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A few words on ACORN

… Tough subject to talk about in a fair way. I’ll try. These thoughts will be random and disconnected, as usual.

First, please construe nothing I say as an effort to minimize the wrong-doing documented in the famous videos on the part of ACORN staffers.

I once was a libertarian on the subject of prostitution, but no longer. Prostitution should be decriminalized for the prostitute only, if at all. “Johns” and pimps should feel the full weight of justice. This view comes from learning about massive human trafficking motivated by prostitution. Given that the chief complaint against these staffers is that they, in some cases, offered to assist pimps in setting up brothels, I would not see that grievance minimized.

This despite the fact that the individual who arranged the hidden-camera exposé was a self-important schmuck on a vendetta inspired by manufactured right-wing paranoia. This despite that these events will forever mar the reputation of an organization that is in many ways a very positive force for people in the American underclass. Unfortunately, as is often the case with non-profits, ACORN did not sufficiently screen or train their employees, and will suffer as a result. A lesson in sustainable growth for non-profits – a very costly lesson.

So, anyway… I guess that’s the first point. For a fair-minded person, no matter their political preferences, ACORN is and was an organization on a positive mission to assist the urban poor in important ways. This fact should be overlooked by no-one. Despite having what appear to be systemic flaws that could potentially be exploited by people of ill will, it cannot be said that ACORN ever deserved the jihad that was waged against it on phony pretexts and out of irrational paranoia.

Next issue in order of however it randomly comes to my mind: Do O’Keefe and Giles deserve to be prosecuted for illegally recording a verbal conversation in order to produce their piece? No. The first amendment should protect them. The Baltimore D.A. who entertained the notion was wrong to do so, and may deserve accusations of partisanship for suggesting it.

Next: Should O’Keefe & Giles be lionized for bringing this scandal to public attention? No. They are, as I said earlier, self-important schmucks with a vendetta. I can imagine a similar scenario in which those doing the exposing would be praise-worthy: Imagine that an individual was concerned about the quality of services being offered by non-profits in her area… perhaps she witnessed something suspicious… perhaps because she had done sociological research and learned that there were often flaws in such organizations… perhaps because she had heard complaints from people in the neighborhood. Imagine that she staged something of this sort in order to answer a real concern she had. Imagine she recorded such an incident, then turned over the information quietly to regulating authorities who then pursued it in a professional way with the aim of fixing the problems. Such efforts would be laudable. Malicious fratboy hijinks just don’t qualify. Sorry. That goes for you, too Breitbart.

Next… this is interesting. Sue Sturgis at Facing South has written a piece that compares the Congressional reaction to the revelations about poor staffing at ACORN with their reaction to Blackwater’s malfeasance in Iraq. She found that 23 members of the House – all Republicans – decided it was worth completely defunding ACORN over the incident at hand… but felt it would be going to far to allow a far less serious sanctions against Blackwater meant to make them accountable for the shooting deaths of 17 civilians in Iraq. It’s time for somebody to get some perspective.

I held my fire on ACORN for over a week. I didn’t want to jump in without all the info. I didn’t want to mindlessly condemn them just to show that I was one of the “reasonble” guys on the Democrat’s side. And, I certainly didn’t want to defend them. I guess now that the dust has settled and I have read more widely on the issue, it just comes down to this: ACORN was wrong to field such shoddy and dirty case workers. Congress is right to defund them. With any luck, they will have to go back to square one and build a cleaner, stronger organization that will serve the people well.

17 comments to A few words on ACORN

  • I don’t care if it is schmucks with an agenda–there are some that say Watergate was schmucks with an agenda.

    The only scenario I can think of that would not indicate that Acorn is thoroughly and pervasively corrupt is that the schmucks somehow managed against all odds to find 5 corrupt Acorn offices without trying their scheme on a single honest one. Anyone with a shred of integrity would have bare minimum called the police on someone with a plan to import teenage sex slaves.

    Too many organizations like this get an attitude that the end justifies the means, the other side cheats, and winning is more important than integrity if the cause is just. They wind up losing or corrupting people with personal integrity until corrupt people wind up in the majority.

  • RW

    A. They’re corrupt. The videos only gave us visuals that pushed the barrel over the waterfall; they’ve been cheating on voter registrations for years (IIRC, IND had a county with more registrations than eligible voters. Obama won IND, btw). And, coincidentally enough, they too were passed off as bad employees who weren’t trained properly.

