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.


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I Count, Too.

On my commute to work today I saw one of those “Baby on board” placards that people put up in their SUVs so that first responders will understand the urgency of their rescue. Granted, infants need extra care, and are just starting out in life, and heaven knows they should not be punished for their parents’ stupid driving habits. But still…

I know this isn’t exactly politically correct, but…

I am sick and tired of being undervalued because I didn’t procreate.

I want that ambulance driver to feel every bit as much urgency when rescuing me. I want a tax cut by virtue of the fact that I haven’t added to the crowding of an already overcrowded planet. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for asking for a holiday off simply because I’m the only employee without kids. I want to be able to take family sick leave when my dog needs to be rushed to the vet. I want a gift for putting up with you when you’re pregnant, instead of having to give you one for being pregnant. I want you to keep your screaming child away from my public space. I don’t want to have to constantly justify my choice not to have children.

Most of all, I want my very own placard.


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The Dreams I Have

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and indeed every day of the year, we should reflect on our progress and lack thereof with regard to human rights. How can we improve, and what can we as individuals do to bring about these improvements?

King had a dream. We should all have a dream. In fact, we should all dream big. So what follows are some of my dreams for humanity.

  • One man, one vote. No more of this outdated electoral college foolishness. And each person should be able to vote on each issue and feel confident that each vote will hold equal weight.
  • No more gerrymandered districts. Enough, already. Each voting district should only be allowed to have a maximum of four angles. If you can’t figure it out in the shape of a rectangle, a square, a triangle or a circle, then you are just being manipulative to a criminal degree.
  • An end to human trafficking.
  • Free education for all.
  • Free access to information for all.
  • Universal health care.
  • That the world finally accepts the overwhelming science of Global Climate Change and actually does something about it.
  • That all cars manufactured from now on must be hybrids.
  • Tax breaks for everyone who offsets their carbon footprint.
  • A ban on all automatic weapons, and strict tracking of all ammunition.
  • Unions should be encouraged, not demonized.
  • The scientific method should be stressed, comprehended, and taken seriously.
  • Children should be strongly encouraged to read more and play more and exercise more.
  • Clearly label all genetically modified foods.
  • Tax tobacco growers out of existence.
  • A dramatic increase in public transportation.
  • A part of every primary school education should include an element of giving back to the community. Children should learn to clean up their own playgrounds.
  • Television, movies and advertising should depict people with normal sized bodies.
  • There are enough humans on the planet. Give tax breaks and incentives to people who choose not to have children, instead of to those who have them.
  • Every adult should be allowed to marry whomever they choose, but the marriage process should be harder and divorce should be easier.
  • No more lobbyists.
  • A cap on campaign spending.
  • A ban on pharmaceutical advertising.
  • Reduce product packaging by 75 percent, do away with junk mail, and make recycling mandatory.
  • Equal pay for equal work.
  • More mental health facilities, fewer prisons.
  • Stricter penalties for polluters.
  • All students should have the opportunity to study abroad. Being immersed in another culture increases awareness and reduces fear.
  • Ban animal testing of cosmetics.

How could all these things be achieved? I haven’t a clue. That’s the nice thing about dreams. They don’t have to be realistic they just have to be idealistic. If your imagination can’t roam free, you can’t ever expect to be free.

Happy MLK Day. Dream big today and every day.


[Image credit:]

Mass Killings in Schools

Ripped from the headlines: A man kills his wife, and then goes to a school and kills 43 people, 38 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 12, and injures 58 more before killing himself. Sandy Hook Elementary School? Nope.

The Bath School Disaster occurred on May 19, 1927 and shocked the nation. It’s still the deadliest mass murder in a school in US History. The reason most of us have never even heard about this tragedy is that three days later, Charles Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight to Paris, and the world’s attention was drawn toward that historic achievement.

The people of Bath, Michigan were understandably devastated. In a town with a population of 300, 48 deaths and 58 injuries leaves a heck of an impact. Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer, had packed the school with explosives. He timed the explosions to go off when the school was filled to capacity, and he meant for there to be more slaughter. There were an additional 500 pounds of dynamite and several sacks of gunpowder under the south wing of the school that didn’t go off. If they had, it may very well have taken out all of downtown.

Why did he do this? Well, the man wasn’t wrapped too tightly to begin with. He was known to shoot dogs and once beat one of his horses to death for being lazy. But then he experienced a series of setbacks which apparently sent him over the edge. His wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and that was an even more devastating diagnosis then than it is today. He also was on the verge of losing his farm, and then the town decided to increase taxes to pay for this modern new school, which was something Kehoe felt was unjust and unnecessary. So he decided to take matters into his own hands, to devastating effect.

