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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The ultimate guide to the Ayers controversy

Correspondent G, whom you may know from previous posts, wrote a letter to on their treatment of the Obama/Ayers linkage. (FactCheck, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, is a creature of the Annenberg fund.) G's long and impeccably-researched text is, in my view, the most rational and comprehensible rejoinder ever provided to those who would pooh-pooh the candidate's longstanding connection to Ayers. I am proud to present this piece, which I've edited slightly for format (embedding the links and so forth).

Yes, this is a long read. Nevertheless, I urge you to take the time to go over it -- at the end, you'll be ten or twenty times smarter than the average bear. Everything that follows comes from G, who provides the documented facts that FactCheck would prefer to ignore:

* * *,

I've been following the Obama/Ayers story closely for many months, and I'm writing regarding your Factcheck on the McCain ad..

I'm a liberal/left Democrat. I cringe at these kinds of ads, and I think this ad does contains elements that distort some of the facts.

However, I believe that there are important omissions/flaws in your Factcheck. My apologies for a long e-mail, but I think that in this case, some of the details are crucial.

I'll cover three points below.

1. I do think it is accurate to say that Obama and the Obama campaign have offered misleading (and in some cases false) statements about Obama's relationship with Ayers.

2. Your characterization of Ayers omits crucial elements.

3. I think it's clearly misleading for the ad to use the terms ' radical education foundation'. But, even here, there's a small kernel of truth.


1. I do think it is accurate to say that Obama and the Obama campaign have offered misleading (and in some cases false) statements about Obama's relationship with Ayers.

When the media began showing an interest in Ayers, the initial responses of Obama campaign representatives were clearly misleading, seeking to downplay the relationship. For example, when Ben Smith questioned David Axelrod about the relationship, Alexrod responded: "Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together." February 26, 2008

[As an aside - this is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff statement by Axelrod. Axelrod is said to pride himself on proactively preparing defenses on such points, and has been known to dump clients - such as Blair Hull - when they refused to answer his intrusive inquiries about their own 'dirty laundry'.]

Apparently, this response was still the prepared line by the time of the April 16 debate between Obama and Clinton. Obama:
"George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George."
As you note, Hillary Clinton then brought up the Woods Fund, and Obama countered with her husband's pardons of Weather Underground members.

There was a lot of discussion about Ayers in the press (and by bloggers) over the next several days. A response based on 'guy who lives in my neighborhood' would no longer suffice, given that it was now clear that they had jointly served on boards.

On April 27, Fox News broadcast an interview of Obama by Chris Wallace. In this interview, Obama provided more information.
WALLACE: "Let me ask you one other question in this regard, which some will call a distraction, some will call values. In the last debate, you were asked about your relationship with William Ayers, the former '60s radical, and you said that you were no more responsible for what he did back in the 1960s than for your friendship with Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, pediatrician, who has made comments about possibly taking the death penalty for cases of abortion. Do you really see a moral equivalency between what Ayers did and what Tom Coburn said?"

OBAMA: "No, of course not. The point I was making — and I actually called Tom Coburn afterwards, because I thought that people were suggesting that I had drawn a moral equivalent, so that's what I was — wasn't what I was doing. All I was saying was — is that the fact that I know somebody, worked with them, have interactions with them, doesn't mean that I'm endorsing what they say. And, Chris, I'm sure you've got people who you serve on a board with or have dinner with who, you know, you would never expect to somehow have that seen as an endorsement of their views. Now, you know, Mr. Ayers is a 60-plus-year-old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was 6 or 7 years old. By the time I met him, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois. We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education. He worked for Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley, by the way, who, when he was a state's attorney, prosecuted Mr. Ayers' wife for those activities in the '60s. So the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago because I serve on a board with him..."
This answer does provide more detail. Obama appears to be referencing the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, though this is never made explicit. The claim that Ayers was working for Daley is a mischaracterization. Ayers never worked for Daley, and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) was never under Daley's control. Indeed, it appears that Ayers applied when he did for the Annenberg funds to pre-empt Daley and the Chicago School System from securing these same funds. Bill Ayers opposed Daley's plans for re-centralization of the Chicago Schools (Ayers was a strong proponent of 'Local School Control').

There were subsequent political struggles in which Daley sought to secure control over the funds - according to Ken Rolling the CAC Executive director: "There were two or three attempts from them [Chicago city officials] to just 'get the money.' Even the mayor got into at one point. The mayor asked the ambassador [Annenberg, ed.] to come into Chicago and he wanted to tell him, 'You are wasting your money. You should give it to me.' The ambassador never responded to him and never agreed to a meeting. But Vallas tried it, his staff worked on how to wrest that money away from us."

