Stephen Lerner, the Banks, and the Right-wing Scare Machine

New Orleans     stephen-lerner-headshot-small The right blogosphere and websites were all heavy breathing about another “secret” tape claiming longtime SEIU organizer and strategist, Stephen Lerner, was an “economic terrorist” advocating that the masses should bring the banks and Wall Street to its knees.  At one level it is hard to suppress a yawn.  Anger at Wall Street and the banks from TARP to the botched foreclosures to the sudden profit taking while some still owe money to the U.S. Treasury is one of the great unifiers of the American people right now from the so-called left to the Tea Party people!  Why wouldn’t Stephen be on that bus?

Furthermore how “secret” is a tape filmed at as part of a public presentation at a panel discussion of some sort at Pace University:  answer – not a secret at all!   I’ve known and worked with Lerner for decades and his long experience with union lawyers and what used to be called “corporate campaigns,” has made him one of the more careful commentators on his work that I know.  The rest of us are verifiable flap jawed loose lips compared to Steve!

BigGovernment.com, the loud and furious factually challenged hate machine run by Andrew Brietbart, who I gather now is a journalist with the Huffington Post where he must have found a home after being blocked from Fox during the mid-term elections, while labeling Lerner an ex-SEIU official who was signaling that unions and community organizations were “dead,” also reported hook-line-and-sinker that in May, according to Lerner, there would be days of rage in ten cities around JP Morgan Chase signally the beginning of the anti-banking jihad.  Hmmm.  An ex-official issuing the call to “dead” troops to storm the barricades?  Does something not add up here?

The New American website went for the bait, but at least commented on the irony behind their uproar:

“It’s unclear exactly how much influence Lerner holds or who his fellow conspirators might be. He was reportedly fired recently from SEIU, one of America’s largest and most influential unions with around two million members, for spending vast sums of money on a plot similar to the one he described during the speech. The person who introduced him at Pace University said Lerner was working on building alliances with unions and other organizations in Europe and South America.  But regardless of Lerner’s true degree of influence, the tape has attracted considerable attention and condemnation.”

Well, yes, that seems right.  You need organization and members or someone to storm the barricades, and certainly Stephen is not airlifting boots on the ground from Europe and Latin America to do actions in the US.

In short welcome to the hate-and-scare hooey machine hard at work again.

Without talking to Stephen there are some simple facts that get in the way of this fantasy, no matter how pleasing it is to contemplate:

  • Lerner has not been “fired” by SEIU as they report.  He was placed on paid leave last fall to think through his contribution to the union, but was certainly present at the recent international executive board meeting.  He’s in a curious position no doubt, but it’s something like being an “injured reserve” in the NFL and waiting for the team to find a place to bring him back on the roster.
  • Lerner has written a number of well circulated papers over the last year expanding on his analysis of the impact of the recession and the need to frame larger campaigns around accountability of banks and the financial system for working Americans.  He is an avowed advocate of developing campaigns to finally bring them to account, but who among us hasn’t written something close to the same, isn’t engaged in such pursuit, and doesn’t believe this is necessary?  I’ve been on TV panels with Tea Party folks, and when we get to the subject of the banks, we all sound like we are part of the hallelujah chorus and have prayed at the same church forever.  That should really share you, Glenn Beck!
  • Finally, the Wall Street Journal has already reported from unnamed sources on the SEIU IEB that the union is embarking on a major 15+ city organizing campaign with expansive plans to mobilize labor and community members on economic issues from banks to local corporations.  They are following their own, different drum and clearly have their hands tied up in what may be a $100,000,000 organizing campaign mobilizing the entire union to win “climate change” in favor of unionizations again.

The right wingers need to leave Lerner alone rather than erecting yet another statute in their wax gallery of threats to America.  Knowing Stephen, he’s having a hearty laugh at all of this.   Especially since the more the Becks and Breitbarts embrace the banks, the more they are inadvertently building a huge, peace and unity bridge that will unite all of us against the ways that Wall Street, tax evading corporations (see GE in today’s papers), and the banks have ripped us off royalty from stem to stern and coast to coast.

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The Big Troubles of James O’Keefe and His Sponsors

james o keefeNew Orleans It turns out that just like the song says, “it’s hard on a pimp” or a “punk” or a “pretend pimp,” which turns out is the case for video-sting-man James O’Keefe and his futile attempts to “come clean” and pull off his greatest ironic caper:  boy journalist.

You know it’s a dog pile when something as staid, boring and nose-in-the-air as The Chronicle of Philanthropy takes a look down at your problems, but sure enough, O’Keefe wants to make sure he gives his right-wing buddies a tax break for supporting his chicanery, so he’s applied for tax exempt 501c3 status for his paradoxically named “Project Veritas,” which used to be Latin for truth, but who knows what O’Keefe thinks it stands for.  But here’s the Chronicle’s cut:

“An attempt to visit Mr. O’Keefe at Project Veritas’s official address in Washington—2100 M Street N.W., Suite 170-241—was also unsuccessful. Suite 170 is a UPS store and No. 241 is a small mailbox that rents for $35 a month.

Project Veritas’s first step in getting an exemption is to file an application with the IRS known as Form 1023.

As part of that application process, Project Veritas must meet key requirements about how the group is organized and operated and spell out what charitable mission it will pursue.

Organizations must also prove that their assets do not unjustly enrich board members or officers and that board members do not pursue business activities unrelated to their tax-exempt purpose. Applicants must also show that they do “not engage in activities that are illegal or violate fundamental public policy.”

…Mr. O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor crime after he and three others entered the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, last year pretending to be telephone repairmen.

The fact that Mr. O’Keefe has stated in public that he would do it again, albeit “differently” would probably be the biggest stumbling block to gaining charity status, said Marc Owens, a Washington tax lawyer who formerly oversaw the IRS division that monitors tax-exempt groups.

“If he is proposing to do something that is, in fact, illegal, can the IRS believe, with any degree of credibility, what he is saying?” Mr. Owens said. “Is he going to continue to enter government offices illegally? He pled guilty to it once and said he would do it again. It’s reasonable to conclude that the organization may be engaged in criminal activity in the future.””

Bottom line: They are not sure you should get tax free donations when you announce that you may break the law with the money.  Geez, they have kind of a point there.

It’s probably only a minor aggravation for O’Keefe that the student paper at his alma mater publishes a piece that says essentially they are embarrassed by him and his exploits.  The web-magazine, Colorlines has documented with frequent stories O’Keefe’s problems with race.  As they said of his New Jersey teachers scam:  “What’s perhaps most notable is that O’Keefe, once again, found a way to racialize his hit job. ” Organizations involved in racial justice or with members of a darker hue than he carries — are probably also just water off a duck’s back to him, because I’m sure he’s comfortable in his own skin and only that skin indeed!   Of course ostensibly racial bias is also the opposite of the “fundamental public policy,” which in fact should be something worth the IRS looking at when they determine whether or not to give a tax exemption to foster O’Keefe’s brand of race hate and race bait through his work and caricatures.

Michael Gaynor, a lawyer and conservative blogger, who establishes his “right” credentials by trumpeting on this twitter bio the fact that he brought the Cloward-Piven “strategy to “Glenn Beck’s attention,” which is one heckuva claim to fame, looked closely at the San Diego legal problems posed to O’Keefe and Hannah Giles “acting” as the prostitute in that ill begotten scheme, and thinks there may be big problems not only for them but for their lifeline sponsors and outlets, Andrew Brietbart and his biggovernment website and the Fox News friends:

“So, make no mistake, in Maryland, California and Pennsylvania, Ms. Giles and Mr. O’Keefe are in legal peril, even more so in California and Pennsylvania.

Given the importance of the information contained on the videos, it is not reasonably disputable that the Constitution permits BigGovernment.com and Fox News to use them, at least if they are “otherwise innocent.”

If, as reported, Mr. Breitbart serendipitously first learned of the videos when Mr. Giles brought them to his house and Fox News was not involved in the sting in any way until it reported on it, then both BigGovernment.com and Fox News were within their rights in using the videos, the Maryland statute notwithstanding.

In Bartnicki v. Volper, which involved both the federal and Pennsylvania laws against surreptitious recording, the United States Supreme Court held that a publisher who has lawfully obtained information from a source who obtained it unlawfully may not be punished by the government for the ensuing publication based on the defect in a chain.

Bottom line: BigGovernment.com and Fox News appear to be safe, because, in the words of the majority opinion in Bartnicki v. Volper, the interest in “removing an incentive for parties to intercept private conversations–does not justify applying” a statute prohibiting surreptitious recording “to an otherwise innocent disclosure of public information.”

If BigGovernment.com and/or Fox News are NOT “otherwise innocent,” then Ms Giles and Mr. O’Keefe will have company on the legal hot seat.”

O’Keefe probably needs that tax exemption to raise money to pay the settlement that may be coming his way from losing the California suit for his shenanigans.

This guy seems is a heat seeking missile heading for trouble and exploding everything around him.  The Landrieu probably seems to have taught him nothing, but been mere rocket fuel for his mischief.

Press clips may be addictive, but they don’t pay the bills, and O’Keefe is due to learn that his was no free ride.

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