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Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on Wade Rathke

It's been more than a week since I finished my last of three interviews with Wade Rathke. (in fact, all three are also on Big Government but more on that later.) In a strange and almost perverse way, there was one individual thatI kept thinking about when I discussed the interviews with others that know Rathke. That individual's name is Wil Rondini.

On the surface, that's a peculiar comparison. Wil was a stockbroker I once worked with. He was a relatively intense guy who's spent his entire life in high finance. Rathke is a community organizer that's spent most of his life working with the poor. Yet, both did exactly what they were born to do. Wil was born to sell and Wade Rathke was born to be a community organizer. Both were the best at their craft.

Both are, in my opinion, tragic figures. Both are individuals of unique skills and talents and yet they allowed personal failings to define them. Wil once worked for Lehman Brothers back in the 1980's and early 1990's. He was a top performer and a legendary producer. He made millions many times over. He also engaged in a series of ethical lapses that cost him his job at Lehman and several other firms until he landed at a chop shop, where I met him.

Wade Rathke took ACORN, the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now, from an oganization of one to an organization of several hundred thousand. He also allowed ACORN to turn into a magnet of corruption and criminality. The tragedy is that both are so uniquely talented that they could have found success, overwhelming success, through their talents alone. Their ethical lapses ultimately hurt them more than they hurt anyone else.

That's where I differ from most on the right. Most people see Wade Rathke as rotten because of who he is, a community organizer, and what that's associated with, a radical ideology. I don't even necessarily see him as bad but as tragic. It's his ethical lapses that are ultimately form what you can't get away from.

The most important part of all three interviews, from my point of view at least, were the parts in which he talked about ACORN 8. ACORN 8 is a group of current and former board members that have, in their view, discovered enough evidence that has lead them to believe that the hierarchy at ACORN is rotten and needs to be purged.

I asked Rathke about ACORN 8 twice. On both occasions, Rathke went into a long explanation for why ACORN 8 continues to present evidence to the Feds of wrong doing at ACORN. These long explanations hide the truth. The reason that members of ACORN 8 present evidence of wrongdoing at ACORN is because there's wrongdoing at ACORN. Unfortunately, that's the legacy that Rathke faces now.

Most conservatives want to turn ACORN into an ideological battle. ACORN, to them, is bad because it's a left wing organization. They don't care about the poor. Rather, they use the poor. In fact, more than one member of ACORN 8 has made this same observation about ACORN in its current form. Former ACORN organizer Greg Hall has also said this. The difference is that they see a group of people that have taken advantage of those they profess to serve not because of ideological failings but personal failings.

The story of ACORN is now and always will be one of corruption, not ideology. Many conservatives fail to recognize this and for the most part, that's because they are themselves blinded by ideology. Wade Rathke is not bad because he's a community organizer, a radical (which he denies anyway), or any political ideology. What he has to answer for (yes I realize I can't bring myself to say he's bad but as I said, he's very charming) is the mountain of corruption that occurred at ACORN on his watch.

This brings me to some of the comments at Big Government. The comments initially ranged from Rathke's a crook to Rathke should go to jail. There were positive toward the piece but many looked with skepticism at anything positive I said about him. I believe most wanted a hit piece. Most wanted me to bash Rathke endlessly, as if I would have ever gotten the interview in the first place doing something like that.

In the first interview, Rathke talked about remittance and this was immediately attacked.

Rathke is "negotiating" a "fair rate of exchange" ? Who does he think he is kidding besides undereducated libs and union goons ? He is simply negotiating his cut in a lucrative cash black market scam at the expense of Mexican families. And why would Western Union even entertain such a deal ! Somebody shoot me !


A word about his crusade on wiring co's and their remittance fees. Not long, because it is boring.Someone should ask him why he is attacking those companies. The real evil lies in the nations (banks – often the same) they send them to and the conversion fees they charge.

American companies (especially those with a store) are exiting from this business. Internet sites and foreign companies doing biz in the U.S. are taking over. is he just against American companies making profit? Most of these companies offer sort of a sliding scale of fees meaning you send $50 bucks, the recipient will not be gettng much after the fees on both ends, but send say – $300 (the max allowed per quarter for money going to Cuba from the U.S.) it becomes pretty economical – on the U.S. side. Cuba takes a giant cut either way.

Another point is that if you drive these companies out of business you know who suffers? That poor guy who would have received the money and then the country they live in. Those countries rely on that money to raise their people out of poverty, raise their export $'s because of increased productivity, create better health and education opportunity.

So, why again is he chasing these companies? They do not stand out as usury. Payday loan people – go after them.

Remittance is the process by which ex pats send money back home. I didn't know anything about it until I researched it prior to the interview. I doubt that anyone reading the piece knew much about it, but yet, because Wade Rathke was doing it, then it must be wrong. Don't get me wrong, everything that Rathke does should be viewed with a healthy skepticism. That said, this view is entirely ideological without one hint of evidence. Rathke is wrong because he's Wade Rathke and the American banks aren't at fault because they're ours.

It was largely like that. At one point, Rathke criticized the tea parties for showing too much anger and there was outcry. Rathke was referred to as a Marxist, Communist, and Radical on multiple occasions.

That's the mistake that conservatives make with Rathke. If you want to fight him on an ideological battlefield, he'll win every time. He keeps his opinions largely close to the vest. He works in the poorest, of poor communities. So, what is to the conservative a "Marxist" is to the folks in the community, the person that's there helping them with their problems. By turning Rathke's persona into an ideological one, conservatives also unwittingly get away from the point at hand. It's not his organizing or his ideology that's the problem, it's the corruption.

Wade Rathke is a very complicated individual. He was innovative and capable enough to create an organizing force from scratch. At the same time, he allowed for so much chaos to reign that ACORN became little more than a criminal organization. Whenever I confronted Rathke with any of this, he never found fault in himself. He also always hinted that things went bad at ACORN because he was no longer there. Let's call that a healthy sense of self worth.

It should also be noted that Community Organizations International, Rathke's new venture, will be near impossible to track. After all, it will span borders, and it will go into all sorts of third world nations where the laws and government structures are much more lax than in the States. So, tracking his confederation, as Rathke refers to COI, will be near impossible for both authorities and media. If there's malfeasance COI, like there was at ACORN, that will make tracking that malfeasance next to impossible. That malfeasance will span borders and it would be outside the purview of any legitimate authority. After all, if there's malfeasance in ACORN Dominican Republic, who would be there to track it.

These are all issues of crime, corruption, and if Rathke is in fact directing them, his own personal failings. They aren't issues of ideology. Once we stop treating Wade Rathke as an ideological weapon we may even understand his influence in the world, both good and bad.

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