Holiday Donations on Behalf of Those With Plenty

In their 10 years together, Paige and Matt Rodgers have given each other a lot of gifts.

When Ms. Rodgers found herself feeling stumped this year, an online search turned up the perfect solution: computer training for school children in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Rodgers, a product manager for a software company, had lamented that his busy life left little time for volunteering. With a few computer clicks from the comfort of their home in Corte Madera, Calif., Ms. Rodgers made a donation in her husband’s name. "I was so excited about it," she said. "I told him about his gift in advance."

Increasingly, people are making donations in the names of spouses, cousins, co-workers and clients, all feel-good gifts to people who want for nothing.

Savvy marketing by charities that tie donated dollar amounts to individual causes make such gifts all the more attractive. An $18 gift can buy a can of worms for a farmer in Ecuador. For $250, a family in Thailand can receive a water buffalo. And for $4,000, an entire school in rural India can receive needed financing.

[Excerpt of an article by Lynette Clemetson, The New York Times]

You don’t have to be rich to give to others

Every day we are confronted with choices: what we wear, what we eat, how and with whom we spend our leisure time. These choices reveal something about us, our priorities and our personal values.

The same is true for our charitable giving. How much (if anything), where, and to whom we give is a reflection of who we are.

But there's another option that allows the donor to have a bit more input in the giving process: family foundations. To dispel a popular myth, you don't have to be a Rockefeller or a Bill Gates to start one. You don't have to give away millions.

The values by which my parents raised my sisters and me: If you can, you should give. Both my mother and father participated in civic activities, supported numerous charitable organizations, and encouraged their children to get involved in local community programs. I was raised to give back to the community the same way I was taught to be kind and honest; it was just something that was expected because it was something my parents valued.

So it was no surprise when my mother approached my adult sisters and me some years after my father died with the idea of creating a family foundation. For her it was a way to foster closer family ties between us and her nine grandchildren and to extend, for future generations, the tradition of giving. My sisters and I had all been giving independently for years, but doing it as a family seemed like a logical progression.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Kathie Klarreich, The Miami Herald]


Tragedy of the death of a child in the developed world

For Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the ideal of valuing all human life equally began to jar against reality some years ago, when he read an article about diseases in the developing world. He came across the statistic that half a million children die every year from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. He had never heard of rotavirus.

“How could I never have heard of something that kills half a million children every year?” he asked himself.

He then learned that in developing countries, millions of children die from diseases that have been eliminated, or virtually eliminated, in the United States. That shocked him because he assumed that, if there are vaccines and treatments that could save lives, governments would be doing everything possible to get them to the people who need them.

As Gates told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last year, he and his wife, Melinda, "couldn’t escape the brutal conclusion that — in our world today — some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not."

Gates’s speech to the World Health Assembly concluded on an optimistic note, looking forward to the next decade when "people will finally accept that the death of a child in the developing world is just as tragic as the death of a child in the developed world."

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Singer, The New York Times]

What to Give for Christmas? –The Gift of Life

What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions.

Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal.
With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it’s a good time to ask how these two beliefs square with our actions.

We are very far from acting in accordance with that belief. In the same world in which more than a billion people live at a level of affluence never previously known, roughly a billion other people struggle to survive on the purchasing power equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar per day. Most of the world’s poorest people are undernourished, lack access to safe drinking water or even the most basic health services and cannot send their children to school.

According to Unicef, more than 10 million children die every year — about 30,000 per day — from avoidable, poverty-related causes.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Singer, The New York Times]


US accused of using aid to sway votes in UN security council

The US uses its aid budget to bribe those countries which have a vote in the United Nations security council, giving them 59 per cent more cash in years when they have a seat, according to research by economists.

Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, expressed his frustration at the power the US wields over the UN in his parting speech last week. In a detailed analysis of 50 years of data, Harvard University's Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker provide the clearest evidence yet that money is used by the council's richest member to grease the wheels of diplomacy.

