James O’Keefe is Just a Clown Now


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?


The Vietnam War Nightmares Continue

 Pham Thanh Cong, the director of the My Lai Museum, was eleven at the time of the massacre. His mother and four siblings died. “We forgive, but we do not forget,” he said.Credit Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

Pham Thanh Cong, the director of the My Lai Museum, was eleven at the time of the massacre. His mother and four siblings died. “We forgive, but we do not forget,” he said. Credit Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

New Orleans       So many wars, so little time.   We have come to the point where when someone asks an American “about the war,” we have to say, “Which one?”   One of the two Iraq wars?  Afghanistan and its continuing and unending conflicts?  Like I said, which one?  For people of a certain age though the answer continues to be Vietnam and its fifty year nightmares that persist for many people.

Reading a piece by Seymour Hersh, one of the great reporters and war correspondents of our time in The New Yorker, called “The Scene of the Crime” brings the horror back quickly.  Hersh’s piece is both a reflection on his own history in covering the My Lai massacre and a contemporary revisiting and recording of a deeper understanding of the mess and mayhem that marked that horrible war.  The body count, like so much about Vietnam, continues to be uncertain but a small platoon of US soldiers killed between 347 and 504.

In 2010, the Organizers’ Forum visited with a delegation of US and Canadian organizers both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  We talked to a lot of people.  We visited the tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City, listened to the gunfire, and the guides’ description of the struggle “underground.”  We visited the Museum of the War of Liberation in Hanoi.  There was no way to escape the US role and our historical footprint in the country.

At the same time, reading Hersh about My Lai and its aftermath still shocks, especially when it now seems that such massacres were commonplace rather than unique.  How had I managed to suppress the fact that President Nixon had commuted Lieutenant Calley’s sentence after 90 days?  How had he managed to work for decades at his father-in-law’s jewelry store in small town Georgia?  There must be novelists out there that could write book after book about how that might have worked out?  Richard Ford, what are you working on now?  There’s a classic waiting to be written about the small town South and its ability to hold and protect its own – no matter what! – that is Faulknerian.   The imagination just blows up at the thought of it all!

Hersh interviews Chuck Searcy.  The Organizer’s Forum had met with Searcy to find out more about the nonprofit he helps coordinate that focuses on mine clearance through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.  Hersh obviously pulled more of his personal story out and the conflict with conscience, family, and the whole burden that so many veteran packed out.  We found him a very decent man.  He had paid  his dues.

With Hilary Clinton announcing for President we will hear the narrative that harkens back to the old culture wars that involved Vietnam, long hair, drugs, liberation, and rock and roll, rather than the new culture wars of new wars, abortion, guns, and the rest of it.  Reading Hersh on My Lai and Vietnam again it is hard to avoid the feeling that rather than embracing some kind of resolution and reconciliation like South Africa and other countries have done from their time of troubles, we have simply repressed it all and hoped that no one reminds us.

Perhaps that is why we have also seem to have learned so little and repeated the same mistakes so often.


Newtown and the Psychology of Giving

warehouse full of stuffed animals in Newtown

New Orleans   Reading The New Yorker while driving back from Little Rock, I thought I would pass on the lead article by Rachel Aviv about the horrific tragedy of dead and mayhem in Newtown, Connecticut, but instead found it both riveting and a treasure chest of information that was new and different to me about a story I knew well.  I’ll spare the reader most of that, but let me share what it adds to the psychology of giving that fascinates me both for what it teaches about all of us as people within this culture, and professionally what it illustrates about the interactions those of us in the nonprofit world have with donors.

Huge, mega-disasters break hearts and trouble minds, which loosen pocketbooks.  That was hardly news, particularly after our own experience with Katrina, and over the last seven years this phenomena is of the lessons of disasters I have followed as closely as time allows.  In natural disasters people send money, but they also offer critical sweat equity by volunteering and working in whatever way possible in the recovery by wrapping their own arms around an empathetic experience.  What is the response to a mega-tragedy like Newtown?

Aviv details some of the munificence:

“In the weeks after the shooting, fifty thousand stuffed animals were sent to Newtown, a community of twenty-seven thousand.  The town’s parks-and-recreation department received ten thousand tulip bulbs, two hundred bicycles, and twenty-six benches.  More than eight million dollars was donated to the town, with no clearly defined purpose.  The Bee [weekly newspaper] office was inundated, too.  Meetings in the conference room were interrupted by Teddy bears toppling from the TV or from the couch.  Clark [publisher] said that he felt as if he were being ‘hugged repeatedly by an eight-hundred-pound gorilla.  You feel the love, but you end up walking around with cracked ribs.  It hurts.’”

