In today's news.
From the Associated Press:
ACORN Workers Fight to Save Abused Prostitute and 13 Sex Slaves from the El Salvadorean Mafia
Volunteers at 5 offices of the nation’s largest advocacy organization for the poor, ACORN, were filmed today in their efforts to help an abused young woman and her boyfriend buy a safe house to free her from the pimp who had abused her and imported thirteen El Salvadorian children to the U.S. as sex slaves.
(Story continues after the fold.)
In New York, Baltimore, Washington, San Diego and San Bernadino, ACORN workers gave advice to Hannah Giles, 19, and the man who rescued her, James O'Keefe, age 26, about how to get a mortgage to buy a house where Giles and the girls would no longer be abused and exploited by "Sonny", a pimp with ties to the Mafia known for his violent physical abuse. Giles, isolated from her family, said that all previous efforts to get help had been rebuffed by mainstream lenders who had discriminated against her because merely she was a prostitute. O’Keefe, a law student and aspiring politician, said that he came forward because he needed to ensure that Hannah and the girls were safe. ACORN workers gave the couple school advice, tax advice and urged Giles and O'Keefe to reach out to family and friends for help while evaluating their current choices. "We are not going to judge these young people in their efforts to save themselves", said a spokesperson for ACORN. "They are poor, they need help, and it is our mission to help them since it was made clear that no one else would. We are confident that with just a little help and guidance, Giles will be able to leave the Life behind someday thanks to O'Keefe promising future and commitment to Giles. Certainly, they have shown through their insistence that they free other young girls from sex slavery from the same pimp that abused Giles that they are worthy of help.
I've sort of exhausted myself this past two weeks here defending in the comments section of numerous diaries (most of which, to be fair, were trying to help folks understand what really was happening with this story) the reputation and importance of the largest community organizing group in the United States, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), against what has been a plethora of claims about its being a "corrupt criminal enterprise" that "turns a blind eye to prostitution." And against claims that ACORN is unimportant to the Left because "it raises no serious money" and "has no vital constituency" and should be thrown overboard post-haste for political cover.
But I hadn't seriously defended the alleged conduct of that handful of employees/volunteers out of the 400,000 nationwide who had supposedly been "caught". I had not raised any serious challenge to the narrative. I merely assumed without actual close study that the ACORN employees had indeed done what they are repeatedly being accused of having done, a fair summary of which is this:
Advise James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles on how to set up a brothel at which underage immigrant prostitutes would be kept by buying a house using illegal means while evading income taxes.
The thing that detracted me from it was, of course, is existence of videotapes. How could ACORN defend against what was shown in them? After all, everyone could see with their own eyes ACORN doing all the horrible things it was accused of doing.
Videotape doesn't lie.
Or does it?
I would suggest that in this case, it does.
Anyone who hasn't yet done so needs to step back and go read what in my business is called "the cold record": the transcripts of the interviews that were done in ACORN offices and ultimately released on videotape:
Baltimore, Maryland (undated from what I can see.)
Brooklyn, New York (allegedly shot August 4, 2009.)
San Bernadino (allegedly shot August 14, 2009.)
San Diego (allegedly shot August 15, 2009.)
Washington, D.C. (date obscured in videotapes.)
(I list these alphabetically only because that makes sense in this context. However, a key fact that is going to come out some day in litigation is the sequential order of these videos. Given some of the things whispered between Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, and the contents of the Baltimore video in particular, I suspect that the worst videos were created only after Giles and O'Keefe had been to a number of ACORN offices and discovered that the only chance they had for an effective smearing of ACORN was to keep "upping the ante" with these largely uneducated people, to entrap ACORN's independent, local workers into making the incriminating statements with which the far more savvy national organization is now being drawn and quartered.)
I believe that anyone who does read the transcripts with an open mind, unpolluted by the visual cues in the videotape, will conclude that anyone who believed all of what was being said about what occurred owes all but one of these ACORN workers (a receptionist in Baltimore) -- and the national organization to whom each of these local affiliates was connected -- an enormous apology. So does everyone else who actually took at face value what they saw and heard (or at least, thought they saw and heard) on You-Tube, Fox News, Glenn Beck and everywhere else those videotapes have floated.
IMO, most of the conclusions which have been drawn from what is actually seen and heard in these five ACORN "sting videotapes" are a living example of the failings of eyewitness recollection. Science tells us that most people who see an unusual event, often recall not what actually occurred, but what their biases and prior experiences tell them occurred. The more unexpected the event, the more bias about the facts that are seen, and the more misleading and inaccurate information that is heard about the event after the event, the more likelihood that what people remember seeing as eyewitnesses is just flat out wrong.
The reasons the Right is experiencing "recollection bias" and up in arms about what is on these videotapes are obvious: the Right has been gunning for ACORN for its voter registration activities in earnest since at least 2004 and the rest of its advocacy work for decades.
Yet that does not explain why the same "recollection errors" are made by viewers from the Left, particularly our elected officials. There is another explanation, I believe. A selfish explanation, born and living in the never-ending refusal of the Left to stand by "those people" (Black and/or Latino, and definitely poor), in the face of political attacks on them. Born from the subconscious, ongoing belief that these "inferior people" are a political liability if they are embraced too closely, and not worth fighting for. This is why I believe that ACORN is currently being destroyed is just as much because the Democratic Party and its allies continue to run from any association with the colored and uneducated poor in order to keep ties with the constituency they most value: middle and upper-class white voters, a constituency that has not delivered a majority of its votes to any Democratic presidential candidate for the past 45 years.
