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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Philanthropy

As Hurricane Victims Freeze, Billionaire Mayor Gives Away $1 Billion to Wealthy Med School

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines over the weekend with his announcement that he has donated $345 million to Johns Hopkins University. Added to his previous donations, the media baron has given his alma mater over $1 billion – the largest charitable contribution to an educational institution in US history.

Bloomberg received plaudits for his generosity by the usual media sycophants. Along with death and taxes, another thing you can count on is being told to be grateful when masters of the universe give away some of their loot (even if none of it goes to you.) As pundits fawned, thousands of New Yorkers – residents of Queens whose homes got damaged by superstorm Sandy – were shivering under blankets in heatless homes in 15° weather because restoring electricity and housing storm victims isn’t one of the mayor’s top priorities.

Disgusting.

This was a man, New Yorkers remember, who wanted the mayoralty so badly that he subverted the people’s will, bribing and bullying the City Council into overturning term limits passed by an overwhelming majority so that he could keep the job a third term.

No one should claim that he didn’t want responsibility for those poor cold slobs out in the Rockaways.

If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system – columnists, local TV anchor people, even Bloomberg’s political rivals – to call him out. For $345 million the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.

Bloomberg’s donation to one of the wealthiest universities on earth, with an endowment of $2.6 billion, serves to remind us that philanthropy is evil.

You could argue that generous rich people are better than cheap rich people. And if you like the way things are, with the gap between rich and poor at record levels and spreading – you’d be right. But most people are not happy with our winner-take-all economy.

No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary. Of course, I realize that not everyone adheres to such basic Christian – er, communist – principles. (Anyone who denies that Jesus was a commie never cracked open a Bible.)

But most people – certainly most Americans – agree there’s a line. That too much is too much. People like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have worked hard and created products that consumers purchased in great numbers – but no one can work $25 billion hard (Bloomberg’s estimated net worth). There aren’t that many hours in the day; the human skull doesn’t contain enough synapses; no idea is worth that much.

One of the big problems with charitable giving is that it mitigates the injustice of inequality: sure, maybe it’s a little crazy that Bloomberg has 11 luxurious homes while people are starving to death and sleeping outside, but at least he’s generous. He’s giving it away. The implication, that the chasm between rich and poor isn’t that bad, is a lie. It’s also evil: If inequality isn’t that bad, it’s not important to talk about – much less fix.

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society,” says Robert Dalzell, author of “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us.” “We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

It’s better for society when rich people are unlikeable jerks like Mitt Romney. Knock over old ladies, stiff the waitress, talk with a pretentious fake British 19th-century accent, install a car elevator. Bad behavior by our elite oppressors hastens the revolution.

Bloomberg’s billion-dollar gift to a school that doesn’t need a penny illustrates the inherent absurdity of capitalism: aggregating so much wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals. It’s obscene and morally reprehensible to allow a disproportional share of resources to fall under the control of the arbitrary whims of a few quirky rich dudes.

Why should National Public Radio, which received a $200 million bequest by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, get all that cash while the Pacifica radio network – more avant-garde, better politics – teeters on the edge of bankruptcy? It’s nice that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation fights AIDS in Africa, but who are Bill and Melinda Gates to decide that AIDS in Africa is worse than, say, diarrhea, which kills more people? It’s amusing to hear that the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal – but again, people are sleeping outside. Why not musicians? Or cartoonists?

People are dying because they can’t afford treatment by a doctor. People have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and executed because they couldn’t afford a competent lawyer to defend them.

If a government agency were allocating public funds based on the personal whims of its director, there would be a scandal. Under the veil of “philanthropy” billions of dollars that could help millions of people are being spent in a haphazard manner – and we’re supposed to applaud because it’s up to the “private sector”?

In an ideal world no one would have that kind of power. We’d be as equal as the Declaration of Independence declares us to be. We’d make decisions about who to help and what problems to try to fix collectively. The most unfortunate people and the worst problems would get helped first –long before Johns Hopkins.

Our world isn’t perfect. But it is our duty to do everything in our power to make that way. Toward that end, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg ought to have their assets confiscated and redistributed, whether through revolutionary political change or – for the time being – high taxes.

