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May 2008

Wealth Bondage News Pro Reflects on Her Complicity in War Propaganda

Katie Couric, (quoted on MediaCitizen) reflecting on McClellan's charge that the media were complicit with the war propaganda that he promulagated:

"I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism," she said. "And I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it. I think it was extremely subtle but very, very effective."

Ah, so will Katie now interview her owners on camera and ask them the hard questions? "Knock, knock, Sir?  Excuse me. Can I bring the camera crew in now, Sir?"

Mr. Repo Man as Philanthropic Advisor

Today, my good friend Mr. Repo Man made  his calls. At 9 am he sold credit cards to deadbeats and college kids.  At 10 he did collections from a Pay Day Loan operation owned by the bank employing him, the Bank of Wealth Bondage. At 11 he was lending money at 26% in an alley to an addict. At noon he had lunch with the Congressman whose campaign he financed. At 1 pm he did the repo on the welfare mother's van. At 2 pm he gave you philanthropic advice about how to invest in donor advised funds and foundations managed by his bank. At 3 pm he was offering subprime loans. At 4 pm he was selling the loans into your pension plan. At 5 pm he left for the bar. At 6 pm a quick meal with the family. At 7 pm he introduced Mr. Phil Cubeta, Morals Tutor to America's Wealthest Families, as Phil spoke about Vision and Values for a Community Foundation's major donors, the Bank of Wealth Bondage serving as proud sponsor, and as the money manager for the foundation. 

Does anyone see any ironies here, or is it just business as usual?

Getting Your Phlanthropy Advice from a Loan Shark?

Maxed Out is an excellent 120 minute online video documenting America's addiction to debt and who profits from it. To me this sad story connects to philanthroy in the form of a personal moral dilemma. Those who profit most systematically from pushing subprime debt, credits cards to college students, and even payday loans and pawn shops are the same big banks whose names are a whose who of philanthropic services providers (and campaign contributors). Many of my closest colleauges and thought leaders in philanthropy draw their paychecks from the banks some of whose divisions operate like loan sharks. Does this mean that if I give a talk on philanthropy for some nonprofit and the sponsor is a big bank that I should refuse to drink the Perrier they paid for or eat the brie? Something, or many things, are so wrong in this country that one looks in vain for a place to begin. As some say, "There is no 'outside' of Wealth Bondage." Even Gifthub is sponsored by them. I mean I got to make a living somehow.

Here is a thought: If you are getting your advice on philanthropy from a Trusted Advisor inside Wealth Bondage, consider asking a more independent source, if you can find one.  Remember, for a philanthropic operation to prosper inside a Fortune 100 bank its return on capital must compete with the credit card operation. How? Well, that is what a SVP would need to explain to stay on top of that particular philanthropic heap.  If he or she can't make that kind of money off keeping your money invested in some account, philanthropic or otherwise, they will find someone who will.  I only wish they would call me with a job like that. I could double my salary and do good at the same time.

You see how this works? If you do have philanthropic capital, take care where you put the principal and where you get your advice. We can do better, but I am increasingly convinced it has to start with the donor/client/social investor. The rest of us are just going to batten off your money, and go where you go. Please consider providing some leadership. Write me if you want to talk about real social change.

The Parable of the MBA

The MBA said unto Jesus, "We cannot manage what we cannot measure.  What is this Kingdom of God you speak of? Is it round, square? How many ounces? At what price is it  purchaed? Whose intellectual property is it? What is its closest competitor? And what market share has it, that I might invest in it? "

And Jesus said unto the MBA, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 

The MBA shook his head and walked off, the opportunity lost. Jesus cured the deaf, dumb, and blind; he raised the dead. But with the MBA he could do nothing.

In-Cubicle Terrorist Monitors

In cubicle monitors could foil negative attitudes in the work place before they affect productivity.

CCTV cameras are bringing more and more public places under surveillance – and corporate cubicles could be next.

A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and "Big Brother" software to try and automatically detect negative attitudes, theft of time, or other sabotage caused by employees.

The European Union's Security of  The Cubicle in the Future Corporate Environment project uses a camera in every cubicle, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing negativism or "cubicle rage" incidents, by tracking employee' facial expressions.