So this diary is going to go over all the claims set forth in my summary of accusations against ACORN (for want of a better term) above, in reverse order. But as you read what I write, please don't watch the video. At least for now, stick with "the cold record."
I first decided to look at these transcripts in detail because, despite the "oooh" factor of the prostitution angle taking up much of folks' initial angst, it was the tax issue that concerned me the most. Reasonable minds can differ on prostitution but only nutcases and upper-class Republicans differ on whether folks are legally required to pay their income taxes.
So, was ACORN really trying to help Giles and O'Keefe avoid paying taxes on their (phantom) illegal income?
Hell no. Quite the opposite.
In the most incriminating ACORN interview, the Baltimore case, there are at 11 pages in which absolutely nothing is said by the ACORN worker that is remotely illegal or immoral - quite the opposite, this worker is not taking the bait of their innuendo. She asks nothing more than questions any tax accountant would ask ANY legitimate business person. It is only when James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles note between themsevles that they have to "bring it up a notch" and "talk about doing illegal things with the taxes" (Page 12) that we get to the heart of the matter. Tonya (the ACORN worker) is going to "make this like a legal business." Why? Because they don't want Kenya (aka Hannah Giles)
So what does Tonya do? She actually looks, because unlike a whole lot of people she is not judgmental, for a legitimate income tax code with which Giles can report income without disclosing its source. (See Page 14.)
Why on earth would anyone do this?
Well, perhaps it's because one has the same legal duty to pay income taxes if one's income is illegal as one does if the income is legal.
(It may also be for another reason, discussed below in the section involving the prostitution claims.)
IRS Publication 525
. . .
Illegal activities. Income from illegal activities, such as money from dealing illegal drugs, must be included in your income on Form 1040, line 21, or on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040) if from your self-employment activity.
All of the ACORN workers clearly advised Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe to comply with the law and file returns and pay taxes This advice makes sense if you're truly trying to help someone. The legal consequences for failing to file income tax returns and pay taxes make the legal penalties for prostitution look like a picnic in the park. (See 26 U.S.C. sections 7201 et. seq.) Moreover, since there is a Fifth Amendment right NOT to have to disclose that you are breaking the law (lest we forget that little detail) in any investigation (Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547 (1892)), the IRS cannot demand to know the source of your income if you don't list one on your return. And the IRS cannot report you to the police even if you do disclose the income as illegally obtained on your return (which if you speak to a tax lawyer, they would categorically tell you to NOT do, since if you are independently investigated, then voila you have waived your 5th Amendment rights in your return.)
These are the types of "tradeoffs" the tax laws regularly make when confronted with folks who earn their living through less than legal means - they would rather get the taxes than bust the person who is paying them. A similar calculus exists when it comes the absolute duty of the undocumented to pay taxes on their earnings even though none of them are supposed to be working at all because it is clearly against the law. The IRS cannot report the millions of returns filed with only a TIN number to immigration for investigation any more than it can report the tax returns of those working in "the Life."
But the IRS can and regularly does drop the hammer on those who don't report all their income from illegal activity and pay taxes on that income (see Al Capone.)
Given this, I have no idea whatsoever what the hell folks are referencing when they parrot the mantra "ACORN helped commit tax fraud". I've been following the media and blog stories closely and eventually someone will explain to me how telling someone to "pay your taxes" manages to end up on the news (parroted without any thought whatsoever) as "offering extensive advice on how to evade federal taxes," and "coach[ing] them on how to commit Federal tax fraud. In addition to advising these individuals to underreport their income to the IRS. . ."
The law required Giles to report her prostitution income, and that's what she was told by ACORN she had to do, if she had any hope of buying the house she said she desperately needed. Each ACORN that discussed taxes with Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe told them that they she had to file tax returns and pay taxes and that she could not borrow money to buy a house without proof she had done that for at least two years. (Washington Tr. P. 6, New York Tr. PP. 5-6, Baltimore Tr. P 16.) They tell them that Hannah Giles MUST file tax returns. They tell them that IF they want to buy the house, Hannah cannot do it, but James must do it because it's HER illegal acts, not his.
This perfectly legal tax advice never wavered.
There is also a claim that ACORN San Bernadino improperly advised him to set up a 501(c)(3) to hide their income. We are left to imply, without it ever actually being said, that this advice to set up a non-profit organization was for the purposes of evading taxes on prostitution income.
Indeed, nowhere in the transcript of the only ACORN interview where this came up (ACORN San Bernadino) is there any discussion of taxes or tax returns. However, in the edited video released by O'Keefe, there is a claim that one of the San Bernadino ACORN employees advised them to evade taxes by setting up a 501(c)(3). Notably, however, there is no videotape of that statement that has been released - all that is included in the published edited version is a still shot of the employee's head, his name, and a voiceover.
(There is, I believe, a not-innocent reason for this.)
There is also the salacious detail that in Baltimore and New York, Giles and O'Keefe were advised that they could declare the "girls" as dependents on their income returns. Well, that might have had something to do with the fact that ACORN was told that the "girls" were going to live full-time with Hannah Giles and be dependent on Hannah Giles. As I understand the tax code, this would (but for the fact of their presumably undocumented immigration status) in fact make them eligible for for treatment as "qualifying relatives" on Giles' tax returns. (Baltimore Tr. PP. 19-20) But as soon the Baltimore ACORN tax advisor finds out that "the girls" were not, in fact, documented immigrants, she immediately tells Giles and O'Keefe that the girls cannot in fact be put on the tax returns. (Baltimore Tr. P. 23.)
Eventually I hope that someone will tell me how that this equates to tax evasion - because of course the fewer dependents list on your tax return, the more taxes you have to pay.