Anti-poverty campaigners reacted angrily to the findings. 'Aid should go to the people who need it, not as a political sweetener,' said Duncan Green of Oxfam. 'In recent years most rich countries have been making progress on this, but showering bribes on developing countries just because they sit on the UN security council is clearly a step backwards.'

Charities often complain that the US uses its aid as a political tool, and this new evidence of what the authors call 'vote-buying' will raise fears about whether the surge of aid money that was promised at last year's Gleneagles G8 summit will be fairly spent.

Ten of the 15 seats on the security council are filled for two years at a time, by rotation. Kuziemko and Werker found that, in years when they have a seat, countries get an average of more than £8m extra in foreign aid from the US.

Countries with a security council seat also receive an average of £500m extra from the UN itself, most of it channelled through its children's fund, Unicef, over which the US traditionally has been able to exert control. President George Bush recently provoked controversy by appointing a close political ally, former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Unicef's chief.

[Excerpt of an article by Heather Stewart, The Observer]


Hewlett, Gates foundations team up

In an unusual partnership unveiled today, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle will donate at least $60 million over the next three years to improve Third World schools.

Under the arrangement, the Gates Foundation will give $40 million to the Hewlett Foundation, which will contribute $20 million of its own money. "It is the first time in our history that we have received a grant from another institution," said Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest.

The Hewlett Foundation already is assisting international organizations and Third World governments to improve education in poor countries. Last year, for example, it joined five other foundations in a $200 million effort to strengthen higher education in seven African nations.

[Excerpt of an article by Steve Johnson, The San Jose Mercury News]


The Consequences of the Death of Empathy

One of the most devastating consequences of unearned privilege -- both for those of us on top and, for very different reasons, those who suffer beneath -- is the death of empathy.

Too many people go to great lengths not to know, to stay unaware of the reality of how so many live without our privilege. But even when we do learn, it’s clear that information alone doesn’t always lead to the needed political action. For that, we desperately need empathy, the capacity to understand the experiences -- especially the suffering -- of others.

The problem with privilege is that it so often leads to incredible arrogance, the belief that one has a right to blurt out in public anything on one’s mind, no matter how uninformed or thoughtless.

Perhaps such arrogance has something to do with seeing the issue from the comfortable position of someone safe in the United States with no direct experience of the struggle and suffering of people [in the rest of the world]..

Most of us in the West live in a country in which he has never had to pass through a checkpoint or justify himself to authorities simply because of the color of his skin, ethnicity, or citizenship.

How can I be so sure of that claim? Because it’s the way I was raised as a white man of European heritage with U.S. citizenship. Comfortable in my privilege, I spent much of my life wondering why so many other people who didn’t look like me complained so much. I understood there was inequality and injustice in the world, but life seemed reasonably fair to me. After all, my hard work seemed to be rewarded, which suggested to me that those not so well off should just work a little harder and stop whining.

Even though I don’t come from the wealthy sector of society, the unearned privileges that I enjoyed had diminished my capacity for empathy. I had access to lots of information, but I was emotionally underdeveloped. I could know things, but at the same time not feel the consequences of that knowledge. That meant I could avoid the difficult conclusion that would have come from a deeper knowing and feeling -- that the inequality and injustice in the world was benefiting me at some level, and therefore I had a heightened obligation to confront it.

As I became politicized later in my life, I realized I not only had to learn more about the world but also had to fight to reclaim an ability to empathize. From there, it moved to the global, by recognizing the poverty and violence suffered by the targets of U.S. power.

Each day we struggle to empathize, we hold onto our humanity.

[By Robert Jensen, dissidentvoice.org]


Clueless in America

While traveling these past weeks in Asia, the following article caught my attention. Allow me to share excerpts with you:

There are millions of Americans who still care about the health of the planet and the rights of other people, and they struggle to be heard above the din of excessive commercialism that overwhelms the senses and causes us to behave like caged rats in a laboratory.

