we need a full court press with all players suited up and on the court.  For my part I hope they are not coming into the game too late, because much of the damage is already done.

Let Lewis lead a new civil rights movement again right now on this issue!

In the absence of major efforts like the independent ones that ACORN led cycle after cycle to register and mobilize voters; we now have overtly partisan outfits like the California Republic Party contractor, Momentum Political Services, reported on this week by the Sacramento Bee, that was hired to overtly add Republican registrants in battleground areas.  Seems they have some huge problems with bad cards, bad addresses, and overtly obvious changes in party registration to Republican.  Voter registration is hard work and the Republican strategy is clear:  suppress the likely Democratic voter base and enhance the Republican voter files.

Without a viable party or campaign strategy at least the rest of us can stand solidly for civil rights and the promise of democracy, even as John Lewis once again has reminded us, the practice of democracy is absent everywhere.

Marching in 1965

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IRS Finally Moves on Advocacy Gifts and Taxes: Pike’s Analysis

Tegucigalpa    aa-Koch-brothers-David-left-Charles-rightThe front page of the times indicated that both George Soros and the Koch brothers, the Daddy Warbucks of the right and the left, were among a small handful asked to defend their gifts to advocacy 501c4 organizations and why they should be not be required to pay 35% gift taxes. After 30 years, the mouse seems to have finally roared.

I reached out for an expert in this area, Drummond Pike, the founder and former CEO of the Tides family of philanthropic organization to quickly pen an analysis of what this means and why it is important. Today in a special on-line offering on the Social Policy website (www.socialpolicy.org) and the Paladin Partners site (www.paladinpartners.org), Drummond offers the insight of what this really means, and in “Better than a Trifecta,” he makes the case that perhaps the corporations will be the only big winners.

Here’s Drummond’s cut on this critical issue affecting non-profits, politics, and a lot more inthis crucial season:

Better than a Trifecta!

Today’s NYT article about IRS interest in pursuing gift taxes on contributions from individuals to “advocacy” 501 c/4 organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity or Crossroads GPS, both decidedly conservative, completes the ascent of corporate interests to dominance in our political system. Written by Stephanie Strom, normally the ambulance chaser of journalists focused on nonprofits, this article reports on the surprising news that the IRS is finally considering enforcing a tax it declared in 1982 to apply to contributions from individuals to 501 c/4 advocacy groups like the NRA, NARAL, and the Sierra Club, organizations whose “primary purpose” cannot be electoral, but rather legislative and policy. Non-primary purpose activities CAN support or oppose candidates but must remain below 49% of total expenditures; under recent rulings, this has permitted large anonymous contributions for what are essentially independent expenditure campaigns for or against candidates.

The end result: contributions to this category of advocacy organizations, that can be made anonymously, may now (after 29 years of silence from the IRS) be subject to a 35% gift tax. The work around, however, is pretty simple: give to a 527 organizations that can do elections work but contributions to which are not subject to tax by statute. The rub, of course, is that contributions to 527’s are reportable. No more silent manipulation of the process.

But wait a minute…what about corporations? The hotly debated “Citizens United” decision issued last year by the Supreme Court reasoned that because the law had evolved to treat corporations as “persons” in certain ways, they were entitled to free speech, and under prior Court decisions, “speech” meant the ability to spend money in politics, including the ability to make anonymous contributions to 501 c/4’s.

But this is where it gets interesting. Corporations are treated as persons in only some ways. The tax system doesn’t treat corporations as people in other regards, so they aren’t subject to gift tax. Thus, the effect is that, now, untaxed anonymous political giving shall be the exclusive domain of corporations. Ta Da!!

That the Roberts Court is turning into the most activist Court in modern memory comes as no secret. But it is remarkable how quickly their well-chosen decisions are advancing the agenda of the free market, anti-government business interests. This is likely just the beginning – tilting the odds yet again in favor of corporate power and against individual rights and liberties. And looking into the near-term future, one has to like those odds for Republicans. The Tea Party folks are the wildcards, but somehow I’m not optimistic that they will unravel the unholy alliance between Big Business and the social conservatives. Meanwhile, get ready for one of the worst campaign seasons ever, fueled especially by anonymously given corporate contributions.

