Tag Archives: queens

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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Being, Nothingness and Anthony Weiner

Should Anthony Weiner Resign?

Should Anthony Weiner resign?

Aside from the obvious pleasure that we derive from wallowing in salacious revelations about the rich and powerful, this week’s Weiner sexting controversy provides a window into American morals. Namely: what is wrong, what is right, and what if anything should be done about it?

Let’s look at the sin first.

Weiner sent smutty photos, some with smutty captions, to some of his followers on Twitter. As far as we know he never met any of these women in person, much less had sex with them.

After the Congressman and once-possible-future mayor of the City of New York realized that he had mistakenly sent one of his crotch shots to the wrong addressee, he got too clever by half. Trying to get ahead of the story before it broke organically, he called a press conference and claimed that Evil Right Wingers had hacked his Twitter account. This lame story quickly fell apart, and here we are, with The New York Times editorial board officially decrying Weiner’s “profoundly squalid and offensive pattern of conduct,” language one would have liked to have seen used to describe, for example, torture. Or the bailouts for millionaire bank executives. Or lying us into war in Afghanistan. And Iraq. And Libya.

No victim, no sin. Who’s Weiner’s victim?

Not, apparently, the women to whom he tweeted his…tweet. As far as we know, they were willing adult participants.

Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is the sole candidate for Victim.

You have the right to feel outraged on her behalf. Me, I’m wary. No one but a husband and wife (or two husbands or wives) knows what goes on between them.

For all we know, Huma might be evil. She may have done far worse. Maybe she doesn’t mind. Or thinks a guy is entitled to fantasies that don’t involve his wife. If she sticks around we’ll at least know that her hubby’s “profoundly squalid and offensive pattern of conduct” wasn’t worth divorce.

The way I see it, this is the Weiners’ business.

To ask whether Weiner should resign, then, goes to another question. Did he betray his constituents–those in Queens and, more broadly as a nationally-known Congressman, the American people?

No doubt, Weiner lied to we, the people. It’s hard to imagine now, but that used to be an impeachable offense. Dig up Richard Nixon and ask him.

Nowadays, however, the public seems to have abandoned the expectation that politicians tell the truth. President Obama, for example, included a clear call for a public option in his healthcare reform proposal during the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s still on his website. And yet: “I didn’t campaign on the public option,” he said in late 2009.

Weiner lied. But it wasn’t about policy or something important like war. Remember Libya? We were going to “move quickly to save [civilian] lives.” It was going to be “this limited action, limited both in time and scope.” That was March. Now we’re trying to kill Kadaffi.

And, to Weiner’s credit, he didn’t lie long. A week. When he ‘fessed up, he did it like a man: took questions from the press, accepted responsibility, volunteered dirty deeds we didn’t know about.

It’s certainly not “we DID find the WMDs,” à la Bush-Cheney. Who, remember, did not resign.

I would love to live in a country in which lying to the public was cause for resignation. It sure would make for a lot of vacancies in government.

But we don’t–and it seems weird to hold a sexter to a higher standard than a warmongering mass murderer.

Ultimately the public’s case against Weiner comes down to the one Edward G. Robinson snaps at the dastardly insurance salesman played by Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity”: “I picked you for the job, not because I think you’re so darn smart, but because I thought maybe you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. I guess I was all wet. You’re not smarter, Walter. You’re just a little taller.”

Weiner doesn’t even get to be tall.

The Times questioned Weiner’s “judgment and character, considering that he was once considered one of the savvier members of the House. Had it not occurred to him, in an era of unending sexual scandal, that repeatedly sending these kinds of photographs to strangers would eventually catch up with him? And that, if it did, his attempt to exploit his political celebrity for online sexual gratification would be considered reprehensible?”

Should Weiner resign? Only if not being sufficiently cold, cynical and calculating is just cause.

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

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone