May 28, 2012

Fat cats, #environmentalism and 'charity'

A ver good in-depth web feature here, originally solicited as a story for Orion mag, then spiked after a change in top editors.

In essence, Curtis White says that progressive charities have to be wary of being too activist, at least if they want to be very big, because progressive philanthropic organizations will kneecap charities that might get too “uppity” with their ideas.

Or, if not quite so bad, a foundation will only donate to a very narrow spectrum issue. This is especially the case if the original endowers of the organization are still alive.

White’s observations relate to two other things.

First, this is part of why Bruce Bartlett, a non-wingnut, “readable” conservative, leans toward wanting to ditch charitable donations from being tax deductible. He notes that, for many of the rich, “charities” usually are things like fine arts organizations.

And, this is also the biggest concern about philanthropy-sponsored nonprofit journalism — that a foundation, especially if the original endower is still alive, has some "boutique" ideas about the journalism, which ties even more directly to White’s whole essay.

Behind all of that are these issues:
In the end, philanthropy wants the wrong thing.  It may think that it ought to want what the lovers-of-nature want, but its actions reveal that, come what may, it loves other things first: the maintenance of its privileges, the survival of its self-identity, and the stability of the social and economic systems that made it possible in the first place.
Indeed. And that’s why you and I can count the truly liberal, TRULY progressive foundations with any degree of money on the fingers of our two hands.

Take George Soros. He may want to legalize marijuana, but you know he doesn’t want tighter derivatives regulation, let alone a “Tobin tax” on financial transactions.

So, folks who think some progressive nonprofits will save newspapers? Wrong. You may get a slightly more PBS/NPR version of the “mainstream media,” to the degree foundations think that such help isn’t pounding sand down a rathole,  or else you’ll get a special-interest newspaper.

Finally, whether you’re an environmental organization, an ailing old newspaper or a would-be new one, or even a fine arts group, White raises a red-flag type rhetorical question — where does the endowment invest its money?  

And, White just touched the tip of the iceberg. What he calls "Big Green" is more commonly known as "Gang Green," and, its donors are part of the reason why "political access" is more often  the coin of the realm than is idealism.

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