On Giving Back

The wrath of hurricane Katrina that devastated the vibrant city of New Orleans, Louisiana and rendered its citizens homeless, displaced, hungry and penniless had almost broken America’s spirit, with everybody looking at each other saying – no, this couldn’t possibly happen to America. The frustration, despair and feeling of hopelessness of the victims and the Louisiana government had reverberated all over the country prompting the media and political pundits to chastise the federal government for not acting quick enough to aid the victims. African American activists cry racism, accusing the government of acting languidly on the rescue plan because the majority of the population of New Orleans is black. Others urged Bush to stop the war in Iraq, which had already cost taxpayers a whopping tab of $250 billion, and divert the money to rehabilitate the city. Comedian Jon Stewart , anchor of the nightly news on the Comedy Network blamed the tragedy on master of the universe and may have crossed the line with his harsh and sacrilegious joke on why Americans even sing God Bless America. The situation is truly a nightmare – how can the people who lost their houses, jobs, cars and personal possessions ever get them back? Where and how can they start their lives back from zero? Where is the money going to come from?

Unlike the tsunami disaster, Katrina did not jumpstart a massive global disaster relief fund to aid the displaced people of New Orleans. America is rich and doesn’t need financial help to take care of the problem, so they say. The estimated cost of rehabilitating the city is staggering and the government many not be able to foot the bill alone so fund raising events take place all over the country, even in Canada. When I see movie stars, music artists and sports celebrities participate in fund raising programs, answering the telephone hotlines to take in the pledges and donations from the public, I ask myself the question – are these celebrities giving anything or are they just offering their “precious time” for free, using their celebrity status to attract people to contribute? They seem to be proud that their “hard work” brings in more money and the free service alone could commensurate as contribution to the cause. The proliferation of fund raising by supposedly non-profit, charitable organizations had been the subject of investigation by the feds both in the U.S. and Canada. It is estimated that for every dollar contributed, only 30 cents goes to the cause, 70 cents goes to the fund raising overhead expense. The CEO of the United Way, the largest charitable organization in North America had been criticized for his $500,000/year salary – too steep for a non-profit organization or perhaps well deserved for his creative genius in the art of big time corporate panhandling? Sure enough, the federal government allows the individual tax breaks on charitable contributions, but does this mean that we must give money because we are getting some of it back anyway? Is this the main motivation for giving?

What about the super-rich, the multi-millionaires ? What have they given ? In the realm of the super wealthy, giving back is wrapped in a seemingly complex word called philanthropy, which are endowments to charities, schools, museums elaborately engineered by their sophisticated accountants and bankers. While the endeavor is certainly noble, the government also gives money back in form of substantial tax breaks that cushions their net cash outflow. Do they give enough? Are they giving to the impoverished to alleviate their suffering? One of the problems of those born of the super wealthy is lack of first hand exposure to the reality of poverty hence the lack of empathy to the problem. Some believe that poverty is the result of laziness and the poor people are the authors of their own misery and no one is to blame except themselves. Others are strangely cheap and poor choices to be counted on when it comes to parting with the green buck like Canada’s Ken Thomson, listed in the top 10 wealthiest man in the world. Thomson invited the National Geographic reporter scheduled to interview him to come an hour earlier to see his private art gallery because tickets were on special sale for 2 dollars. It is mind boggling how a man of his stature could not have thought of giving the guest reporter a free pass.

NBA Player Dikembe Motumbo is a paltry minor leaguer compared to the super wealthy but his foundation had built a 300 bed hospital in his native hometown of Kinshasa, Zaire. Golf great Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara built a new 80 bed hospital for poor children just minutes away from their house. Motumbo and Nicklaus were not scions of the super wealthy. They are ordinary people who made it to the top, made more than enough for themselves and took the noble and admirable decision to give something back, something big, something meaningful that makes a real difference to people who need help. The bad news is there aren’t many of them around. This is just me but I get the funny feeling that when the bullhorn, the radio and TV calls for filling bag for a charitable cause , it is always the heart of the common man that is forthcoming and can be counted on to give something back. It is also the common man that jumps on his truck and drives for 10 hours to the troubled area just to be there to help in whatever way he can.

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17 Responses

  1. A fantastic blog. Keep it up. Here’s a subject that interests many; how to buy & sell everything, like music on interest free credit; pay whenever you want.

  2. Buffwings,

    Bill Gates donates 1 billion dollars a year for vaccine research. It is a pretty huge sum even if he is worth $46 billion. Kenneth Thomson is no longer in the top 10 list. He is number 15.

  3. Thanks for the information Bill. It is much appreciated. Bill Gates is a pathfinder, a pioneering , research type person and I am not surprised with his impressive donation to medical research for the benefit of mankind. It is certainly laudable. Other billionaires put incredible sums of money into art, environment protection, universities. It is certainly their prerogative but are their priorities sort of “misplaced”? I’m sure their money would be put to better use for saving and improving people’s lives, not only in America but other parts of the world.

