Not O’Keefe Again!

organic-spies-spookNew Orleans    James O’Keefe, the infamous video scammer, showed up on my ACORN Google Alerts a couple of days ago, threatening once again to release daily videos that would overturn the election. Yawn. Really? He has been so thoroughly discredited so frequently in recent years that I have to admit I didn’t even open the alert and see what it was about. Just more self-promotion promoting a candidate whose entire platform and program is nothing but self-promotion.

Then a colleague mentioned a problem in their battleground state and the fact that there was a kerfuffle about videos having been mentioned by Trump in the debate. I replied that it was obviously minor since I hadn’t seen anything in local or national papers yet. Well, that was then, and this is now, since a story finally ran in the middle of the New York Times with comments indirectly alluded to elsewhere about “dirty tricks” for Hillary and troubling comparisons about the accuracy of the major candidates’ moral compasses.

It turned out this time that the O’Keefe video burned a couple of tangential operatives that may or may not have been obliquely involved in low levels of the Clinton campaign. The discussion ostensibly was about planting provocateurs in Trump rallies who might or might not provoke Trumpeteers into random acts of violence. Yes, you’re wondering, why bother, isn’t this an organic and natural part of Trump rallies anyway? Well, perhaps but the operatives were trying to entice O’Keefe’s pretend “donors” and may, or may not, have been gilding the lily for the bucks. One of the operatives who was off-camera reportedly was an old friend and colleague, Bob Creamer, a native of Shreveport and former community organizer with Illinois Public Action in the 1980s, who used to stop by and visit during Christmas when he was visiting his family, and in later life, now married to Congresswomen Jan Shaklowsky of Chicago, has made his career as a political consultant and organizer. In short, I’m biased. I like Bob. I detest O’Keefe.

All of which is neither here, nor there, because my real problem is not this tempest in a teapot, because I have to admit how jaded I am since all I see is small potatoes, but how is it still possible that any and everyone involved at any level of political, activist, or organizing life has not learned the lessons from the ACORN-O’Keefe attack to thoroughly vet any and every one that they do not know well when they are doing any business whatsoever. Ok, you may say I’m not a trusting person, but that’s OK, because I’ll freely admit, I’m not a trusting person, but why would anyone fall for O’Keefe’s ridiculous ploys anymore?

Is it possible on the right or the left that part of the standard interview process and contractor terms don’t require a guarantee against loose lips and sinking ships mandating vetting or permissions before any discussions in or away from the office with random folks? How can it be that the lessons of the slanderous ACORN takedown are not tattooed on the arms or worn like an amulet by every political organizer and campaign employee from high to low? I don’t get it.

Somehow memory is fleeting from cycle to cycle and 2009 is so yesterday, but geez can’t we get our act together finally and do right on this? O’Keefe continues to be a bad penny who keeps popping up, simply because we allow his shtick to survive.

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Libertarian Tech Billionaire Peter Thiel Had Set His Sights on ACORN

 Getty Images for New York Time

Getty Images for New York Time

New Orleans  This is a bit unusual for the Chief Organizer’s Report, but a piece by Steven Thrasher in The Guardian, published in the United Kingdom, gives progressives a better understanding of what is at stake in the billionaires’ war against free speech, the poor, and really all of us. Hang with me, because this is where the knife hits the bone.

Peter Thiel’s Gawker war not his first brush with a high-priced vendetta.

Billionaire’s investment in conservative James O’Keefe’s ‘sting’ video may have had a long term – and negative – impact on progressive causes

By Steven W. Thrasher in The Guardian

Watching Peter Thiel, the libertarian billionaire, waging war on Gawker Media has reminded me that there was a time when Thiel himself backed another controversial media figure famed for causing outrage in his pursuit of the “truth” – conservative “film-maker” James O’Keefe.

Thiel, who has been in the news … for underwriting the legal fees of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, has sparked a heated debate about the free speech implications of a billionaire using his cash to muzzle media organizations.

But he has also used his money to fund people who set out to greatly harm progressive causes including public media, housing for poor people, and rational perceptions about immigrants and voting.

In 2009 Thiel invested in O’Keefe, a conservative agitator whose undercover videos (some dishonestly edited to present things that never happened or just plain wrong) were used to undermine liberal causes.

Before admitting to backing Gawker’s biggest lawsuit, Thiel was best known – as much as the billionaire was known at all outside Silicon Valley – as an early investor in companies such as PayPal and Facebook.

He also has been a longtime champion of conservative causes, backing GoProud, a now defunct lobbying body for gay Republicans sick of the “centrist” Log Cabin Republicans.

But his early investment in O’Keefe (who has since pleaded guilty to breaking into a US senator’s office and paid $100,000 to a victim of his smears) may have had the most long-term – and negative – impact.

Shortly after I began working as a writer at the Village Voice in 2009, O’Keefe was in the news for making his first breakout “sting” video, which seemed to show him dressed as a pimp and conservative blogger Hannah Giles dressed as a prostitute. They appeared to approach various offices of Acorn (the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, one of the most powerful grassroots organizations for poor brown and black people which did important work with voter registration and housing access) to ask for their assistance in avoiding taxes, which they seem to get.

Eventually, the videos were debunked – but not until they had done tremendous damage. As I wrote in 2010:

O’Keefe had carefully edited his tapes and left out, for example, that he was decked out in college preppie clothes, not pimp-wear. At least one Acorn office threw him out, and at least two knowingly played along with his ruse. (The San Diego office called the cops after he left, and the Philadelphia office filed a police report.) The upshot was that after his edited tapes became public, Congress quickly voted to strip ACORN of all federal funds. The organization effectively went out of business before the bill could take effect or be thrown out in court.”

O’Keefe later made outrageous, selectively edited videos that would lead to significant outcomes, like the ousting of NPR’s CEO, even though that video was thoroughly debunked when the raw video was seen. But going back to 2009, I got a tip that O’Keefe was not “absolutely independent”, as he claimed, but that he had received funding from one Peter Thiel for a video he’d made earlier in the year called “Taxpayers Clearing House”.

The opening of Taxpayers Clearing House is pretty racially offensive. As Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie plays, O’Keefe rides around in a van that looks like the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol, a well-known American sweepstakes that surprises entrants with a $1m prize. He approaches unsuspecting black and brown people in their homes, duped into thinking they are going to win money when he rings their bell. Instead, he presents them with a bill for $28,000 – the portion of their bill, he says, for the 2008 bailout of Wall Street banks. The whole thing is framed to make minorities look stupid, dumb and greedy.

Asked about Thiel’s involvement, his spokesman James O’Neill, told me that the billionaire had provided O’Keefe with “about $10,000” to make the video through a “small-government group”. He also denied Thiel had involvement with the Acorn videos, adding that he’d only “watched them on YouTube” and “he shares the view that taxpayer money should not promote human trafficking”. (No taxpayer money was ever used to promote human trafficking.)
This incident reveals a few things about Thiel’s reach, the scale of his attacks on liberal politics, and the effectiveness of both outside the domains of traditional press and presidential politics.

While Thiel did not directly fund the Acorn videos, he funded the film-maker who did shortly before they were made; those videos not only managed to destroy Acorn, but they helped Republicans keep voting to defund it for years after it was dead and to convince half of Republican voters in 2012 that Acorn had stolen the election for Obama in 2008.

Would O’Keefe have been able to get that video made, as widely seen, and effectively considered but for Thiel’s startup funding? It’s a counterfactual. But if we are to take seriously the idea that Thiel’s initial half-million-dollar investment in Facebook entitles him to a portion of the value of the company that dominates so much everyday life today, we must also seriously consider that his startup investment in O’Keefe has had a handsome return on investment, too.