Chicago politics can be a somewhat byzantine world of shifting alliances. Ultimately Daley publicly embraced Bill Ayers, apparently in part to secure the support of Bill's father, Tom Ayers (a politically powerful Chicago figure, and Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison).

(Also, the 'six or seven years old' is false. Obama was born in 1961. The Weather Underground (with Bill Ayers as one of its primary leaders) continued its bombing campaign through much of the 70's (see point #2 below). In fact, out of over 30 bombings carried out by the Weather Underground, exactly zero had occurred at the time Obama was six or seven years old - all occurred at dates later than this.)

Subsequently, the Obama campaign continued to provide reporters with disinformation on the Obama/Ayers relationship, in an attempt to minimize it - claiming, for example, that they first met in November, 1995 (at the meet-and-greet).

For example, from the NY Times, May 11, 2008
"Mr. Obama also fit in at Hyde Park’s fringes, among university faculty members like Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, unrepentant members of the radical Weather Underground that bombed the United States Capitol and the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mr. Obama was introduced to the couple in 1995 at a meet-and-greet they held for him at their home, aides said."
I wrote to the reporters for this story and an editor at the NY Times, stating that this was incorrect - since Obama had been the Chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge - a project which was Ayers' brainchild. Obama was selected as Chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge by the beginning of 1995 (long before the November, 1995 meet-and-greet) and Ayers was co-chair of the operations arm of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. My e-mails to the NY Times were short (unlike my current e-mail to you) and included some documentation that I had located.

However, the NY Times had clear statements to the contrary from the Obama campaign - that Obama and Ayers only met in November 1995 - and they apparently chose to believe those statements - so no correction was thought necessary.

Once the CAC records emerged, the Obama campaign now says that Ayers and Obama first met in early 1995.

Actually, I think Ayers and Obama likely first met each other long before this. Ayers was the 'go-to' person (primary contact person/coordinator) for the ABC's coalition (Alliance for Better Chicago Schools), a school reform advocacy group formed in 1987. During this same period, Obama was the director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a member of the ABC's coalition (the Weibolt and Woods Foundations were providing the DCP with substantial funds to perform school reform advocacy during this period).

It seems very unlikely to me that the director of the DCP - while engaged in a major initiative on school reform (i.e. this was not a minor side project for the DCP) - would not have met the 'go-to' person for the school reform coalition that was coordinating the effort. I say this out of a lot of personal experience as an activist on the Left (having been involved in many political groups and coalitions). Not absolutely impossible - but it seems very unlikely.

Returning to your Factcheck item, you state:
"The Chicago Tribune, after examining the records, said they showed Ayers and Obama 'attended board meetings, retreats and at least one news conference together as the education program got under way.' It also said Obama and Ayers 'continued to attend meetings together during the 1995-2001 operation of the program.' The story played on page 2. According to the New York Times, the documents show the two attended just six board meetings together, Obama as chairman and Ayers to inform the board on grantees and other issues. (In a press release, the McCain campaign puts the number of meetings at seven, five of them in 1995, one in 1996 and one in 1997.) Ayers was an 'ex officio' member of the board for the first year of the project."
First - it's important to recognize that this is likely a gross underestimate of the amount of contact. For example, the list of six or seven meetings apparently doesn't include the retreats referenced by the Tribune. Your comment that "the McCain campaign puts the number of meetings at seven" isn't quite accurate either, since they explicitly say "at least seven", then proceed to list seven specific meetings based on the meeting minutes. I think that a statement by Stanley Kurtz, who has spent more time looking through the CAC documents than most researchers, gives a more accurate sense:
"The Obama campaign is trying to minimize his cooperation with Ayers by counting the number of board meetings where both sat together. That will not do. For one thing, as long as we’re counting occasions on which Obama and Ayers were together, the Obama campaign omits Obama’s appearances before the Collaborative, when it was co-chaired by Ayers. In 1995, Obama and Ayers also sat together on the board’s Governance Committee, with at least one independently scheduled meeting, and who knows how many others. Ayers and Obama were also part of a group of four instructed to draft the bylaws that would govern CAC. Surely that endeavor would have involved significant interaction between them. Then there’s the question of unrecorded meetings of both the board and the Collaborative. For example, the archives contain an intriguing note indicating that, although a CAC board meeting took place on July 25, 1995, 'No minutes were recorded.' Were Ayers and Obama both present at that meeting? More important, what took place there?"
In light of this, it's interesting to look at the kinds of statements the Obama campaign has recently been offering:
"Obama and Ayers attended a meeting for a school reform project in 1995 and met again later that year when Ayers held a campaign event for Obama when then-Illinois state Sen. Alice Palmer, who planned to run for Congress, introduced the young community organizer as her chosen successor, campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said."
In addition, Obama campaign representatives have mischaracterized the meet-and-greet at Ayers home - for example, claiming that it was organized by State Senator Alice Palmer. It's clear that this is incorrect - that the meet-and-greet was apparently organized by Obama and Ayers/Dohrn. October 6, 2008 - CNN Anderson Cooper program - Drew Griffin:
"Anderson, this meeting at Bill Ayers home has been classified in many different ways. What I can tell you from the two people who were actually there, is number one, former Senator Alice Palmer says she, in no way organized this meeting and she was invited and attended it briefly. And Doctor Quentin Young, a retired doctor, told us this indeed was Barack Obama's political coming out party and it was hosted by Bill Ayers."
Maria Warren, one of the attendees at the 1995 meet-and-greet wrote in her blog on January 27, 2005:
"When I first met Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in the living room of those two legends-in-their-own-minds, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. They were launching him--introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread."
More recently, David Axelrod claimed that Obama didn't know about Ayers past history. Many commentators have pointed out that this is extremely implausible. Bill Ayers history was widely known and was frequently discussed in Chicago political circles/Hyde Park. For some of the coverage of this claim, and some of the responses, see here.