    If it were a private company showing the same levels of corruption (let’s say it was named SchmENRON) the videos would be lauded and the people doing the filming would be Time’s people of the year (I remember when whistleblowing was a good thing). Your last paragraph is spot on, they should rebuild and build an organization that does what their mission statement puts forth instead of being a left-wing voter registration drive that is, in reality, a taxpayer financed union for Democrats.

    If these folks were Young Republicans who Sarah Palin told would be at the table in her White House, the reaction would be a LOT different and we all know it. Personally, I think it’s a good thing that the votes to defund were so overwhelming; it reinforces the notion that some things are beyond politics. Few, but some.

    Breitbart deserves kudos for showing not only a corrupt organization, but more importantly, a corrupt media that refused to even query a group that was replete with people who have no business being anywhere near federal/state grants.

    Democrats will be stronger in the future because of this as they’ll EARN the support that they actually get instead of it being manufactured through ACORN shenanigans. Trust me on this. The best thing for the Democratic party in my lifetime was Bill Clinton signing the welfare reform act, which didn’t take away welfare but streamlined it towards people in actual need. ACORN needs similar actions taken against it, as it is replete with corruption, it appears.

    I don’t care if it is schmucks with an agenda–there are some that say Watergate was schmucks with an agenda.

    Woodward & Bernstein were schmucks with an agenda, for crying out loud. The duo at hand saw something iffy about ACORN & put forth their own version of a “sting” and struck black oil not seen this side of Jed Clampett. Taxpayer dollars were going to a corrupt organization; that the left is seeking to smear the filmmakers (it’s because they’re conservative, which is still the unforgivable sin. Cheats, theives, liars are okay, but not damn Republicans) is amazing.

    Maybe if so many people weren’t playing a game of “I can’t let your side ‘win one’” things would be different. Sorry, it is what it is. If Obama was in bed with ACORN, he was in bed with ACORN. Kenny Boy Lay just said that karma is sometimes a bitch, but the truth and doing what’s right is paramount.

  • RW

    FYI, everything else was B, C and D. :)

    Despite having what appear to be systemic flaws that could potentially be exploited by people of ill will,

    People who are adept at steering pimps & hookers around tax forms aren’t a part of “systematic flaws”, they’re pond-scum who deserve to be working at a burger flipping joint. This wasn’t a boss flirting with an underling because he didn’t have proper sexual harassment training (which is as useful as tits on a boar). They’re corrupt. Period. Not all, but enough to say that the company in general can’t be trusted.

    it cannot be said that ACORN ever deserved the jihad that was waged against it on phony pretexts and out of irrational paranoia.

    It deserved everything it’s getting. They’re guilty.
    The question is how do they clean things up and have a legitimate org. I have faith that they can, but they need almost a clean sweep of leadership.

    I’d suggest some affirmative action policies in place where they look at people who are NOT inclined to cheat for Democrats, but that’s just the evil/jokey part of me kidding around on a Friday night as the Braves squander another game.

  • A couple of comments, but I can tell I will have to come back to this at post length, soon.

    they’ve been cheating on voter registrations for years (IIRC, IND had a county with more registrations than eligible voters. Obama won IND, btw). And, coincidentally enough, they too were passed off as bad employees who weren’t trained properly.

    Better phrased, there has been some cheating on voter registrations for years, some of it inside ACORN, and the practice of paying per registration probably needs to be revisited since it is a motivator for that type of bad behavior. “They” meaning “ACORN” are doing the legitimate service of helping people get registered to vote. Some idiot putting Mickey Mouse on a from for an extra $4 is not in the same league with the kind of corruption and actual harm carried out at the organizational level by

    SchmENRON

    It deserved everything it’s getting. They’re guilty.

    I should have phrased this differently. They didn’t deserve the petty and paranoid vendetta, based on what was known before it was carried out. It can be argued that by running the organization so poorly that people like we see in the video were able to have a position there, that they deserved whatever they got. But the assholes who began the “ACORN is evil” meme that led to O’Keefe doing his stuff had no idea about any of that. All they knew was that there were some people making 4 bucks a pop selling bad voter registration data and SOCIALSM OBAMA LOW INCOME!!!!!

