The Darker Side of Philanthropy

I tend to get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I think of philanthropy. It’s sometimes the only succor to society’s pain. For example, in this current political climate, absolutely no progress would be made toward a greener environment if it weren’t for charitable giving to worthy causes.

In addition, those of us who feel the pain the most are most likely to support social causes. It’s not hard to find articles like this one, which says, in part:

“In an article in The Atlantic this month, author Ken Stern details the charitable divide between the income classes. The author of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” writes that in 2011, Americans with earnings in the top 20% of income levels contributed, on average, 1.3% of their income to charity. Those at the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their cash to charity—more than double of what their more-wealthy counterparts donated.

What’s more, Stern says those at the bottom income levels often do not itemize their tax returns, so they aren’t taking advantage of the charitable tax deduction.”

I suspect that the lower classes give more generously because their motivations are more pure. They genuinely want to help various causes. They are less likely to have another agenda.

The rich, on the other hand, quite often do have their reasons. Here are some:

Public Relations. Often, the super-rich obtain their wealth in less than ethical ways, and making donations to charities is one way to whitewash their reputations.

Political motivations. The rich tend to be socially liberal but economically conservative. They’re all for supporting same sex marriage or reduced carbon emissions, but they definitely do not want their taxes raised. So rather than give the money to the government, which would allow we, the people (also known as the unwashed masses), to set the agenda (theoretically) as to how that money gets spent, they prefer to pick and choose their causes themselves with zero oversight and all the power to set the policy.

“No wonder so many prefer philanthropy over taxation. In philanthropy, you can do whatever you want, no matter how misguided you are, no matter what other people think. Taxation, unfortunately for certain rich people, is a collective enterprise in which we make decisions together.” –Anand Giridharadas, American writer, former columnist for the New York Times

“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” -Leona Helmsley

Talk about setting policy. According to this podcast from the Religion and Ethics Report, Charles Koch, of Koch brothers fame, donated 1 ½ million dollars to Florida State University, but it came with strings attached. He wanted some control over their hiring and firing, and he wanted them to teach his free market libertarian agenda and downplay climate change.

Hiding Your Agenda. Unfortunately, there are a lot of anonymous donations floating around. This is often played off as a humble donor trying to avoid praise, which might be the case sometimes, but there are also a lot of nefarious nonprofit organizations that rely on philanthropy. This article discusses three different foundations that the Southern Poverty Law Center deems to be white supremacist hate groups. Who donates to them? It’s hard to say.

We Know Best. Rich people also have an annoying tendency to be dismissive of the grass roots community. They want to throw money at causes without knowing what works or does not in certain places. According to this article, in the aftermath of a hurricane, one philanthropist wanted to give money for solar panels, when the people still did not have roofs on which to put them. That’s a problem.

I can understand the instinct to give to causes that you’re personally interested in, but this means that the opera tends to receive funding long before the local soup kitchen does. This desire to avoid estate taxes by delving into philanthropy allows rich people to shape society in any way that they see fit. They want to be in control of what we learn, what laws are made, how our environment is looked after, and how our criminal justice system is managed. These are realms that all members of a democratic society should have some influence over. But that’s not how we roll.

Just something to think about the next time you’re praising the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Philanthropy

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What Is a Typical American?

During a recent commute, I was thinking about the fact that people from all over the world read this blog. I’m rather proud of that. I’d like to think that my random musings give people some insight into the fact that not all Americans fit into the current stereotype.

If you’ve never been to the United States, and formed your opinion about this country based on presidential tweets or the news cycle on any given day in the past several years, I’d be rather ashamed at the conclusions you might be drawing about us as people.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all our news is fake. In fact, I think that most of it is not. But like news everywhere, it tends to focus on the extreme, the lunatic fringe, the dramatic, negative, headline-grabbing insanity that sells subscriptions and gains followers.

The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not our politicians, just as you probably don’t always agree with your own political figures much of the time. The insanity that comes out of our capitol these days is not reflective of the vast majority of us.

Most of us actually believe that our current gun situation is insane and needs some form of regulation. Most of us believe that we incarcerate way, way, way too many people. Most of us really do know that global warming exists, and we desperately want to do something about it. Most of us think that our health care system is cruel and unjust. Most of us do not agree with the way we currently treat immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill in this country.

This nation’s political stance on all of the above is a source of shame and outrage. I wish I could say that our system was actually democratic and reflective of we, the people, but it is, in fact, rigged for the rich and powerful, and they have no one’s best interests at heart but their own. That’s a source of shame, too.

I wish there were some way you could get to know an individual American. Most of us would never think to chant, “lock her up” or “send her back”. The average American doesn’t have a violent bone in his or her body. 99.9999 percent of us would never use an automatic weapon in a school. While we are not perfect (who is?) we are, I truly believe, mostly very compassionate, and willing to help people in need, rather than hurt them or separate them from their families.

While we do have quite a bit of work to do in terms of racial bias, I sincerely believe that people who lead with hate do not represent the vast majority of us. We feel that selfishness is an ugly trait, as is greed. Just about everyone I know is entirely too busy trying to live his or her own life to interfere in the lives of others.

It’s true that there’s no such thing as a typical American, just as there’s no such thing as a typical Italian or a typical Nigerian or a typical Korean. We may come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but I think that most human beings have this in common: we struggle to take good care of our loved ones, and do the best that we can to be the best people that we can be.

So please don’t judge us too harshly. We have limited control over our country’s reputation, and that hurts us as much as it probably horrifies you. Just try to remember that on an individual basis, kindness and love still exist here. They really do.

They just rarely get tweeted about.

Diversity

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An Apology Goes a Long Way

Someone I know quite well recently screwed up to an epic degree. She erred to the point of angering many people and shocking me speechless. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.

I tried to talk to her about it, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. She had to know that she had made a massive mistake. She was painted into a corner and she couldn’t see how to get out of it.

The way out was simple. All she had to do was sincerely apologize, admit her foolish blunder, and say she’d do her best not to let it happen again. I mean, we’re all human, after all. Nobody’s perfect.

But no. She’d rather have her pride than our respect. She’d rather be the woman on the dragon, burning down the city full of innocent people, than take the high road and step back and treat people with decency and human kindness.

No, I’m not talking about Daenerys from Game of Thrones here. As of this most recent episode, it seems she’s too far gone. But the parallels with my former friend are distressing. Sometimes it just pays to put your reputation ahead of your pride. That’s a tale as old as time.

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Crossing Paths with a Con Woman

Every once in a while, I’ll do a Google search of my former boss from decades ago. It’s not that I miss her. It’s not that I ever even liked her. It’s just that she owes me 500 bucks that I’ll never see again.

I did freelance work writing articles for a magazine she started. It was advice for parents, which is ironic when you consider my childfree state. Still, it seemed like a lucrative business, until the day she stopped answering my phone calls.

And then her phone got disconnected. So I stopped by her house, looked in the windows, and discovered it was completely empty of furniture. I also found out that there were so many liens on the house that adding my humble little grievance to the massive pile would have only had me standing in line behind a long list of other outraged marks. She was a con woman extraordinaire.

Still, I used to drive by the abandoned house sometimes, when I found myself in the neighborhood. The driveway formed cracks and trees started to grow there. In Florida, nature quickly reclaims neglected buildings. The rotting roof reflected my diminishing hopes of ever getting justice.

Here’s the thing about Googling her, though. She has a very successful name twin in the same area of the country where she most likely resides. I’ve talked to the woman. She’s really nice. She’s a property owner, a keynote speaker, the head of her own self-named company. She dines with mayors. Her name is often associated with major financial corporations. It’s because she has such a wonderful reputation that I won’t taint her by mentioning any names. She is everything her name twin, my loser ex-boss, is not. When I told her about the many crimes of the other woman who shares her name, she was horrified.

My ex-boss, on the other hand, seems to have stepped into some internet black hole. She is nowhere, absolutely nowhere, in cyberspace. Of course, she doesn’t want to be found. I’m sure she’s changed her name more than once. It must be awfully stressful, living an anonymous, fraud-filled life like that. One wonders where she’d be if she had used her powers for good.

But all the speculation in the world isn’t going to get me my money back. I can only hope that someday her chickens will come home to roost.

Police Line Up
Fun fact: When I tried to find an image of a female police line up, I came up empty. Go figure.

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DO Be Silly

I was treating myself to a Chinese buffet the other day, because I had managed to make it through the holidays with my sanity intact. Any excuse will do. Any excuse at all.