Poetic license taken with the above quotation. There is nothing to fear, unless you have something to hide. Keep smiling.


Mark Kramer on Mission Related Investing

Excellent interview by Sean Stannard Stockton with Mark Kramer on trends in mission related investing. Mark says:

We see that foundations, over the last – oh, I would say over the 30 years from 1969 to just around 2000 – the amount of money going into these proactive mission investments was growing at about three percent a year. In the last five years, it’s actually been growing at about six percent a year. And we think in just the last two years, the amount of new money going in has almost tripled. So there’s just tremendous momentum around foundations moving into this space.

Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov

If you are foolish enough to read Gifthub, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, by a Russian emigre, Dmitry Orlov.  It belongs to a genre of satire that might be called Utopia/Dystopia.  Orlov draws lessons from the collapse of one impressive empire for the coming collapse of another. His orientation is towards survival, good humor, and making do without gasoline, heat, electricity, running water, televsion, for that matter, illusions. A sample of his extraordinary prose is below. Every paragraph is as well made as this one:

People in the United States and the Soviet Union have had broadly similar attitudes towards politics. In the United States this is often referred to as "voter apathy," but it might be more accurately described as non-voter indifference. The Soviet Union had a single , entrenched, and systematically corrupt political party, which held a monopoly on power. The US has two entrenched, systematically corrupt political parties, whose positions are often indistinguishable and which together hold a monopoly on power. In either case, there is or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it has organized itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike.

After the coming collapse, gift culture, or favor trading, will thrive as will blackmarkets, war lords, private security operations, and moonshine stills. Suburban lawns will sprout tomatoes. Nomads will roam a landscape much like our inner cities today, with buildings stripped of their wiring and copper plumbing.  The best career options will be repo man,  auctioneer, or undertaker. A sense of black humor is the best defense against despair, when the Prozac runs out. Via.

Return on Reputation: Mission Aligned Investing

C.A. Fitts:

So long as the profits of piracy can be reinvested to affirm the legitimacy and prestige of the pirates, our financial system will be predicated on the theory that --- as the Roman Emperor Vespasian said -- "Pecunia non olet," or "Money has no smell."

Duly noted. There has to be a good honest buck in there somewhere for us Morals Tutors and Philanthropic Consultants. I have always been partial to pirates. As winners in a corrupt world they refresh the gene pool and pass on world-conquering value-systems to their children. I just hope that certain satirists don't screw this whole thing up for us honest dealers. Philanthropy is best conducted in an air of sanctimony, as Albert reminds me, whenever I fall off the wagon.

Ethics of the Eye

"What is going on?," per Niebuhr, is the first question of ethics. Now what is interesting is that he did not say it is the first question of,

  • ontology
  • epistemology
  • semantics
  • hermeneutics
  • metaphysics
  • theory of interpretation
  • grammatology

How can knowing what is going on be an ethical question when we have so many questions about theory of meaning? We don't even know whether anything at all exists. We don't know how words latch onto the world. So how can we get to the question of what is going on? Maybe that is Niebuhr's point, that we have to cut past our jouissance and deal with the reality of our own malfeasance. We don't know what is going on because, in part, we prefer not to. It would get us on the wrong list.

The Plague

"What is going on?" per Niebuhr is the first ethical question.

"We cannot know what is really going on" is the first observation of deconstruction, for signs merely slip and slide on the passing scene. Hermeneutics ends in free play.

It is notable to me that deconstruction followed existentialism and demolishes the possibility of ethics. We cannot even get as far as seeing what is going on in Occupied France, so how can we be responsible for our being stooges? Don't blame Paul de Man, he did not know what was going on. So his collaboration, however muted, was not an ethical lapse. He did not know; he could not know. Blindness and Insight, or what Sarte called, "bad faith," or "false consciousness."

We are no better. It is only worth diagnosing de Man because what he suffered from was what Camus called The Plague, and we ourselves are in the midst of a new epidemic. The symptoms are blind eyes, shaky hands, and a tongue that palters with ever more conspicuous evils.