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Let’s Not Bury ACORN Yet

 

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain and it is quite apropos considering what’s going on in politics today. ACORN has been around almost forty years and the public for the most part never heard of it until a year ago when allegations of voter fraud propped up. The charges were made by right wing operatives who have been trying to discredit ACORN for years. Last year the timing was perfect to try to tie in Barack Obama, a former “community organizer” with ACORN and William Ayres. There were a few people working with ACORN who falsified voter registration forms and those people were properly dealt with. No executives or board members were charged with any wrongdoing.

The reason for all this is simple: it’s all about voter suppression. Through ACORN’s community organizing efforts millions of people who would not normally be part of the process registered and voted. Their efforts affected many outcomes and the right wing sees its power slipping away. These most recent efforts are merely a continuation to discredit a valuable and important community organization and discredit our president at the same time. It is also no coincidence that these tapes have surfaced just as we’re entering the critical stages of health care reform; ACORN has a huge stake in getting real reform passed. Their clients are the people who need it most. I feel like I’m watching a sadistic Road Runner cartoon. No matter how many times that coyote falls flat on his face he continues the chase relentlessly. After all, he only has to win once.

“The Evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

The “birthers”, “teabaggers” and such show a real ignorance of history every time they open their mouths. Now they are going after appointed “Czars” and making comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in the way things are being done by our administration. Allegations of communism and socialism abound and if you ask any of these people what a Czar is they can’t tell you. So here’s a short history lesson for those so challenged. Prior to World War I Nikolas Romanov using the title Czar ruled Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm of the Hapsburg family ruled Germany. The words Kaiser and Czar are derived from Julius Caesar and the emperors of Rome who bore his name. The word Caesar has come to mean something like “supreme ruler”.  It’s just such a shame when people show their ignorance as arrogantly as these groups do. Anyway, the point of this exercise is to give some historical perspective to ACORN’s problems and show that we’ve been there in the past, even in the waning days of the Roman Republic, and the parallels are amazing. The politics of Rome prior to the formation of the Empire were amazingly complicated, but some things were clear: wealth trickled up, influence and legislation could be bought and reform was met with hostility.

Julius Caesar was arguably the most talented leader in the history of Rome. He was a brilliant military leader, strategist, politician and “community organizer”. He was an outstanding writer and a masterful orator, second only to Cicero, who was his bitter political opponent. He was also a social reformer working hard to include all of his conquered subjects as Roman citizens with full rights, and basically setting up his own personal Veterans Administration for soldiers under his command. Much of what ACORN does was ideated by him. He out-thought, out-fought and out-bought his rivals and in doing so amassed fabulous wealth and stature which he intended to share with the citizenry. His fatal flaw was his willingness to forgive his enemies, who should have been put to death, including Brutus and several of the conspirators for past transgressions. Brutus made a big mistake because Caesar had willed him much of the captured Gallic territories for his own domain. While Caesar was immensely popular among the Roman citizenry, he had his enemies and detractors in the Senate who tried to instill the fear in the populace that he would actually become King. His proposed land and agricultural reforms would have diminished the Senate’s power and very much lessened the Patrician influence in government. No wonder they resisted. He reluctantly refused the crown knowing that politically it was the wise thing to do. The sixty conspirators acted on the 15th of March in the year 44 B.C. and assassinated him just prior to his embarking on another military campaign to complete some of Pompey’s unfinished business which would have given him more fame, glory and unrivaled power.

“…so are they all, all honorable men…”

The conspirators spoke to the throngs of mourners and almost convinced them that their acts were justified as he was about to become the great oppressor and they acted on behalf of all Rome. During this brief period the conspirators wanted to do away with Caesar’s chief lieutenant, Marc Antony but Brutus convinced them to spare him, which was another big mistake. Shakespeare has immortalized Antony’s address to the crowd in one of the most famous quoted passages in history. Whatever Antony did say that day it swayed the crowd and Rome to vengeance. The actual Roman Empire did not come into existence for another twenty years but the stage had been set for the sunset of the five hundred year old Republic. By attempting to “Save Our Republic” the conspirators actually hastened its demise.

Let’s fast forward about 1700 years to the Massachusetts county of Essex in the year 1692. From February 1692 through May 1693 a series of accusations and trials took place in Salem and other cities accusing certain people, mostly single women who were not part of the mainstream of the area, of practicing witchcraft. In 1689 Salem had founded its own church and ordained its first minister, Samuel Parris. Forget what you learned in 6th grade. These Puritans were theocrats who wrote their own rules. What they did to the Indians after the first Thanksgiving doesn’t get taught in schools. Women held no rank in society and were perceived to be more lustful and susceptible to Satan than men. When a single woman or recent widow inherited land she was a ripe candidate for the church to take it from her by hook or by crook. Parris was not above this devious behavior so he condoned the trials, in fact members of his family were some of the accusers. This crowd could teach today’s subprime lenders a thing or two about stealing property. The trials had all the atmosphere of a kangaroo court. Overall, more than twenty people were executed and several more died in prison. There have been volumes written about this. Here’s a quick lookup about it. The facts are that no one in authority at the time tried to stop the proceedings because they had too much to gain by allowing it to happen. This was definitely a dark period in both American and religious history. Okay, Massachusetts was not yet a state and we were not yet a country with a constitution, so let’s fast forward a couple hundred more years to the late 1940’s.

It was a time when you reported your neighbor for any suspicious activity. Once the definite threat of world domination by Fascism was put to rest, the fear of world domination by Communism, dormant since the Thirties, reappeared. There were communists everywhere, in government, in Hollywood, in labor unions, at the local supermarket….everywhere. They were hiding under your bed as well as their evil teachers were indoctrinating your children. Even Eleanor Roosevelt was under investigation. Enter the House Un-American Activities Committee with their trusty companion, The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, aided and abetted by J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. and other government organizations. All you had to do was disagree with someone about official policy and you were pegged a “red”.  The biggest beneficiary of this period was Richard Nixon, who played it for all it was worth and built his entire political career on it. The Red Scare gripped this country with fear for several years before some people figured out it was all a hoax. Careers were destroyed and peoples’ reputations were ruined all in the name of patriotism. Actor Philip Loeb was blacklisted, and although he was never charged and he cooperated fully with the committee, he was never cleared by them. He begged them to clear his name and they never did. He ultimately committed suicide in 1955. In the movie, The Front, actor Zero Mostel’s character, Hecky Brown, was based in part on Philip Loeb.

The Red Scare went on unchecked for about five years before someone actually stood up and exposed it. Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the Salem Witch Trials using actual trial records as part of his text. The play was an unabashed expose’ of McCarthyism, in fact Miller was quoted as saying The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding images of common experiences in the fifties.”  The next person to stand up to McCarthy was broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, who in a series of reports on McCarthy revealed him to be dishonest, reckless and abusive. The tide had started to turn. Murrow ended his broadcast with this statement: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.” The final demise came a year later during the Army-McCarthy hearings which were televised and the country got the chance to see McCarthy’s underhanded tactics live. The reign of terror had finally ended for the time being. Subsequently, the Senate censured McCarthy, HUAC lost most of its power, and many of the convictions brought about during this period were overturned by the courts. Joe McCarthy died in 1957, but his legacy lives on. McCarthyism is an underlying reason why Democrats are perceived as soft on communism and weak on defense, and Democrats have never done much to dispel that idea.

So, let’s see how all this affects ACORN’s situation today. Original founder and CEO Wade Rathke was fired a year and a half ago when it was disclosed that his brother, Dale, embezzled approximately one million dollars in 2000. CEO Rathke covered it up for seven years until the facts came surfaced. Bertha Lewis took over as CEO and immediately started reforming and restructuring all functions of the organization, including policies and board of directors. Someone anonymously made up the loss. She appointed a blue ribbon panel of advisors in early 2009 to help her with the transition:

  • John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress
  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Board Member, RFK Foundation, former MD Lt. Governor
  • Andrew Stern, International President, Service Employees International Union
  • Henry Cisneros, Executive Chairman, Cityview
  • John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations Con Ed
  • Eric Eve, Senior VP of Global Consumer Group, Community Relations, Citigroup
  • Harvey Hirschfeld, President, Lawcash
  • Dave Beckwith, Executive Director, Needmor Fund

Since the fall of 2008, ACORN’s new management team has instituted a set of changes, including:

  • The establishment of a new senior management team of the organization;
  • Revamping of ACORN’s board structure, including the establishment of new oversight committees with new resourcing to those committees;
  • Processes to hire a new auditor, CFO, and other key management positions.

ACORN workers and volunteers have been on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis and health care reform battles and they work long hard hours for meager compensation. They also take their jobs very seriously. We’re not talking big money here. Bertha Lewis makes an annual salary that is less than most Orange County school teachers make. The office supervisors make considerably less and the average worker is lucky to be making above minimum wage. Many of the people who work in the Orange County office are volunteers. Sometimes they have to wait extra time for their paychecks as resources are not always immediately available. There’s really nothing to hide. Any investigation launched into ACORN’s finances will reveal that the overwhelming amount of dollars goes directly into client services. And that 56 million dollars that keeps popping up? Over a 15 year period that’s a drop in the bucket. By the way, any investigation will find that a large portion of that money went to aid people that the federal government failed to help-Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma victims.

