Tag Archives: philanthropy

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Do Not Be Impressed by Mark Zuckerberg’s Phony Generosity

pt_1904_1111_o            CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises to give 99% of his Facebook shares to charity — eventually.

Exact phrasing: the stock, currently worth $45 billion, will be donated “during [he and his wife’s] lives.” He’s 31 and she’s 30, so actuarial tables being what they are, by approximately the year 2065.

If Facebook or the Internet or the earth still exist.

Whoop de doo.

I would be far more impressed if Facebook would put some money into the American economy. How? By hiring more workers — a lot more workers. Facebook’s market cap is $300 billion — almost ten times more than GM. GM has 216,000 employees. I’m not sure Facebook could find work for 2 million workers — but 12,000 is pathetic. They might start by hiring a few thousand 24-7 customer service reps so they could respond quickly when some antisocial pig posts your nude photo.

The part of the “ain’t Zuck nicephilanthropist suck-uppery that really has me annoyed is the “charity” bit.

Disclosure: I’m on record as being not at all into charity. If something is important enough to require funding — helping hurricane victims, sending doctors to war zones, poetry — it ought to be paid for by society as a whole, out of our taxes. We shouldn’t allow billionaires to aggregate enough wealth to billionaires in the first place. Partly, this is because it’s unfair. No one can work hard enough to earn one billion dollars. Also because it gives too much control to individuals at the expense of the 99.99% of everyone else.

Unfortunately, we await the revolution. So we still have billionaires running around pretending to be nice (as opposed to where they belong, hanging from a lamppost).

Even by our current dismal standards, however, Zuck is full of crap.

Point one: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a charity. It’s a limited liability corporation (LLC) that, like any other company, can donate to actual charities but can also invest in for-profit companies.

Point two: this is all about control.

A donation to an independent, classic 501(c) charity can come with strings attached — the money is only for a children’s wing of the hospital, no adults — but it’s ultimately spent by the charity based on its directors’ decisions. Under the LLC structure Zuckerberg will maintain nearly dictatorial control over the funds he’s “donating” to “charity.”

It’s the difference between you giving a hundred bucks to the United Way, and taking a hundred bucks out of your wallet and dropping into a coffee can in your kitchen. Maybe the C-spot in the coffee can will go to the poor. Maybe not. It certainly isn’t accurate to claim you gave it to charity.

If Zuck wants a “gives 99% of his stock to charity” headline, he ought to earn it — by giving 99% of his stock to actual charities. Charities that aren’t named after him. Charities he doesn’t control.

“Zuckerberg To Maybe Eventually Do Things He Deems Good With Some Of His Fortune” would be more accurate.

The vagueness of the Zuckerbergs’ announcement highlights how little anyone should be impressed. “Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities,” they said.

Sound familiar?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 2000 with billions of dollars Microsoft extracted from American consumers via price gouging and gangster-style monopolistic tactics so ugly the feds almost broke up the company. The charity’s (it’s charted as a 501(c)) mission sounds remarkably similar to those of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: “Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough challenges: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system.”

Which, right out of the gate, meant donating PCs to schools so that fewer kids would grow up using Macs.

If you’re a conservative who thinks government can’t do anything right, let me show you a charity that’s worse. The Gates Foundation wants to destroy teachers’ unions to take away their benefits and drive down their wages — hardly a way to attract the best and brightest young college graduates into the profession. And it has poured millions into the disastrous Common Core, which has created today’s “teach to the test” culture in public schools. Given Zuckerberg’s previous involvement in public schools, a $100 million fiasco in Newark, New Jersey that declared war on teachers, fetishized standardized testing and led to so many school closures that kids wound up walking miles through gang territory to new schools chosen for them by, really, an algorithm — it isn’t a stretch to guess that Chan Zuckerberg will look a lot like Bill and Melinda Gates.

I wouldn’t expect much — much good, anyway — from Zuckerberg on the poverty front, either. After all, Facebook is spreading poverty among American STEM workers by pushing Congress for more H1C visas for foreign workers hired by big tech companies to replace better-paid Americans. Odds are that, here too, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s approach will be similar to the Gateses.

Too young and too rich to have a clue — and the only people they know are over-privileged corporate pigs. How do you think this will turn out?