I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a mother and her son. He looked to be about fourteen, and he was talking about the kind of things that 14-year-olds talk about. Drama at school, I think.

The mother was trying to talk sense into the kid, and at one point she said, “Don’t be silly.”

My first thought was, “Ah, that’s how it all starts…”

It’s true. At some point in life most of us seem to lose our ability to be silly. We stop jumping on the bed, making snow angels, and having water fights while washing the family car. We start worrying more and more about what other people will think. We place too high a price on our own dignity and reputation. We stop playing.

I think this is tragic. How can one feed one’s spirit without clowning around? How many years do we trim off our lives by depriving ourselves of laughter and joy?

I suppose it’s better that that mother said, “Don’t be silly,” as opposed to “Don’t be an idiot,” but still… I hope she takes a little time to be silly with her son. Because it shouldn’t be such a dying art.

silly

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Andy Johnson, Take Heed

I have a lien on the home of Andy Johnson, former member of the Florida House of Representatives. He stole $3,500.00 from me, and despite the fact that I won the court case, he refuses to pay me back. Due to his stubbornness on this issue, and the fact that liens rack up a nice bit of interest every year, he now owes me what I consider to be ever so slightly south of a bloody fortune.

This made me wonder how that lien is impacting his credit. According to the Nest, a website dedicated to all things financial, the answer is, basically, a heck of a lot. (And my petty little self can’t resist saying that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.)

Apparently the credit bureaus calculate liens in with your negative payment history, so “having a lien on your credit history would fall between making several late payments on a credit card and declaring bankruptcy.” In addition, the Nest says that “You could also be restricted from obtaining a home equity loan or a mortgage in the future.”

So Andy may think he’s proving some twisted point by not doing the right thing and paying me what he owes me, but actually he’s only harming himself, and the negative ripple effect of that is that he’s costing himself a lot more. According to Credit.com, a low credit score will influence the auto loan interest rate that you get, the amount of a down payment you have to pay for a cell phone plan, your ability to rent property for your home or business, and your ability to obtain credit cards. It can also impact your home and auto insurance rate, and the rates of any private student loans you attempt to obtain for your children.

Andy Johnson does have kids, and by leaving such a sickly financial legacy behind him, he also is doing nothing to help them get ahead. I do feel sorry for them, but it could so easily be rectified if he paid up. He is his own worst nightmare, to be honest.

And then there’s his reputation to consider. I will continue to maintain my blog entries about this man and what he did to me as long as he lives, or until he does the right thing, whichever comes first. If you google him, my blog entries come up. As of this writing, 41,400 people have viewed my blog, and his is one of the more popular topics that people check out. The internet never goes away. Future generations will know the kind of man he is.

Face it, Andy, you’ve lost. For the sake of your family, do the right thing. My credit score is 772. What’s yours?

You can read the full and sordid details about Andy Johnson’s underhanded dealings here. Or you can get an abridged version of events here. You can get details on how he blatantly lied about the situation to a reporter and my documented evidence of it here. If you’d like to confront him about this situation, read my suggestion about that here. And if you’d like to buy my judgment at a discount and make a nice profit from collecting the money, read about my offer here. If you would like to talk about other nefarious deeds of his, do so here.

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[image credit: hellofromhei.com]

“I’ll have your job!”

The other day I walked into a pharmacy at the tail end of what sounded like a stormy customer service incident. The customer shouted “I’ll have your job!” to the clerk as she made her exit. The clerk looked down sadly and shook her head.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone make a threat of that type, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. People seem to like to make that broad sweeping statement when they feel they’ve been wronged.

And should I go there? Yes, I should. It’s been my experience that the type of person who is prone to this diatribe is generally the type of person who isn’t desperate for income themselves. People who have been close to losing everything generally don’t make such threats.

Granted, some people deserve to be fired. But I’d like to think that the vast majority of customer service issues can and should be resolved without destroying a person’s livelihood and/or reputation, especially in this economy.

You really have no idea what a person’s life is like. This may be their only income source to care for a disabled child or an elderly parent. Is it worth it to jeopardize that simply because you’ve been irritated?

Speak to the manager, yes. Suggest training or discipline, yes. But don’t go straight for the jugular. Don’t be the author of someone’s potential homelessness. Some day the tables could be turned and it might be your livelihood that’s on the line.

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[Image credit: zisno.com]