I can't find anywhere in these transcripts any effort on the part of ACORN to help these people EVADE their taxes. The closest you get is ACORN advising them to be less than honest by (1) reporting the income from prostitution on the tax returns and application for a mortgage as coming from another source, i.e. "entertainment" or "performance art" or "hospitality", so as not to send up a red flag about the fact that Hannah Giles' income was going to be coming from a brothel (not that the word brothel was ever used - it wasn't) and (2) not trying to claiming too many dependents on their return, no matter how girls were actually dependent on them. Now, that's not really kosher tax advice, but I'm not sure it's illegal advice, either. I genuinely don't know, and have to yield to a tax professional for the answer.
Whatever the answer is, I feel that the angst here on the Left about the tax issue not only reflects surburban sensibilities that often miss the forest for the trees, and reflect a deep-seated hypocrisy. Indeed, I can't understand why the entire ACORN tax controversy is not a "No, Duh" moment. It should be, in light of other issues near and dear to the hearts of liberals that do not result in similar finger-wagging. For example, with all the drug legalization advocates we have here at DailyKOS, ask yourself this: how many times have you read here anyone advising a drug dealer to honestly report the true source of their income when asked by the police? The bank? How about on their tax returns?
How many times here have ACORN's detractors on the Left read a diary even taking these positions? How many times have they written one?
That's a diary I can't wait to see, given the countless number of times the fact that drug dealing is illegal and in many circumstances exploitative is dismissed out of hand by the Left as represented by DailyKOS.
(There is another area in which the finger-wagging reactions on the Left indicate a deep-seated hypocrisy when it comes to judging poor people, particularly people of color, but I will discuss it later in this diary in connection with O'Keefe's prior work before he and Hannah Giles set their smear machine in motion against ACORN.)
IMO the most incriminating part, legally, of what happened is the least discussed in the media and blogosphere: that ACORN was willing to try and help Giles and O'Keefe get a conventional mortgage knowing that the source of their income was illegal and that the property would be used as a brothel. This is likely the least sexy part of the hue and cry against ACORN because, of course, no actual mortgage applications were ever filled out by anyone at ACORN (no tax returns, either) and there was no property purchased with one. But nonetheless, Giles and O'Keefe were repeatedly encouraged to begin the homebuying process for first time homebuyers, even after they made the "bombshell disclosures" about the nature of their income in 3 of the 5 offices. And, most importantly, they were not told by ACORN that the Uniform Residential Loan Application aka FNMA Form 1003 requires a representation under oath that the property for which the mortgage is being obtained will not be used for illegal purposes. A misrepresentation that at least some ACORN workers knew that Giles would be risking fines and/or federal prison if she made it. (See 18 U.S.C. s. 1001)
Why did ACORN workers not simply say "We can't get you any mortgage so Go Away?" At least one reason may be that ACORN workers did not want Giles and O'Keefe to fall prey to predatory lenders, something mentioned in both Baltimore and New York. After all, predatory mortgage lending is a scourge that ACORN has been successfully battling nationally for the past decade beginning long long LONG before anyone in the mainsteam middle-class Left other than a precious few lawyers (like me, hooray!) really understood what was going on and began trying to fight it in earnest about 2 years ago.
I can easily see the moral calculus in a low income community organizer that concludes that it is better to tell a lie on a mortgage application about the nature of their work and illegal activities which will occur in the future than turn away someone who claims to be desperate to obtain a house for reasons having to do with fleeing abuse and exploitation. But then again, I've seen a lot of mortgage applications from "squeaky clean" people who had no excuse to lie as badly as they did trying to get a loan, either.
I do want to clear up the one misconception. Several folks have repeated the mantra that ACORN broke the law merely by advising Giles and O'Keefe how to get a mortgage when the source of the income was illegal. Given that both racist redlining and subprime and predatory lending have historically been two areas in which ACORN has been a serious (and VERY successful) thorn in the side of the financial services industry, this needs to be squashed for the non-issue that it is.
There is no law that prohibits one from buying a house based on the source of one's income. There is no law that prohibits buying a house if the proceeds used to get the house are from illegal activity.
If there was, the Mafia, high-end madams, drug kingpins and money launderers would all be renters.
Most importantly, there is also no law prohibiting advising someone to make a misrepresentation on a Form 1003 where no mortgage application is ever actually submitted to a lender. The applicable fraud statute only applies to "claims [to the government] for payment". (18 U.S.C. 1001(c)). IF ACORN employees had actually assisted Giles and O'Keefe in completing and submitting a conventional mortgage application insured by Fannie Mae to a lender, they WOULD have been breaking the law.
But they didn't.
Admittedly, here is where I most empathize with those ACORN critics who say "But it doesn't matter - they clearly were trying to advise someone to break the law." It's not an unreasonable viewpoint.
But is it a fair one?
My answer to that question that leads me to now ask you to put on your human hats, and remember why these ACORN workers were put in a position to give Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe bad advice to begin with.
We finally get to the reason, in my mind, why for the first time the unrelenting efforts by the Right on ACORN since at least 2004 have finally succeeded (but only thanks to the knee-jerk judgmentalism of too many on the Left when it comes to the poor and people of color who don't "behave", especially Black people - unless they need to legitimize that "misbehavior" to prop up a political cause THEY prioritize, like legalizing drugs or decriminalizing teenage sex with adults.) This tempest in a teapot is almost entirely because of the claim that ACORN is systematically helping prostitution, including underage prostitution.
Now is a good time to ask y'all something that's really been bugging me.
What planet do you folks live on that you think most of the people staffing ACORN offices (poor, uneducated, living in neighborhoods where petty criminality is just that - petty) actually BELIEVED that James O'Keefe was a pimp? After all, unless I missed it somewhere in the transcripts (I might have, so please show it to me) at no time did James O'Keefe identify himself as a pimp. Despite his outlandish get up, which was given so much credibility by both the Left and the Right that I can only presume (a) none of y'all have ever met, seen, or interacted with a real pimp since the early 1980's and (b) folks have either an addiction to Blaxploitation flicks or (like myself) an addiction to one of the most side-splitting send-ups ever filmed, Attack of the Killer Street Pimps from that 1980's classic, Hollywood Shuffle.
Certainly, we have some indication that that every ACORN worker did not take the visual bait of O'Keefe's ridiculous get-up. In San Bernadino there are multiple indicia that the ACORN worker was playing Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe harder than they were playing her - her statement at one point that she is taking them to meet the 73-year old guy across the street for advice even though she "just met him a few days ago" and "he likes young women" because she "doesn't want to waste ACORN's time" since it would not have "anything to do with this" (San Bernadino TR. P. 37.)
But even if we didn't, repeating that ACORN was supporting prostitution ad nauseum doesn't make it true.
Let's take the easiest part of this claim first - the accusation that ACORN workers supported prostitution in the abstract. Even if it were true, so what? Reasonable minds on both the Right and the Left have regularly differed about whether prostitution should be legal. (I myself find it an exploitative, sad, business, that few people get into without finding themselves with no other options.) But read the ACORN "sting" transcripts closely. Do you see any ACORN worker (other than the lady in San Bernadino) advocating for prostitution to be legal? Or dismissing its harms?
No, you don't.
Clear references to Hannah Giles' status as a (fake) prostitution were made in each ACORN office. Yet there is no serious statement of support for her choice of work in any of them. The closest you have is (a) when the San Diego interview itself has pretty much ended and Mr. Vera asks Hannah Giles how much she charges and whether she would work for him, only to immediately apologize when O'Keefe reminds him that Giles is his girlfriend and (b) the provocative statements of Teresa, in San Bernadino, who not only claims Heidi Fleiss as her hero, but surmises that both President Obama and the Kennedy's have benefitted from illegal income; and (c) assurances that ACORN is not going to harshly judge Giles just because she's a prostitute in Baltimore and Washington DC.
You also have almost every single ACORN worker at some point urging Hannah Giles to think about her future and to consider a different line of work, for her sake and O'Keefe's.
Let's face it though - the part that is causing a meltdown is not just prostitution; it is the allegations of trafficking in juvenile sex slaves.
There is no evidence that in either New York City or Washington DC that any ACORN employee knowingly assisted in any way in the trafficking of underage prostitutes. In neither of those interviews is there a clear reference to what the "girls" would be doing , other than living with Hannah Giles and "working". There is nothing but innuendo.
I will pay money, personally, if you can find any statement in the Washington DC ACORN interview that underage girls would be doing at all. All that is stated is that 13 (at one point 10) El Salvadorian "girls" were "involved".
Still sounds really bad, I think we would all agree?
Well, not necessarily, if you know a little about prostitution. Or know any prostitutes. Or watched the classic underground documentary about The Life. Or even the Melanie Griffith/Sigourney Weaver classic. Any of those data sources confirms that one of the most common venacular names for a prostitute is?
At least as it relates to what happened in New York and Washington DC, folks who believe those offices encouraged underage prostitution appear to have heard the word "girl" and imputed onto that word an incorrect assumption: that "girl" meant "child." Considering the venacular of this business it is highly unlikely that that was what was ACORN workers (themselves from the mean streets) automatically assumed, especially given that the entire context of the conversation was that James O'Keefe was attempting to help Hannah Giles herself flee from exploitation by a pimp. O'Keefe even tries at one point to get the ACORN worker to say she helped underage girls with prostitution (NY Tran. P. 27)- yet no such statement is ever made or even suggested by the ACORN worker. And the one time in D.C. that James O'Keefe tries to talk in detail about WHAT they want the house for, the ACORN worker says bluntly: "I can't touch that." (DC Tr. p. 9)
Unfortunately, as anyone who has checked out either You Tube or FOX News this week knows, there were direct references to underage girls being brought to the United States for the purposes of prostitution is in the Baltimore, San Diego and San Bernadino interviews. Both times, the reference is that a violent pimp associated with the underworld is bringing 12-15 year old girls into the country to traffic them. Both Giles and O'Keefe make numerous references to this being the reason they need a house so badly - they are taking in "girls" to protect them from abuse.
In San Diego, ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera has said that he was purposefully misled into believing that he was saving Hannah Giles and the girls from a dangerous pimp. Which makes sense, since that is precisely what he was told. (San Diego TR. P. 4.)
Mr. Vera is extremely believable, especially since we know that he notified the police.
But he was fired anyway on the strength of the second of two videotapes released. Even though the video clearly discloses that Mr. Vera's first language is not English - you can see (and read) the confusion throughout. Perhaps it is because ACORN couldn't see on the carefully-edited videos what the transcript clearly discloses: that that the very first thing that Mr. Vera did, when told that the situation involves prostitution of underage girls, was leave. For 5 minutes. (San Diego Tr. V1 p. 4.) After he returned, Mr. Vera told Giles and O'Keefe very little, except about the first time homebuyers program and the seminar they should attend, that ACORN worked with lawyers (and prosecutors), and about the need to have tax returns and proof of income to buy a house. All of the suggestions about "performance art", all of the discussion about underage prostitution, everything
The transcript discloses, however, is Mr. Vera's He insists repeatedly that he needs to give his advice later, no matter how many outrageous things O'Keefe and Giles (and ONLY those two, look at the transcript yourself) say. He even tries to persuade them to take the girls to Tijuana instead, because Vera has a lot of contacts there. And Vera took numerous pictures of both Giles and O'Keefe and their car/license plate when they left (San Diego Tr. II, p. 8.)