In 2010, for example, Bill and Melinda drew fire for subsidizing African projects by agribusiness conglomerates Cargill and Monsanto, both notorious for crushing small farmers, to the tune of $23 million. They’re way into sketchy genetically-modified foods. They wind up propping up authoritarian and dictatorial political regimes by focusing on technocratic short-term “quick fix” projects that don’t address the underlying causes of poverty (psst — capitalism). It’s a safe bet Zuck’s anti-poverty stuff will make more people poorer.

It’s Zuckerberg’s billions. He can do what he wants with his money. But let’s not make the mistake of calling him a charitable giver, much less a great guy.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Unpersonning of Generation X

http://knowledge.creatingresults.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Time_Magazine_Cover_Generation_X.jpg

I’ve been disappeared.

Erased from history.

Dropped down the memory hole.

(bye)

If you were born between 1961 and 1976, you no longer exist.

Generation X has been disappeared.

The Soviets altered photos to excise the images of leaders who had fallen out of favor, but communist censors went after individuals.

America’s corporate media is more ambitious. They’re turning 50 million people into unpersons.

The disappearing of Gen X began about a year ago, when major news outlets began reducing living Americans to two generations: the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1960) and their children, the Millennials (born approximately 1977-2004).

(Generational birth years are controversial. Many classify the Boom years between 1946 and 1964, but I agree with the demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe’s assessment — and the novelist Douglas Coupland, who defined the term “Generation X” — that people like me, born from ’61 to ’64, called “the most dysfunctional cohort of the century,” identify with the culture and economic fortunes of Xers, not the Boom.)

The unpersoning of X takes full bloom in “Wooing a New Generation of Museum Patrons,” a March 19, 2014 piece in The New York Times about how museums like the Guggenheim are soliciting money from “a select group of young donors already contributing at a high level.”

Take your gum/joint/food out of your mouth before reading further, lest you gag: “Several hundred Millennials mingled under the soaring atrium of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue one recent frigid February night. Weaving around them were black-clad servers bearing silver trays piled high with doughnuts, while a pixieish D.J. spun Daft Punk remixes.”

According to the Times‘ David Gelles (playing the role of Winston Smith): “Across the country, museums large and small are preparing for the eventual passing of the baton from the Baby Boom generation, which for decades has been the lifeblood not only of individual giving but of boardroom leadership. Yet it is far from clear whether the children of Baby Boomers are prepared to replicate the efforts of their parents.”

Gelles’ piece doesn’t contain any reference to Generation X.

Really? Museums don’t give a crap about would-be philanthropists among the millionaires born between 1961 and 1976?

By the way, Xers were into Daft Punk before Millennials were even done being born.

Boomer/Millennial articles that ignore the existence of Xers have become commonplace. Again in The New York Times, Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker perform the neat trick of disappearing one-sixth of the country. Their November 30, 2013 op/ed about “Millennial Searchers” for the meaning of life asks about Millennials: “Do we have a lost generation on our hands?”

Substitute “1991” for “2008” and everything Smith and Aaker write could be, and was written about Gen X: “Yet since the Great Recession of 2008, they have been having a hard time. They are facing one of the worst job markets in decades. They are in debt. Many of them are unemployed. The income gap between old and young Americans is widening.”

Even in an essay about humanity’s search for meaning — and about the downward mobility that defines Gen X — there is only room for Boomers and Millennials.

It’s like our crappy economy and low wages and student loan debt never even happened.

“No one’s talkin’ ’bout my generation,” notes columnist M.J. Fine, a Generation Xer. “It’s hard to think of an era in which people ages 34-49 had less social currency.”

Remember the great coming clash over Social Security between Boomers and Xers? We’ve vanished from that narrative too, not just in a thousand words but over the course of a full-length book: “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.”

It’s not just The Times. In Sonya Stinson’s frivolousWhat Gen Y Can Teach Boomers About Financial Planning” in Forbes, Gen X neither learns nor teaches. Gen X doesn’t exist.

Poof!

I saved the worst for last. Courtesy of a sharp-eyed reader, check out PBS’ Judy Woodruff, defining the generations for a NewsHour interview with the author of “The Next America”:

I just want to remind everybody what those age groups are, the Millennials 18-33 years old today, Gen X 34-39 today, the Boomers 50 — the big group — 50-68, and the Silent, 69-86.

In PBS World, Gen X has shrunk. If you’re in your forties, you no longer have a generational home.

Life begins at 40?

More like the empty void of generational purgatory, as far as the Boomer-controlled media is concerned.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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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

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