To add insult to injury, after the explosions, as first responders gathered at the school, Kehoe drove up in a dynamite and shrapnel-filled car and detonated it, killing himself and killing or injuring several others. This was a man on a mission. He had a plan and he executed it.

So the next time someone tries to blame a school massacre on aspects of modern life, remember the Bath School Disaster. In a time before violent video games, crazy still existed. Perhaps when someone witnesses a man beating his horse to death, he should speak up. There are usually red flags. We just seem to keep ignoring them.


bath school

The north wing of the Bath School after Kehoe was through with it.

[Image credit:]

Sovereign Citizens: The Tip of the Tassel on the Lunatic Fringe

None of us like to pay taxes. But most of us are rational human beings who realize that the nation’s infrastructure can’t be provided for free. If we are stupid enough to break a law, we may not like getting arrested, but we sure appreciate it when an operator is at the other end of the line when we feel the need to dial 911. The vast majority of us use the nation’s highways and bridges, and are grateful that traffic lights function, fire departments respond, libraries are available, tainted food is recalled, and 12 year olds can’t buy cocaine at the local Stop n’ Shop.

But there is a group out there that seems to think that they can have their cake and eat it, too. They feel that they are above the law and do not recognize the authority of federal and state governments. They live within this country, take advantage of what it has to offer, but refuse to contribute to it in any way, and in fact believe they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore. If they didn’t resort to violence and hate speech and frivolous law suits to clog up our courts, their selfishness and irrationality would be laughable, but they are waaaaaay out there in nut-job land, and it’s kind of scary, knowing that these people walk among us.

Here is a short list of lunatics who are considered Sovereign Citizens, according to the website Hatewatch, by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • Eddie Jones, the candidate expected to win a county commissioner seat in Memphis, Tennessee, was fired as a Memphis Police officer for his use of cocaine 18 years ago. Recently he stopped paying his mortgage to protest changes in where to send the payments. He only had three years to go before the house was paid off. Naturally the bank started foreclosure procedures, so he sued them, calling himself “a living man created in the image of God, with indefeasible title to our land,” ordering the bank’s agents “to immediately CEASE and DESIST any further actions.” The man is in cloud cuckoo land.
  • Israel Rondon fatally lost a gunfight with the sheriffs in Ohio in March. They had come to arrest him for probation violations. His rap sheet included illegal weapons charges and assaulting an officer, and driving without a license. He has filed multiple rambling and incoherent lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages against various government agencies and banks.
  • Mark Kulis, another Ohio Sovereign Citizen, caused his entire neighborhood to be evacuated in January when the police found bombs in his foreclosed home during an eviction process. The walls and ceilings of his house were covered with anti-government graffiti, and the tree in his front yard had been covered with strange, incomprehensible messages. He once told a neighbor that someone had drilled a hole in his home’s foundation and inserted termite larva.
  • In Arkansas, police officers pulled over Jerry Kane and his 16 year old son Joseph for a routine investigation of some unusual Ohio (what is it about Ohio???) license plates. Jerry got out of the car and started arguing with the officers, and Joseph then got out of the car with an AK-47 and shot one of the cops and pinned the other down with gunfire. After chasing the second cop and killing him, he returned to the first cop and shot him in the back of the head. The Kanes then drove away. After a chase and another shoot out where two more officers were wounded, the Kanes were both killed. They had been traveling the country as Sovereign Citizens, giving sparsely attended seminars on avoiding foreclosure. This comprehensive article on the Kanes will give you some amazing details on this lunatic fringe movement.
  • David Carroll Stephenson, of Washington State, was convicted of filing false liens against federal officials, plus one count of harboring federal fugitives and being a felon in possession of firearms. He conspired with Kenneth Wayne Leaming, who has a record of depositing 1 million dollars in false promissory notes and operating an aircraft without a pilot’s license, as well as founding the County Rangers, an armed enforcement wing of the Sovereign Citizens.
  • Convicted sex offender David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman were arrested in Nevada for allegedly planning to kidnap, jail, torture and kill police officers. Brutsche said, “I will kill anyone that tries to stop the cause of liberty.” They planned to use acid and plastic bags to dispose of the officers’ bodies.
  • Christopher Lacy, a bipolar man from California, shot and killed a highway patrol officer at point blank range last fall. He was then shot and killed by another officer. The officer stopped him for having an obstructed license plate.
  • Phillip Monroe Ballard was in jail, awaiting trial for filing fraudulent tax returns. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Texas for attempting to have the federal judge in his case assassinated.
  • Lewis Pollard, a Navy veteran from Colorado, pointed a handgun at a police officer after a routine traffic stop and was then shot to death. On his Facebook page, Pollard stated, “I have renounced my citizenship to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA which is a corperation and clamed my individual rights as an american who upholds the freedom as an individual who lives under the laws of the constition the United States and as a free man I revoke all clames on me and my children grand children and great grand children so say I Lewis Be Pollard American living on the Colorado Republic near [81521-9998]”
  • David Russell Myrland of Washington state filed a civil suit accusing the government and its agents of using poor grammar and writing at a second-grade level. He has been illegally practicing law for 20 years, yet he still felt the need to get help with the suit from David Wynn Miller, who claims to have become the king of Hawaii in 1996 after turning the state’s name into a verb. He also believes that if he adds a hyphen and a colon to his name, he can escape the grasp of government taxation. Miller claims to have an IQ of 200.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who claim to be Sovereign Citizens in America. The members of the group have been classified as domestic terrorists by the FBI. Seven law enforcement officers have been killed by them since 2000.

