The Distracting Benefits of ACORN Hysteria

Earlier this week, I wrote about
how the Fox-News/Glenn-Beck/Rush-Limbaugh leadership trains its
protesting followers to focus the vast bulk of their resentment and
anxieties on largely powerless and downtrodden factions, while
ignoring, and even revering, the outright pillaging by virtually
omnipotent corporate interests that own and control their Government (and, not coincidentally, Fox N

Earlier this week, I wrote about
how the Fox-News/Glenn-Beck/Rush-Limbaugh leadership trains its
protesting followers to focus the vast bulk of their resentment and
anxieties on largely powerless and downtrodden factions, while
ignoring, and even revering, the outright pillaging by virtually
omnipotent corporate interests that own and control their Government (and, not coincidentally, Fox News). It's hard to imagine a more perfectly illustrative example of all of that than the hysterical furor over ACORN.

ACORN has received a grand total of $53 million
in federal funds over the last 15 years -- an average of $3.1 million
per year. Meanwhile, not millions, not billions, but trillions of
dollars of public funds have been, in the last year alone, transferred
to or otherwise used for the benefit of Wall Street. Billions of
dollars in American taxpayer money vanished into thin air, eaten by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, led by Halliburton subsidiary KBR.
All of those corporate interests employ armies of lobbyists and
bottomless donor activities that ensure they dominate our legislative
and regulatory processes, and to be extra certain, the revolving door
between industry and government is more prolific than ever, with key
corporate officials constantly ending up occupying the government
positions with the most influence over those industries.

as one would expect, the prime beneficiaries of all of that pillaging
continue to grow. The banks that almost brought the world economy to
collapse but then received massive public largesse because they were
"too big to fail" are now bigger than ever; as The Washington Post delicately put it: "The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance." Everything
involving the government turns out well for these "behemoths" because
they own and control the U.S. Government. Just this week, The Post detailed how
the government and Wall St. are now so intertwined that banking
executives are spending vast resources to increase their presence in

So, too, for [BlackRock Chairman
Laurence] Fink, who said much hinges on his relationship with
Washington. He often has talked to White House chief of staff Rahm
Emanuel, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and his predecessor,
Henry M. Paulson Jr. Fink was among the first regulators reached out to
when they needed urgent advice on pricing exotic securities or
predicting the global fallout from the failure of large financial firms
like Lehman Brothers.

"We are going to be spending more time inside the Beltway, either by helping the government or, if we are asked, shaping policy and decisions," Fink said. "It is beholden on us on behalf of our clients to have input in Washington" . . .

Some firms are bringing Washingtonians to them.

year ago, James B. Lockhart III was the top federal regulator
overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when the Bush administration
seized the two mortgage finance companies, saving the home loan market
from collapse. When Lockhart said last month that he would step down
from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, he was snapped up quickly.
Today he is vice chairman of WL Ross, which is looking to make money by
buying mortgage assets and loans cast off by lenders as unprofitable.

former federal officials are scrambling for a piece of the action.
Joseph J. Murin, former president of Ginnie Mae, which guarantees
securities linked to government-backed mortgages, and former Federal
Housing Administration commissioner Brian Montgomery, set up a
consulting shop on L Street in mid-August.

As previously documented,
Goldman Sachs itself has a virtual lock on the top Treasury positions
no matter which party is in power. The vaunted bipartisan "Baucus
plan" was literally written by a Baucus aide who just left her position as Vice President of Wellpoint to write the health care reform plan for the Senate -- a revelation which barely caused a ripple. And the Supreme Court is on the verge of striking down
the few limits on corporate involvement in our politics, a ruling which
may (or may not be) constitutionally defensible but which will flood
American politics with so much corporate money that it will give new
meaning to the term "oligarchy."