Much of the world sees the average American as detached from reality, isolated from the suffering of others. They see us as self-absorbed, over indulgent, willfully ignorant, and imbued with enormous hubris--characterizations that are difficult to argue against. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with the type.

Most Americans somehow believe that we are an exceptional people--God's chosen few. Deep down, Americans may reason that if we are to continue our lives of excess, if we are to carry on driving our Hummers and other inefficient motorized polluting obscenities, we need an inexhaustible supply of oil. As keepers of the world's strongest military, we have the means of procuring oil anywhere in the world, and that makes it ours.

From the moment of birth onward Americans are conditioned to think that we are not only special, but are superior to everyone else; that we are somehow entitled not only to our share of the world's wealth, but to everyone else's share as well. While we remain primitive Conquistadors in our thinking, we believe that we are the truly enlightened, the envy of the world, and everyone aspires to emulate our shining example.

[Excerpt of an article by freelance journalist Charles Sullivan] More

Clueless in America II

Material goods and services are a poor substitute for inner tranquility and global community. We are a people bombarded by commercial media every waking hour of our lives. Our troubled existence is a matrix of distracting white noise from which the only escape is the calm slumber of death. The result is that few of us have ever had a true waking moment in our lives. We have replaced wild nature with Disney World and have forgotten which is real and which is bogus. We have recreated god in the image of capital and put him on our currency.

Even so, despite the dominant paradigm of capitalism, there are Americans who have escaped the fate of excess to which so many others have fallen prey. There are millions who were not caught in the web of commercialism, who have maintained a spiritual connection to the earth and to the greater biological community, and to the unfathomable cosmos beyond. There are millions of people who still consider a long walk in unbroken wilderness their greatest blessing--as something beyond valuation by capital.

Despite pervasive cultural brainwashing, there are millions of Americans who still care about the health of the planet and the rights of other people, and they struggle to be heard. It is the conscientious ethical fringe that keeps us afloat and provides hope for a better future by operating outside of the mainstream.

[Excerpt of an article by freelance journalist Charles Sullivan]


Billionaire's Donation Saves German University

Klaus J. Jacobs, a German-born billionaire who lives in England and studied at Stanford, came back to his hometown here the other day to announce that he was donating more than $250 million to the International University Bremen.

The gift is the biggest private donation ever made to a German university - so big, in fact, that its only real parallel is the kind of mega-philanthropy that periodically swells the coffers of American universities.

That is precisely the point for Mr. Jacobs and for the newly appointed president of the university. "I hope that this sets a precedent," Mr. Jacobs, 69, said. "There is a lot of wealth in private and corporate hands in Germany. It certainly would be desirable to see more of it going to institutions."

Jacobs said he hoped his gesture would encourage more large-scale philanthropy in a land where it is largely unknown.

Private giving to German universities is limited by several factors, ranging from the lack of a philanthropic tradition to rules that limit the amount of tax-free donations. The biggest hurdle, however, is the state, which has historically been the main financier of higher education.

[Excerpt of an article by Mark Landler, The New York Times]

Muslim Charity Sue Treasury Dept.

In a new challenge to Washington over its closing several American Muslim charities that it has accused of aiding terrorism, the largest such group sued on Monday seeking dismissal of many of the charges.

Lawyers for the group, the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Tex., filed suit in Federal District Court in Dallas two weeks after a federal judge in California called into question a crucial provision in designating terrorist supporters. Since December 2001, the Treasury Department has designated Holy Land and five other Muslim charities in the United States as terrorist supporters, seizing millions of dollars in assets and halting their activities.

No accused charity or any senior officer have been convicted on a charge of terrorism. Some charities have faced no criminal charges.

In a separate case against a Georgia man whom the prosecution identified as a fund-raiser for Holy Land, the defendant pleaded guilty this year to sending money to Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian political party that Washington first designated as a terrorist organization in 1995.

[Excerpt of article by Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times]


Shakira and Nobel Prize laureate fight poverty in Colombia

Shakira joined with fellow Colombian and Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Tuesday to launch a star-studded foundation to fight child poverty in Latin America.

Backed by the two Colombians and other luminaries of entertainment and finance, the Latin America in Solidarity Action — whose Spanish acronym is ALAS, or "wings" — took flight with a promise to tackle poverty that kills 350,000 children each year in the region.

Spanish singer Miguel Bose will serve as executive director of the foundation, conceived about a year ago by Shakira, who also heads the Colombia-based non-profit foundation Pies Descalzos, or Barefoot, which helps the child victims of violence in that South American country.

The ALAS promoters said the foundation doesn't seek to replace other organizations that work with children or eliminate the obligation governments have to eradicate poverty, but to strengthen existing efforts.

[Associated Press]


Bill Gates on life, philanthropy and competition

From an interview with Bill Gates:
Q What problems do you feel need to be addressed on a global scale?
A Well, 12 million children a year die who shouldn't die, so we might start with that one. That's the biggest priority at our foundation: the way that human life is not treated equitably between rich countries and poor countries. In fact, there are 24 infectious diseases that, if we could come up with the right interventions, you can eliminate the vast majority of the difference.

Q Do you see parallels with your work as a global philanthropist and your work with Microsoft? Or are they completely different worlds?
A They're identical in a lot of ways. It's picking smart people who want to dedicate themselves to the problem, taking a long-term approach, being willing to have some failures and come back around and learn from those things; that paradigm of how we plan, how we pull the team together is virtually the same, and it's partly why the foundation has come in on these diseases. We've been able to galvanize a lot of activity very quickly.

[Excerpt of an interview with Bill Gates, by John Boudreau, The San Jose Mercury News]


Meet Melinda Gates, married to Bill

After the birth of her first child a decade ago, Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, left her job as a manager at the software giant and devoted her time to caring for their children and quietly guiding strategy for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic powerhouse the couple founded.

Now that her third child is nearing school age, the 42-year-old Mrs. Gates is stepping into the limelight as an outspoken advocate for closing the global health gap. On Thursday, she plans to announce an expanded initiative with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush's summit on fighting malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that kills one million people a year, mostly children under five.

The Gates Foundation plans to award $83 million in new grants for vaccine research, treatment programs and expansion of its model malaria-control program in Zambia to five more countries. The new grants will bring the foundation's spending on malaria to $765.8 million. The foundation also has given $650 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which also finances malaria control.

The Gateses' new alliance against malaria with the president and first lady -- following a high-profile partnership with former President Bill Clinton -- culminates several years of behind-the-scenes consultation with the Bush White House on its AIDS program. The President's Malaria Initiative, a $1.2 billion effort, aims to cut malaria's death toll in half in 15 countries.

In excerpts from a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. Gates talks about juggling responsibilities for her young family and the foundation's management of its global health program, brainstorming with her famous husband and stepping out of her previously unseen internal work for the foundation and into the public arena

[Excerpt of an article by Marilyn Chase,The Wall Street Journal]


Sad state in Aceh 2 years after the tsunami

Former US president Bill Clinton was in Aceh last week and found that two years after the disaster only 30-35 per cent of the homeless had been placed in permanent accommodation.

About 320,000 people, or 70 per cent, of the Aceh homeless, still await permanent homes.

Of the millions donated to the largest aid agencies for victims, a staggering amount still remains in relief agency accounts.

Moreover, some governments that promised set amounts over five years for tsunami relief and Indonesian development, are behind on those promises.


Darfur and International Human Rights Day

Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will ask Friday how the international community can allow the "horror" in Sudan's Darfur region to continue and say there is more than enough blame to shared all around.

