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!

 

O’Keefe Proves He Has Learned Nothing: Attacks Ex-US Attorney

Jim Letten

Jim Letten

New Orleans  Here’s a Ripley’s “believe it or not” situation on an incredible incident that slipped by me and most of the rest of the country, but still is so unbelievable, it is worth everyone making a note on your list of things you can’t believe anyone would ever be stupid enough to do, but by god they did it anyway.  You guessed it; we’re talking about James O’Keefe again, the video scammer, best known for his unprincipled attack on ACORN and his stupid arrest while monkeying around with the telephones in Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office in the U.S. Federal Building.  He got away with the first though he’s had to pay off some of his victims, but he did 3-years probation, mainly held in a place in New Jersey, which he now refers to as “1210 days of unjust government surveillance and oppression.”   Needless to say, this is one criminal dude who has not been rehabilitated.

            Nonetheless now that he is free, he seems to have set out to prove how little he’s learned from his experience.   In July with a band of buddies, he showed up at the suburban home of Jim Letten, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and knocked on the door and harassed his wife trying to give her copy of his latest self-promotional tract.  He claimed later that he was looking for Letten to “speak with the man that prosecuted him ‘for a crime that he did not commit.’”  Of course in typical fashion, O’Keefe seems to have forgotten three things:  first, that they caught him red-handed, secondly, that he copped a plea confessing so he wouldn’t do time, and, thirdly, that Letten had recused himself from O’Keefe’s case because one of his co-conspirators was the son of another U.S. Attorney from the Western District of Louisiana. 

            According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, once O’Keefe and his buddies were rebuffed by Letten’s wife, he then rolled over to Tulane University where Letten works now, and where Letten had the campus cops and a host of others waiting for him so they could promptly usher him off campus.  O’Keefe claimed that he was hoping to put his latest prank on Glenn Beck’s cable and internet streaming network, TheBlaze, but so far it seems this has been another childish stunt that fell apart for O’Keefe.  When even Glenn Beck has better judgment than to use your crazy stuff, you would think you would get the message.

            There’s no question, O’Keefe is a dangerous dude with no moral compass and an addiction to leading his own parade no matter how stupid the stunts, but luckily his irrelevance is showing, and it seems no one is buying his act anymore.   When you are too wrong to even delight the right, you’re out of business, dude, especially when you learn no lessons from life and work. 

Or, at least we hope that is the case. 

Marking Time for O’Keefe, ACORN, and the Crazies of Congress

New Orleans   Almost three years since the ACORN board and staff at that time pulled the plug on the organization and spread to the four corners of the country, it was suddenly another “ACORN week” in many ways in some weird coincidence of the calendar.  

            James O’Keefe, III, the criminal videographer who recently had to pay a significant settlement in California for his highly selective editing techniques in his unprincipled takedown of ACORN, celebrated the end of his probation for another one of his whacko schemes involving mischief with the phone system for the New Orleans district office of Senator Mary Landrieu located in the Hale Boggs Federal Building.  Nothing about any of that was anything but moronic:  phones, federal building, US Senator – how much dope were they smoking?  

O’Keefe celebrated by seeing if he could visit the Philadelphia headquarters of ACTION Now, formerly Pennsylvania ACORN, and supposedly say “hello” to his old friends since this was the scene of one of his earlier crimes as well, and he was desperate to prove that he had learned absolutely nothing over the last 4 years.  According to his short clip, he didn’t get past the door, but of course they probably didn’t recognize him.  Looks like he has added about 30 pounds, and it was probably a good thing in his case, and of course he wasn’t wearing his pimp suit either.  Oh, wait, I almost forgot.  He never wore a pimp suit except for his self-promotion did he? 

Meanwhile several members of the Republican Crazy Caucus in Congress have made sure to add amendments to various budget bills pending in committees to continue to defund the deflated ACORN hoping it doesn’t rise again.  The progressive press finds this ironic and humorous but of course it is neither.  The long list of organizations included in this punitive “bill of attainder” is sweeping and chilling and continues to hamper work going on today in many cities and states with low-and-moderate income organizations.  It is probably too much to hope that reason will prevail and these amendments will be rejected, but then again, Michelle Bachmann has announced that she is resigning her seat in the House of Representative so hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile I noted that it has now been 5 years since I resigned as Chief Organizer of ACORN on June 2, 2008.   People always say everything is different after 5 years.  That’s really not true as you can see.  I continue to organize every day.   ACORN International continues to grow around the world.  I work with many of the same projects and organizations as I did and with some new ones.  And, now I enjoy the irony that many of these organizations never made the Congressional hit-and-hate list.  How sweet is that irony?   Well, it’s not bad, but it’s not good enough to offset the mourning that I hear from ACORN members every week who still miss their organization and the chance to make change and build power in America for their families and communities.  There’s little that I can say to them, except keep fighting and working and you never can tell what might still be possible, because, hey, America, what a country!