  4. i agree with you, bw… here in the Philippines, most of the rich give aid or donate for popularity’s sake, not out of pity for deprived, devastated, or depressed people. it’s an irony that it is the group of small, simple people who gives their hearfelt help with their small amounts and since service.

  5. erratum: sincere service..

  6. The $500,000 salary of United Ways CEO is mindblogging and it made me wonder if truly he is in there for the cause and not just for the cause.

    Mr. Dikembe Mutombo and Jack Nicklaus are rare and exceptional ones, I hope there’d be many celebrities like them.

    This expose of yours makes me wonder now if the rockstars we see singing for some charity concert are really there for the cause or there to be paid or be exposed. We need them to really dip their hands into the reality of helping, like Mutombo and Nicklaus, building by themselves and not just signing the check.

  7. most of them are not there for the cause, major tom.

    hi, bw, i tagged you, you’re it! hope it is alright with you

  8. the 3rd richest man in the world Lakshmi Mittal reportedly spent $60 million for his daughter’s 5 day wedding celebration in France. There’s an example of excess cash not being put to good use.

    As for the song tag Bing, I really don’t have favorites and if I do, they also change in time. I have a huge accommodation for songs – from rock, pop, R&B and go to concerts of hot and has been singers. The only concert I hesitated to go was the Spice Girls because I felt like I had no business being there without a teenage daughter in tow ! Songs remind me of chapters in my life, the places and situations I have gone through. I particularly like George Harrison’s “spiritual” songs. These are songs that won’t change and remain as valid and powerful as they are.

    George Harrison’s “ All Things Must Pass” is my all time favorite. It is one song that defines the inevitable cycle of life in a few simple yet meaningful and inspirational words.

    Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
    A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
    Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
    It’s not always going to be this gray

    All things must pass
    All things must pass away
    None of life’s strings can last
    So, I must be on my way
    And face another day

    Another Harrison song, Isn’t it A Pity is also one of my favorites. It speaks about the selfishness of man and the tragedy of racial discrimination, poverty and oppression.

    Isn’t it a pity
    Isn’t it a shame
    How we break each other’s hearts
    How we cause each other pain
    How we take each other’s love
    Without thinking anymore
    Forgetting to give back
    Isn’t it a pity

    Some things take so long
    But how do I explain
    When not so many people
    Can’t see we’re all the same
    And because of all their tears
    Their eyes can’t hope to see
    The beauty that surrounds them
    Isn’t it a pity

    To me these songs are pretty powerful, and see no reason why they can’t be sung in churches.

  9. Major Tom – 500K does look a little too much doesn’t it especially when the organization’s revenues come from donations.

    BTW, since your blog format changed, it does not seem to accept comments.

  10. Hello! I wish more people who are “so much blessed” could read this entry, be awakened, and be involved in more charity projects to help those who are victims of disasters (like Hurricane Katrina).

    MY REPLY TO YOUR COMMENT TO MY LAST ENTRY (*dinala ko na dito *wink*):

    This news really got me because it was in the front page of The Washington Post which I’m subscribed everyday, it talked about a Filipino who was accused of espionage and about the dirty politics in the country. On the page was a photo of the rallyists and the situation was getting out of hand. You know, I’m just a few blocks away from The White House. And the Philippines seldom get it on the front page of a national newspaper here.

    Two Saturdays ago, there was a protest here in The Capitol by hundreds and thousands of rallyists (anti-war), it was a nationwide rally. They have the usual banners, straemers and placards, people walking around the Capitol shouting and chanting their concerns, there were even ladies who took off their shirsts shouting “Breasts not Bombs” (breast cancer org). But it was a peaceful rally because they didn’t go beyond the rules and regulations, they didn’t fight or put their hands on any of the guards or marshalls or police. How can we do that in our country? Is Martial Law needed to instill discipline among the people?

    By the way, your comment was a good one!

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  12. Hello fellow fisherman,

    Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

    Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during “prime time”; fish feeding hours?

    Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

    Don’t believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen’s story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : “Evening Secrets plus more”

    I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

    You will be one of the first to try it out.

    Gone Fishin’,

    Neil

  13. Hello fellow fisherman,

    Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

    Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during “prime time”; fish feeding hours?

    Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

    Don’t believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen’s story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : “Evening Secrets plus more”

    I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

    You will be one of the first to try it out.

    Gone Fishin’,

    Neil

  14. Thanks Teacher Sol. I heard the news about Aragoncillo but did not know much details until I hit your blog. It is really sad to see people being so silly, jeopardizing their jobs and integrity getting involved in political squabbling at home.

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