“Listen…….do you want to know a secret?…….

It’s the best kept secret in all of the media. ACORN receives less than 5% of its operating budget from the federal government. Here’s another secret: EVERYBODY IN CONGRESS KNOWS IT! That’s why it was so easy for them to throw ACORN under the bus. It’s just an easy way for these phonies (especially the spineless Democrats) to appear to be resolute. Shakespeare said it best-“A plague on both your houses.”  This is an organization that gets its hands dirty, constantly, in neighborhoods where most of us shudder to think about, serving people who desperately need help. ACORN is there every day doing what we in our churches and synagogues, the private sector and local governments have neglected to do for decades.

Shortly after the videos were made public Bertha Lewis issued this statement:

“As a result of the indefensible action of a handful of our employees, I am, in consultation with ACORN’s Executive Committee, immediately ordering a halt to any new intakes into ACORN’s service programs until completion of an independent review. I have also communicated with ACORN’s independent Advisory Council, and they will assist ACORN in naming an independent auditor and investigator to conduct a thorough review of all of the organizations relevant systems and processes. That reviewer, to be named within 48 hours, will make recommendations directly to me and to the full ACORN Board. We enter this process with a commitment that all recommendations will be implemented.”

Ms. Lewis is specifically ordering the following steps be taken effective noon eastern on September 16, 2009:

  • No new intakes will be accepted into ACORN’s offices for service programs, effective immediately;
  • An immediate in-service training for all frontline staff has been ordered within 48 hours;
  • ACORN’s independent Advisory Council will help select an independent auditor/reviewer no later than September 18th to review all of the systems and processes called into question by the videos.

On Tuesday of this week, ACORN selected former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to lead the independent review of the organizational systems and processes surrounding the social services of the organization. Mr. Harshbarger, now Senior Counsel to the Firm of Proskauer Rose LLP, is also the former President and CEO of Common Cause, the good government organization.

 

“You have meddled with the primal forces of Nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!”

It’s time for ACORN to get back to basics-what made it work in the first place. Mention the name Saul Alinsky to any conservative and it’s sure to cause at least heartburn if not a downright stroke in them, and for good reason. Saul Alinsky’s methods of organizing worked then and they still work today. His first major accomplishment was to do what Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, did not do. While Sinclair exposed the conditions in the Chicago stockyards, Alinsky actually cleaned them up thirty years later. He didn’t care how big they were or how well connected they were or how wealthy they were; when he decided to take them on he won. His methods were unique, unorthodox and at times outrageous and they were also very effective. ACORN was founded on the Alinsky model in 1970 to work in depressed areas in Little Rock, Arkansas. Yes, for a short period of time they are not going to be as effective at preventing foreclosures, or getting necessary health care to clients, however, they are now free to get back into the neglected areas of the inner cities and organize these communities into action. In a way Congress has done them a favor but a word of caution to the wise: When men sow the wind it is rational to expect that they will reap the whirlwind.”-Frederick Douglass. It’s his take on a passage from the bible and it is a stern warning to politicians about the validity of Newtonian physical laws. Recent actions to defund ACORN were so hastily concocted and so broadly written (as to not be an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder) that they will affect any enterprises that are currently doing business with our government, such as Halliburton, Blackwater and lots of corrupt government contractors.

Before we decide to condemn, let’s get an honest assessment of the situation. No obfuscation, no stonewalling, no excuses, no cover-up. If something’s wrong it gets fixed with full disclosure and no opacity. If ACORN is guilty of anything it is at worst poor judgment. It needs to make sure that its employees are properly trained and managed with regular progress and performance reports. This organization has nothing to hide, but it does have something to fear and here’s where everyone can help. The battle to clear its name is going to be costly because ACORN is being tried in the media and the media is withholding facts that help ACORN’s case. Until or unless John Roberts and Co. completely subverts our individual rights we’re still supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That’s also supposing that any laws have actually been broken. So far only the two Republican operatives have violated any laws and that’s being looked into by ACORN. ACORN has also initiated legal action against Giles and O’Keefe and it will be interesting to see how that plays out, especially in the MSM. It’s also going to be interesting to see where their defense money comes from. Kudos to Rachel Maddow for her erudite, eloquent and well researched segment, The Truth About the Lies Against ACORN, it’s a real eye opener, and special thanks to all the bloggers on HP who have written on this.  Here’s how to help. Go on to ACORN’s website now http://www.acorn.org/ and give whatever you can afford. 66,882,230 of us voted for change in the last election. If every one of us gave only $10.00 ACORN would have the resources to do its good works without fear or interruption or distraction. It would also show our spineless Democrats in congress what fools and cowards they consistently prove themselves to be.

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