ACORN Week Audio Blog

Hating Breitbart: The Movie

New Orleans   Andrew Breitbart was the face and force behind a number of high traffic websites during his career, ended suddenly with a fatal heart attack more than a year ago.  He played a role in helping set up the liberal Huffington Post, but at his death was best known for his “big” sites, especially Big Government, a right wing love feast.  To goose the traffic on these sites, Breitbart courted controversy including releasing cellphone photos that became the undoing of Anthony Weiner, now a former Congressman from New York City, and potential candidate for Mayor there, but perhaps his best known escapades were based on his partnership with the even more controversial conservative activist and videographer, James O’Keefe, especially his ACORN takedown.

Interestingly, I interviewed Andrew Marcus, the director of a documentary about Breitbart, called Hating Breitbart, yesterday on my weekly “Wade’s World” show on Friday morning’s at 9AM, since the movie was appearing at the Little Rock Film Festival.  Marcus’ route to the movie had been circuitous.  Coming out of film school in Chicago he became fascinated with filming protests because of the “human drama” that always emerged through the camera.  He created a blog on protest films, and next thing he knew he was filming Cindy Sheehan, the Iraq war casualty’s mother, protesting at President George Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, and in the process the experience radicalized him as he witnessed what he saw as a double standard of lax reporting by the national media about the protests and the infrastructure that made them possible.  From there it was a short leap to catching the Tea Party as it grew and to then bonding with Breitbart, who he met while filming him speaking at a tea party, and gathering the footage that becomes Hating Breitbart.

Marcus confirmed in our conversation that Breitbart was in many ways apolitical.  He liked a good fight and wanted to build his business, so he was a happy warrior in some ways who became a conservative darling.  Certainly Breitbart’s real passion, shared by the director, was poking the rest of the media in the eye.  All of which seems natural to me, because he wanted to make his web-voice stand out in the herd.  Marcus, and perhaps Breitbart and many on the right, see the media’s indifference not as incompetence, but conspiracy, not as laziness, but bias and design.  Ironically, this view would find much common cause on the left as well, where victimization can also be a common complaint.  Marcus’ “hating” theme comes from his perspective that the antipathy stirred by Breitbart discolored the true man, but Marcus is surely aware that the “hating” from the right as well and the demonization of politics, politicians, and organizations, like ACORN, is equally obscuring.

Marcus seemed defensive about questions concerning James O’Keefe and his relationship with Breitbart, wanting to define O’Keefe as a “freelancer” and ignore the factual history of Breitbart’s dissembling about his financial and professional relationship with O’Keefe for months before admitting to it, which is anything but something described in the common vernacular of publisher to freelance journalist.  Marcus wanted to have questions about O’Keefe and his plummeting credibility around fake presentation of video on ACORN, legal settlements in San Diego for harm he inflicted on an ACORN worker, and the fiasco he was involved with in tampering with phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans field office, referred to O’Keefe directly.  At one point he even offered to give me O’Keefe’s phone number on the air, which would have been a huge privacy breach that I declined.  He was disturbed that people didn’t understand that the final settlement on the Landrieu case was for a misdemeanor and not a felony, which is hardly the point.  I asked if O’Keefe had any questions now about how stupid a stunt it was, but the answer was again a phone number for O’Keefe.  He also expressed amazement that people saw O’Keefe’s fake pimp video promo getup on his ACORN assault as “racist.”   Wow!

All of which inevitably leads to the conclusion that he got so close to the subject that he lost perspective.  What in some situations might have been an interesting and nuanced film about contradictions often missed by participants but shared by activists on both sides of the line, seemed increasingly to have been an attempt to hoist a banner on a battleground now abandoned by a warrior for another lost and forgotten cause.

Hating Breitbart Audio Blog

Finally ACORN Video Scammer O’Keefe Has to Pay a Bit for His Crimes

New Orleans  As the news began to break that James O’Keefe, featured performer, video provocateur, and first story federal office break-in artist for the late Andrew Brietbart’s rightwing web operations and the New York Times magazine section, once again was brought to some small amount of justice in the court of law despite his cosseted protection from journalists since he is claiming their mantel as his normal disguise, comments came streaming in on my Facebook wall at the news broken by web reporters at Wonkette  that O’Keefe would be paying out $100,000 to Juan Carlos Vera, former ACORN employee or ACORN Housing Corporation employee in National City below San Diego for his inaccuracies leading to Vera’s wrongful termination.