    I remember when whistleblowing was a good thing

    This weren’t whistle-blowing. O’Keefe wasn’t exposing an on-going practice that was harming people. He entrapped employees who he was betting were individually stupid or corrupt enough to go along with a scheme he presented to them. A few of them did – or at least allowed the appearance of doing so (I still haven’t researched all of the specifics – I know there was at least one instance that the employees were actually going along with his scheme). End of story. Is it possible that a real pimp at some time got assistance from an ACORN employee for an actual illegal activity that actually harmed someone? Yes, it’s possible, but we still don’t know that it ever actually happened. Nor does O’Keefe.

    Woodward and Bernstein were a) tipped off to something real and harmful, b) done by people with near infinite power, and exposed it. Even if they had an agenda, they can’t be accused of the kind of pettiness and small-mindedness that inspired O’Keefe to go after an organization of community organizers.

  • The videos where the Acorn people offer to help them with underage sex slaves are indefensible. 4 of the 5 videos I have seen are indefensible under any reasonably likely circumstances.

    The only thing motives count for is judging reliability of the facts. If the KKK were the ones to expose offers to help with teen sex slaves *and the facts check out*, it would still be indefensible.

  • The only thing motives count for is judging reliability of the facts. If the KKK were the ones to expose offers to help with teen sex slaves *and the facts check out*, it would still be indefensible.

    I agree with you Sevesteen. As I said in my first paragraph – please don’t read anything I said here as an effort to minimize the wrongdoing on the part of those ACORN staffers in question! There are a couple of videos where – to the best of my currently limited knowledge – the facts aren’t all in – but as I mentioned to RW, at least in one case there was sufficient evidence to show that the staffers were willing to assist in harmful and illegal activity. I’m glad they got busted, even if the guy who did it was a putz acting out of a misplaced rage against people who register minorities to vote.

  • RW

    Everything was going great, I was ready to chime in with a “we’re in agreement” addition. Why did you feel the need to throw in the gratuitous “but I just know the guy is a racist” (wink-wink) thing at the end?

  • That wasn’t exactly what I meant. But, if ACORN was in the business of registering middle-aged white southerners to vote (assuming they were among those who didn’t have a lot of opportunities without assistance of this kind), it wouldn’t have been the right-wing side of the media with heads spinning around drumming up resentment against them, and it wouldn’t have been this guy out running entrapment schemes against them. That’s just a law of nature. Is it racist to sic your tea-baggers on the group that registers minorities to vote if your motivation isn’t race but keeping out a stream of reliably Democratic voters? You can decide that for yourself.

  • RW

    I think the motivation was to show corruption. You are somehow doing a Vulcan mind-meld to devine that the motivation to stop negroes from voting. Barack Obama debates on the IL floor against the born alive act & you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was simply ignorant of the law he was voting on; but these two folks have some sort of racial agenda in finding illegalities in ACORN? Reason: they’re not Democrats.

    That’s awfully partisan.

    Is it racist to sic your tea-baggers on the group that registers minorities to vote

    Saying they’re a group that registers minorities to vote is akin to saying that Fred Phelps’ church “meets to worship a diety”; it kinda leaves out the ‘other’ stuff from the description.
    BTW, anyone doing any investigating of ACORN is now open to charges of racism, according to your new standard. If the NAACP is wrongfully embezzling funds for payoffs (happened in the past) then anyone doing investigating is, by this new definition, open to charges of racism.

    Please, don’t go further down that road. It’s a bad precedent. As does calling people tea-baggers. Barney Frank is a tea-bagger, they’re tea partiers.

  • Saying they’re a group that registers minorities to vote is akin to saying that Fred Phelps’ church “meets to worship a diety”; it kinda leaves out the ‘other’ stuff from the description.

    What other stuff? The people who latch on to make $4 a pop selling fake voter data? That’s giving the benefit of the doubt. I’m assuming you aren’t talking about all their other efforts on the part of poor, inner-city, minorities to get housing, to get social security, etc., etc….

    BTW, anyone doing any investigating of ACORN is now open to charges of racism, according to your new standard.

    No.. I don’t think you fully appreciate my position. These guys weren’t investigating wrong-doing. They knew of none other than the 2-bit stuff already discussed. So, they weren’t investigating corruption – they were going after a target. The same target the rest of the manufactured outrage machine was going after.