So with this massive pillaging
of America's economic security and its control of American government
by its richest and most powerful factions growing by the day, to whom
is America's intense economic anxiety being directed? To a non-profit
group that devotes itself to providing minute benefits to people who
live under America's poverty line, and which is so powerless in
Washington that virtually the entire U.S. Senate just voted
to cut off its funding at the first sign of real controversy -- could
anyone imagine that happening to a key player in the banking or defense

Apparently, the problem for middle-class and
lower-middle-class Americans is not that their taxpayer dollars are
going to prop up billionaires, oligarchs and their corrupt industries.
It's that America's impoverished -- a group that is growing rapidly -- is getting too much, has too much power and too little accountability. Anonymous Liberal has a superb post on the manipulative inanity of the Fox-generated ACORN "scandal" (h/t D-day):

take a step back and consider just what ACORN is. It is a non-profit
organization whose mission is to empower and improve the lives of poor
people. As with many other organizations, ACORN has a number of legally
distinct parts, each of which has different sources of funding and
engages in different kinds of activities (ACORN's conservative enemies
routinely conflate these various parts to imply that ACORN is using
federal money for improper political purposes). Since its founding the
70s, ACORN and its employees and volunteers have fought successfully
to, among other things, increase minimum wages across the country,
increase the quality of public education in poor areas, and protect
people from predatory lending practices. In the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina, ACORN helped
rebuild thousands of homes and assisted victims in relocating and
finding housing outside of New Orleans. The ACORN activity that has
drawn the most conservative ire is its voter registration efforts
which, consistent with ACORN's mission, are primarily aimed at
low-income voters (who tend to vote Democratic). . . .

even if you take these film-makers at face value and assume the worst,
the reality is that ACORN has thousands of employees and the vast
majority of them spend their days trying to help poor people through
perfectly legal means (and receive very little compensation for doing
so). Even before yesterday's Senate vote, the amount of federal money
that went to ACORN was very small. This is a relatively insignificant
organization in the grand scheme of things, but it's an organization
that has unquestionably fought over the years to improve the lives of
the less fortunate in this country.

That the GOP and its
conservative supporters would single out this particular organization
for such intense demonization is telling. In September of last year,
the entire world came perilously close to complete financial
catastrophe. We're still not out of the woods and we're deep within one
of the worst recessions in U.S. history. This situation was brought
about by the recklessness and greed of our banks and financial
institutions, most of which had to be bailed out at enormous cost to
the American taxpayer (exponentially more than all of the tax dollars
given to ACORN over the years). The people who brought about this near
catastrophe, for the most, profited immensely from it. These very same
institutions, propped up by the American taxpayer, are once again
raking in large profits.

But rather than focus their anger
on these folks, conservatives choose to go after an organization
composed almost entirely of low-paid community organizers, an
organization that could never hope to have even a small fraction of the
clout or the ability to affect the overall direction of the country
that Wall Street bankers have. ACORN's relative lack of political
influence was on full display yesterday, when the U.S. Senate (in which
Democrats have a supermajority) not only entertained a vote to defund
ACORN, but approved it by a huge margin (with only seven Democrats

If one were to watch Fox News or
listen to Rush Limbaugh -- as millions do -- one would believe that the
burden of the ordinary American taxpayer, and the unfair plight of
America's rich, is that their money is being stolen by the poorest and
most powerless sectors of the society. An organization whose
constituencies are often-unregistered inner-city minorities, the
homeless and the dispossesed is depicted as though it's Goldman Sachs,
Blackwater, Haillburton and combined, as though Washington officials
are in thrall to those living in poverty rather than those who fund
their campaigns. It's not the nice men in the suits doing the stealing
but the very people, often minorities or illegal immigrants, with no
political or financial power who nonetheless somehow dominate the
government and get everything for themselves. The poorer and weaker
one is, the more one is demonized in right-wing mythology as
all-powerful receipients of ill-gotten gains; conversely, the stronger
and more powerful one is, the more one is depicted as an oppressed and
put-upon victim (that same dynamic applies to foreign affairs as well).

such an obvious falsehood -- so counter-intuitive and irrational -- yet
it resonates due to powerful cultural manipulations. Most of all,
what's so pernicious about all of this is that the same interests who
are stealing, pillaging and wallowing in corruption are scapegoating
the poorest and most vulnerable in order to ensure that the victims of
their behavior are furious with everyone except for them.

UPDATE: John Cole highlights
what might be the most telling aspect of all of this: demands for a
"Special Prosecutor" into Obama's so-called "relationship with ACORN"
from the very same circles that vehemently objected to investigations
into torture, illegal government spying, politicized prosecutions,
military contractor theft, Lewis Libby's obstruction of justice, and
virtually every other instance of Bush-era acts of criminality. Those,
of course, are the very same people who, before that, demanded endless
inquiries into Whitewater and Vince Foster's murder.