Even Jerry Kane’s widow is nutty. For those of you getting this blog by e-mail, you can see the video here.

The Dark Side of Achievement

I’ve always been a huge success in the academic world. Top of my class. The envy of my peers. So everyone, including me, assumed I’d be a huge success in the real world as well. I’m fairly certain my mother believed I’d be the CEO of a fortune 500 company by the time I was 21. Yeah. Not so much.

I don’t know what little cog is missing inside my head, what chink appears in my armor, what mote there is in my eye, but there is a flaw somewhere in my system that has prevented me from taking the world by storm. Stormless, I am, despite the perpetual cloud above my head.

It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve made some monumental mistakes, and that takes effort. If even one of those attempts at life improvement had worked out, things would look very different. For a start I wouldn’t be sitting alone on a drawbridge at 4 in the morning, fighting sleep so as to remain employed. And yet here I am, keeping the waterway safe for the boating public and trying to keep my eyes from rolling up into my head.

I do have a roof that keeps the rain off of me, although it belongs to someone else, and to date I’ve managed to keep my two dogs in kibble, so I must be doing something right, but I have to say I’m rather disappointed with the lackluster state of my curriculum vitae. But there is something to be said for profound lethargy.

For example, all of my successful friends seem to have at least one divorce under their belts, and many of them are seeing their whimsically named home offices transformed back into bedrooms for their adult children. I can’t imagine a worse hell than that, frankly.

And you’d think I’d have more stress-related illness living hand to mouth as I do, but in reality most of my successful friends are in much worse shape than I am. Apparently fighting to keep up with coworkers in their unrelenting pursuit of corporate greed seems to take its toll. High finance isn’t for sissies.

Other items to my credit: I’ve never foreclosed on someone’s home or been foreclosed upon. I’ve never looked into an employee’s eyes and boldly lied about their future. I’ve never misappropriated funds, and I’ve never hidden funds to get out of paying my fair share of taxes. Having never climbed very high, I haven’t had to step on someone else to do so.

I think that the more successful you become, the more likely it is that you’ve had to do something shady to get there. It may have been an incremental shift in your perspective until one day you woke up in the land of deceit, but on some level you know that’s where you’ve come to reside. Congratulations.

On the other hand, I feel as though I’ve gotten through life with my integrity intact. Perhaps it’s my moral compass that weighs me down. If so, I’ll gladly bear that burden.

keeping someone down

The Road Kill Crew

I don’t know if this is still the case, but when I worked for the Department of Transportation more than a decade ago, there was one crew in this very large metropolis of mine that dedicated the bulk of their time to riding around and scraping dead animals off the highways. We called them the Road Kill Crew. The vultures can’t do it all.

Whenever someone was added to this crew, you kind of shook your head, because sure enough, within a month or so something would seem not quite right about that person. Being on the Road Kill Crew inevitably changed you. People tended to avoid these guys. They had this funny look in their eyes, and they tended to get very, very quiet. I’ll admit it. This crew gave me the willies.

I think after a while these guys just stopped seeing things. They became kind of robotic. They became corpse scraping machines. They no longer thought about it, and I suppose that is a valid coping mechanism, but it’s no way to live.

I often wondered how their jobs impacted their personal lives. They must have come home every night smelling like rotting flesh. I just can’t imagine that after a long day of scooping up people’s missing pets that they were up for romantic dinners at the local steak house. But I guess I could be wrong.

Next time you drive past a dead skunk on the highway and the next day it’s gone, remember, that’s someone’s job. Kind of makes you less hesitant to pay taxes, doesn’t it?


(Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy finding a picture for this entry that wasn’t unbelievably nauseating. But I do try to keep my readers in mind, visually, if not always verbally.)