  • So, they weren’t investigating corruption – they were going after a target

    Investigating corruption would make a better argument for Acorn–that would indicate that the undercover pimp knew in advance which offices were corrupt.

    The other possibilities are either massive, systemic corruption or lottery-odds luck in finding the 5 bad offices on the first 5 attempts, before one of the honest offices called the cops and blew their cover.

  • Sevesteen – he targeted a number of offices. He only released videos from those where he got a “newsworthy” response.

  • I don’t doubt that there were more than 5 offices investigated, and the 5 shown are the worst ones they found. But with these 5 data points, it is not likely that the sixth worst is a “good” office. If as you say the investigators had no evidence to start with, just an agenda, it is not likely that they even found the worst 5 offices. It also is not likely that they investigated so many offices without getting caught that these 5 are not a substantial fraction of the total.

    Can you come up with a plausible scenario where such a low budget investigation could find so much wrong without indicating systemic problems with the entire organization?

  • I think there probably are systemic problems in ACORN. O’Keefe is good at what he does, and I don’t doubt that he would have visited 200 offices to find one that made good press. That he found 5 does indicate that there are some serious problems. My point is that this *is* what he did. That’s not “investigating corruption”. This is all on the side of the question over whether O’Keefe is a journalist-investigator who should be lionized or a witch-hunter, who also deserves scorn and a broken clock that’s gets lucky twice a day.

    And, yeah – ACORN’s organizational model is very prone to this type of weakness. They hire generally from amongst the people they serve – i.e., the urban poor. Apparently, their training isn’t geared to the highest standard of ethics. So that’s a problem – and I’m glad that they won’t be able to continue to operate until they fix it.

  • RW

    According to Breitbart, they didn’t find any offices where they “came up empty”, IIRC.

    This is all on the side of the question over whether O’Keefe is a journalist-investigator who should be lionized or a witch-hunter

    The attempt to make the target of scorn those who caught the wrongdoers instead of the lawbreakers/corrupt officials does not go unnoticed. Reason: they don’t support Democrats (I.E., they’re racists).

    ACORN’s organizational model is very prone to this type of weakness.

    Let me fix that: ACORN is corrupt.

    The model isn’t the problem. The training isn’t the problem. Corrupt people are the problem.

    Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Blaming someone else won’t make it go away.

  • The attempt to make the target of scorn

    Not what I’m doing. I’ve seen the right-wing blogs acting like he is the modern day Woodward and Bernstein. I’m just making the point that no he isn’t, he has no class, and the effort against ACORN wouldn’t have ever been made by any of the actors making it if they were soliciting registrations from middle aged white southerners likely to vote GOP – even if they were mickey mousing some for the extra cigarette money. I just want to be sure my position on these guys is crystal clear. ACORN has very real problems, I’m glad they got busted, and I have no desire to distract attention from them.

    Let me fix that: ACORN is corrupt.

    And Lindie England was a bad apple… Both are equally oversimplifications. As long as we are clear that their mission as an organization is a laudable one, we can also agree that their implementation of it led to amassing a number – at least 2, and at most some kind of 50% huge-type figure – of corrupt people, at least at the field-office level. If that means to you that ACORN is corrupt, then sobeit. I’ve spent some time with non-profits in general, and activists in general, and poor people in general, and I know that a mission of the sort they work on, with the pool of staff they recruit from is prone to this type of problem. Shame on them for not avoiding it.

  • RW

    To be perfectly honest with you, I wish that Andrew Breitbart wasn’t the person exposing this. I wish the Washington Times wasn’t the go-to place for exposing possible corruption within the NEA. I wish George Will wasn’t the person bringing that topic into the mainstream (such that he can). I wish Fox News wasn’t the primary source (along with CSPAN) for telling us what is going on at the protests (instead of telling us what racists people are for participating).

    Since we have a corrupt media that has a vested interest in keeping things like that quiet, it appears that the conservative/alternative media is going to have to do the investigating for the MSM. They’re too busy ridiculing a private citizen’s Facebook notes or reporting on a certain VA candidate’s college thesis (!!!) to investigate governmental wrongdoing or corruption with taxpayer funds.

    If it’s good enough for Blackwater (and, it is) then it should be good enough for ACORN or the NEA.

    I’ll leave this final post (your comment on Olbermann was so good that I’ll demur to you out of admiration): I’m old enough to remember when the press at least pretended not to be cheerleaders.

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