Usually the expression, “give until it hurts,” refers to the donor feeling some discomfort.  Rarely is there such a blunt clarity about the pain felt by those receiving the gifts, as one would find in those simple sentences.

Going deeper, Aviv writes….

“…a resident…set up a large tent near the highway exit, so that out-of-town pilgrims, their hands full of dolls and baked goods, would have somewhere to place their offerings.  The Bee expressed gratitude for the gifts, even as reporters were privately bewildered.  It wasn’t clear why people thought that Newtown, a largely upper-middle-class town, needed such things.”

Reading all of this, it all seems pretty straightforward.  The gift is all about the giver.   Sure, they are generous and they are hoping a bear or a doll or a dollar can find a good home and be put to good use, but mainly the psychology of the gift is to allow the giver to feel better, to feel as if they had done at least something, no matter how small, that made a difference.  Need seems not to have mattered, since few stories were printed that did not picture large houses in a bucolic setting and detail the property values and income ranges of the residents.

These gifts were all donor driven, which does not mean they were not generous or well meant, just that too often we think it is about what is needed or what is important and forget that the gift and the getter may be irrelevant, when it is all about the giver.   We all should  make a note, no matter which end of the gift we find ourselves on, and think about this one for awhile.


USA and Global Educational Class Divide

student protests in Chile

Mexico City   World news reports on CNN from Mexico City are featuring huge rallies in Chile once again as students push back over increases in costs and other curtailments.  In Quebec several schools have been closed down now in the 12th week of student strikes over the same issues and the provincial government has also enacted extraordinary measures to require 8-day notice for protests permits and is attempting to not authorize any demonstrations of more than 50 people.  Students have declared these actions by the government an “act of war.”

Perhaps more disturbing was the clear statement in The New Yorker by author and academic (and New Orleans native) Nicholas Lemann that the US in essence is now creating a huge educational divide where there are educational institutions for the elite 1% and then there are whatever is available for the 99%.  The divide is defined by economic access.  Lemann argues in fact that Ivy League-type schools are underpriced even at $60,000 per year where they are currently heading, because many of the 1% would be willing to pay far more if that was the price of admission.  The public institutions and second-tier schools are pushing the price points without entering the elite status despite mimicking the business model that is only accessible and achievable by a few other schools.  The efforts of Stanford and others to create on-line opportunities are nods in the direction of equity without even the pretense of equity, either domestically or globally, though arguably offering access to both.

Nicholas Lemann

Lemann makes this argument under the cover of claiming that, thankfully in his view, there is no substantial disagreement between Obama and Romney on the issue of continuing to offer interest support for student loans.  This is a disingenuous way to make the case, since Lemann never bothers to try to make the argument that this interest matter will remotely address the class divide which he, correctly, claims is already embedded in the current educational system.  He makes the throwaway point that there is 50% more unemployment among non-college graduates currently, but that’s hardly a glancing blow when today’s papers also argue that men are queuing up for traditionally female jobs, underemployment, contingent, informal, and intern “employment” are well documented, and there seems to be more weight to the case that a generation is being lost.

Having read Lemann’s The Big Test when it came out a dozen year ago, I know this is a disturbing retreat for him.  That book argued among other points that standardized testing had at least the opportunity to create a funny kind of equity that lowered the class divide.  Now in a new century to read him on a similar theme, it is hard to ignore his analysis that equity is in full retreat with little hope of victory.   Reading that book allowed me to finally understand that it was the V-2 test in WWII that plucked my father and his test scores as a high school grad from Orange County who had worked as a clerk in Los Angeles and in Boeing aircraft plants in Venice before volunteering for the Navy out of the ranks and into an NROTC program that gave him a college experience at Millsaps in Mississippi and a degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and a solid, secure post-war career and life for our family that previously had been beyond even his most remote dreams.

That story, not unlike the human interest tale in today’s Times of a “wise soul” succeeding in school and egg picking to find a possible future otherwise outside his means, are clearly moving towards a place in the United States where we can simply smile and sigh at these exceptions proving the rule that what once we hoped might be a meritocracy has evolved into a financially unforgiving elite class divide.