This is not exactly the behavior of someone who "doesn't care about underage prostitution", or someone who was giving "human smuggling advice", is it?
In San Bernadino (the interview where there are hints that ACORN employees are pulling the leg of Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, especially at the end where 2 of the workers say they need to end the discussion and go "play" elsewhere because they are very busy (San Bernadino TR. P. 56), ACORN has been accused of advising misuse of the non-profit tax law to hide their brothel income. But review of the transcript discloses the worker's advice to establish a 501(c)(3) occurs ONLY in the midst of what is of transcript in which ACORN workers are constantly advising Giles and O'Keefe that what they want to do (set up a brothel to "protect" underage prostitutes) is (a) illegal and (b) a stupid idea and (c) not the correct way to do what they claim - help these mythical El Salvadorean teenagers escape sexual exploitation by the mythical abusive pimp. The 501(c)(3) reference occurs during a discussion about setting up a school for the girls to help them as a viable alternative. (San Bernadino TR. P. 48-54).
Finally, there is Baltimore, the most damning of all of the videotapes. Nowhere in the Baltimore transcript do O'Keefe and Giles say directly that underage El Salvadorean "girls" will be working as prostitutes. Which is why at some point, when it turns to a discussion of whether these girls will have social security numbers for the 1 year that they will be with Giles before returning to El Salvador, the ACORN tax worker Tonya says bluntly "You don't have to worry about it because they not old enough." And later, she tells them quite clearly that it is illegal for these girls to be working at all. (Baltimore Tr. P. 17.)
Even the other Baltimore worker, Shira -- the only ACORN worker for whom there is no question that she gave not only bad advice, but intended to assist in violating the law -- then tells Hannah Giles to make sure that the girls coming from El Salvador go to school, and even recommends that an older woman be brought in to both shield Hannah Giles from going to prison and to take care of the younger girls and make sure that they get an education. (Baltimore Tr. 37-38.) There is no excuse for most of her statements outside Tonya's presence, and I won't try to make any. I will only note, sadly, that in the moral calculus sometimes engaged in by people who are used to folks who make an illegal living all the time, including those well under the age of 18, it may have seemed a far less horrible situation to have these underage girls living under the control of a madam instead of an abusive man (the absent pimp OR James O'Keefe.) After all, this is their reality of street-level prostitution, seen day to day by many of the folks who end up working for ACORN. Even if it is not our reality since they sit where, but for the Grace, go us.
So, let's sum up what is CLEALY disclosed by the transcripts, as opposed to the innuendo which the words combined with deliberately provocative visual imagery to those who are sheltered from Real Life in the 'Hood leads to:
Each and every ACORN employee was told that this situation was created because Hannah Giles was trying to free herself and others from a dangerous and abusive pimp.
Each and every ACORN employee was told that James O'Keefe was trying to help Hannah Giles escape.
Each and every ACORN employee was told that a house was desperately needed so that Hannah Giles could have a place for the girls to live when the pimp who was exploiting them and abusing and stalking Hannah Giles brought them to the country.
Each and every ACORN employee advised either Hannah Giles, or James O'Keefe, or both, that what they were doing could have repercussions for their futures and that they should both think about they were doing and be careful.
Each and every ACORN employee told Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, directly or indirectly, that they needed to re-evaluate their stated activities in light of their futures, even as they insisted they were not judging them.
Be honest: this is not exactly the behavior of employees in a "corrupt criminal enterprise", is it?
Don't forget: we have seen only partial videos and, possibly, partial transcripts. James O'Keefe and his patron refuse to release the unedited videotapes for any of the 5 cities (New York, Baltimore, Washington DC, San Diego and San Bernadino) where he and Hannah Giles undertook this "sting." They also have refused to date to produce the videotapes from Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia, none of which we have seen, yet all of which were part of this national "sting" effort. That refusal is going to be short-term in terms of real time, now that ACORN has sued the participants in Maryland for violating the state's wiretapping law, but long down the road when it comes to the memories of the media and the pundits and, yes, bloggers it is going to matter, I suspect.
And if it turns out that ACORN has been unfairly portrayed, as the transcripts suggest in a way that the videos do not, I want ACORNs fair weather friends on the Left to remember that:
(a) In San Bernadino, whether or not you believe that the "stung" employee was merrily leading Giles and O'Keefe down the primrose path, according to the "stung" employee she said point blank that she wanted nothing to do with prostitution and that the management of the San Bernadino ACORN office would REJECT what she was saying. (San Bernadino Tr. P. 14-15.)
(b) In San Diego, the police were notified by the "stung" employee and an investigation into human trafficking was begun.
(c) In Philadelphia (whose videotape we have not yet seen; I wonder why?), the police were immediately notified - and James O'Keefe outright LIED about what occurred there.
(d) In Baltimore, in response to the only statement which left no room for interpretation, they were told point blank by the tax advisor "I can't touch that" in response to a statement about setting up a house of prostitution.
