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The Federal Reserve Bails Out Boeing, Gives a $3 Billion Subsidy to Carnival Cruise Lines

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Matt Stoller writes at BIG:

Today I’m going to discuss the why the small business lending program is undergoing intense scrutiny, and why the much larger Federal Reserve programs are not. To be put it differently, Boeing just got a $25 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve, but politicians are mad at Shake Shack.

First some housekeeping. I was on The Realignment podcast with Saagar Enjeti & Marshall Kosloff. I also joined Francesca Rheannon for her podcast titled a Writer’s Voice.

And now…

Complexity as Cover

There’s been a feeding frenzy among reporters about the small business lending program. Money is going to recognized brand names like Shake Shack and Ruth Chris who don’t seem to need it, with a fair amount of self-congratulatory rhetoric when these corporations return their loans. But I think this anger, while not exactly wrong, is misplaced. People know *something* is wrong with the Coronavirus rescue, and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program gives them an easy set of targets they can relate to. So that’s what gets criticized.

But the right place to focus is not on the SBA, but on the Federal Reserve, which is where the action is. That’s where lending programs are in the trillions, not billions or millions. Yesterday, for instance, the Fed decided to bail out highly indebted drilling companies and their lenders at the behest of Texas politicians, without much notice. Boeing also announced with a splash that it will be turning down an official government bailout, while borrowing a whopping $25 billion from the Federal Reserve-supported corporate bond market.

One reason for the comparatively limited criticism of the central bank’s actions is that the Federal Reserve programs are weird and complicated, involving strange words like liquidity and high yield debt ETFs.

But I don’t think the asymmetry in criticism is purely a result of difficult-to-parse jargon or capital markets complexity. It’s just easier to see what the small business lending program is doing. There’s a legal process that connects the borrower to a bank and to the government. The Fed bailouts by contrast are indirect; technically the Fed hasn’t started allocating much, if any, money yet. It’s hard to point fingers at the Fed for doing something wrong when its programs haven’t even gotten off the ground.

And yet that’s a problematic way of seeing the Fed. Unlike with the small business lending program, the Fed announcement, not the initial program implementation, is what matters; just the prospect of the Fed intervening has huge impacts on borrowing costs for corporations, as well as on the prices of stocks and bonds. I’ve spoken to several people in the credit markets who tell me there is no real credit analysis anymore, traders buy what they think the Fed will backstop, meaning the Fed is giving massive implicit subsidies anywhere Jay Powell even day-dreams about intervening. In other words, many large financial actors – like Boeing – are getting billions of dollars from the Fed without any direct line to the Fed at all.

To cut through the noise, I want to try and quantify the subsidy the Fed is offering with a single case study. The ultimate numbers I’ll arrive at are a guess, but going through the exercise will help people understand that the Fed is just giving money to preserve the value of bonds and stocks. The best example is not Boeing, because there’s no easy way to calculate the implicit subsidy, even though we can assume it is very large. Carnival Cruise Lines serves the purpose better, because they were about to borrow on excruciatingly painful terms, but were saved in the nick of time by a Fed announcement. This situation gives us a nice natural experiment through we can see the implicit subsidy at work.

Carnival’s Subsidy

Four days ago, Matt Wirz at the Wall Street Journal reported a story on how the Federal Reserve saved Carnival Cruise lines. It’s told with drama, but essentially is about how Carnival was desperate to get any loan on any terms, until the Fed stepped in.

With financial markets frozen, executives were forced to consider a high-interest loan from a band of hedge funds who called themselves “the consortium.” The group included Apollo Management Group, Elliott Management Corp. and other distressed-debt investors that sometimes take over the companies they lend to, people familiar with the matter said.

Apollo Management Group and Elliott Management are cut-throat lenders. Here’s what happened next.

That all changed on March 23 when the Federal Reserve defibrillated bond markets with an unprecedented lending program. Within days, Carnival’s investment bankers at JPMorgan Chase & Co. were talking to conventional investors such as AllianceBernstein Holding and Vanguard Group about a deal. By April 1, the company had raised almost $6 billion in bond markets, paying rates far below those executives had discussed just days earlier.

There are a couple of other reporters who covered what happened, including Lawrence Strauss at Barron’s and Robert Smith at the Financial Times, and while the amounts are unknowable, it’s evident the Federal Reserve gave a large implicit subsidy to the corporation.

I’ll walk you through how we can tell. The original loan offer from . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2020 at 8:10 pm

A slew of hotels are heeding cities’ pleas for help. Trump’s aren’t.

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Of course they aren’t. Anita Kumar reports in Politico:

New York City needs more space — additional field hospitals, rooms for medical workers, shelters for the homeless. But President Donald Trump’s flagship property remains open and isn’t among the 20-plus hotels that have offered up empty rooms.

It’s a situation playing out across the country. In the seven American cities with Trump luxury hotels, no local officials said the Trump properties were in discussions to house overflow patients or medical personnel.

In three cities — New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — the president’s properties are still open, even though they have few guests, according to hotel, union and city officials and industry representatives. In four other cities — Las Vegas, Miami, Honolulu and Charlottesville, Va. — Trump’s properties are closed.

The Trump hotels aren’t alone. Thousands of hotels in New York and elsewhere have not responded to the voluntary requests of local and state officials, though they could do so later as the outbreak grows. Hotels that are used for shelters or housing — as opposed to hospitals — might even be able to keep some employees on staff.

“The city is actively working to expand our hospital capacity and increase the number of beds as quickly as possible,” said Omar Bourne, press secretary at the New York City Emergency Management Department. “We are exploring all options, including using hotels as medical surge facilities.”

At the White House podium, Trump has repeatedly praised private businesses for their assistance in helping the federal government fight coronavirus — talking up projects to help people get tested, efforts to overhaul assembly lines to make much-needed medical supplies and projects to feed children who are home from school.

The White House’s official Twitter account has even praised hotels for housing medical workers during the pandemic. “Thank you to hotels around the country for providing healthcare workers and first responders a place to stay while they’re on the front lines of the pandemic,” the post read.

Yet the president’s own businesses have not yet stepped into the breach, a fact Trump’s critics were quick to pounce on but that most state and local officials didn’t want to directly address.

“It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a House Oversight Committee member who has pushed for investigations into whether Trump’s businesses are illegally profiting from U.S. taxpayers and foreign governments. “It never occurred to me the business would engage in philanthropic activity.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2020 at 1:24 pm

Help a person penalized for speaking up

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2020 at 9:51 pm

Bill Gates’s Charity Paradox

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Tim Schwab writes in the Nation:

Last fall, Netflix premiered a three-part documentary that promises viewers a rare look at the inner life of one of history’s most controversial businessmen. Over three hours, Inside Bill’s Brain shows us a rare emotional side to Bill Gates as he processes the loss of his mother and the death of his estranged best friend and Microsoft cofounder, Paul Allen.

Mostly, though, the film reinforces the image many of us already had of the ambitious technologist, insatiable brainiac, and heroic philanthropist. Inside Bill’s Brain falls into a common trap: attempting to understand the world’s second-richest human by interviewing people in his sphere of financial influence.

In the first episode, director Davis Guggenheim underlines Gates’s expansive intellect by interviewing Bernie Noe, described as a friend of Gates.

“That’s a gift, to read 150 pages an hour,” says Noe. “I’m going to say it’s 90 percent retention. Kind of extraordinary.”

Guggenheim doesn’t tell audiences that Noe is the principal of Lakeside School, a private institution to which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $80 million. The filmmaker also doesn’t mention the extraordinary conflict of interest this presents: The Gateses used their charitable foundation to enrich the private school their children attend, which charges students $35,000 a year.

The documentary’s blind spots are all the more striking in light of the timing of its release, just as news was trickling out that Bill Gates met multiple times with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to discuss collaborating on charitable activities, from which Epstein stood to generate millions of dollars in management fees. Though the collaboration never materialized, it nonetheless illustrates the moral hazards surrounding the Gates Foundation’s $50 billion charitable enterprise, whose sprawling activities over the last two decades have been subject to remarkably little government oversight or public scrutiny.

While the efforts of fellow billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg to use his wealth to win the presidency foundered amid intense media criticism, Gates has proved there is a far easier path to political power, one that allows unelected billionaires to shape public policy in ways that almost always generate favorable headlines: charity.

When Gates announced in 2008 that he would step away from Microsoft to focus his efforts on philanthropy, he described his intention to work with and through the private sector to deliver public-goods products and technologies, in the same way that Microsoft’s computer software expanded horizons and created economic opportunities. Describing his approach by turns as “creative capitalism” and “catalytic philanthropy,” Gates oversaw a shift at his foundation to leverage “all the tools of capitalism” to “connect the promise of philanthropy with the power of private enterprise.”

The result has been a new model of charity in which the most direct beneficiaries are sometimes not the world’s poor but the world’s wealthiest, in which the goal is not to help the needy but to help the rich help the needy.

Through an investigation of more than 19,000 charitable grants the Gates Foundation has made over the last two decades, The Nation has uncovered close to $2 billion in tax-deductible charitable donations to private companies—including some of the largest businesses in the world, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, IBM, and NBC Universal Media—which are tasked with developing new drugs, improving sanitation in the developing world, developing financial products for Muslim consumers, and spreading the good news about this work.

The Gates Foundation even gave $2 million to Participant Media to promote Davis Guggenheim’s previous documentary film Waiting for Superman, which pushes one of the foundation’s signature charity efforts, charter schools—privately managed public schools. This charitable donation is a small part of the $250 million the foundation has given to media companies and other groups to influence the news.

“It’s been a quite unprecedented development, the amount that the Gates Foundation is gifting to corporations…. I find that flabbergasting, frankly,” says Linsey McGoey, a professor of sociology at the University of Essex and author of the book No Such Thing as a Free Gift. “They’ve created one of the most problematic precedents in the history of foundation giving by essentially opening the door for corporations to see themselves as deserving charity claimants at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high.”

McGoey’s research has anecdotally highlighted charitable grants the Gates Foundation has made to private companies, such as a $19 million donation to a Mastercard affiliate in 2014 to “increase usage of digital financial products by poor adults” in Kenya. The credit card giant had already articulated its keen business interest in cultivating new clients from the developing world’s 2.5 billion unbanked people, McGoey says, so why did it need a wealthy philanthropist to subsidize its work? And why are Bill and Melinda Gates getting a tax break for this donation?

These questions seem especially pertinent in light of the fact that the donation to Mastercard may have delivered financial benefits to the Gates Foundation; at the time of the donation, in November 2014, the foundation’s endowment had substantial financial investments in Mastercard through its holdings in Warren Buffett’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway. (Buffett himself has pledged $30 billion to the Gates Foundation. )

The Nation found close to $250 million in charitable grants from the Gates Foundation to companies in which the foundation holds corporate stocks and bonds:  . . .

Continue reading.

Wealth seems to have quite a corrosive effect on ethics and morality — partly, I suppose, because wealth confers power, which is notoriously corrupting. Doubtless this effect is the motivation for Jesus’ warning against wealth.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 10:28 am

Inside the secret food bank that keeps farmworkers from going hungry

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This is a good article about one aspect of the US: how it grinds the poor into the dust. The dateline on this piece is Watsonville CA, which is just up the road from where I lived — between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Patricia Lee Brown writes in the Christian Science Monitor:

The early winter storms gathering in the Pacific bring welcome rains to California’s tinder-dry landscape. But for farmworkers picking strawberries for less than minimum wage, the rains signal the end of the harvest season and regular work, and deliver a downpour of hunger and worry.

That’s why about 170 indigenous Mexican women from Oaxaca line up for hours in an alley to obtain sacks of produce, diapers, and other essentials from a secret food bank once a month. For those who spend grueling days harvesting America’s bounty, this surreptitious pop-up – organized solely by word of mouth – provides a safe place for accessing free, nutritious food and supplies without fear of deportation by la migra, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE).

Once the self-proclaimed “Frozen Food Capital of the World,” this predominantly Latino agricultural city of 53,900 is located in Santa Cruz County, the least affordable county in the state for renters.

Though synonymous with beaches and surfer dudes, the county is home to some of the country’s most vulnerable – the thousands of indigenous farmworkers in California, an unknown number of unauthorized residents, who live in severely substandard conditions and speak a variety of pre-Columbian languages rather than English or Spanish.

The stealth food operation – not far from the canneries where striking workers rallied in the 1980s – is meant to take a bit of the edge off. It is organized by Ann López, in conjunction with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. An emerita professor, “Dr. Ann” as she is known, started a nonprofit called the Center for Farmworker Families after interviewing numerous agricultural laborers for her Ph.D. dissertation. “There was a family with four little girls crying for food,” she recalls. “I opened the refrigerator and they had a head of lettuce, one third of a gallon of milk, and two Jell-O cups. That was it. What I found was a population inordinately poor and suffering.”

The “devil’s fruit”

Ernestina Solorio, who has legal status to work in the U.S., spends 10 hours a day, six days a week in the fields during the season. Strawberries are among the most labor-intensive crops, known as la fruta del diablo, or the devil’s fruit, for the hours it takes hunched over low-to-the-ground berries to pluck them without bruising.

Ms. Solorio earns $20,000 in a good year, well above average for a farmworker but also well under the federal poverty rate for Ms. Solorio’s family of four children. Sky-high rents eat up roughly 75% to 80% of a farmworker’s income, and a typical scenario is paying $600 a month for a family to sleep in a living room, says Gretchen Regenhardt, regional directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, which provides legal services for low-income communities.

The math is grim: about $200 a month after rent to pay for everything else. “The work won’t pick up again until mid-April, depending on the weather,” Ms. Solorio explains. “That’s why so many of us are stressed.”

From a makeshift staging area in a garage, her compatriots file past tables piled high with diapers, laundry detergent, and toilet tissue, all while juggling toddlers in pajamas and babies nestled in blankets or shawl rebozos (traditional baby carriers).

Some dig through piles of donated clothes before moving on to the main event – repurposed onion bags heavy with sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, and other fresh vegetables and smaller white plastic bags filled with rice, lentils, and canned goods from the USDA. Strollers double as grocery carts. Those on foot weighed down by 30 pounds of goods teeter gingerly down the alleyway.

“You would never see this concentration of Oaxacans,” says Ms. López, dressed for the season in a bright red sweater and snowman earrings. “They are always hiding in the fields or their apartments.”

On edge, then a respite

Fears about ICE raids – such as the arrest of 680 people in agricultural processing plants in Mississippi this past August – ricochet through the community, as did the massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that was fueled by anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant zealotry.

The Trump administration’s proposed changes to federal immigration rules mean that people could be denied status as lawful permanent residents if they receive food stamps, Medicaid, or housing vouchers. In August, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services said: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and will not become a public charge.” If the rules survive legal challenges, the linking of food stamps to immigration status would have a chilling effect, increasing poverty, hunger, and poor health in vulnerable communities, advocates say.

In contrast, the underground food bank is “creating circles and spaces of trust or confianza” for indigenous farmworkers, writes Dvera Saxton, an assistant professor of anthropology at California State University, Fresno, in an email.

A monthly phone tree alerts people to the food bank’s hidden locale. “I never dreamed it would expand to the whole community,” says Dominga, who is an unauthorized resident and fears for her family’s safety. She pulls a pink notebook out of her spangly backpack to show off a roster of names and numbers written in impeccably neat handwriting. Her family of six resides in a living room cordoned off from the kitchen by a blanket. There have been as many as 16 people living in the 1,000 square foot house: there are currently 10. Mornings begin with lines for the bathroom. The smell of spices from an unrelated family’s chili permeate the blanket. “It’s hard and sad to share with another family,” Dominga says. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 2:52 pm

Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families

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It’s the opposite of strip-mining the poor: it’s pump-priming economic activity. Nurith Aizenman reports for NPR:

Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world’s poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash — with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren’t the only ones who benefit.

Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the study, says that until now, research on cash aid has almost exclusively focused on the impact on those receiving the aid. And a wealth of research suggests that when families are given the power to decide how to spend it, they manage the money in ways that improve their overall well-being: Kids get more schooling; the family’s nutrition and health improves.

But Miguel says that “as nonprofits and governments are ramping up cash aid, it becomes more and more important to understand the broader economy-wide consequences.”

In particular, there has been rising concern about the potential impact on the wider community — the people who are not getting the aid. A lot of them may be barely out of poverty themselves.

“There’s a fear that you just have more dollars chasing around the same number of goods, and you could have price inflation,” says Miguel. “And that could hurt people who didn’t get the cash infusion.”

So Miguel and his collaborators teamed up to conduct an experiment with one of the biggest advocates of cash aid. It’s a charity called GiveDirectly that, since 2009, has given out more than $140 million to impoverished families in various African countries.

The researchers identified about 65,000 households across an impoverished, rural area of Kenya and then randomly assigned them to various groups: those who got no help from GiveDirectly and a “treatment group” of about 10,500 families who got a one-time cash grant of about $1,000.

“That’s a really big income transfer,” notes Miguel. “About three-quarters of the income of the [recipient] households for a year on average.” It also represented a flood of cash into the wider communities where they lived. “The cash transfers were something like 17% of total local income — local GDP,” says Miguel.

Eighteen months on, the researchers found that, as expected, the families who got the money used it to buy lots more food and other essentials.

But that was just the beginning.

“That money goes to local businesses,” says Miguel. “They sell more. They generate more revenue. And then eventually that gets passed on into labor earnings for their workers.”

The net effect: Every dollar in cash aid increased total economic activity in the area by $2.60.

But were those income gains simply washed out by a corresponding rise in inflation?

“We actually find there’s a little bit of price inflation, but it’s really small,” says Miguel. “It’s much less than 1%.”

The study — recently released through the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research — also uncovered some evidence for why prices didn’t go up: A lot of local businesses reported that before the cash infusion they weren’t that busy.

“They may be a shopkeeper that doesn’t really have that many customers [because] it’s a poor area. They may be someone working at a grain mill that only has one or two customers an hour.”

So when they suddenly get more customers, they don’t have to take extra steps like hiring more workers that would drive up their costs — and their prices. In economic parlance, there was enough “slack” in the local economy to absorb the injection of cash.

Eeshani Kandpal is an economist with the World Bank who has done research of her own on cash transfers — including a study that found that a cash aid program in the Philippines did drive up the cost of certain perishable food items.

But Kandpal says the lens she and her collaborators applied was narrow — focusing on a limited set of food items in an area where local businesses were particularly isolated. This meant they were likely to face extra difficulties shipping in additional supplies to meet stepped-up demand.

By contrast, the new study has a far broader scope, says Kandpal — encompassing not just a much larger number of participants but a vast range of goods and businesses whose pricing practices the researchers meticulously monitored.

“It’s a super credible, interesting study,” says Kandpal. “And very carefully done.”

Her main caveat about the results concerns the timing.

“I’d be curious to see if they persist in the longer run,” she says. “Eighteen months is certainly not short. But it’s not terribly long either.”

Indeed, some studies of one-time cash grants have suggested that over time those who did not get the aid ultimately catch up to those who did — reaching similar levels of income and other measures of well-being.

But Michael Faye, co-founder and president of GiveDirectly, says even if it turns out that a one-time cash infusion provides only a temporary boost, “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.” After all, he points out, during the period people are getting the boost, their lives are substantially better. And that has become all the more significant “when we now know that the people not receiving cash may also be benefiting indirectly.”

The finding also adds a new twist to an argument that GiveDirectly has been making about how donors should judge their noncash aid programs. The charity has long maintained that donors should ensure that any noncash program provides more benefits than simply giving recipients an equivalent amount of cash. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2019 at 3:11 pm

Prologue to “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World”

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Anand Giridharadas has written an important book for the present moment, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. To get a better understanding of why I write that, here is the prologue to the book. Read and see what you think.


All around us in America is the clank-clank-clank of the new—in our companies and economy, our neighborhoods and schools, our technologies and social fabric. But these novelties have failed to translate into broadly shared progress and the betterment of our overall civilization. American scientists make the most important discoveries in medicine and genetics and publish more biomedical research than those of any other country—but the average American’s health remains worse and slower-improving than that of peers in other rich countries, and in certain years life expectancy actually declines. American inventors create astonishing new ways to learn thanks to the power of video and the Internet, many of them free of charge—but the average twelfth grader tests more poorly in reading today than in 1992. The country has had a “culinary renaissance,” as one publication puts it, one farmers’ market and Whole Foods at a time—but it has failed to improve the nutrition of most people, with the incidence of obesity and related conditions rising over time. The tools for becoming an entrepreneur appear to be more accessible than ever, for the student who learns coding online or the Uber driver—but the share of young people who own a business has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s. America has birthed a wildly successful online book superstore called Amazon, and another company, Google, has scanned more than twenty-five million books for public use—but illiteracy has remained stubbornly in place and the fraction of Americans who read at least one work of literature a year has dropped by almost a quarter in recent decades. The government has more data at its disposal and more ways of talking and listening to citizens—but only one-quarter as many people find it trustworthy as did in the tempestuous 1960s.

A successful society is a progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and produces broad human advancement. America’s machine is broken. When the fruits of change have fallen on the United States in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them. For instance, the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold—even as the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same. These familiar figures amount to three and a half decades’ worth of wondrous, head-spinning change with zero impact on the average pay of 117 million Americans. Meanwhile, the opportunity to get ahead has been transformed from a shared reality to a perquisite of already being ahead. Among Americans born in 1940, those raised at the top of the upper middle class and the bottom of the lower middle class shared a roughly 90 percent chance of realizing the so-called American dream of ending up better off than their parents. Among Americans born in 1984 and maturing into adulthood today, the new reality is split-screen. Those raised near the top of the income ladder now have a 70 percent chance of realizing the dream. Meanwhile, those close to the bottom, more in need of elevation, have a 35 percent chance of climbing above their parents’ station. And it is not only progress and money that the fortunate monopolize: Rich American men, who tend to live longer than the average citizens of any other country, now live fifteen years longer than poor American men, who endure only as long as men in Sudan and Pakistan.

Thus many millions of Americans, on the left and right, feel one thing in common: that the game is rigged against people like them. Perhaps this is why we hear constant condemnation of “the system,” for it is the system that people expect to turn fortuitous developments into societal progress. Instead, the system—in America and around the world—has been organized to siphon the gains from innovation upward, such that the fortunes of the world’s billionaires now grow at more than double the pace of everyone else’s, and the top 10 percent of humanity have come to hold 90 percent of the planet’s wealth. It is no wonder that the American voting public—like other publics around the world—has turned more resentful and suspicious in recent years, embracing populist movements on the left and right, bringing socialism and nationalism into the center of political life in a way that once seemed unthinkable, and succumbing to all manner of conspiracy theory and fake news. There is a spreading recognition, on both sides of the ideological divide, that the system is broken and has to change.

Some elites faced with this kind of gathering anger have hidden behind walls and gates and on landed estates, emerging only to try to seize even greater political power to protect themselves against the mob. But in recent years a great many fortunate people have also tried something else, something both laudable and self-serving: They have tried to help by taking ownership of the problem.

All around us, the winners in our highly inequitable status quo declare themselves partisans of change. They know the problem, and they want to be part of the solution. Actually, they want to lead the search for solutions. They believe that their solutions deserve to be at the forefront of social change. They may join or support movements initiated by ordinary people looking to fix aspects of their society. More often, though, these elites start initiatives of their own, taking on social change as though it were just another stock in their portfolio or corporation to restructure. Because they are in charge of these attempts at social change, the attempts naturally reflect their biases.

The initiatives mostly aren’t democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo—and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them win—are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality. Socially minded financiers at Goldman Sachs seek to change the world through “win-win” initiatives like “green bonds” and “impact investing.” Tech companies like Uber and Airbnb cast themselves as empowering the poor by allowing them to chauffeur people around or rent out spare rooms. Management consultants and Wall Street brains seek to convince the social sector that they should guide its pursuit of greater equality by assuming board seats and leadership positions. Conferences and idea festivals sponsored by plutocrats and big business host panels on injustice and promote “thought leaders” who are willing to confine their thinking to improving lives within the faulty system rather than tackling the faults. Profitable companies built in questionable ways and employing reckless means engage in corporate social responsibility, and some rich people make a splash by “giving back”—regardless of the fact that they may have caused serious societal problems as they built their fortunes. Elite networking forums like the Aspen Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative groom the rich to be self-appointed leaders of social change, taking on the problems people like them have been instrumental in creating or sustaining. A new breed of community-minded so-called B Corporations has been born, reflecting a faith that more enlightened corporate self-interest—rather than, say, public regulation—is the surest guarantor of the public welfare. A pair of Silicon Valley billionaires fund an initiative to rethink the Democratic Party, and one of them can claim, without a hint of irony, that their goals are to amplify the voices of the powerless and reduce the political influence of rich people like them.

The elites behind efforts like these often speak in a language of “changing the world” and “making the world a better place” more typically associated with barricades than ski resorts. Yet we are left with the inescapable fact that in the very era in which these elites have done so much to help, they have continued to hoard the overwhelming share of progress, the average American’s life has scarcely improved, and virtually all of the nation’s institutions, with the exception of the military, have lost the public’s trust.

Are we ready to hand over our future to the elite, one supposedly world-changing initiative at a time? Are we ready to call participatory democracy a failure, and to declare these other, private forms of change-making the new way forward? Is the decrepit state of American self-government an excuse to work around it and let it further atrophy? Or is meaningful democracy, in which we all potentially have a voice, worth fighting for?

There is no denying that today’s elite may be among the more socially concerned elites in history. But it is also, by the cold logic of numbers, among the more predatory in history. By refusing to risk its way of life, by rejecting the idea that the powerful might have to sacrifice for the common good, it clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolize progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken—many of whom wouldn’t need the scraps if the society were working right. This book is an attempt to understand the connection between these elites’ social concern and predation, between the extraordinary helping and the extraordinary hoarding, between the milking—and perhaps abetting—of an unjust status quo and the attempts by the milkers to repair a small part of it. It is also an attempt to offer a view of how the elite see the world, so that we might better assess the merits and limitations of their world-changing campaigns.

There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation. One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.

But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are. After all, it takes the edge off of some of the public’s anger at being excluded from progress. It improves the image of the winners. With its private and voluntary half-measures, it crowds out public solutions that would solve problems for everyone, and do so with or without the elite’s blessing. There is no question that the outpouring of elite-led social change in our era does great good and soothes pain and saves lives. But we should also recall Oscar Wilde’s words about such elite helpfulness being “not a solution” but “an aggravation of the difficulty.” More than a century ago, in an age of churn like our own, he wrote, “Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

Wilde’s formulation may sound extreme to modern ears. How can there be anything wrong with trying to do good? The answer may be: when the good is an accomplice to even greater, if more invisible, harm. In our era that harm is the concentration of money and power among a small few, who reap from that concentration a near monopoly on the benefits of change. And do-gooding pursued by elites tends not only to leave this concentration untouched, but actually to shore it up. For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is—above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners. In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations. The society should be changed in ways that do not change the underlying economic system that has allowed the winners to win and fostered many of the problems they seek to solve. The broad fidelity to this law helps make sense of what we observe all around: the powerful fighting to “change the world” in ways that essentially keep it the same, and “giving back” in ways that sustain an indefensible distribution of influence, resources, and tools. Is there a better way?

The secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a research and policy organization that works on behalf of the world’s richest countries, recently compared the prevailing elite posture to that of the fictional Italian aristocrat Tancredi Falconeri, who declared, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” If this view is correct, then much of the charity and social innovation and give-one-get-one marketing around us may not be reform measures so much as forms of conservative self-defense—measures that protect elites from more menacing change. Among the kinds of issues being sidelined, the OECD leader, Ángel Gurría, wrote, are “rising inequalities of income, wealth and opportunities; the growing disconnect between finance and the real economy; mounting divergence in productivity levels between workers, firms and regions; winner-take-most dynamics in many markets; limited progressivity of our tax systems; corruption and capture of politics and institutions by vested interests; lack of transparency and participation by ordinary citizens in decision-making; the soundness of the education and of the values we transmit to future generations.” Elites, Gurría writes, have found myriad ways to “change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.” The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change, often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.

It is fitting that an era marked by these tendencies should culminate in the election of Donald Trump. Trump is at once an exposer, an exploiter, and an embodiment of the cult of elite-led social change. He tapped, as few before him successfully had, into a widespread intuition that elites were phonily claiming to be doing what was best for most Americans. He exploited that intuition by whipping it into frenzied anger and then directing most of that anger not at elites but at the most marginalized and vulnerable Americans. And he came to incarnate the very fraud that had fueled his rise and that he had exploited. He became, like the elites he assailed, the establishment figure who falsely casts himself as a renegade. He became the rich, educated man who styles himself as the ablest protector of the poor and uneducated—and who insists, against all evidence, that his interests have nothing to do with the change he seeks. He became the chief salesman for the theory, rife among plutocratic change agents, that what is best for powerful him is best for the powerless, too. Trump is the reductio ad absurdum of a culture that tasks elites with reforming the very systems that have made them and left others in the dust.