In a speech to be given in New York, Annan says blame can be shared by those valuing abstract notions of sovereignty over human lives; those whose response of solidarity puts them on the sides of governments and not people; and those who fear commercial interests could be jeopardized.

"The truth is, none of these arguments amount even to excuses, let alone justifications, for the shameful passivity of most governments," Annan says in the speech to be given to mark International Human Rights Day.

"We have still not summoned up the collective sense of urgency that this issue requires," said Annan, who pledged earlier this week to make the killings in Darfur his priority until he leaves office on December 31.

Some 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since the rebels took up arms against the central government in 2003, while another 2 million have been driven out of their homes.



Silicon Valley emigres tackle poverty

Vidyashree, a 15-year-old with doleful eyes and a soiled but tidy green-and-white school uniform, works as a servant every morning and evening, making less than $9 a month. In between shifts, she attends school.

The teenager is direct: She does not want to follow the path of her poor parents. She wants out of the slums. She glimpsed her way out when the computers arrived this summer at Government High School, Cotton Pet, courtesy of Silicon Valley's American India Foundation (AIF), a group of high-powered executives who are reinvesting in their native country, and in the process redefining how immigrants give back to their homeland.

Though the teenagers have grown up in India's tech mecca, a city of modern office campuses for countless engineers writing code for the world's elite companies, they had not seen up close, let alone touched, a keyboard before. Vidyashree hopes that learning how to operate a computer, and speak English, will persuade her parents to let her continue school, instead of dropping out to work as a maid and get married.

Vidyashree is the unseen India, the child AIF hopes to help.

"How many people in Silicon Valley think beyond the Indian engineer as far as India is concerned?" asked Lata Krishnan, president of the Santa Clara-based American India Foundation, a 5-year-old philanthropic group. "Nobody stops to think that 500 million people in India live on less than $1 a day and that you have such dire, impoverished circumstances in so many households in India."

Countless Indo-Americans, also known as non-resident Indians, have returned to their homeland with business plans in hopes of participating in an economy growing at more than 8 percent a year. But they also come back to help those whose lives have largely remained untouched by the good times, for those like young Vidyashree

[Excerpt of an article by John Boudreau, The San Jose Mercury News]

Britain’s Military Spending

The British Ministry of Defence quietly secured a £1.7bn increase in its budget.

That's the equivalent of half the annual budget for the Department for International Development. But another billion or two doesn't make much difference when we are already sloshing out £32bn a year on a programme whose purpose is a mystery.

A report by the National Audit Office failed to answer, or even to ask, why we need attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighters and anti-tank weapons. Are the Russians coming? It is preposterous to suggest that we face the threat of invasion, now or in the foreseeable future.

The UK wants to be able to fight either three small foreign wars at the same time or one large one, which "could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US". In other words, our "defence" capability is now retained for the purpose of offence. Our armed forces no longer exist to protect us. They exist to go abroad and cause trouble.

Competition for resources means that the regions which possess them - particularly the Middle East - will remain the focus of conflict. As improved education is not matched by better prospects for many of the world's poor, the resulting sense of marginalisation provides a more hospitable environment for insurrection.

Military spending … diverts money from helping the poor; it generates a self-justifying momentum which stimulates conflict.

[Excerpt of ana rticle by George Monbiot, The Guardian]


Clinton Holds Up Cambodia's AIDS Effort as Model

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton praised Cambodia on Monday for its success in fighting HIV/AIDS, saying other countries should take note of its twin strategy of public education and widespread condom promotion.

"There is a hope that Cambodia can be a model for the rest of Asia and perhaps for the rest of the world,'' Clinton said after a signing ceremony on behalf of his Clinton Foundation with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The impoverished southeast Asian nation has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the region, although infection levels among the adult population dropped to 1.9 percent in 2004 from 3.3 percent in 1998.

It is not known how much HIV/AIDS assistance the Clinton Foundation is giving Cambodia, although Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom said it included testing equipment for at least four laboratories.