To summarize, Obama dissembled and gave misleading responses, and the Obama campaign gave responses to journalists that were misleading, and sometimes flatly false. If I was composing an ad, I wouldn't have said "he lied" - I would have said something much more complicated in an attempt to be fully accurate. However, this claim is not groundless.

(To read the rest, click "Permalink" below)

2. Your characterization of Ayers omits crucial elements that greatly change the picture.

Ayers has recently claimed that the intent of their bombs was only to cause property damage. Though I believe that was probably initially true, the Weather Underground escalated. By 1970, their aim, on some occasions, was no longer merely property damage.

In February 1970, Ayers group firebombed the home of a Judge (Murtaugh) while he and his family - including his young boy - were sleeping. Murtaugh was a New York State Supreme Court justice, presiding over a trial of Black Panther Party members. The family managed to escape unharmed.

Ayers' group also was planning to bomb a non-commissioned officer's dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey, using large pipe bombs with roofing nails for shrapnel, but one of the bombs went off while it was being constructed (killing Diana Oughten, Ayers girlfriend at the time).
"In March, 1970, the Weathermen – now re-christened the Weather Underground – resurfaced in spectacular, if self-destructive fashion. One of their cells, which were called "focos," had hatched a plot to plant a nail-bomb at a dance in the officer's mess at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Had this act of exemplary violence occurred, it would have killed and injured not only army officers but their wives and dates as well. Fortunately for the intended victims, the Underground was as inept at bomb-making as it was at street-fighting. The device blew up in the Manhattan townhouse in which it was being constructed, killing Ayers' girlfriend, Diana Oughten, and two other Weathermen. Ayers, Rudd, Dohrn, et. al. ended up on the FBI's most wanted list and went on the lam."
Also see here:
"Harvey Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory University in Atlanta, said in 2003, 'The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence. I don't know what sort of defense that is.'"
The Weather Underground also carried out a February 16, 1970 bombing of a police station in which one officer (Brian McDonnell) was killed and another partially blinded (apparently, a total of nine people were wounded). Heavy metal staples were used for sharpnel in construction of the bomb. This is the case the NY Times is referring to in stating "a 1970 pipe bomb in San Francisco attributed to the group killed one police officer and severely hurt another." Dohrn was believed, but not proven, to have participated in this bombing.

One source of information about the Weather Underground was Larry Grathwohl, an undercover FBI informant in the organization. According to the NY Times Grathwohl "was publicly described as the most effective informer the F.B.I. ever placed among the Weathermen". Grathwohl later provided testimony about the Weather Underground before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (testifying on October 18, 1974). He also wrote a book about these events (Bringing Down America: An FBI Informant in with the Weathermen, Arlington House, 1977) and has been frequently used as a source by historians writing about the Weather Underground, including authors sympathetic to them. No-one has ever impugned the accuracy or honesty of his accounts.

Before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Grathwohl testified:
"When he [Bill Ayers] returned, we had another meeting at which time―and this is the only time that any Weathermen told me about something that someone else had done―and Bill started off telling us about the need to raise the level of the struggle and for stronger leadership inside the Weathermen 'focals' [i.e., cells] and inside the Weatherman organization as a whole. And he cited as one of the real problems was that someone like Bernardine Dohrn had to plan, develop and carry out the bombing of the police station in San Francisco, and he specifically named her as the person that committed that act."
According to Grathwohl, Ayers "said that the bomb was placed on the window ledge and he described the kind of bomb that was used to the extent of saying what kind of shrapnel was used in it." When Grathwohl was asked "Did he say who placed the bomb on the window ledge?" he answered "Bernardine Dohrn." When Grathwohl was asked if Ayers had personally witnessed Dohrn placing the bomb, he replied "Well, if he wasn't there to see it, somebody who was there told him about it, because he stated it very emphatically."

At this hearing, Grathwohl also testified about an unsuccessful bombing at a Detroit police station:
"The only time that I was ever instructed or we were ever instructed to place a bomb in a building at a time when there would be people in it was during the planning of the bombing at the Detroit Police Officers’ Association building and the 13th precinct in Detroit, Mich., at which time Bill said that we should plan our bombing to coincide with the time when there would be the most people in those buildings."
Grathwohl further testified
"The only thing Bill didn’t take into consideration in making his bomb was the fact that these wicks, those fuses on those firecrackers are waterproof with heavy paraffin, and a cigarette burning by itself does not always have enough heat to melt that paraffin and light the powder. And I didn’t volunteer any information to the contrary."
Apparently Grathwohl informed the police, the area was cleared, and the bombs were found and dismantled.

[Note: I don't have direct access to the testimony, available at the Library of Congress. I'm relying on excerpts provided in two articles (here and here) written by conservative authors. But I have no reason to question the validity of the quotes they provide from the testimony.]

In his book about the Weather Underground, Grathwohl wrote further about the attempted bombings in Detroit. I don't have direct access to Grathwohl's book, but summaries (of material from the book) from two sources (here and here) are consistent with each other:
"Ayers had a helped direct a pair of attempted police building bombings in Detroit in February 1970. After doing his assigned job in reconnaissance, Grathwohl disagreed with Mr. Ayers over the placement of one bomb, which could easily kill black patrons who favored an adjacent restaurant, but that Ayers dismissed such sentimentality as unrevolutionary. The informant was glad to be dismissed from the operation by Ayers. Forty-four sticks of dynamite were then formed into two bombs and put into place, before Grathwohl's information allowed police to dismantle both."
"Grathwohl reveals that Ayers himself knew how to make bombs and didn’t care about people being killed. At one point, he says, Ayers displayed a diagram of a bomb, with dynamite and a fuse. The plan was to bomb a police station but an objection was raised that it would also destroy a nearby restaurant. 'We’ll blow out the Red Barn restaurant,' Grathwohl said. 'Maybe even kill a few innocent customers—and most of them are black.' 'We can’t protect all the innocent people in the world,' Ayers replied. 'Some will get killed. Some of us will get killed. We have to accept that fact.'"
When you state: "Ayers is no Osama bin Laden now, and never was." In some sense that's obviously true. He never sought to kill thousands of civilians. But ... in 1970, it seems that Ayers was involved in bombings and attempted bombings that apparently killed at least one person - and if more of these attempts were successful, would likely have killed many.

Incidentally - I don't think Ayers, or bin Laden (or McVeigh, for that matter) are 'monsters' (as they're sometimes portrayed). By all accounts, each of these individuals have, at times, acted with generosity and decency. Each of them, under the right circumstances, has also shown authoritarian behavior and a rigid certainty in the 'rightness' of their causes, where ends justify means. And each of them has offered subsequent self-serving accounts (e.g. on most occasions, bin Laden has publicly denied involvement in 9/11). Very few 'terrorists' call themselves that (almost invariably a more positive label is preferred for their own actions).

For the Weather Underground, the townhouse debacle, and subsequent negative publicity (damaging to their cause), appears to have caused a shift back toward more 'symbolic' (property damage) bombings.

The Weather Underground, with Ayers as one of its central leaders, continued its bombing campaign for years. For example, this FBI document from 1976 lists three bombings and one attempted bombing by the Weather Underground in 1975 (see page 185). A minor side note - Obama would have been a teenager at this point (not "six or seven years old").

On a separate point, you write:
"Several other Weather Underground alums, including Kathy Boudin, along with some members of a group calling itself the Black Liberation Army, were involved in a bungled 1981 robbery of a Brinks truck in Nanuet, N.Y., in which a security guard and two policemen were killed. Ayers and Dohrn have never been publicly tied to the incident, which took place after they had turned themselves in. Dohrn was jailed for seven months for refusing to provide a handwriting sample to the grand jury investigating it."
"Never publicly tied" is too strong. Investigators concluded that Dohrn was the source of an identity theft used to construct fake licenses used in the robbery - and this was made public. It is true that she was never prosecuted/found guilty. And there's no evidence that she was involved in planning for the Brinks robbery, which, as you note, occurred the year after she turned herself in. John Kass - Chicago Tribune - April 23, 2008:
"Broadway Baby was implicated in an investigation of a series of violent armed robberies in New York—netting more than $2 million over a two-year span—committed by former Black Panthers and Weather Underground members in the early '80s. At Broadway Baby, customers often paid by check and used driver’s licenses for identification. On Dec. 28, 1979, information from two customer files was used to apply for two driver’s licenses at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The fraudulent licenses were used to rent getaway cars for the gang. Investigators tracked the identities on two licenses for the getaway cars. The names belonged to women who had shopped at Broadway Baby in December 1979. But they weren't robbers. And who was the manager of Broadway Baby during that period of the customer ID theft? Dohrn, the future wife of Ayers, identified by investigators as taking customer information from one, and possibly both, of the women shoppers. Dohrn was never charged in that case."
On another point - in the Factcheck, you wrote:
"Locally, Ayers' radical past hasn't been much of an issue. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet wrote last spring that it 'was no big deal, or any deal, to any local political reporters or to the editorial boards of the Sun-Times or [Chicago] Tribune.'"
The claim that Ayers is now viewed as mainstream (in Chicago) is quite debatable. e.g. this Ben Smith article at
"And their rehabilitation in establishment circles, even in Hyde Park, has its limits. Though he is a respected figure in liberal educational circles, Ayers wrote recently about how in 2006 he was informed he was persona non grata at a progressive educators’ conference in the summer of 2006. 'We cannot risk a simplistic and dubious association between progressive education and the violent aspects of your past,' he quoted the conference organizers, whom he described as friends, as writing to him."
Also see here:
"'Northwestern has committed fraud in raising money from alumni and then not telling them that it goes to support someone like Dohrn,' O'Shea said in a telephone interview with the Chronicle. According to a Nov. 2 Associated Press report, 14 alumni have followed O'Shea's lead and pulled their donations - costing the university $11,300. .... Some faculty members opposed the hiring of Dohrn. 'I thought that what we were doing was participating in the laundering of evil,' noted legal scholar Daniel Polsby told the Chicago Tribune. Polsby was a Northwestern law professor at the time, and is now an associate dean of George Mason University's law school. According to O'Shea, Northwestern has betrayed its principles and failed in its obligations to students and alumni by allowing Dohrn to continue teaching at the Law School. 'It's my university too, and who are they to defile it?' O'Shea said.”
A final very minor point - you mention the academic affiliations of Dohrn and Ayers.
"Dohrn is now a clinical associate professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. Ayers is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago."
That is liable to create a mis-impression for some of your readers, since such academic appointments typically are supposed to be an index of personal achievement and ability - i.e. in our culture, it's supposed to be a purely earned achievement - and is viewed as a signifier of merit. Ron Grossman, reporting in the Chicago Tribune, recently wrote an article regarding this.
"Ayers' round trip—from a privileged childhood to the bomb-making wing of '60s radicalism and back up the social ladder—shows he got one thing right in his critique of America: Whom you know is as important as what you know. Being to-the-manor born is all but a lifetime guarantee that doors will be opened. Ayers' father, Thomas Ayers, was CEO of Commonwealth Edison as well as a trustee of Tribune Co. and chairman of the board of Northwestern University. ....

But it's hard for an outsider not to see the map of family connections behind their paths. Ayers' father moved in philanthropic circles with Howard Trienens, an attorney with the powerhouse firm of Sidley Austin. The two served together on Northwestern University's Board of Trustees. Ayers was chairman of that group, then handed the post off to Trienens in 1986. Trienens headed Sidley Austin when the firm hired Dohrn in 1984. She had never practiced law and had been out of law school for 17 years. When I asked Trienens if he had hired Dohrn, he replied: 'Yes.' Wasn't that a bit of nepotism, considering his relationship to her father-in-law? A lot of lawyers would love a first job with such a prestigious firm. 'We often hire friends,' replied Trienens, 84. ....