(e) In New York, Hannah Giles was given advice about how to protect herself from James O'Keefe and "Sonny" by putting utilities in her name and going to talk to Legal Aid so he can't just put her on the street someday when it suits him (New York Tr. P. 10); urged, over O'Keefe's objections, to turn to her mother, her father, any other family to get protection from the absent abusive pimp she claims to be running away from (New York Tr. PP 20-21); told she'd better start thinking about how to protect herself and her money in the event that she is found and abused again (New York Tr. P. 24); and repeatedly told to reach out to her mother, and if necessary help take her mother "off the road" - help her get off drugs - what Hannah is the reason she cannot reach out to her to begin with. (New York Tr. P. 25)
(f) In Los Angeles (whose videotape we have not yet seen, I wonder why?) the "stung" ACORN worker tried to get Hannah Giles to go to a women's shelter after she said she had been beaten by her pimp.
(g) In Miami (whose videotape we have not yet seen, I wonder why?), ACORN gave Hannah Giles phone numbers for both women's shelters and Legal Aid so that she could get help.
And in EVERY ONE of these "stung" ACORN offices, none of the discussion over which ACORN is now being crucified would have occurred at all had the employees not been told, repeatedly, that a safe house was needed was to save both Hannah Giles and the immigrant girls from an abusive, dangerous, pimp who planned to exploit all of them.
I have seen very few of these issues highlighted in the Left's response to the ACORN scandal, even when the Leftist speaking is trying to defend ACORN rather than sacrifice it for political expediency. While there have been brilliant defenses of ACORN's worth, merit and importance, there has been little substantive discussion about the fact that, on the cold record at least, nobody at ACORN who is in these videos has committed a crime; nobody in ACORN in these videos expressed support for underage prostitution; and everyone in these videos was coming from a place where they were trying to help not an exploitative financial criminal, but vulnerable women and the man who said that he was in love with one of them and trying to save her.
This leads me to think about another, sad, reason that the Left has not risen to ACORNs defense. Since, in the Left's moral outrage over ACORN, it has acquiesced to our party's House and Senate majorities passing the Defund ACORN Act of 2009 (a bill quite similar to that which Rep. Michelle Bachmann, aka Ms. Batshit Fucking Crazy second only to Birther Queen Orly Taitz, tried but failed to get anyone to take seriously in June, 2009 and the Protect America from ACORN Act of 2009 because of ACORN's so-called "voter fraud" in the 2008 election). Without regard to the fact that, without funding, ACORN cannot continue to help the millions of poor, largely minority, people they help each year of their advocacy. A brutal and blind punishment which at its core punishes not only the communities ACORN servces, but 400,000 dedicated employees and volunteers for the questionable judgment (but, so far as I can tell, not illegal acts) of just a handful.
Talk about punishment disproportionate to the crime.
Speaking of crimes........I've seen plenty of demands that, as tit for tat, Congress defund Xe Corporation f/k/a Blackwater. But I have seen precious few DEMANDS that James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles, and anyone that conspired with them to do this to ACORN unfairly be prosecuted in the multiple states where they admit to having had committed multiple felonies.
Since clandestine recording without the consent of all parties to a communication is a felony in California. (CA Penal Code 632). As it is in Maryland (see Maryland Cts. & Jud. Proc 10-402(b).) And, just in case you didn't know, in New York, too (see
New York Penal Code 250.00. (Just to up the ante a little, because of the express intent with which O'Keefe made these videotapes (to damage ACORN's reputation), they've also managed to get on the wrong side of the federal wiretapping law, which deems their behavior a felony, too. (19 U.S.C. 2511).) Additional felonies were committed when O'Keefe disseminated those clandestine recordings with tortious/injurious intent (i.e. the purpose of harming ACORN.) (See CA Penal Code 632, New York Penal Code 250.00; MD Cts. & Jud. Proc. 10-402, ; DC St. 23-542(a) and (b)(3); and 19 U.S.C. 2511)
Not that the Democratic party politicians have any cojones to do anything about this, them having hastily passed a Defund ACORN bill that either is an answer to Leftist's prayers or anathema to the Constitution depending on your perspective.
What motivated this lengthy diary, more than anything else, were the thousands of anti-ACORN comments written by so-called liberals that have been spewed across the pages of Daily KOS since this story first broke 2 weeks ago. There has been the usual backpedaling by many as facts actually leak out, but the first days of this scandal and the things that were said were just foul. Ignorant of ACORN, it's critical importance to the nation's progressive work, and ignorant of the fact that they were validating Karl Rove by helping along a key mission of his political agenda long before anyone ever heard of James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles - to destroy ACORN by any means necessary. Why? I think the words of James O'Keefe, the latest right-wing protege and hero, describe it best:
Politicians are getting elected single-handedly due to this organization. . .
If you know anything about ACORN, you'd know that this is just ONE of the things that this remarkable grassroots organization has succeeded at in the past 40 years. Indeed, ACORN's work is remarkable considering how little money it has to spend compared to far less effective programs claiming to help the poor.
I can't say what side YOU'D rather be on, when it comes to judging the based on the actions of these 5. I know which side I'D rather be on.
Because when the cold record -- which is only a partial record, remember (we have not yet seen the unedited videotape but you can bet your last dollars there is nothing in them given the motivations of the man who shot it) -- is as ambiguous as this one is, I'm not prepared to jettison the organization that tried to save this country from predatory lending a decade before anyone else expressed worries about it; and is primarily responsible for living wage ordinances, and fights exploitation of migrant workers, and a plethora of other activities which have benefitted those without in this country far more than Democratic party politicians have had the balls to fight for ever since the New Deal.
Previously, the Washington Post had included a claim that O'Keefe targeted ACORN for the "same reasons" as other conservative organizations - their success in registering Blacks and Latinos to vote. However, there is now a teensy tiny disclaimer at the top of the article saying that O'Keefe didn't specifically mention Blacks and Latinos. Notably, the body of the article is not changed despite the disclaimer, suggesting that O'Keefe said SOMETHING that led the author to his conclusion, but nonetheless managed to toe the politically correct line of not specifically mentioning race. Since, of course, we will never know for sure, I have not chosen to accuse James O'Keefe of having said this.
Even though when SHE was asked by Glenn Beck why she decided that she wanted to "sting" ACORN, Hannah Giles made her racism-in-the-name-of-Jesus crystal clear:
"I saw them as a thug organization getting my tax dollars"
Nonetheless, I am more than happy to accuse James O'Keefe of being a new-school white racist pig, given his role in the publication of a college-based reactionary rag at Rutgers University after he was expelled from his dormitory for calling his housemates niggers (a story diaried by O'Keefe yet now scrubbed from the 'Net); his ridiculous (yet successful) campaign to equate the serving of Lucky Charms cereal to racism against the Irish; his conducting a so-called "affirmative action" bake sale; and his attempt to paint the modern-day Planned Parenthood as an organization that is more than happy to accept money to abort Black babies that might someday be beneficiaries of affirmative action in competition with O'Keefe's own offspring. (I say modern day because the record is pretty clear that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger was a patriarchal racist despite her good intentions and believed in "negative eugenics" as a key way of helping what she perceived as a "lesser" population (even as those who accuse her of having a racist genocidal mindset are simply outright wrong.)
However, I don't include the fact that O'Keefe also targeted Planned Parenthood with video stings, and accused them of refusing to report statutory rape in this list.
Did you know about that? I didn't either, until I started researching this story. Yet it bears discussion because it is another reason I am so upset about the Leftists who are willing to abandon ACORN.
Yet there was not a single diary here at DailyKOS about the need for the Left to distance itself from Planned Parenthood merely because, on seven separate occasions, employees/volunteers at Planned Parenthood affiliates broke the law by telling what they believed to be a victim of statutory rape to lie about her age so that she could get an abortion at Planned Parenthood without getting her adult boyfriend in trouble.
So, to those of you here who swallowed the visual bait and subsequently tarred and feathered ACORN on a dime based on FOX News propaganda: Maybe my search skills suck, but I looked and could not find even ONE diary here at DailyKOS about this Planned Parenthood "sting" which has taken place over the past few months. It is a "non-story" as far as we so-called liberals are concerned. I certainly didn't find a single diary or comment anywhere here at DailyKOS advocating that Planned Parenthood be immediately stripped of federal funding to do its work in the fields of sex education and research, or decrying their "corrupt" nature or claiming that they "raise no serious money" and "have no vital constituency" when this story broke just six months ago. Indeed, this story has been such a "non-story" that you are hard pressed to find ANY media stories or even blog posts about it outside of the right-to-life community that predate the current "ACORN expose."
Unlike the situation presented in the ACORN videos, there actually IS a legal duty for a health care provider to report statutory rape, one of the very few exceptions to the rule that private citizens have no duty to report crimes to law enforcement, except a personal moral one, and there is no question that the duped Planned Parenthood workers violated in every state that the Mona Lisa Project (led by O'Keefe and another woman, Lila Rose) targeted a Planned Parenthood office: in Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, California, New Mexico and Indiana. Once Lila Rose -- O'Keefe's partner in crime -- made calls stated that she was under that particular state's age of consent and claimed that she was pregnant by a 31 year old man, there was no grey area, not legally at least, when it came to the legal duty of the Planned Parenthood employee/volunteer. None whatsoever.
I am not writing about this to tar and feather Planned Parenthood, by any means; I myself donate to its work which is desperately needed. I am writing it to point out the racist hypocrisy of the Left when it comes to our allies who are Black and Brown.
Going by the comparative silence, it seems a totally fair conclusion that on the Left have no problem with what favored white liberal organizations do, even when clearly illegal, if it is justified by a higher moral principle those leftists believe in. Such as drug dealing. Such as failure to report statutory rape. Yet those same leftists are more than happy to handwring and moralize about a far less-clear legal situation when it's uneducated people of color, particularly Black ones, making a similar moral type of calculus.
But it's even more egregious than that. Planned Parenthood only had to to sue and managed to get (at least initially, until the ACORN videos came out) video and audiotape of these Mona Lisa sting interviews taken down from YouTube and get the story completely squashed. Yet when the national management of ACORN (including its Black president) went to the courts to stand up for their right not to be abused by right-wing propagandists? Oh my. There were diaries and comments here at Daily KOS, and elsewhere on the Left, all decrying that ACORN was "stupid" for filing suit against O'Keefe, Giles and their right-wing funders. Claiming that it would have been better for ACORN to just lie back and take it from O'Keefe, Giles, Breitbart, FOX News and the rest of the conservative noise machine rather than exercise their own right to seek justice in the courts.
Why would any rational person feel this way?
Because of their own unstated/unrecognized racist and classist presumptions - unconscious, but still racist and classist - that some other types of "illegality" or "improprieties" would necessarily be uncovered.
Fortunately for the poor, if there is one thing that ACORN is NOT known for, it's just lying back and taking it from those in power.
So, why is the ACORN "story" so much more important to the Left than the Planned Parenthood "story?" I would submit that it is indeed because of the "eyewitness bias" I mentioned at the beginning of this diary. What we "see" when we see ACORN is, for the most part, stereotypically Black and visually lower-class uneducated workers who talk in the venacular, and who identify themselves as folks who are willing to turn "the system" on its head by skirting laws about which reasonable people can differ if necessary to do justice.
We hypocritically embrace them when the Left needs their political help, but run from them like the plague the second they do something "strange."
It is the same type of bias against non-conformist people of color (especially Black people) that folks demonstrated when they justified the administration's throwing Van Jones overboard through its refusal to publicly defend his signing a 9-11 petition that didn't say what too many on the the Left insisted it said (with no mention that DailyKOS heroine Janeane Garofalo ALSO signed that petition.) Or the President's dissing his own minister because of statements that he never made about hating America. Or leads to the remaking of the First Lady when she says that she is proud of America, just because she implied that at times she was not proud of America.
IMO, this type of disloyalty is the functional equivalent of Stephen Colbert's Blackwashing, except wrought by the Left on it's allies:
The Left only wants to be seen with non-white allies who walk, talk and think as if they were raised by white people.
Except at election time, when all bets are off.
Fortunately for all of us, but especially the poor, ACORN makes clear that its membership is, despite their lack of education and poverty, a genuine and relentless threat to the status quo that condemns the poor in this country. The status quo that exists both on the Right (who does not lie about its intentions) and the Left (who does not realize its own ongoing anti-color, anti-poor biases when it comes to how it treats people of color who "embarrass" them.) This is why even as we speak you have the "liberal media" (NY Times and WaPo, at the top of the list) presently beating itself up for having "not covered" ACORNs "corruption", yet but saying nothing about their failure to report Planned Parenthood's virtually-identical behavior (trying to help someone perceived as being in trouble despite the law). Of course, the media has covered ACORN's bad acts so effectively in the past few years that it has missed the facts early and often.
That is why everyone has now seen all the headlines about ACORN that have saturated the past 10 news cycles, give or take a few. I don't need to repeat them.
But now I'd like you to imagine a different headline.
One that looks more like the one I began this diary with.
One that recognizes that when it comes to questions of justice and morality, often there are no "right answers." That truly understands the conundrum of what to do in a situation such as that faced by the 5 ACORN employees is not as easy as the Left makes it out to be - indeed entire college level classes are taught over the complex ethical questions raised by this type of situation, in which there is no outcome that is free from harm. But the employees at ACORN are not college-educated people, and thus have not had the benefit of such classes. They are from the streets, the forgotten poor, the ones that we on the Left happily judge for everything from participating in the underground economy to eating junk food. Since they don't live up to our standards yet manage to survive anyway, their calculus about the 'greater harm" does not take into account political standing. Nor should it, if it means limiting its mission to help the poor and those who all of the mainstream has deemed unfit to care about. Of all the diaries that were written about what this really means, on the ground this one is the best, so I am linking to it here since BooMan said it better than I can:
My Experience with ACORN
Right now, I feel that we are essentially sitting on our hands watching with a whimper and a shiver and a mere whisper of "unfair" while the Right SUCCEEDS at destroying an organization which has been in its crosshairs for nearly 40 years all while having not yet said Word One (except in a frightened whisper, or to take down a target white politicians REALLY care about, like Dick Cheney or Blackwater). Whil ignoring that there are two people who have committed multiple felonies each when they purposefully misled the victims into believing that they were helping young girls in trouble by taking the less-evil choice between the Devil (a woman who claimed to be trying to save them from an evil man) and the Deep Blue Sea (an overseas pimp involved with the Mafia who was going to traffic the girls here to exploit them.) Two people who played the media like a fiddle, now gone largely into hiding since the holes in their effort to take down ACORN started coming out in earnest.
After you re-read this wonderful diary, please ask yourself: "What would Jesus Do?" Folks here at DailyKOS (too glibly and sarcastically sometimes, I admit to my dismay) are always asking the question here.
So, indeed, What Would Jesus do?
Well, considering that my personal Lord and Savior embraced more than one prostitute as a child of God rather than judge them, I think the answer to what Jesus would do in this situation involving ACORN's workers trying to help a prostitute and the man who claimed to love her enough to try and save her (not to mention other girls, as well) is clear.
Especially since today is Sunday (three days and about 12 cumulative of work since I started writing this diary, which is why I rarely get to do it anymore.)
Judging poor people for "doing what they gotta do" is a funny, funny thing. It can snare both those one sees as not worth fighting for (like ACORN, for many here) and those who one would go to the mat for (like Planned Parenthood's underage abortion clients who have adult lovers.) So perhaps we should learn from ACORNs example, next time, when deciding who to judge?
Many rightfully point out that few of my diaries have an action plan. Well, here's an action plan:
Write and call your congresscritters, and the President, and immediately demand reconsideration of both the Defund ACORN Act and Protect America from ACORN acts, based upon the constitutional directive that we are all innocent until proven guilty -- even poor and minority people and their political advocates.
Blast the media and the blogs with the backstory of James O'Keefe and and DEMAND that he and Hannah Giles be arrested and prosecuted for their admitted multiple violations of state and federal wiretapping law (you can probably use the same letters the Left wrote when the wiretappers were the telephone and internet companies acting on behalf of the Bush administration, with just a few minor changes. . .)
Write to the National ACORN offices and let them know that you are a staunch ally of their work and support their efforts to educate their workers and volunteers in a way that will protect them from inadvertently becoming victims while they are trying to help
Keep ACORN (which already had closed up to 40% of its local affiliates due to the economy) alive and operating in as many cities as possible, despite it this past week having to shut down even more of its offices as federal and state governments continue to race to strip needed funding from it, as if ACORN has the Black Death (and I guess rhetorically, from a political perspective it does since of course its national spokespeople are almost all Black and Latino) alive by making a personal contribution in support of its work and in honor of its history as the nation's most loyal and effective advocate for the least of us.