[The New York Times]


Arab Nations To Lift Financial Blockade On Palestine

Arab nations hope to lift the financial blockade on Palestine following the US veto on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution which would have condemned Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip, reports AP.

The Arab decision to lift the blockade on Palestine was arrived at following discussions at a meeting of 11 Arab foreign ministers and other senior officials and diplomats at the headquarters of the Arab League in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The Arab League had called an urgent meeting of foreign ministers of its member countries on Sunday to decide how to respond the latest Israeli offensive and the US veto.

The United States had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for its military operations in Gaza. The US says that the resolution was "biased against Israel and politically motivated." The UN draft resolution, proposed by Qatar, called for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Gaza Strip.

Earlier, the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa had strongly condemned the US decision to veto the draft UN Security Council resolution.



Vaccines tell a wider tale of human progress

Global poverty stretches out across an endless plane, so the caravan of progress can sometimes appear stationary. Yet in fact there is advance:

Since 1990 the proportion of the world's people living on $1 or less a day has fallen by a third, and primary school enrollment in developing countries has gone from 79 percent to 86 percent.

One of the most heartening changes -- and the one for which aid donors most clearly deserve credit -- is improved access to medicines in poor countries. The number of people receiving AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa has jumped tenfold in three years, and yesterday the William J. Clinton Foundation announced plans to boost AIDS treatment for children in 62 poor countries.

Meanwhile, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which since 2000 has prevented more than 1.7 million early deaths by supporting immunization programs, pledged to accelerate the deployment of new vaccines.

[Excerpt of an editorial in The Washington Post]


Clinton launches child HIV drug

Former President Bill Clinton and two Indian pharmaceutical companies have struck an agreement to cut prices of HIV and AIDS treatment for children, making the lifesaving drugs far more accessible worldwide, Clinton's foundation's anti-AIDS initiative said.

The companies will supply drugs for HIV-positive children at prices as low as 16 cents a day, or less than $60 a year, according to a statement by the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative.

The deal will enable an additional 100,000 HIV-positive children in 62 countries to receive treatment in 2007, the foundation said.Under the agreement, the two companies -- Cipla Ltd. and Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. -- will supply 19 different antiretroviral formulations for prices about 45 percent less than the lowest current rates for these drugs in developing countries, the statement said.



On social inequality

a 1979 Carnegie study ("Small Futures: Children, Inequality, and the Limits of Liberal Reform", Richard de Lone principal investigator) found that a child's future to be largely determined by social status, not brains.

Consider Bobby and Jimmy, two second-graders, who both pay attention in the classroom, do well, and have nearly identical I.Q.s. Yet Bobby is the son of a successful lawyer; Jimmy's works infrequently as custodial assistant. Despite their similarities, the difference in the circumstances to which they were born makes it 27 times more likely that Bobby will get a job that by time he is in late 40s will pay him an income in the top tenth of all incomes in this country. Jimmy had about one chance in eight of earning even a median income.

Now, more than two and one-half decades later, the projected inequality of fates of Bobby and Jimmy's second grade successors is even greater. For a variety of reasons to be here explored, inequality in the United States has increased to the extent that the gap between the rich and poor is larger now than at any point in the past 75 years--greater than that of any industrialized nation (see Edward N. Wolff's 1995 Top Heavy: A Study of Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America, Twentieth Century Fund, and his "The Rich Get Richer: And Why the Poor Don't").

Federal Reserve figures for 1989 found the wealthiest 1 percent of American households (with net worth of at least $2.3 million each) owning nearly 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and the top 20 percent of American households (worth $180,000 or more) own more than 80 percent.

In 1974, when income inequality was at its lowest point, the top 10 percent of U.S. households had incomes 31 times that of the poorest 10 percent and four times greater than median-income households.

Twenty years later, these numbers had inflated to 55 times the poorest and six times the median.