Daniel Polsby, a law school faculty member in 1991, recalls Dohrn's appointment going through an academic side door. Because she was brought on as an 'adjunct,' she was never put before a faculty vote. Seeking clarification from the university, I was told to put my questions in writing. Which I did: Was her appointment at NU's law school made by the dean acting alone? Did it have to be ratified by the Board of Trustees? Instead of answering the questions, the university responded with a boilerplate statement of support: 'While many would take issue with views Ms. Dohrn espoused during the 1960s, her career at the law school is an example of a person's ability to make a difference in the legal system.'"

3. I think it's clearly misleading for the ad to use the terms ' radical education foundation'. But, even here, there's a small kernel of truth.

As you note, many members of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board of Directors were prominent Chicagoans, including members of the business community. But it's important to distinguish between the CAC Board of Directors, and the actual ground operations of the CAC (especially as directed by the CAC operations arm, the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, cochaired by Bill Ayers and Annie Hallett).

As one might expect, Bill Ayers is not without an ideological agenda in education (e.g. advocating what he terms a 'social justice' approach to teaching; the creation of 'local school councils' and 'small schools', etc.).

Here's an interesting article from April, 2000, discussing (in general terms) the process leading to some of the CAC funding decisions:
"Ironically, for all its attempts to appear independent, the Chicago Challenge remained closely associated with the 1988 reform groups." [see discussion of ABC's coalition in point #1 above] "In fact, the percentage of grants given to school-reform and community activist groups increased over time, according to the 1999 Consortium report. A full 25 percent of the implementation grants went to these groups in 1995, according to the report. This figure exceeded 50 percent in 1996, when eight of the fourteen grants awarded went to these groups. An additional eight grants were awarded to community organizations and reform groups in 1997. Adjustments were made, yes, but no major effort to break from the reform groups or reconsider the network strategy. In terms of appearances, it didn’t help matters much that the Challenge twice shared office space with reform organizations." page 42: "For perhaps the first year, the working group—now called the Collaborative— was highly involved in key activities and decisions. For example, the original sessions outlining how the application process would work were conducted by the Collaborative, according to Bill McKersie. McKersie wrote his 1996 dissertation on the education reform work of several Chicago-area foundations (and at one point was under consideration as the executive director of the Challenge). 'The Collaborative was very much running the show,' said McKersie of the three community meetings he attended in 1995."
The article also talks about how the choices made in the first year perpetuated through later years.

The Small Schools Workshop of Ayers and Klonsky received hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding from CAC. [Side note - Mike Klonsky was another 1960's hard-core radical - an Ayers associate from the SDS/Revolutionary Youth Movement (which ultimately gave rise to the Weathermen).]

This CNN report
(Anderson Cooper) contains relevant information regarding some of the programs funded. (go to segment of video from 2:47 to 3:44).

I'm including a passage (below) from an article by Stanely Kurtz, since I think there's relevant information. I'll note that Kurtz is speaking from the political Right. So, in reading this (and considering his comments in the video above), you need to filter heavily for his bias/spin. Still, I don't think his points are entirely invalid.
"Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with 'external partners,' which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn)....

External partners like the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange focused more on political consciousness, Afrocentricity and bilingualism than traditional education....

CAC also funded programs designed to promote 'leadership' among parents. Ostensibly this was to enable parents to advocate on behalf of their children's education. In practice, it meant funding Mr. Obama's alma mater, the Developing Communities Project, to recruit parents to its overall political agenda. CAC records show that board member Arnold Weber was concerned that parents 'organized' by community groups might be viewed by school principals 'as a political threat.' Mr. Obama arranged meetings with the Collaborative to smooth out Mr. Weber's objections."
The findings of the final analysis of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are rather interesting. Chicago Annenberg Challenge final report in 2003, page 1: "
The Challenges 'bottom line' was improving student achievement and other social and psychological outcomes. Our research indicates that student outcomes in Annenberg schools were much like those in demographically similar non-Annenberg schools and across the Chicago school system as a whole, indicating that among the schools it supported, the challenge had little impact on student outcomes."
Despite an expenditure of $100 million, there was no significant difference in performance between schools involved with the CAC, and demographically-matched non-CAC Chicago Schools. In fact, in all core measures of both academic achievement (specifically, math and reading ability) as well as social functioning, the schools that had become involved with the CAC program ended up showing slightly inferior performance compared to demographically-matched non-CAC schools.

In regards to the apparent failure of the CAC program - a number of observers have argued that ideological considerations (e.g. Ayers 'small school' agenda, etc.) ended up over-riding more empirically-based interventions to elevate student performance. The Challenge also faced organizational and political difficulties (including accommodating Daley's takeover of the Chicago school system in 1995).

There were also complaints by teachers about interventions that were naive, unhelpful, and sometimes heavy-handed. Here is a sample of one such commentary.

To summarize, I think it's misleading to call the CAC a 'radical education foundation'. But I do think that the influence of Ayers and others in the Chicago School Research Collaborative led to funds being used for projects that might be viewed askance by many people. So it is a mischaracterization - but it's not entirely without a kernel of truth.


I've been on the political Left my entire life. I never thought that I'd ever be writing a letter that - in some sense - defends aspects of a Republican attack ad. But I've been digging into this controversy for months, trying to ascertain where the truth lies. I think some corrections/modifications are warranted in your fact check.
"Actually, I think Ayers and Obama likely first met each other long before this."

I agree. How about Columbia U, anywhere from 1981 - 1983? Ayers was attending Bank St. College of Education in the same neighborhood at the time (he graduated in 1984).
This is a very good summary of the issue. Thank you for posting it.

I was astonished last February when I first heard about the relationship between Obama and Ayers/Dohrn. I couldn't believe that a candidate with such relationships could be taken seriously.

And I still don't like it.

But now I'm almost as astonished that a candidate who lies so unconvincingly about the depth and nature and duration of those relationships is getting away with it.

Last Thursday Letterman mocked McCain over the issue. And yesterday I heard an Obama commercial pretty much echo each point raised in that Letterman interlude.

So now I don't know what to think. After the Health Care issue this one was the deal breaker for me from the very beginning. Could it be that (as usual) I'm in a pretty small minority?

Or is this going to gain in importance?

I take it back (whatever I said before, it wasn't enough) -- this is an INCREDIBLE summary. It's amazing not just in the depth of the detail but, also in it's calm clarity.

I'm really impressed. Thank you again for sharing it.
"Correspondent G" is the same "person" who confirmed Obama's sister's name was on the COTB, thus propping up TechDude's amazing analysis (Not!).

I keep coming here hoping this is all a bad dream...the real Joe Cannon, who actually dug hard while researching something, will somehow escape from captivity, and start vanquishing the right wing again.

Perhaps someday.

Here's a discussion of Obama and Ayres as officemates:
john: NO, G is NOT that, and I have no idea where you got that crazy idea. Boy, you really have must have no counter-argument -- because you are reduced to a pathetic ad hominem argument based on mistaken identity. Just admit that you have zero facts on your side, why dontcha?

One day all of you freaks will see what the hipper studs saw early off. Obama's a no-goodnik. You have to pay attention to what the man has DONE, and stop being hypnotized by his words. The man is such a fucking liar that his words simply do not matter.

Now get the hell out of here and come not back.
Thanks for the info Joe & G. You might be interested in this diary, written after an education-themed Obama campaign stop in May. It's an interesting read it in light of your post.

the saga of the breakup of the Mapleton School District (Thornton, Colorado), and how Barack Obama's recent celebration at its flagship "small school" highlights his profoundly erroneous stances vis-à-vis school reform and restructuring."

First of all John, it's COLB, not COTB.
Secondly - I was one of the people both here (on Cannonfire), and in comments at No Quarter (and elsewhere) arguing that the COLB was real - both presenting evidence to that effect (e.g. that there was clearly a seal on the document) and deconstructing Techdude's hoax (including outing his real world identity = Adam Fink). And I was receiving a lot of grief for that at No Quarter (a lot of flames in response to comments I would post) and Texas Darlin wouldn't even let me post comments on her blog (every comment I posted would get removed). Go back and look at the old blog records for Cannonfire and No Quarter. Given the grief I got at the time (for supposedly "defending Obama"), I find your historical revisionism rather galling.
Good article, bookmarked, thanks.

Here is what, increasingly, is bothering me about the Ayers Affairs. It's become an odious litmus test for one's cred as a "liberal" or a "progressive" or whatever label they're trying to co-opt these days. That is, the only people who would potentially have a problem with the likes of Ayers and Dohrn, apparently, are right wing reactionaries (subtext: racist too, since that's the icing on every cake) -- that real and true leftists couldn't possibly have a problem with Bill Ayers.

Well, I'm further "left" than most Americans, and I think Bill Ayers is a fetid cockroach. I know it's currently cool and progressive to blow off Ayers' past, but in the midst of this madness, I'd rather be uncool.