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Soros Stepping up to Murdoch and Fox News

ACORN Canada members Preeti and Pascal with Wade.

ACORN Canada members Preeti and Pascal with Wade.

Vancouver At Douglas College in New Westminster, hard by Vancouver, more than 30 ACORN Canada members and friends, gathered to watch the Dharavi documentary, WASTE, on ACORN International’s organizing of waste pickers, and to dig deep in their pockets to support our organizing in Latin America, Africa, and Indian mega-slums.  It was a special honor to be introduced by Pascal Apuwa, one of our British Columbia leaders, who it turned out was from Korogocho where ACORN Kenya is organizing and in fact knew some of our organizers and friends with COPA-Kenya from his own time there as a community organizer.  It seemed we had our own kind of “globalism” of organizing working here!

The support helps us move forward on ACORN International’s campaigns around the Commonwealth Games impact in Delhi and the larger Remittance Justice Campaign we are preparing to launch in December to another level.  Pascal confirmed that he pays $17 CN on a transfer of $100 CN to his family in Korogocho, plus they pay more to pick the money up in Nairobi as well.

Just as people were stepping up to help people all over the world, it was a pleasure to finally drag my whipped butt back to crash and see that billionaire George Soros strapped up with a million dollar donation to Media Matters to match some of the millions that Rupurt Murdoch and Fox have been pushing towards hate speech, Glenn Beck, and the Republicans.  This was no pussy foot thing where he sent an anonymous note over to someone with a check.  This was an “in-your-face, sonuvabitch” contribution directly aimed at supporting the accountability campaign directed at Fox advertisers who are supporting the madness – and violence – being advocated by Beck and the rest of their talking heads.

We won’t win this fight as some kind of “battle of the billionaires” between Murdoch and Soros (and no, my right wing buddies, I’ve never met Soros or raised a dime from him!), but leveling the playing field as this campaign gets ready to take some major steps forward is a good thing.

But just as we’re trying to link members in Canada and members in Korogocho and Dharavi to  create power and a stronger fight, because that’s our strength, I wish Soros would really step up and contribute not just money but something from his strength.  Given Soros legendary skills with currency and financial markets, I would love for him to spend a couple of days looking at the numbers behind the New Corporation and the Murdoch empire and seeing what it would take to give that tree a really hard shake.

That would hurt Murdoch where he sits on his wallet.  A million dollar contribution provides good symbolism and real resources, but looking at how to hit Fox, Murdoch, and the New Corporation hard and heavy would be a global contribution to people and politics throughout the world.

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Unspent Citizen Wealth Support

unemployment-lineSan Francisco Sitting in the Tides Momentum conference, I couldn’t help taking some notes as Larry Mishel from the Economic Policy Institute showed his slides estimating that unemployment would rise to over 10% in 2010.  More frighteningly, he said that when he added in underemployment the rates would be almost 18% then with 27,000,000 jobs – people! – impacted adversely.  I tried to reconcile this impending “pain,” as Larry correctly called it with the headline in my lap from USA Today indicating that “States Say They Can’t Afford Costs Tied to $5 Billion Emergency Fund.”

The story furnished by ProPublica writers Michael Grabell and Chris Flavelle nailed the issue that almost half of the states in the US are going to walk away from the desperately needed money in the fund, because they are not willing – or able – to come up with their 20% share of this 4 to 1 federal to state match.   This is money that goes directly to citizen wealth and survival and can be used as direct cash transfers, aid on expanding welfare caseloads, rent payments to forestall evictions, and even creating temporary jobs for the unemployed.  The reporters highlight the plans and problems in a number of states like California, New York, and Tennessee.  They also redlined Louisiana, which is already notorious for not taking stimulus money to help the unemployed, and now indicates that its budget crunch means that despite the fact that 20% of our citizens live in poverty, it doesn’t have the money to help them get out of poverty.

What the heck?!?

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