One thing that unites those who voted for Trump and those who despaired at his being elected is a sense that the country requires transformational reform. The question we confront is whether moneyed elites, who already rule the roost in the economy and exert enormous influence in the corridors of political power, should be allowed to continue their conquest of social change and of the pursuit of greater equality. The only thing better than controlling money and power is to control the efforts to question the distribution of money and power. The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over hens.

What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests. We must decide whether, in the name of ascendant values such as efficiency and scale, we are willing to allow democratic purpose to be usurped by private actors who often genuinely aspire to improve things but, first things first, seek to protect themselves. Yes, government is dysfunctional at present. But that is all the more reason to treat its repair as our foremost national priority. Pursuing workarounds of our troubled democracy makes democracy even more troubled. We must ask ourselves why we have so easily lost faith in the engines of progress that got us where we are today—in the democratic efforts to outlaw slavery, end child labor, limit the workday, keep drugs safe, protect collective bargaining, create public schools, battle the Great Depression, electrify rural America, weave a nation together by road, pursue a Great Society free of poverty, extend civil and political rights to women and African Americans and other minorities, and give our fellow citizens health, security, and dignity in old age.

This book offers a series of portraits of this elite-led, market-friendly, winner-safe social change. In these pages, you will meet people who ardently believe in this form of change and people who are beginning to question it. You will meet a start-up employee who believes her for-profit company has the solution to the woes of the working poor, and a billionaire investor in her company who believes that only vigorous public action can stem the rising tide of public rage. You will meet a thinker who grapples with how much she can challenge the rich and powerful if she wants to keep getting their invitations and patronage. You will meet a campaigner for economic equality whose previous employers include Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, and who wonders about his complicity in what he calls “the Trying-to-Solve-the-Problem-with-the-Tools-That-Caused-It issue.” You will meet one of the most powerful figures in the philanthropy world, who stuns his rich admirers by refusing to honor the taboo against speaking of how they make their money. You will meet a former American president who launched his career with a belief in changing the world through political action, and then, as he began to spend time with plutocrats in his post-presidential life, gravitated toward private methods of change that benefit rather than scare them. You will meet a widely lionized “social innovator” who quietly nurses doubts about whether his commercial approach to world-changing is what it is cracked up to be. You will meet an Italian philosopher who reminds us what gets sidelined when the moneyed take over change.

What these various figures have in common is that they are grappling with certain powerful myths—the myths that have fostered an age of extraordinary power concentration; that have allowed the elite’s private, partial, and self-preservational deeds to pass for real change; that have let many decent winners convince themselves, and much of the world, that their plan to “do well by doing good” is an adequate answer to an age of exclusion; that put a gloss of selflessness on the protection of one’s privileges; and that cast more meaningful change as wide-eyed, radical, and vague.

It is my hope in writing what follows to reveal these myths to be exactly that. Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.


Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2019 at 11:18 am

How the poor became blessed

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One intriguing thing about Christianity is how Jesus totally focused on the common people: not those in power (judges, priests, representatives of Rome) and not the wealthy (merchants, bankers), but on the common people. And this came from his Judaism, which had always been conscious of the poor and one’s obligation to them (perhaps as a result of the years in Egypt).

At any rate, how did care for the common person evolve as a Christian meme?

Pieter van der Horst, a scholar specialising in New Testament studies, Early Christian literature, and the Jewish and Hellenistic context of Early Christianity, professor emeritus in the faculty of theology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and author of many books, including Studies in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, writes in Aeon:

In Greco-Roman culture, the well-to-do weren’t expected to support and help the poor. The Greek and Latin verbs for ‘doing good, being beneficent’ never have ‘the poor’ as their object, nor do they mean ‘almsgiving’. The Greek word philanthrôpia doesn’t have the sense of our modern philanthropy. One is philanthrôpos towards one’s own people, family, and guests – not towards the poor. And eleêmosynê (from which ‘alms’ is derived), in the sense of showing pity or mercy for someone else, never has the poor as its primary object. Ancient Greek moralists didn’t admonish people to concern themselves about the fate of the poor. And while generosity was praised as a virtue, the poor were never singled out as its object; it was always directed to humans in general, provided that they deserved it.

When Greeks did speak about the joy of giving to others, it has nothing to do with altruism, but only with the desired effects of giving: namely honour, prestige, fame, status. Honour is the driving motive behind Greek beneficence, and for that reason the Greek word philotimia (literally, ‘the love of honour’) could develop the meaning of ‘generosity, beneficence’, not directed towards the poor but to fellow humans in general, especially those from whom one could reasonably expect a gift in return. These were the ‘worthy ones’ because they acknowledged and respected the principle of reciprocity (quid pro quo), one of the pillars of ancient social life, which was simply stated by the poet Hesiod around 700 BCE: ‘Give to him who gives, but do not give to him who does not give (in return).’ Even though some ancient moralists occasionally said that in the best form of beneficence one does not expect anything in return from the beneficiary, the pervasive view was that a donor should be reimbursed one way or another, preferably with a gift greater than the donor himself had given.

Religion was not much help to the poor: they simply weren’t the favourites of the gods. There was a Zeus Xenios (for strangers) and a Zeus Hiketêsios (for supplicants), but there was no Zeus Ptôchios (for the poor), nor any other god with an epithet indicating concern for the needy. It was rather the rich who were seen as the favourites of the divine world, their wealth being the visible proof of that favour. The poor could not pray for help from the gods because they were poor, for their poverty was a disadvantage in their contact with the gods. This was the implication of the common belief that the poor were morally inferior to the rich. They were often regarded as more readily inclined to do evil; for that reason, their poverty was commonly seen as their own fault. No wonder that they were not seen as people deserving help, and that no organised charity developed in Ancient Greece or Rome. In such societies, giving alms to the poor could not be seen as a virtue, as care for them was often regarded as a mere waste of resources.

The distributions of corn to the population by city states or emperors in times of need cannot pass for organised charity because the corn was given to all citizens in equal measure (not only to the poor). The poor didn’t get more than the rich, and even the poorest class of society was never singled out for especially favourable treatment. All this applies to the Ancient Romans no less than to the Greeks. When a Roman is generous towards others, it is not because they are poor but because he expects to get something in return, and because it confers honour and status upon him. Beneficia are for fellow citizens, not for the poor.

Since the beneficiary was usually expected to give something in return, the benefaction could become a burden. ‘There are some who even hate their benefactors,’ said Menander the playwright. But the idea of reciprocity was deeply ingrained in ancient society, and giving remained one of the chief ways of acquiring status within the social or political group. Neither Ancient Greek nor Roman shrank from admitting that striving after honour was the decisive motive for generosity. The Roman philosopher and orator Cicero wrote that ‘most people are generous in their gifts not so much by natural inclination as by the lure of honour’. And Pliny the Younger pithily agreed: ‘Honour must be the consequence’ of generosity.

While care for the poor, let alone organised charity, was a non-item in Greco-Roman antiquity, it is a central concern in the Jewish Bible. Caring for the poor is seen as a major duty and virtue not only in the Torah of Moses, but also in the Prophets and other biblical writings. Most significantly, God is seen as the protector of the poor and the rescuer of the needy. They are his favourites and the objects of his mercy, regarded as humble before God and therefore often as pious and righteous.

That is not to say that we will find a positive evaluation of poverty here – the poor are ‘righteous’ only insofar as they are the innocent victims of injustice, and poverty does not automatically translate into piety, but it does seem to make one closer to God. In a courtroom, an Ancient Greek could invoke his opponent’s poverty in order to cast a dubious light on his character – this strategy was not available to a biblical Israelite.

The Torah urges Israel to be generous towards the poor in their midst. The prophets warn repeatedly against oppressing the poor and the needy. A ‘day acceptable to the Lord’ is the day on which the people share their bread with the hungry, bring the poor into their house, and clothe the naked. In the book of Job, the protagonist’s efforts to help the poor are emphasised as laudable. The poor were to be allowed to harvest the borders or corners of the fields and vineyards, and the sabbatical year was instituted in order that the poor might eat. The biblical adage ‘Open your hand to the poor’ encapsulates the Jewish Bible’s approach to charity.

In spite of the fact that there is much concern for the poor in the Bible, there still is no organised charity. Of course, some of the Torah’s commandments are in a sense collective measures, but it is still left to the individual whether or not to carry them out, since there is no central organisation to oversee its implementation.

The post-biblical Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, a Jewish wisdom poem of 230 hexameters written in Greek, exemplify this private (as opposed to communal or organised) concern for the poor. In the opening section, the author wrote: ‘Do not oppress a poor man unjustly, do not judge him by his appearance,’ a sentiment repeated further on: ‘Give a labourer his pay, do not oppress a poor man.’ Then it says: ‘Give to a beggar at once and do not tell him to come tomorrow. Fill your hand and give alms to the needy.’ And again some lines further on: ‘When you have wealth, stretch out your hand to the poor. From what God has given you provide for those in need.’

When in the first 30 lines of his poem the author turns five times to the importance of taking care of the poor, it is evident how much value he attaches to this part of his message. The utterly un-Greek motif of love for the poor is one of his main concerns. But again, as in the biblical texts, it is all about private charity.

It is only in the early rabbinic period, especially the 2nd century CE, that we have concrete indications for institutional charity organised by the local synagogues. There were two such institutions: the quppah and the tamhuy. The quppah was the money chest to support the local poor, who received a weekly allotment; the tamhuy was the soup kitchen that was open on a daily basis to any poor person in need of a meal, including non-Jews.

The administrators of the synagogues appointed charity wardens who collected money every Friday, and others for the daily food collection and distribution. These officers were even allowed to exert some pressure on the members of the community in order to make sure that there would be enough to meet all needs. In order to prevent voluntary impoverishment, however, nobody was allowed to donate more than one-fifth of his property. It is significant that in the saying of Simon the Just, doing deeds of loving kindness is one of the three pillars upon which the world is standing, a remarkably un-Greek idea. Elsewhere, deeds of loving kindness are said to be equal to all the commandments of the Torah. Often, the motive for doing such deeds was the expectation of being rewarded by God, especially in the hereafter.

In rabbinic literature, it is stated repeatedly that the best way of giving to the poor is by doing it in such a way that nobody sees it happen or sees how much is being given. A gift to the poor must be made privately, with no one else present. A person who gives alms in secret is greater than Moses, says Rabbi Eleazar in the Talmud (he added that the gentiles give alms only for reasons of self-aggrandisement).

Whether every Jew lived up to this ideal is questionable in light of what the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount:

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their award. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Whatever one thinks about the authenticity of this saying, its critical note must reflect some form of reality; there must have been concrete practices that made these remarks relevant. And, in a sense, one could say that the many honorary donor inscriptions found in ancient synagogues prove that the Jews were not immune from the honorific ‘epigraphic habit’, although they are of a later date and do not concern alms but gifts to the community at large. But the sentiment expressed by Jesus above reflects the same mood as the one we find in rabbinic literature. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2019 at 7:04 pm

Anand Giridharadas on elite do-gooding: ‘Many of my friends are drunk on dangerous BS’

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Lucia Graves writes in the Guardian:

Anand Giridharadas was surprised this September when Google invited him to their offices, given his outspoken criticism of tech giants. “I applaud whoever it was who invited me or did not read my book,” Giridharadas said to a few tepid laughs.

Afflicting the comfortable is a talent honed by Giridharadas, and his talk about breaking up monopolistic companies like Google and checking the power of its elite executives – while speaking at Google – is only one recent example.

A former McKinsey consultant-turned New York Times columnist, Giridharadas is now a bestselling author. His recent book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, torches the privileged circles he has moved in much of his adult life, and is rooted in insider knowledge.

The book stems from a speech he was asked to give several years ago to the Aspen Institute, a thinktank that organizes exclusive ideas conferences for the wealthy and powerful, as part of a program designed to raise up a “new breed of leaders” and solve “the world’s most intractable problems”. Instead he delivered an electrifying critique, arguing the “change makers” and “thought leaders” in America’s winners-take-all economy – once again, the very people he was speaking to – are less helping the world through their various philanthropic efforts than propping up the broken system that made them.

Giridharadas first gained access to the high-flying group he censures in 2011 when he was selected as part of a group of distinguished fellows for the Aspen Institute. Giridharadas was a strange pick, as not only the youngest member at 29, but also the sole journalist in a group composed largely of rising stars in the business world (the 2018 fellows group is composed almost entirely of CEOs).

Still, he made fast friends with his Aspen compatriots, and even officiated one of their weddings. Soon he found himself flying around in their private jets and mingling with them in ostentatious mansions.

The unstated thesis behind their being chosen by Aspen was clear: that the people best-equipped to protect the interests of the poor are the rich and rich adjacent.

Giridharadas was bothered by it, and particularly by how the program seemed to encourage elite participants from tech giants and hedge funds to start philanthropic side-hustles doubling as vanity projects, rather than find ways to do less harm in their day jobs. (At a Goldman Sachs-sponsored lunch put on at a fellowship reunion, for instance, the corporate giant’s role in the 2008 financial crisis went unmentioned as its do-gooding was praised.)

And so, given an opportunity to speak at an Aspen gathering in 2015, Giridharadas behaved like the journalist he is. Instead of presenting what was expected, he called things as he saw them. “I love this community, and I fear for all of us – myself very much included – that we may not be as virtuous as we think we are, that history may not be as kind to us as we hope it will, that in the final analysis our role in the inequities of our age may not be remembered well,” he said, to an aghast audience that included Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, and prominent writerslike himself.

The book that grew out of that moment is unsparing in its criticism and sometimes even strident. Giridharadas mercilessly mocks the wealthy who would change everything but the rules that enabled and protect their status, and ridicules their coinage of notions like “win-win”, the idea that there’s no tension between doing well for yourself and doing good for others.

Perhaps no one better emulates the failure of the “win-win” ethos than the Sackler family, Giridharadas writes. Their pharmaceutical empire helped make them one of America’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families, with wings of universities and concert halls named after them – including an entire Smithsonian museum. But they’ve also profited off America’s opioid crisis, which the US Department of Justice and others have accused them of fueling through their aggressive and misleading marketing of the widely used drug OxyContin. Their company agreed to pay $635m in fines in 2007, a pittance compared with how lucrative the drug had been. Now, in precisely the kind of the “win-win” model that Giridharadas reviles, the family’s patriarch, Richard Sackler, is working to fight the opioid epidemic – and make money doing it – by patenting a new drug to help wean people off opioids.

Giridharadas also calls special attention to the Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton’s recently defunct annual gathering that extracted charitable commitments from corporations and plutocrats in exchange for some good PR and image laundering. “They fly here because they see investment opportunities; they see branding opportunities,” Giridharadas quotes Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, saying of the conference: “It’s this idea that you can support a health initiative in Nigeria or the Niger Delta to reduce disease or diarrhea or whatever, and you can also make an investment in a company that is a polluter in the Niger Delta.”

And yet Giridharadas wants to do more than just shame people – he wants to have a conversation, and with people whom he considers his peers. “Many of my friends are drunk on dangerous bullshit. However, they’re still my friends,” he says.

It’s been called a traitor-to-its-class kind of book, and though it wasn’t written per se for the elites it excoriates, it does appear to have their attention. The 2015 speech was first written up by David Brooks, a New York Times columnist who was in attendance and is no stranger to the ideas circuit Giridharadas excoriates. And when the book first came out, renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz took to the pages of the Times to urge philanthropic plutocrats to “read a copy of this book while in the Hamptons this summer”.

It has also found deeper resonance in a country still searching for explanations of the last presidential election. “It’s hard for me to think of anything better designed to burn down this age of business fundamentalism, this age of market worship than the flamboyant failure of the faux billionaire, faux savior Donald Trump,” Giridharadas says.

Trump’s campaign was boosted by the same logic by which America’s wealthy “saviors” deem themselves fit to lead, he argues: that their familiarity with and even greedy exploitation of America’s financial and political systems somehow makes them uniquely qualified to fix them.

Giridharadas admits he’s long been repelled by the notion that, for instance, the best course of action for young would-be world savers is to get an MBA. And his book rails against what he sees as a central myth that’s taken hold in American culture: that training at Goldman Sachs or a stint at McKinsey is somehow essential, or even particularly relevant, to making good policy or a meaningful understanding of the world.

He chafes at the quick, self-aggrandizing solutions hawked by the people who speak at ideas conferences. And so, perhaps, it follows that when pressed for solutions, he bristles. “This is a book about tearing down dogma,” he says. “It’s trying to convince you that other people’s unfounded dogma have hijacked the discourse,” he adds. “I don’t have a substitute dogma to replace this dogma with.”

In a way his resistance makes sense. He doesn’t want to be the anti-thought leader leading the charge against thought leading, after all. And he’s all for reform, but only once the problem has been fully considered, which, by the way, he thinks it almost never is.

“It’s the winners who want these solutions,” he says, to mask their desire for premature absolution. “I think the desire for solutions and takeaways itself has an agenda,” he adds. “I think takeaway culture is a big part of why we’re here: because we’re not willing to think any more and understand the complexity of these problems, and sit with them.”

He sounds some hopeful notes, provocatively quoting the billionaire Vinod Khosla as saying . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2019 at 9:44 am

Trump’s Crooked Foundation Dissolves, But Investigation Continues

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Jonathan Chait again, in New York. Read it. The conclusion:

. . . It is worth noting that the Clinton Foundation’s comparatively puny conflicts of interest attracted vastly more campaign coverage than the Trump Foundation did. In a normal presidency — i.e., one not beset by numerous other investigations — the Trump Foundation probe would be five-alarm fire news. Indeed, it does pose a very serious ongoing threat to Trump and his family members. The details that have emerged already in public, even before the investigation has concluded, reveal the foundation as a vehicle for what is basically straight-up theft. And since the investigation is occurring at the state level, Trump’s pardon power, which only applies to federal crimes, is useless.

We are definitely in the endgame.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2018 at 3:30 pm

Scam report: How the More Than Me Charity Gamed the Internet and Hollywood to Win a Million Dollars

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Fascinating (if disgusting) report in ProPublica (and TIME magazine) by Finlay Young. The blurb:

Katie Meyler’s gambit involved a Silicon Valley darling, payments to a social media marketer in Pakistan and a broken promise to a philanthropist with some very famous friends.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2018 at 12:38 pm

Exercise, Eat Well, Help Others: Altruism’s Surprisingly Strong Health Impact

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That Jesus! He certainly knew what He was talking about! Frank Martela writes in Scientific American:

Most people still seem to be ignorant about the impact such other-oriented behavior can have on their own well-being. Fortunately, several researchers have already stepped in to investigate this important question. A research team from the University of British Columbia gave a group of older participants with high blood pressure money to spend. On three consecutive weeks they were each given $40. Half the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves; the rest were asked to spend it on someone else—buy a gift for a friend, donate to a charity or otherwise benefit others with the money.

A few weeks afterward the researchers measured the blood pressure of both groups. It turned out the blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) of those participants who had spent money on others had significantly decreased as compared with the subjects who spent the money on themselves. Moreover, the decrease in blood pressure was similar in size to the effect of starting high-frequency exercise or a healthier diet.

Aiding others can even help you live longer. A study of older adults compared receiving social support and giving it as predictors of mortality over a period of five years. Whereas it would be intuitive to think receiving such support would be good for oneself, theresults showed it was giving social support that predicted longevity: Those who provided instrumental support to friends, relatives and neighbors as well as those who provided emotional support to their spouses were more likely to be alive at the end of the study period compared with less pro-social participants. These results held true even when the researchers controlled for various demographic factors such as health, mental health, personality and marital status.

More than 10 studies have also demonstrated regular voluntary work predicts longevity. Helping behavior can even buffer against the negative effect that stress typically has on mortality: Among 846 participants around Detroit, stressful events predicted subsequent mortality among people who did not provide help to others in the past year but not among those who did.

Also, being the caregiver of an ailing loved one is often assumed to be a burden for the former. Although the stress and sorrow associated with seeing your spouse fade away is clearly a heavy burden, the active help provided to the spouse might still have a positive effect on caregiver longevity. A national study of over 3,000 elderly marriedindividuals showed those who spent at least 14 hours a week providing active care to their spouses actually lived longer, when controlled for demographic and health variables.

And as if longevity and better health would not be enough, providing support for others also tends to make the helper happier. In one of my own studies I invited a group of students to play a simple game on a computer where they had to match words with their synonyms. Half of the participants just played the game whereas the others were told that for every answer they get right, a small donation is made to the United Nations World Food Programme to help end hunger. After playing, this latter group experienced more positive emotions and reported finding the game more meaningful.

Similarly, Lara Aknin from Simon Fraser University has shown that when half the people are given $5 to spend on themselves and the rest $5 to spend on others, the latter group is happier afterward. And this is not only true in her home country Canada but across the world from Uganda and South Africa to India (pdf). She even went to a small-scale, isolated rural village on the island of Vanuatu in the Pacific. Eventhere purchasing goods for others led to more positive emotions than purchasing them for oneself. There thus seems to be something rooted in our very human nature that makes helping feel good across cultures. This is corroborated by neurological studies that haveconfirmed charitable donations indeed activate the reward centers of the brain.

A dose of good deeds toward others, then, can thus be a good medicine for improving one’s physical and mental health.

Of course, even here . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

Adam Grant, an expert on pro-social giving at The Wharton School, has emphasized: “There’s a big difference between pleasing people and helping them.” One should choose when and how to help, instead of being pushed to assist whomever happens to ask.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2018 at 4:30 pm

Generous Giving Or Phony Philanthropy? A Critique Of Well-Meaning ‘Winners’

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Steve Inskeep reports at NPR:

Writer Anand Giridharadas has a dark view of American philanthropy.

He has been writing about people who say they’re changing the world for the better — except that despite their best efforts, it’s not working.

“Rich people are playing a double game,” Giridharadas says. “On one hand, there’s no question they’re giving away more money than has ever been given away in history. Every young elite graduate wants to change the world and seeks out employers and goes to Africa to volunteer. But I also argue that we have one of the more predatory elites in history, despite that philanthropy, despite that desire to change the world.”

Giridharadas spent time talking with affluent elites. He argues that Internet entrepreneurs, tech innovators, even wealthy foundation directors tend to fight social problems in a way that doesn’t threaten the people at the top.

An Internet entrepreneur comes up with software used by Uber — a great advance for part-time drivers, except most of the profits go to the wealthy. A new app developer helps part-time workers avoid cash shortages instead of fighting for better pay. Foundations spend billions of dollars to help people in ways that really just mitigate an unfair economy; meanwhile, the wealthiest have a larger and larger share.

It’s the case he makes in his new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.

Interview Highlights

On what bothers him about market-based philanthropic solutions

There’s this idea that has taken hold in our time, which is the idea of the win-win. And win-win sounds great, right? A win-win is the idea that essentially, the winners can profit while helping other people. They can do well by doing good. Doing well by doing good has become the mantra of so many elites in our time. What this often ends up meaning in practice is that social change that offers a kickback to the winners is favored and forms of social change that don’t are not.

So let’s take some examples. If you take the issue of empowering women — well, in theory, many, many people would be in favor of that. Well, let’s get down to the brass tacks of what do we do. Well, if you look at most rich countries, things like maternity leave and universal day care and various other social policies to actually give women and families the opportunity to play all their roles seem to be what it takes. Well, what’s the problem with that? It’s kind of expensive for the winners. Frankly, rich people would probably have to pay higher taxes in America to empower women in that way. So what happens? Do rich people ignore that demand of women for empowerment? No, they offer a light facsimile of change. They offer a win-win change. They offer change that doesn’t change anything fundamental. “Lean In” circles: Let’s get women together, let’s get them in a circle, let’s get them to mentor each other and raise their hands. This is the kind of change the winners can get on board with — change that changes nothing fundamental, changes that keeps what they need, change that doesn’t change their world.

On whether his fundamental argument is simply for more government intervention and spending (and higher taxes by extension)

I think there’s no question that we have lived on the receiving end of 40 years of dogma that government is bad and the market is good. We have been living amid market fundamentalism without necessarily realizing it. You know, it’s easy to denigrate government. Let’s just stop and pause and reflect on how well the United States of America functions in the spectrum of human societies out there … even under this presidency. I am not calling for government to take over and control things. I am calling for government to stop being shamed and discredited and pushed out of the picture.

On the connection he makes between people with good intentions — who are often politically liberal — and President Trump

Giridharadas: A lot of well-meaning liberals — and it’s going to, it hurts to hear this — but a lot of well-meaning liberals paved the road for Trump. And they did so in two ways. First of all, by peddling a lot of pseudochange instead of actually fixing the American opportunity structure, instead of actually repairing the American dream over the last 30 to 40 years — by doing that, they allowed some of the biggest problems in this country to fester for decades and not be solved. And I think it’s very plausible that had we actually been solving those problems of trade and education and social mobility, Donald Trump would simply not have had the oxygen that his conflagration required. But they also enabled Trump in a second way, which is: They contributed to the correct intuition, across large parts of this country, that elite Americans have rigged the game for themselves.

Inskeep: You even take one further step and argue that President Trump is essentially a parody of the sort of philanthropist you don’t like: “Trust me, I’m very rich. I’m going to fix this problem for you. Don’t worry about it.”

Giridharadas: One of the most disturbing things to me in reporting this book is I started to realize that a lot of Donald Trump’s language and intellectual moves, if that is not an exaggeration, actually took root in the so-called philanthro-capitalists of the last generation. So when President Trump says “only I can fix it,” that idea doesn’t start with him. That’s actually something that has been pushed by these private-sector change agents for years [that] they are especially capable of solving social problems. When Donald Trump says, “Yeah, yeah, I manufactured stuff in China and Mexico, but that’s going to help me figure out how to make sure that never happens again,” again, that is a move that America’s plutocrats have been making for a long time. “The arsonists are the best firefighters.”

And read also “Philanthropy In America Is Becoming ‘Ideological Arms Race,’ Author Says.” From that article by Jessica Smith (but read the whole thing):

. . . In an interview with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Callahan describes a meeting with philanthropist Laura Arnold, who said, “When you open the newspaper in the morning and you see things that you don’t like, things that upset you, if you have a foundation you can do something about it, you can try to solve the problem and take action.”

So what’s wrong with this?

Callahan says this philanthropic money comes at a time when most Americans feel disenfranchised. “More and more public policy debates looks like Greek gods throwing lightning at each other, billionaires on the left and the right, as the rest of us watch from the sidelines,” he says.

When wealthy Americans set up a charitable foundation, they can avoid paying taxes, while influencing public policy. “If I give a donation to a politician, that’s not tax deductible. If I give a donation to a Washington think tank that whispers in the ear of that politician, I can get a tax break for that,” Callahan says. “The IRS makes few distinctions in what is tax-deductible giving, and I think that’s a problem.”

Callahan says the influence of big donors will become greater as government steps back, through budget cuts to public agencies, and as private philanthropy steps forward. . .

And they have multiple means of attack:

Ways Philanthropists Can Influence Public Policy

When people talk about the influence of money in politics, they often mean campaign donations. But wealthy philanthropists can influence policy in many other ways. Author David Callahan says they can do this by setting up a foundation to fund these things:

  • Think tanks
  • Academics who publish research to support a given opinion
  • Lawyers to pursue change through litigation
  • Activists to stage protests and pressure campaigns
  • Pop-up media blitzes
  • Creation of media outlets
  • Underwriting of books and magazines
  • Documentaries to persuade public opinion

Callahan’s book, The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, is worth a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2018 at 2:58 pm

5 Reasons LeBron James’s School Really Is Unique

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Good things can be done. Alia Wong reports in the Atlantic:

Headlines touting the Next Big Idea in education have become so common in recent years that it’s tempting to dismiss every new K-12 initiative as a fad or fantasy doomed to either flatline or fail. A skeptical observer might be inclined to sweep LeBron James’s I Promise School into that pile. But teachers and executives who’ve worked closely with James on this endeavor insist that he won’t let that happen. The professional basketball player and Akron, Ohio, native, they say, really wants to rethink how public education should be delivered—not only in Akron, but across the country.

And his vision is already having a tangible impact: Last week, the Democratic U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen, of Ohio and Maryland respectively, introduced a bill that would set aside $45 million for federal competitive grants to fund partnerships between schools and their communities. The idea, Senator Brown indicated in a tweet, is to replicate the I Promise model in places that don’t have “a LeBron James.”

What makes I Promise unique, its creators and outside experts say, is that it combines various features that are seldom seen in a single school—and that it is poised to potentially spur similar education-reform efforts across the country. The Atlantic has obtained I Promise’s “master plan” document—its blueprint for the next five years, which was approved last fall by Akron’s school board. The document can be found in full at the end of this article. While the plan leaves some questions unanswered—about the details of the curriculum, for example—it reveals much about the school’s philosophy and unorthodox approach. Here are some of the things that make I Promise unique:

1. It’s a public school.

Unlike many other celebrities and magnates who’ve turned to education philanthropy—James created a school that would belong to the district, rather than a private school or a charter school. James’s school is housed under his I Promise nonprofit, which he created in 2011 as part of an effort to shift his now-14-year-old foundation’s focus toward education. From the get-go, I Promise sought to tackle the high-school dropout rate in Akron Public Schools. It made a lot of progress in that effort over the years: In 2015, for example, it started funding full-tuition, four-year scholarships to the University of Akron for eligible students in the I Promise program. Still, fewer than three in four public-school students in Akron—where about a quarter of the city’s population livesbelow the poverty level—graduate high school within four years.

The I Promise school was designed to target the Akron Public Schools students who struggle despite the existing supports provided by the nonprofit. It started its first year of classes on July 30, welcoming onto campus 240 students in the third and fourth grades, and will grow gradually over the years, eventually serving children in grades one through eight by 2022.

It would have been challenging for James to target this population through a charter or private school. While those models may have, in theory, allowed for more experimentation, such innovation would happen in isolation and would be difficult to extend into the city’s other public schools. It could alienate the local teachers’ union and district administrators and, potentially, families without the savvy to take advantage of public-school alternatives. Pulling away from Akron Public Schools would have also made it difficult to create a pipeline into I Promise for the at-risk students he sought to target.

James and his nonprofit team started developing the master plan in April 2017. By October, they’d finalized the first draft of the proposal and presented it to the school board for consideration. The proposal details five teams tasked with designing different components of the school—including its “instructional framework,” its human resources, and its community-engagement efforts—each of which was co-chaired by an Akron Public Schools staff member. The board formally approved the plan a month later.

“LeBron grew up as a public-school kid,” says Michelle Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, which partnered with Akron Public Schools in creating the I Promise School. “And the reality is that, in a lot of our urban cities, the vast majority of kids are going to go to public schools.” Making I Promise a part of the public-school system, she believes, “is what helps make what we’re doing scalable and provide a learning laboratory for the rest of the country.”

2. It has huge ambitions.

Akron Public Schools states on its website that it wants to be the “#1 urban school system in the United States.” I Promise is on a mission to help make that happen, and has an explicit goal of improving the well-being of residents across Akron—not just its students. “Classroom instruction and assignments are grounded in the health and prosperity of the City of Akron and local efforts to build inclusive, healthy, and socially just neighborhoods for all its citizens and families in an increasingly global and multicultural world,” the master plan says. To do so, it’s implementing a suite of supports that are rare at conventional public schools: attendance incentives, outings to local businesses, mentorship programs, after-school tutoring, and constant encouragement from James through things like video messages and written notes.

“I remember when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 2:48 pm

America once fought a war against poverty – now it wages a war on the poor

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Reverend William Barber and Dr Liz Theoharis write in the Guardian:

In 2013, Callie Greer’s daughter Venus died in her arms after a battle with breast cancer. If caught early, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is close to 100%. But Venus’s cancer went undiagnosed for months because she couldn’t afford health insurance. She lived in Alabama, a state that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Venus’s death is not an isolated incident – more than 250,000 peoplelike her die in the United States from poverty and related issues every year.

Access to healthcare is just one of the issues facing the 140 million people who live in poverty in the US today. Over the past two years, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation. We have met with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas, to South Charleston, West Virginia, to Selma, Alabama, where we met Callie, gathering testimonies from poor people and listening to their demands for a better society.

On Tuesday, we announced a Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, a set of demands that is drawn from this listening tour, as well as an audit of America we conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, 50 years after the original Poor People’s Campaign.

As grim as the situation was in 1968, the appalling truth is deep inequalities still exist and, in some ways, we are worse off.

While our nation once fought a war against poverty, now we wage a war on the poor. The richest 1% in our country own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined, tightening their grip on political power to shape labor, tax, healthcare and campaign finance policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. A full 60% more Americans now live below the official poverty line than in 1968, and 43% of all American children live below the minimum income level considered necessary to meet basic family needs.

In the last eight years alone, 23 states have passed voter suppression laws – gutting the Voting Rights Act civil rights leaders helped secure more than a half century ago. This is the true hacking of our democracy, allowing people to win office who deny healthcare, living wages, cut necessary social programs and push policies that promote mass incarceration, hurt immigrants and devastate our environment.

These racist laws hurt not just people of color, but poor whites whose lives are upended by the politicians put in office by the violent extremism that is voter suppression.

Coretta Scott King would call all of this violence. She’d say that violence isn’t just killing people with guns, but denying them living wages, allowing them to live in ghetto housing. We rightfully get in the streets and protest when the police shoot unarmed black men, but we must also stand up to the public policy violence that is ravaging our society. We must no longer allow inattention to violence to keep the poor, people of color and other disenfranchised people down.

People are poor not because they are lazy, not because they are unwilling to work hard, but because politicians have blocked living wages and healthcare and undermined union rights and wage increases. Our nation’s moral narrative is shaped by Christian nationalists whose claims run contrary to calls in the Scripture, which is very clear that we need to care for the poor, immigrants and the least among us.

If you claim to be evangelical and Christian and have nothing to say about poverty and racism, then your claim is terribly suspect. There needs to be a new moral discourse in this nation – one that says being poor is not a sin but systemic poverty is.

The Moral Agenda we announced on Tuesday demands a massive overhaul of the nation’s voting rights laws, new programs to lift up the 140 million Americans living in poverty, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.

We call for major changes to address systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative, including restoration and expansion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer healthcare and clean water for all.

To make sure these demands are heard, poor and disenfranchised people from coast to coast are preparing for 40 days of action centered around statehouses and the US Capitol. Over six weeks this spring, people of all races, colors and creeds are joining together to engage in nonviolent moral fusion direct action, massive voter mobilization and power building from the bottom up.

To prepare for the 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and advocates will participate in nonviolent direct-action trainings across the country on Saturday. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2018 at 6:22 pm

The Red Cross Forced Out an Executive Over Sexual Harassment — Then Helped Him Land a Job at Save the Children

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The American Red Cross has totally lost its bearings. Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin report in ProPublica:

When Save the Children hired Gerald Anderson in 2013, the global charity believed it was hiring a veteran humanitarian executive with a sterling resume. Anderson had spent more than 15 years working around the world for the American Red Cross, rising through the ranks to lead the group’s massive relief effort after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After that, the Red Cross made him head of its half-billion-dollar response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Perhaps most crucially, the Red Cross gave him “very positive references,” including from a senior official, Save the Children said.

But the Red Cross didn’t tell its counterparts at Save the Children an important fact about Anderson’s work history: He had just been forced to resign from his job after the charity concluded he sexually harassed at least one subordinate.

The Red Cross’ handling of the Anderson case, coming to light as the nation wrestles more broadly with its treatment of sexual misconduct allegations, sheds light on the unsettling way many employers have dealt with such allegations against high-ranking male executives. Even when employers take action, their investigations are often cursory, and accusers can be left feeling abandoned when the executives are quietly dismissed and land plum new jobs. While many employers make a practice of giving neutral recommendations, or simply dates of service, the Red Cross gave Anderson a good review, with no hint of concern.

At the Red Cross, two young women came forward in September 2012 to accuse Anderson. One, who worked under Anderson, cited disturbing emails he sent to her work account insisting they should have a romantic relationship. A Red Cross attorney subsequently acknowledged to her that investigators had found her account to have merit.

The second woman, Eliza Paul, a program assistant who met him at an after-work happy hour, lodged even more serious allegations against Anderson. She told Red Cross officials she had woken up naked in his bed without knowing how she had gotten there and had gone to the hospital for a rape kit exam.

Anderson’s lawyer declined to answer specific questions but said in a statement: “Mr. Anderson has not engaged in any sexual misconduct.”

The Red Cross launched an internal investigation of the women’s allegations in 2012, but several staffers interviewed told ProPublica that officials seemed more concerned with protecting the institution than getting to the truth. Investigators did not interview multiple people who had been referred as witnesses. They asked few follow-up questions. They did not seek copies of Paul’s medical exam.

Anderson’s accusers were dismayed when a top Red Cross official praised Anderson in an October 2012 email announcing his departure. David Meltzer, then senior vice president for international services, wrote that he regretted to announce Anderson had “decided to make a change.” Meltzer said he was “grateful” to Anderson for his “leadership,” lauded him for “two decades of dedication and hard work in furthering the international mission of ARC,” and wished him well in his “future endeavors.” Meltzer and Anderson are personal friends, according to five people.

A few days later, at a staff meeting, Meltzer, who is now the Red Cross’ general counsel, went further. He said he was upset Anderson was leaving and that if it were up to him, Anderson would continue working at the Red Cross, according to three attendees. “It was flabbergasting. If you are a woman sitting in this room, and you have ever been harassed by Jerry Anderson, you’ve just heard from the VP that he does not believe you or support you,” said Amy Gaver, then an official at the Red Cross, who attended the meeting and knew about the allegations.

The Red Cross said in a statement this week that its investigation was a “complete and thorough review of all allegations reported and we found that Mr. Anderson’s actions were in direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles. We informed Mr. Anderson that he needed to leave the Red Cross, and he resigned.”

But the charity conceded that the “laudatory language used in association with Mr. Anderson’s departure was inappropriate and regrettable, given the circumstances.” The Red Cross said it recently learned “that a verbal reference given to Save the Children may also have contained similar language. As a result, we are taking appropriate disciplinary action.” The Red Cross didn’t respond to questions about who was disciplined or how. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2018 at 8:54 am

Men Only: Inside the charity fundraiser where hostesses are put on show

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Madison Marriage in London reports in the Financial Times:

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At 10pm last Thursday night, Jonny Gould took to the stage in the ballroom at London’s Dorchester Hotel. “Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year,” he roared. Mr Gould — who presented Channel 5’s Major League Baseball show — was there to host a charity auction, the centrepiece of a secretive annual event, the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. The gathering’s official purpose is to raise money for worthy causes such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, the world-renowned children’s hospital in London’s Bloomsbury district. Auction items included lunch with Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, and afternoon tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney. But this is a charity fundraiser like no other.

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It is for men only. A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses. All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned. The event has been a mainstay of London’s social calendar for 33 years, yet the activities have remained largely unreported — unusual, perhaps, for a fundraiser of its scale. The questions raised about the event have been thrown into sharp relief by the current business climate, when bastions of sexual harassment and the institutionalised objectification of women are being torn down. The Financial Times last week sent two people undercover to work as hostesses on the night. Reporters also gained access to the dining hall and surrounding bars. Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2018 at 9:03 am

Looking at a problem from a new angle can have enormous benefits: Example

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From Quora:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2017 at 9:29 pm

Undisclosed deal guaranteed Roy Moore $180,000 a year for part-time work at charity

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Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow Jr. report in the Washington Post:

Former Alabama judge Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, once said publicly that he did not take a “regular salary” from the small charity he founded to promote Christian values because he did not want to be a financial burden.

But privately, Moore had arranged to receive a salary of $180,000 a year for part-time work at the Foundation for Moral Law, internal charity documents show. He collected more than $1 million as president from 2007 to 2012, compensation that far surpassed what the group disclosed in its public tax filings most of those years.

When the charity couldn’t afford the full amount, Moore in 2012 was given a promissory note for back pay eventually worth $540,000 or an equal stake of the charity’s most valuable asset, a historic building in Montgomery, Ala., mortgage records show. He holds that note even now, a charity official said.

A Washington Post review of public and internal charity documents found that errors and gaps in the group’s federal tax filings obscured until now the compensation paid to Moore, whose defeat last month of President Trump’s choice for Republican nominee in the Senate race will likely embolden far-right challengers to the party’s mainstream incumbents. Moore is the front-runner in the race to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The charity helped Moore thrive – financially and otherwise – after his ouster from the state’s Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse. The group has filed scores of legal briefs in cases involving conservative Christian issues, but it was in many ways built around Moore himself.

At a time when Moore was running for other public offices in Alabama, the charity kept him in the public eye and helped establish a nationwide network of donors while he took on controversial positions against same-sex marriage, Islam and the separation of church and state. Over the years, it has provided him with health-care benefits, travel expenses and a bodyguard, documents show.

The Foundation for Moral Law’s website routinely promoted Moore’s speaking engagements and his book, “So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny, and the Battle for Religious Freedom.” In his last two years as president, as fundraising dwindled, Moore’s compensation amounted to about a third of the contributions to the group, tax filings show.

The charity has employed at least two of Moore’s children, although their compensation is not reflected in tax filings. Moore’s wife, Kayla, who is now president, was paid a total of $195,000 over three years through 2015.

Moore’s charitable and political activities have also overlapped in significant ways. The former longtime executive director of the charity now serves as Moore’s campaign manager. The charity retained the same fundraising firm used by three of Moore’s most recent campaigns for state office, public records show.

An Internal Revenue Service audit of the Foundation for Moral Law’s 2013 finances, provided by the charity, concluded that it left out information about fundraising and other activities on its public tax filings and also identified discrepancies between those filings and its internal books. The IRS wrote that the issues “could jeopardize your exempt status.” . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 2:07 pm

Texas Official After Harvey: The ‘Red Cross Was Not There’

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I never donate to the American Red Cross. The organization always seems to fail now in its mission. Justin Elliott, Jessica Huseman, and Decca Muldowney report in ProPublica:

The Red Cross’ anemic response to Hurricane Harvey left officials in several Texas counties seething, emails obtained by ProPublica show. In some cases, the Red Cross simply failed to show up as it promised it would.

In DeWitt, a county of 20,000 where Harvey rippedapart the roof of a hotel, Emergency Management Coordinator Cyndi Smith upbraided a Red Cross official in a Sept. 9 email:

Red Cross was not there as they were suppose[d] to be with the shelter and again no communication to what this is actually about and that you have been in DeWitt County doing anything.”

With fewer than 24 hours’ notice, Micah Dyer, a school superintendent in DeWitt County, was forced to run a shelter on his own in an unused district building that would eventually house 400 people. For the first three days the shelter was opened, only two Red Cross volunteers were there — neither had any experience running a shelter, Dyer said in an interview.

“Every hot meal came from us,” Dyer said. “[School district employees] had to go to our pantries and walk-in coolers and get whatever we could get so people would have food.” Dyer says the Red Cross didn’t appear with supplies until the fourth day of the storm, and didn’t bring enough cots or food for those housed in the shelter, he said. A significant portion of the Meals-Ready-to-Eat the charity did bring had gone bad, he said.

The charity contested his account, saying in a statement that it maintained two shelters in DeWitt County — including the one Dyer ran — “and recorded a total of 1,599 overnight stays.”

We have only a partial picture of the Red Cross’ response to the massive storm. ProPublica received emails through public records requests from several counties, large and small. But they don’t cover the full swath of the state affected by the storm.

Still, the frustration many authorities felt with the Red Cross was striking. Officials in Jefferson County, which contains Beaumont, were so fed up with the Red Cross that they kicked out a charity employee assigned to work with government officials from the headquarters for the storm response.

“Everything we asked him to do, I didn’t feel was getting done in a timely manner,” said Mike White, Jefferson County’s deputy emergency management coordinator.

In Colorado County, west of Houston, a local official told colleagues on Aug. 30 the charity had simply failed to show up at a shelter as promised.

“Persons needing intermediate-term shelters have been transferred to the Red Cross Shelter in Sealy. Red Cross approved the shelter, but the promised shelter management teams and the supply trailer never arrived, nor do they know where they went,” Charles Rogers, the county’s emergency management coordinator, wrote.

On Aug. 27, two days after Harvey made landfall, the fire marshal of Humble, a small city in the Houston metro area, sent an urgent plea as his city faced severe flooding: Could the Red Cross help to staff a shelter in his area?

“I hate to say this but the Red Cross is completely out of resources and have almost no road accessibility,” responded Kristina Clark, an emergency management official in Harris County, which contains Houston. “The best thing I can recommend is to open something and message to your people to bring THEIR OWN food, sleeping bags, clothes, medication, etc.”

The Red Cross said in a statement that, overall, it has provided more than 414,000 overnight shelter stays, and with its partners served “almost 3.2 million meals and snacks.”

Providing relief in the wake of the storm was an enormously difficult task. Tom McCasland, Houston’s director of housing and community development, said in an interview that it wasn’t just the Red Cross — but also city and county governments — that didn’t have the resources to respond to the storm. The storm destroyed over 15,000 homes and damaged over 200,000.

“No one was prepared for this in terms of magnitude of numbers that showed up” at the George R. Brown Convention Center, one of the major shelters in Houston, McCasland said. “Given the circumstances, I can say that [the Red Cross] worked their hearts out.”

Many others singled out the Red Cross for criticism. At a public meeting earlier this month, Houston City Councilman Dave Martin let loose on the charity for being the “most inept, unorganized organization I’ve ever experienced.”

Martin urged Houstonians not to donate. “I have not seen a single person in Kingwood or Clear Lake that’s a representative of the Red Cross,” he said, referring to two hard-hit areas. “You know who opened our shelters? We did. You know who sent water and supplies? We did.”

In an interview with ProPublica, Martin said he ran into Gail McGovern, the charity’s CEO, in a parking lot several days after Harvey hit. When he raised his concerns to her, Martin said she responded: “Do you know how much we raised with Katrina? $2 billion. We won’t even raise hundreds of millions here.’ I just thought, ‘Really, Gail? That’s your response to me?’”

Asked about McGovern’s conversation with the city councilman, the Red Cross said, “We understand his frustration.” The charity said it has raised around $350 million for Harvey.

As ProPublica has previously detailed, the charity’s attempts to respond to large disasters in recent years have been harshly criticized by victims, government officials and, in many cases, by the Red Cross’ own staff. Reconstruction efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake fell far short of the charity’s public claims. After Superstorm Sandy hit New York in 2012, Red Cross leadership diverted disaster relief resources for public-relations purposes. And after floods in Louisiana, a state official wrote that the Red Cross “failed for 12 days.”

While the Red Cross operates largely as a private nonprofit, it was created by Congress more than a century ago and has an officially mandated role to work with the government in providing food and shelter after disasters.

As disasters have gotten larger and more frequent, the Red Cross has gotten smaller. Under the nine-year tenure of McGovern, who came from the private sector, the group has had budget shortfalls and cut staff sharply. Local chapters, including in Texas, have been shuttered.

The cuts have stripped the charity of experienced disaster management personnel. Under McGovern, the number of paid employees has shrunk from 36,000 in 2008 to just over 21,000 in 2015, according to tax filings. . .

Continue reading.

McGovern famously talked about the “Red Cross brand” and what a great brand it was, etc. Very little focus on the Red Cross mission.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2017 at 12:53 pm

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