I'll go even further: I think Bill Ayers rips the phony sheen off the lie that Obama supporters are concerned with racism in American culture. Ayers exposes the hypocrisy. Their superficial race baiting says that they think racism is solved as easily as a vote for Barack Obama (all these years, who knew? it was so easy!). And all the while, they ignore the fact that if Ayers had been a poor, black man, he'd have rotted in a jail cell. They don't give a damn about systemic racism, and Ayers proves it.

Anyway, I have no doubt that Obama and Ayers were closer than has been admitted. But I'm one of those who doesn't believe Obama is any kind of radical. He doesn't seem to have the conviction. I think he's a self-interested cipher who shifts to whatever is expedient in the moment.
In fact, I began reading Cannonfire and corresponding with Joseph precisely because he was someone willing to stand up for the truth (and for analytical thought) against the "Cult of the COLB".
You are closer to Satan than you have admitted Cannon.
the smell of sulpher is waftig through your blog.

Get over it so you can distance yourself from him and return to your earlier interests. Your blog is crappola with only McCain believers payiing any attention to it and patting your little punkin head to bolster your very fragile ego.

Did you know that?
normally I delete a comment like this in moderation after scanning the first few words. Deleting a comment as quickly as possible has become something of a game with me -- sort of like "anthem sprinting" in Ray Bradbury's short story about same.

But this one seemed particularly amusing. I get bizarro crap like this once an hour from Obots. It reminds me of just how crazy and sick those people truly are. They really do seem to think that OB equals JC.

Should I let these examples of wackiness through on a more frequent basis? They do have a certain entertainment value, and the odor of psychosis these messages convey only serve to make the entire Obama movement look bad.
I watched an interesting show last night about body language and it discussed how Obamas voice (cadence, speed and depth) and body language are in sync and how important that is to believability. Where we have not bought the smooth act, and see a difference between his words and actions as well as his lack of the end there is little there, there for us.

It was an interesting show and filled in some of the gaps for me about why Democrats have gone for him while this Democrat has not. In exactly the same way they make a connection with him, the connection fails for me. Perhaps the pivot point is emotional vs rational. For those with an emotional connection the facts do not matter. For those looking for a rational connection, we get slapped in the face.

I couldn't care less what Obama's relationship to Bill Ayers is. Obama is free to hang around with whomever he chooses, just like any American. If this is our case against the man, we have no case.

It's my understanding that Barack Obama in mentioned in a book Bill Ayers 1988.
Perry, that's bullshit and you know it. You would never tolerate any candidate who was a professional protogee of David Duke.

Besides, Obama LIED.

He lies all the time. That IS my case against him, and it is a good one. He has erected a messianic cult of personality to blind people to the fact that he lies all the damn time.
By the way, it also counts for something that the CAC is the only executive position Obama ever held. And it failed miserably.
And it's pretty telling that the Obama campaign doesn't talk about that bit of executive experience at all. That he has to fall back on "community organizing" -- which is pretty puny compared to managing a multi-million dollar project.

If it's nothing to be ashamed of why is it such a secret?
great comment by KAT. so very true. fuckin god damn hipster poseurs.

jersey shore dude
creeper, Obama was indeed mentioned -- as a "writer."

Which might well lead us, once again, to contemplation of the mystery that is "Dreams of my Father." We now know that the unpublished author got a $150,000 pay-off UP FRONT to write that thing -- and that he did not even have a set subject before he started!

Folks, that is NOT the way the publishing game works in America. That IS, however, what happens if a book contract is being used to provide a pay-off.

Moreover, I've now heard persuasive claims that Obama's position with the Harvard Law Review did not result from his academic standing but from -- get this -- a WRITING CONTEST.

A few additional (recently posted) links of interest:
And? What's supposed to be the implication of Obama's hanging around with Ayers? That Obama would have joined the Weather Underground if he could? That Obama hates America? That Obama is a terrorist groupie? What are you suggesting?
And how is Obama's association different from McCain's friendship with G. Gordon Liddy? Did you know Hillary worked at the Rose law firm at the same time as Jonathan Pollard?
So what's your point?
Response to Anonymous (posting at 6:29).

1. It appears to have been a longer and more important association than the Obama campaign has acknowledged - and much more so than the other examples you cite as potential analogies.

2. In regards to your larger question - one of the better analyses I've seen can be found here:
This also relates to the links posted by Tom above (regarding the Mapleton School District).

I think both Obama and Ayers have narcissistic and authoritarian characteristics - a disproportionate number of the people Obama associates with have these traits. And I think this does communicate something important about his character.
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