Thursday, August 8, 2013

(Philanthropy Kills!) You Gotta Watch the Rich Closely As They Spread Their $$$$$$ Around (Nyet To Top-Down Change) Koch Proposes, Then the Rattler (Amazon) Strikes (Again)!

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Alison's Garden

I was thinking the other day, who'd have believed before Dubya was "elected" President that you didn't have to be at least a little bit smart to be President? Even Mitters passes that test. But when I read that Obama said that Amazon should be everybody's business model, I started to feel a whole different way about his erudition (see essay at bottom).

Yes, you already saw the Buffet scion's article exposing "philanthropy" here the other day. But it never hurts to emphasize a good argument.

Blowing the Whistle on Philanthropy

By Sam Pizzigati
Inequality has a silver lining. At least the awesomely affluent think so.
If we didn’t have grand fortunes, their claim goes, we wouldn’t have grand philanthropy. No foundations and handsome bequests for underwriting good causes. No gifts and grants by the tens and hundreds of millions.
Philanthropy, proclaims a new study from the global bank Barclays, has become “near-universal among the wealthy.” Most rich, says Barclays, share “a desire to use” their wealth for “the good of others.”
The rich, in other words, could afford to give away far more than they actually do. Over recent years, some public-spirited wealthy Americans — like the late multimillionaire San Francisco money manager Claude Rosenberg — have tried unsuccessfully to get this message across.

But this “desire” doesn’t appear to be driving all that much sharing, as the researchers from Barclays themselves acknowledge. Some 97 percent of the world’s “high-net-worth individuals,” they note, do give annually to charity. Yet only one-third of these extremely wealthy folks give away over 1 percent of their net worth.
But now a new challenge to the philanthropic conventional wisdom has emerged, and this one figures to be tougher to ignore. The reason? The challenger just happens to be the son of the world’s fourth-richest billionaire.
This new challenger, Peter Buffett, isn’t arguing that the rich don’t give enough.
He’s challenging the core of the philanthropic mindset, the notion that the rich, with their giving, are making the world a significantly better place. Buffett, in effect, is blowing the whistle on what he calls our “charitable-industrial complex.”
Peter Buffett knows this complex — from the inside. He runs a foundation his father Warren Buffett created. In a recent New York Times op-ed, son Buffett began peeling off the halo that tops the “massive business” that American philanthropy has become.
In elite philanthropic gatherings, notes the 55-year-old Buffett, you’ll see “heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders,” all of them “searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”
And the answers that do eventually emerge seldom discomfort the problem-creators. These answers almost always keep, Buffett charges, “the existing structure of inequality in place.”
Peter Buffett dubs this comforting charade “conscience laundering.”
Philanthropy helps the wealthy feel less torn “about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on.” They “sleep better at night while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”

That “just enough,” Buffett adds, can do long-term damage. Today’s philanthropists are imposing a stark corporate vision and vocabulary on the charitable world, pushing “free-market” principles, constantly demanding proof of “R.O.I.,” or return on investment.
Meanwhile, the global “perpetual poverty machine” rolls on — and philanthropists appear too busy patting themselves on the back to notice. Observes Buffett: “As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’”
Peter Buffett’s whistle-blowing is already having an impact. Those getting crushed by the “philanthropic colonialism” Buffett decries are circulating his critique to combat the “solutions” philanthropists are imposing upon them.
Last week, for instance, Chicago public school activist Timothy Meegan cited Buffett’s analysis in his push-back against the “venture philanthropists” now forcing “mass privatization” on Chicago’s school system.
Mega “charitable” millions, Meegan shows, are distorting policy decisions in Chicago, bankrolling a strategy that’s proliferating charter schools run by private operators while simultaneously defunding neighborhood schools, declaring them “failing,” and then shutting them down.
Concludes Meegan: “If allowed to continue,” this philanthropic onslaught will leave Chicago without real public schools, only tax-subsidized charters “whose investors will profit handsomely off of our kids.”
We don’t need, Peter Buffett contends, a philanthropy that’s turning “the world into one vast market.” We need systemic change “built from the ground up.”
Top-down change simply isn’t working. Not in Chicago. Not anywhere.
  • pitch1934
    If the majority of the wealthy and uber wealthy were not so damned greedy they would turn more of their profits into salaries. The increased salaries would create more demand and thus create more jobs. The fact is they don't care. They have no patriotism but will gladly send the sons and daughters of the working class to fight and die for their profits. All they care about is having a market in which to amass even larger fortunes.
  • Ted Blodgett
    Apparently the crackheads at Barclays aren't aware that lower income individuals give about twice as much of what they have to charity then the wealthy do. Or more likely they know that very well and are ignoring since it doesn't go well with their agenda to starve working people to death.
I ran the blurb on Amazon's Beetlejuice buying the Washington Post for peanuts yesterday.

Today we get a history lesson on what happens when the rattler strikes. Amazon and Wal-Mart? American success stories go viral! (Did you get your shots yet?)

And you may notice from the essay that Jeffie made enough dough from the CIA (taxpayer-funded-all-the-way) deal to pay for several WAPOs. (Which wouldn't surprise me a bit.)

I think it's telling nationally that we accept huge companies doing a massive amount of business that operate at a loss (which means writing off everything eventually). And don't pay taxes. These are some smart Americans, don't you think?

How The Washington Post’s New Owner Aided the CIA, Blocked WikiLeaks and Decimated Book Industry

By Amy Goodman

The Washington Post announced on Monday the paper had been sold to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million. Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest men, now controls one of the most powerful newspapers in the country. Some critics of the sale have cited Bezos’ close ties to the U.S. government.
In 2010, Amazon pulled the plug on hosting the WikiLeaks website under heavy political pressure. Earlier this year, Amazon inked a $600 million cloud-computing deal with the CIA. Independent booksellers and publishers have also long complained about Amazon’s business practices.We host a roundtable on the history of Amazon and the future of the newspaper industry.
"Monopoly newspapers, especially The Washington Post in the nation’s capital, while it might not be a commercially viable undertaking, it still has tremendous political power," says Robert McChesney, co-founder of Free Press. "What we have is a plaything for these billionaires that they can then use aggressively to promote their own politics."
Media critic Jeff Cohen notes that while The Washington Post notably published reports on Watergate and the Pentagon Papers decades ago, he thinks concerns that Bezos will ruin their journalistic tradition is unfounded, saying that in recent years "The Washington Post has really been the newspaper of the bipartisan consensus."
We also speak to Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville Books. "Amazon is a company that feels no pain. They’ve, as far as I can tell, never made money. … So, when you see him taking over The Washington Post and you wonder is he going to be able to monetize it, is he going to make it profitable, he probably doesn’t care," Johnson says.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show with a roundtable discussion about the sale of one of the nation’s leading newspapers to one of the world’s richest men. On Monday, The Washington Post announced the paper had been purchased by founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos will pay $250 million for the paper and a number of other publications — less than 1 percent of his wealth, which is estimated at more than $28 billion. Bezos is a friend of Donald Graham, chief executive of The Washington Post Company, whose family has owned the newspaper for eight decades.
Bezos said management of The Washington Post newspaper will remain the same, but it’s unclear what changes might be coming. Last year, Bezos was quoted in an interview with the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung saying, quote, "There is one thing I’m certain about: There won’t be printed newspapers in 20 years. Maybe as luxury items in some hotels that want to offer them as an extravagant service. Printed papers won’t be normal in 20 years."
AMY GOODMAN: Critics of the sale have cited Bezos’s close ties to the U.S. government. In 2010, Amazon pulled the plug on hosting the WikiLeaks website under heavy political pressure. Earlier this year, Amazon inked a $600 million cloud-computing deal with the CIA.
For more, we’re joined by three guests. In Madison, Wisconsin, Bob McChesney is with us, co-founder of Free Press, author of several books on media and politics, including his Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. You can read the first chapter at our website, He also recently co-authored with John Nichols Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America.
Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream, Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he’s also a journalism professor. He is founder of the media watch group FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
And here in New York City, Dennis Johnson is with us, co-founder and co-publisher of the book publisher Melville House. He recently wrote an article called "The Obama Business Plan: Be Like Amazon."
We welcome you all to Democracy Now!
Bob, McChesney, why don’t we begin with you in Madison, Wisconsin? Your response to the news that has rocked the industry, that Jeff Bezos is the new owner of The Washington Post?
ROBERT McCHESNEY: Well, I think what’s important is to have a structural understanding and context for this purchase, because the real story, the back story, is that the value of The Washington Post, like all other news media in this country, has plummeted in the last five or 10 years to maybe one-tenth, one-fiftieth of what it was in the late 1990s, and at this point they aren’t wise commercial investments. As the blip you had at the top of the show said, Amy, commercial journalism no longer is profitable. That’s why investors are jumping ship.
But they still have great political value, monopoly newspapers, especially The Washington Post, in the nation’s capital. It might not be a commercially viable undertaking, but it still has tremendous political power.
And I think when we understand it that way, that’s the appeal of these remaining legacy monopoly newspapers, like the _Chicago Tribune, The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, to wealthy people, is that it won’t make them money in the short term on that exact investment, but it gives them great political power to advance their political agenda, which, in the case of someone like Jeff Bezos, could give him a great deal of money down the road.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jeff Cohen, could you respond to the sale of The Washington Post Company to Jeff Bezos and respond also to what Bob McChesney said about how the value of The Washington Post has been declining for several consecutive years, and talk about why Jeff Bezos might have made this purchase?
JEFF COHEN: Well, I think that when Jeff Bezos, in that older quote, talks about it being a luxury item — printed newspapers — I’ve got a good feeling, a good sense, that Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post will not remain a luxury item around Capitol Hill. It may go online heavily, but it’s going to stay there at Capitol Hill, because Bezos, I think, wants that kind of influence in the nation’s capital.
And I’ve been reading all this about Bezos’ politics, which of course is important when you’re a singular owner of a paper as influential as The Washington Post, a paper that actually urged us to get into the invasion of Iraq about a decade ago.
But Bezos is like a lot of corporate executives: He’s liberal on social policy — he gave money to the pro-gay-marriage initiative — but he’s very conservative on economic policies that affect the corporation that made him wealthy and powerful. So, we learn about Bezos that he’s donated money to the initiative in the state of Washington — big money — that was trying to institute a tax, an income tax, on the top 1 percent of people in the state of Washington. It was supported by Bill Gates of Microsoft and Bill Gates’s dad. But Bezos was one of the billionaires that put money in to try to stop that. He’s conservative on labor policy, and we know what a bad labor policy Amazon has.
And the most important thing is, the biggest issue facing American journalism in the last month or so has been the surveillance state and these corporations that profit from the surveillance state, because 70 percent of the intelligence agency’s budgets, that come from the taxpayers, is delivered to private contractors. And as you guys mentioned, Amazon just brought down a huge CIA contract to provide cloud services. And we know that that’s not the only one. They want more contracts.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Dennis Johnson of Melville House, why, as a publisher — what are your feelings about Amazon? And then your thoughts about Amazon buying, or Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post?
DENNIS JOHNSON: Well, my feelings as a publisher are the same as my feelings as an American. This is a — this is a very tough company to deal with, a company that has developed a whole new model for the marketplace of ideas. I mean, something to remember that maybe contributes to what the previous two speakers are talking about is that, you know, Amazon has, since its inception, been a company that, one, has avoided tax payments, or collecting sales tax, in not only the United States but across the world, and, two —
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
DENNIS JOHNSON: Well, they are, as a retailer, required to collect sales taxes for everything sold on their website. They have not done that, since its inception. In fact, Bezos originally tried to start the company and found it in an Indian reservation, because he believed it would be a sovereign nation and he wouldn’t have to collect any taxes. He founded the company in Seattle because he felt it would do the company the least harm for sales, for having to not collect taxes in the rest of the country.
So, you know, it was kind of a sham the other day when President Obama went down to speak at the warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was a warehouse that Amazon opened only because they cut a deal with the state to not collect taxes for yet another year. They have never paid taxes in Tennessee to date, and they’re not going to for another year or two, but they promise to employ 2,000 people. Those are the jobs that Obama was celebrating. And, you know, this is a very damaging policy for a company to have, obviously. They’re also being contested in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe for similar policies.
The other thing to remember about Amazon is it’s a company that feels no pain. They’ve, as far as I can tell, never made money. Their quarterly statements are consistently sales are up — they’re astronomical numbers; they made $15.7 million last quarter alone — but their losses are up every quarter, as well. It’s a phenomenal track record, where — and, you know, in the retail market, how do you compete with that? How — in the book business, how does Barnes & Noble, how do the little indie booksellers compete with a company that can consistently lose money like that? Well, they can’t. They just can’t. So, when you see him taking over The Washington Post and you wonder is he going to be able to monetize it, is he going to make it profitable, he probably doesn’t care. That’s obviously not what it’s about. His business is to not operate as if they intend to make a profit.
AMY GOODMAN: But he did make $28 billion — I mean, he’s got $28 billion.
DENNIS JOHNSON: Personally. Sure, he’s a wealthy man, one of the most wealthy men in the country, if not the world. But the company, quarter after quarter after quarter, does not post a profit.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in his letter to employees after he bought The Washington Post, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos seemed to try to address any potential conflict of interest, saying, quote, "The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners." But many people have pointed out that Amazon ranks among the biggest spenders for high-technology companies seeking to influence the federal government. Dennis Johnson, could you talk about some of that, the politics of what Amazon’s lobbying efforts have been and how this is likely, if at all, to influence what appears in The Post under Bezos?
DENNIS JOHNSON: Well, sure. Coming strictly from the book business, I mean, this is a very transparent move to have made. This is a man who has growing interests in Washington. I mean, look, we just concluded the Department of Justice prosecution of the book industry, a shocking case that seems to fly in the face of what we know about antitrust law in this country. And it was a case that most in the book business feel was orchestrated by Amazon, and indeed Amazon did file the initial complaints that started that case. Well, they won. And when they won, most in the book industry saw this as — you know, we thought Amazon was a monopoly, to begin with; now we feel like, well, it’s a government-sanctioned monopoly. Then what happens? Just days after that decision comes down, the president of the United States goes to their warehouse to slap them on the back and say, "Good job." This is a company that obviously — and this is—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, now that we have this new information, do you think President Obama knew he was buying The Washington Post when he went down last week? Even many of the reporters of The Washington Post who have been interviewed over the last few days, everyone seemed shocked.
DENNIS JOHNSON: Yeah, it was a really well-kept secret, but at the same time other reports are saying that it was probably cut about a month ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And given how much information the NSA gathers on us all, it would be hard to believe the president didn’t know.
DENNIS JOHNSON: I have a feeling —
AMY GOODMAN: You don’t think Jeff Bezos never mentioned this in a phone call or an email?
DENNIS JOHNSON: No, I have  —who knows? I take it the president knew. But, you know, looking just at what happened, the president was down there lauding a company that he says is going to really boost the middle class, and really these are $11-an-hour jobs on average. They don’t meet the living wage of that part of the country. They were bought via tax avoidance. This is the — this is the president’s job policy?

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