  • Doug Young I love it!! !!!!!!
  • Christopher J. Herrera Excellent.
  • Marcy Chong oh I love this.
  • John Russo I can hear the pigs squeal.
  • Kathleen Fortin looks good on him.
  • Hetty Equality Rosenstein Not enough.
  • Katrina McKeown Magolan Justice!
  • Gary Butler Glad to hear it but it doesn’t seem equal.
  • Patrick Lazare Shorter hell yea! a sliver of justice hopefully not the last we’ll hear.
  • George Lee Reagan Too little…too late.

You get the picture.  People are happy to see some small justice coming, but are also very clear that this is nowhere near enough, even if not noting the irony of a federal court ruling in ACORN’s favor the day after it became public as well that the Republicans were seeking in their new budget resolution to bar ACORN and “its successors” from funding, yet again, trying to extend these injustices in perpetuity.

As Martin Luther King commented, “the arc of justice is long,” and that’s why ACORN fight must continue, under its own flag and so many others.

Neither of these stories has been available in what we once called the “regular” papers, so for the full Wonkette story: http://wonkette.com/505026/wonket-sexclusive-totally-blameless-crime-stopper-james-okeefe-to-pay-100000-to-acorn-criminal

Pay Day for ACORN Veterans and Perhaps for ACORN Workers Scammed by Giles & O’Keef

Memphis   There’s the old saying about “sunshine on a rainy day,” and this must be the day for long time ACORN people to have a smile on their face, despite all of our continued mourning that ACORN in the United States pulled the plug almost two years ago.

The ACORN Beneficial Association (ABA) began some years ago (1989, nineteen years after ACORN’s founding!) to provide some kind of benefits for long time staff people in any of the ACORN family of organizations, whether employed by the unions, housing corporation, bookkeeping and central services operation or ACORN itself.  In the beginning it was a pittance and almost an occasional contribution sometimes reaching 1% of gross payroll, speaking more to the principle and recognition of seniority and an expression of the leadership’s commitment to the contribution of the organizers and other staff to the overall success of the ACORN enterprise.  For years we trickled along at that level between 1 and 2% as a discretionary fund of sorts more on a hope and a prayer and buoyed by our own youth and sense of indestructibility.  As the years of seniority lengthened and many of the more senior organizers working for the organization got longer in the tooth, it became clear that we needed to “catch up” in order to provide something that was more substantial, even if not sufficient that could supplement the staff’s social security benefits when the time came.  Starting about 1998 or around then, we converted the ABA to a formal ERISA-based multi-employer fund, and started ramping up the contributions.  By the time I left as Chief Organizer in 2008, a total of 10% of gross payroll was being contributed to the ABA.  Those payments didn’t continue much after I left, first as the organizations were hammered by financial pressures, and then when they were under full-scale assault after the O’Keefe-Giles housing counseling video slanders.

Nonetheless, the funds in the ABA had grown to more than $10,000,000 by the time I had left and continued to mature over the last four years.  With the demise of the organization the remaining trustees essentially faced the music and decided just to distribute the money to the hundreds and hundreds of staff in the ACORN family of organizations that were vested.  Given the disaster of the economy and the tragic end of ACORN in the United States, rumors of a distribution of the funds to all have sustained many hopes during this period.  The ABA may have been intended for the staff’s senior years, but all retirement-type benefit programs are really income deferral and something like mandatory employer directed savings schemes after a fashion, so I understand completely why many of the old ACORN staff will simply cash in what they have coming even if we might have hoped they would be able to use the money at some point when they were older.

Either way, today is the promised day when the money goes from the ABA to each of the beneficiaries individual accounts of various types, so it’s a happy day for all of these and a big vote of thanks for hard and great work done over the years with ACORN or one of the family of organizations!   For some of the people who I hired in the early 70’s who logged in 10, 20, and even 30 years working with me, these transfers are serious money in the six figures.  A couple of my long time union organizers with Local 100 are looking at enough money to think about trying to buy houses for the first time, retire debts, and put aside savings.  I’ve heard from organizers from all over in recent months about their own gratitude and plans, and it brings a smile to see a small deferred down payment of sorts being made for some many invaluable contributions to the collective enterprise of ACORN and the members and vision it served.  These checks are for all of those that paid their dues in good times and bad – here’s to one and all with heartfelt thanks!

And, the arc of justice is long, so it is somehow fitting as well that the news is spewing out from the different perspectives of both right and left, that the judge has ruled categorically that former housing corporation workers with ACORN in California will be able to sue James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles for their illegal video and tape recordings and the damages it caused them.  They may never have worked with us long enough to vest in the ABA, but I hope they have a huge payday coming in their future, thanks to the scammers and the terrible damage they have wrought!