Fast forwarding to the Gawker case, Thiel ominously told the New York Times that he “refused to divulge exactly what other [media lawsuit] cases he has funded but said, ‘It’s safe to say this is not the only one.’” So there are an unknown number of media lawsuits he has going on. In 2009, the already billionaire mogul was willing to give a paltry $10,000 to an unknown video troublemaker, who has done a great deal of damage to progressive politics. How many things is he involved with? Only Thiel knows, and we can only wait to find out.

It’s fitting that Thiel funded the crude Taxpayers Clearing House video in 2009. Shortly after O’ Keefe’s video came out, Thiel wrote an essay for the libertarian Cato institute complaining that: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” With that in mind it makes ideological sense that he should align himself with O’Keefe, both early warriors in the backlash against the Voting Rights Act that grew during the Obama years.

Thiel is a Trump delegate. Trump too has warned he’ll crack down on the press if elected. But the power of a billionaire like Thiel doesn’t just expose problems with the freedom of the press in general or Gawker specifically. It is easy to argue that Gawker’s woes are of its own making – outing Thiel and others, (said by some to have triggered his initial rage), and publishing sex tapes without permission isn’t exactly going to win a lot of public sympathy (disclosure – I’ve written for them a couple of times years ago and have friends who work there).

What Thiel has exposed is that the problem with American politics (and America in general) is capitalism. Unfettered capitalism lets the Thiels of the world do what they want, largely when they want, and largely legally. If a plutocrat wants to build a private island free from government influence, they probably can. If they want to circumvent even America’s toothless gun restrictions by supporting a 3D printer for guns, they can do that, too. We are almost powerless to stop anything we have learned about Peter Thiel; he has the money and power to legally stave off financial competitors, fund foot soldiers to strike down community organizers, and (almost as an afterthought) deeply influence the media and presidential politics.

This is what American capitalism creates.

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Grandiosity and Self-Delusion Gone Wild, O’Keefe Has the Money to be Dangerous

Project Veritas 990

Project Veritas 990

New Orleans       Vigilance knows no holiday, nonetheless I don’t want to be a bore even while I write, Paul Revere style, from door to door crying out the alarm that James O’Keefe and his copycats are dangerous to democracy and chilling the efforts of mass organization and support. I beat this drum regularly, but found myself reading Jane Mayer’s article in The New Yorker called “Sting of Myself: Amateurish spies like James O’Keefe III attempt to sway the 2016 campaign” and forced to yell “Wolf!” everywhere I can be heard. I just sent the piece out to all corners where I work in the spirit of “be prepared!”

I’ve been arguing that O’Keefe’s credibility has been shot to smithereens, but I’m making the mistake of assuming that we are living and working in a rational political environment and that is clearly my bad. Most recently, he was caught amateurishly once again while trying to scam Open Society, the George Soros foundation, when he mistakenly kept babbling on his target’s voice mail. In a more normal world that might be the final straw, but, oh, no, not with this bad penny.

O’Keefe’s dark money funders have such deep pockets that putting some bets on him is the equivalent of picking up the bar tab on major league politics like a presidential campaign and therefore a trivial matter. His misnamed, Project Veritas, which gained an IRS tax exemption for charitable and educational activity, turns out to be raking in the dough. Mayer clearly looked at his IRS Form 990 filings and found that he took in $1.2 million in 2103 and then doubled down with $2.4 million in 2014. Likely when the 2015 filings become public, he will have added to that stash as well.

Justin Bieber has a new hit about a girl where he sings, “if you like the way you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.” He could have written that song about O’Keefe who is on a Trump-style ego trip of self-delusion, self-promotion and grandiosity, but like Trump and Bieber’s ex-girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he’s not very dangerous, especially now that he has a bank account to fuel his pomposity.

He claims he has the money to have buried his operatives in numerous campaigns, and that’s likely true though the notion that they are at the heart of anything rather than the periphery is unlikely, but that’s OK for O’Keefe, because that his modus operandi anyway. Taking trivia from low level, public-facing staff and volunteers and trying to make political scandal mountains from molehills is his shtick. I used to advise organizers to start with lower targets in a campaign to build momentum, saying metaphorically that they should “hit the meter reader” on their way to the top in utility campaign for example, but O’Keefe never gets above the meter reader because for all his big talk about upending politics, he’s really just trying to break back into the rightwing echo chamber that still listens to his line.

So, why not ignore him, as even Glenn Beck now does? Well, because the biggest problem with O’Keefe is that his presence on the scene is chilling to real work. He breeds caution in organizations that need to be aggressive. He and his imitators still leave many organizations afraid to engage in voter registration and engagement for fear of attack and infiltration by scurrilous means and reputational damage from public attack. He forces organizations and campaigns to spend time and money in internal training and self-protection rather than pursing their objectives and doing the work. For fear of seeing these sentences quoted in an O’Keefe fundraising pitch to some conservative, billionaire zealot, I should add that increasingly organizations have tightened up to the new reality of such scammers, caulked the holes, and stepped out again, and Jane Mayer’s effective outing of O’Keefe in such a prominent publication helps inoculate opinion makers, donors, politicians and others not to fall for this stuff in the future, which acts to effectively reinsert backbones where they were starting to sag under the constant assault of similar attacks.

His day might not be quite over, but hour by hour it’s coming closer to the end.

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James O’Keefe is Just a Clown Now

jof

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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James O’Keefe, Video-Scammer, Provokes Giant National Yawn and Smirk

ct-okeefe-jpg-20150902Little Rock    You know the Bob Dylan song with the famous line, “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?” Well, watching James O’Keefe latest episode of political absurdity and chicanery fall crashing to the ground with a giant thud brings that line to mind, and you know how it is, now I can’t stop humming it.

O’Keefe was the video scammer who set the stage for rightwing agitprop videos with a highly edited sting of bits off conversation in ACORN’s housing affiliate as part of a coordinated conservative attempt to attack and defund the organization in the United States. Some of his antics led he and his confederate, who posed as a hooker, to pay $100,000 to people abused, but he critically damaged ACORN. Since then he has continued to try to reclaim some space as a press hog in one stunt after another, including one at the federal building in New Orleans which led to his arrest and lengthy probation. Most recently he was hanging around Texas trying to play gotcha with Affordable Care Act navigators enrolling eligible families, but that was pretty much a dud.

It’s another political season, so like a nightmare, “he’s back!” Or, at least he wanted be back when he summoned the media to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. likely with the aim of trying to bring down Hillary Clinton this time. According to Dana Milbank a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post, there was a full house of reporters who attended on a slow news day out of boredom and likely looking for free food. As he writes, O’Keefe was there to…

…unveil evidence of “illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” He then rolled tape of … a Canadian woman attempting to buy a T-shirt and some campaign pins at a Clinton rally. To O’Keefe, this was evidence of foreign contributions being made to Clinton — an “illegal activity” with a total value of $75. Many of the 50 reporters who showed up at the National Press Club for this unveiling felt as if they had been punked. “My first reaction is this is about buying a T-shirt,” said one. “It doesn’t seem like much of a bombshell.” “Is this the best thing you have?” I asked O’Keefe. “Is this a joke?” inquired Olivia Nuzzi of the Daily Beast. “This feels like a prank. … We’re talking about buying campaign swag.” But O’Keefe was serious: “This is just the beginning! We’ve got more!” Next installment: O’Keefe catches a Mexican national buying a Clinton sweatshirt?

Ouch, not only did he crash and burn, he got ridiculed, but he earned it.

This is too rich for me not to share more as Milbank goes on:

“It was a conduit donation, which was a crime,” O’Keefe proclaimed to his press club audience. Umm. So if it was a crime for the Clinton campaign to receive this “contribution,” wasn’t it also a crime for O’Keefe’s “journalist” to take a foreigner’s cash and hand it over to the campaign? I put the question to O’Keefe, who called his lawyer to the microphone. “It’s a technical violation of the law,” the lawyer, Benjamin Barr, admitted. “It’s akin to jaywalking.” (O’Keefe’s methods have been in doubt before: He paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit by an ACORN worker years after that expose.) It’s unclear whether a purchase of campaign swag by a foreign national would violate campaign-finance laws under any circumstance. But it’s absolutely clear that the sort of violation alleged by O’Keefe would never be enforced. Nor could it be, because O’Keefe’s shirt-gate case unraveled quickly under questioning at his news conference. He didn’t know the identity of the Canadian, he said, or even if she really was Canadian. His “journalist” who facilitated the transaction gave the Clinton campaign a fake name, and O’Keefe wouldn’t identify the videographer. He also had no plans to report the supposed violation by the Clinton campaign to the Federal Election Commission.

This is what is known as a takedown. Who shows up for his dog-and-pony show the next time? Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?

As Milbank finishes it feels like it:

But O’Keefe had achieved his purpose. “It’s going viral,” he said, noting that “it’s in the Washington Post right now.” It was, under this headline at that time: “New James O’Keefe video sting catches Clinton campaign being kind to a Canadian.”

***

Bob Dylan’s Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

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More ACORN Bans in New Congressional Budget

congressionalbudgetNew Orleans    Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan are once again accepting some praise at coming to a deal of sorts on the $1.1 Trillion US budget for this fiscal year without the customary drama and contention.  Speaker Boehner was strutting around at having pushed back the far right, never compromise, Tea Party contingent on the Republican side of the aisle this time around.

            Reading that showing backbone means that they only accepted half of the Heritage Foundation’s demands, gives me some pause, so we’ll have to look more carefully at the details of the budget, because as always the “devil” lives right there in those details.  Nowhere was this more true than finding that once again the efforts at ACORN-shaming continue to be included in the language, adding four new funding “bans” to ACORN and virtually anyone and anything ever involved with the organization and raising the total count to roughly 17 times since 2009 when first pushed through by the nefarious James O’Keefe and his slick editing of videos of ACORN housing advice. 

            Zach Carter of The Huffington Post, shared this analysis:

Not every appropriations bill carries such a provision, however, and while the legislative language tends to be boilerplate, it takes multiple forms. The current appropriations bill contains three distinct versions of the ban on government money to ACORN, each with a minor difference. One of the versions shows up twice.

The first shows up the Department of Defense section:

None of the funds made available under this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries.      

The next appears in the part of the bill dealing with funding for the Department of Homeland Security:

None of the funds made available under this Act or any prior appropriations Act may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, or allied organizations.

The Veterans Affairs funding section contains this language:

None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors.

And a section on Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development contains an ACORN passage identical to the DHS version.

ACORN, of course, has no affiliates or subsidiaries, because it does not exist anymore. And while the bill does not define the term “successors,” the 2009 legislation to dismantle ACORN defines them as, “Any State chapter of ACORN registered with the Secretary of State’s office in that State,” “any organization that shares directors, employees, or independent contractors with ACORN,” and any organization that “employs” someone “indicted” for violations that ACORN was initially charged with. Most of those characteristics, of course, are irrelevant now that ACORN does not exist, and nobody has been indicted for the offenses the group did not commit.

            Is there no end to this?  Talk about “kicking a dead horse!”   Furthermore, my lawyer, the esteemed Doug Young of Scalan, Buckle & Young in Austin, Texas, says it’s all pretty much just window dressing, since even to define a “successor” would mean proving there had been a concrete financial or similar transaction between ACORN and the entities, but, hey, with all due respect to the lawyers of the land, the whole point of this continued Congressional genuflecting to the rightwing and the whack allegations against ACORN is to intimidate and chill the organizing by low and moderate income families, and to scare away potential funders, whether public or private, who just don’t want the hassle. 

            This has to stop!

 

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