If we can’t pull off nationalization or truly progressive taxation, if we are too weak, too disorganized and too apathetic to form the political movements that will liberate us, the least we should do is to denounce “generous” acts of philanthropy like Michael Bloomberg’s for what they are: arbitrary and self-serving attempts to deflect us from hating the rich and the inequality they embody.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our F— You System of Government

Anti-Occupy Crackdowns Highlight Lack of Services

Governments are supposed to fulfill the basic needs of their citizens. Ours doesn’t pretend to try.

Sick? Too bad.

Can’t find a job? Tough.

Broke? Can’t afford rent? We don’t give a crap.

Forget “e pluribus unum.” We need a more accurate motto.

We live under a f— you system.

Got a problem? The U.S. government has an all-purpose response to whatever ails you: f— you.

During the ’80s I drove a yellow taxi in New York. Then, as now, there were no public restrooms in the city. At 4 in the morning, with few restaurants or bars open, the coffee I drank to stay awake posed a significant challenge.

It was—it is—insane. People pee. People poop. As basic needs go, toilets are as basic as it gets. Yet the City of New York, with the biggest tax base of any municipality in the United States, didn’t provide any.

So I did what all taxi drivers did. What they still do. I found a side street and a spot between two parked cars. It went OK until a cop caught me peeing under the old elevated West Side Highway, which later collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Perhaps decades of taxi driver urine corroded the support beams.

“You can’t do that here,” said the policeman.

“Where am I supposed to go?” I asked him. “There’s aren’t any restrooms anywhere in town.”

“I know,” he replied before going to get his summons book from his cruiser.

The old “f— you.” We create the problem, then blame you for the results.

I ran away.

In recent days American mayors have been ordering heavily armed riot police to attack and rob peaceful members of encampments allied with Occupy Wall Street.

Like NYC, which won’t provide public restrooms but arrests public urinators, government officials and their media allies use their own refusal to provide basic public services to justify raids against Occupations.

In the middle of the night on November 15th NYPD goons stormed into Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. They beat and pepper-sprayed members of Occupy Wall Street and destroyed the books in their library. Citing “unsanitary conditions,” New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, then told reporters: “I have become increasingly concerned…that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community.”

Four days before the police attack The New York Times had quoted a city health department statement worrying about the possible spread of norovirus, vomiting, diarrhea and tuberculosis: “It should go without saying that lots of people sleeping outside in a park as we head toward winter is not an ideal situation for anyone’s health.”

So why don’t they give the homeless some of the thousands of abandoned apartment units in New York?

Anyway, according to the Times: “Damp laundry and cardboard signs, left in the rain, have provided fertile ground for mold. Some protesters urinate in bottles, or occasionally a water-cooler jug, to avoid the lines at [the few] public restrooms.”

Of course, there’s an obvious solution: provide adequate bathroom facilities—not just for Occupy but for all New Yorkers. But that’s off the table under New York’s f— you system of government.

Doctors noted a new phenomenon called “Zuccotti cough.” Symptoms are similar to those of “Ground Zero cough” suffered by 9/11 first responders.

Zuccotti is 450 feet away from Ground Zero.

Which brings to mind the fact that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers released 400 tons of asbestos into the air. It was never cleaned up properly. Could Occupiers be suffering the results of sleeping in a should-have-been-Superfund site for two months?

We’ll never know. As under Bush, Obama’s EPA still won’t conduct a 9/11 environmental impact study.

Sick? Wanna know why? F— you.

One of the authorities’ most ironic complaints about the Occupations is that they attract the mentally ill, drug users and habitually homeless.

To listen to the mayors of Portland, Denver and New York, you’d think the Occupiers beamed in bums and nutcases from outer space.

When mentally disabled people seek help from their government, they get the usual answer: f— you.

When people addicted to drugs—drugs imported into the U.S. under the watchful eyes of corrupt border enforcement officers—ask their government for help, they are turned away. F— you again.

When people who lost their homes because their government said “f— you” to them rather than help turn to the same government to look for safe shelter, again they are told: “f— you.”

And then, after days and years and decades of shirking their responsibility to provide us with such staples of human survival as places to urinate and defecate and sleep, and food, and medical care, our “f— you” government has the amazing audacity to blame us, victims of their negligence and corruption and violence, for messing things up.

Which is why we are finally, at long last, starting to say “f— you” to them.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL