Monday, May 21, 2012


Unfortunately, managing how the endowment is invested often leads to conflicts with the stated social purpose of the foundation.

For example, one of the emerging controversies in the world of private philanthropy is the 95-5 question. Foundations are required to give away just 5% of their endowment each year. The other 95% is invested. But invested where? Environmentalists are particularly sensitive to this question because if the money is invested in companies that continue to pollute, you have a very disturbing reality. 5% does (theoretical) good while 95% does demonstrable bad: chasing profits in the same old dirty and irresponsible way.

This issue came to a head when the Los Angeles Times concluded a long investigation into the investment practices of foundations by revealing that the Gates Foundation funded a polio vaccination clinic in Ebocha, Nigeria, in the shadow of a giant petroleum processing plant in which the Gates Foundation was invested.

The Los Angeles Times report states:
But polio is not the only threat Justice [a Nigerian child] faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it “the cough.” People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Say what you like about the need to invest wisely for the future of the foundation, but this is prima facie evidence of a deep moral conflict not just at Gates but in all of private philanthropy. The simple fact is that most boards actually don’t know if their investments and their missions align. When pushed on the matter, most foundations respond as Gates did: investments are the foundation’s private concern and no business of ours.

But the problem remains, when organizations receive funding, what confidence do they have that this happy money is not itself the expression of a distant destruction? (Perhaps your funder owns stock in British Petroleum. Of course, for the people of Louisiana, that’s anything but distant.) When philanthropy proceeds without acknowledging this reality, it proceeds without conscience. It proceeds pathologically. It destroys the thing it claims to love. And it makes the organizations it funds complicit.

The people who live within the culture of wealth can’t do the things that grassroots environmentalists want them to do without feeling that they are dying. They can’t fund the creation of ideas that are hostile to their very existence; they can’t abandon control over the projects they do fund because they fear freedom in others; and they can’t give away all of their wealth (“spending out”) without feeling like they’ve become the Wicked Witch of the West (“I’m melting!”). Instead, philanthropy clings to the assumption of its virtues. Its very being, it tells itself, is the doing of good. It cannot respond to criticism because to do so might lead it to self-doubt, might lead it to honesty. And that would be fatal.

The great paradox of environmental philanthropy is this: How do institutions founded on property, wealth, and privilege (in short, plutocrats) seek to address the root source of environmental destruction if that source is essentially the unbridled use of property, wealth, and privilege? And yet when we ask that foundations abandon their privileges and simply provide funding so that we activists can do our work without hindrance, what the foundation hears is a request that they will their own destruction. Not unreasonably, they are bewildered by the suggestion and unwilling to do so.

There’s an old saying on the Left that goes something like this: Capitalism accepts the idea that it will have enemies, but if it must have enemies it will create them itself and in its own image. In fact, it needs them in the same way that it needs the federal government: as a limit on its own natural destructiveness.

The periodic Wall Street meltdown aside, the most dramatic problem facing capitalism for the last thirty years has been its tendency to destroy the very world in which it acts: the environmental crisis in all its manifestations. The response to this crisis has been the growth of the mainstream environmental movement, especially the Environmental Protection Agency and what we call Big Green (the Sierra Club, et. al.). But, it should go without saying, Big Green was not the pure consequence of an up-swelling of popular passion; it was also the creation of philanthropic, federal, and corporate “gift giving”.


As with the Environmental Protection Agency, Big Green is not so much an enemy as a self-regulator within the capitalist state itself. The Sierra Club is not run by visionary rebels, it is upper management. It really does have effects that are beneficial to the environment (many!), but in no way are those benefits part of an emerging new world that is hostile to the industries that are the most immediate origin of environmental destruction.

Consequently, a given industry may attack environmentalism when it interferes with its business, but the plutocracy as such is dependent on Big Green and will regularly replenish its coffers so that it may stay in existence, never mind the occasional annoyance for an oil company that wants to spread its rigs and pipelines across delicate tundra.

Capitalism has taught environmentalism how to protect it from itself. Federal and philanthropic funding allows Big Green to play a forceful national role, but it also provides the means for managing and limiting the ambitions of environmentalism: no fundamental change. Sadly left out of negotiations between government, industry and environmental NGOs are the communities of people who must live with whatever decision is reached. As Paula Swearengin of Beckley, West Virginia, commented after House Republicans stripped the EPA of its authority to refuse a permit for yet another project for mountain top coal mining, “The people of Appalachia are treated like we’re just disposable casualties of the coal industry. We live in the land of the lost, because nobody wants to hear us.”

Will environmental philanthropy ever convince the federal government to limit the ability of the coal industry to destroy mountaintops in West Virginia? Maybe. But will they seek to curb that industry’s constitutional freedom to deploy capital in their ruinous “pursuit of happiness”? No. Absolutely not. In the aftermath of the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, no one understands the importance of environmentalism better than the stockholders of BP. They will be very happy for environmental groups to put pressure on the oil industry to provide more safety for deep sea drilling. But they are most unlikely to welcome the end of deep sea drilling itself, and putting an end to the reign of corporations is utterly beyond the pale.

Philanthropy and the organizations it funds are what they are. They are not in the revolution business. They are in risk management.

Being a world-renowned chef means not having to grapple with the ethical consequences of your decisions:
Supporting local agriculture and food traditions? Far too narrow a goal, they said.

Chefs’ obligation to help save the planet? A lofty idea, they agreed, but the priority is creating great, brilliant food.
Turns out that sustainability is for suckers:
“With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?” Mr. Keller asked. “The world’s governments should be worrying about carbon footprint.”


“Is global food policy truly our responsibility, or in our control?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

“I agree completely, and it is a brave answer,” came immediately from Mr. Aduriz, who also draws on a global palette of ingredients to amplify the northern Spanish ingredients that surround him. “Of course I buy as many things as I can nearby,” he said. “But to align yourself entirely with the idea of sustainability makes chefs complacent and limited.”
Keller is certainly right in noting the need for concerted national and international actions; these problems won't solve themselves on the basis of voluntary actions at the personal scale. But just because personal actions won't solve a collective action problem like climate change or biodiversity loss, that doesn't absolve individuals from doing the right thing.

There is absolutely nothing brave about choosing to ignore the impacts of our consumption choices. How agricultural workers are treated, how livestock and other animals are cared for, the consequences of overfishing, the impacts of pesticide and herbicide use, the carbon emissions associated with various foods, where food is grown — these and many more broader sustainability issues should absolutely concern any chef and restauranteur. To choose to ignore these issues is not brave, it's cowardly and pathetic. Moreover, limiting yourself to sustainable options need not make a chef complacent; in fact, any true artist can thrive under imposed constraints and limitations. Thus, Keller and Aduriz offer a false dichotomy in suggesting one must choose between being ethical and creating great food. It's not an either-or situation; one can choose to be both ethical and a great chef.

Over at Grist, Twilight Greenaway comments further on what the attitude of Keller means to those who practice sustainable methods, and how dependent they are on support from chefs like Keller and Aduriz:
[T]here are a number of small-scale farmers, ranchers, and artisans willing to live on next to nothing because they believe there’s a better way. Many of today’s most sustainable farmers live without insurance, buy almost nothing, and find ways — by hook or by crook — to live on what they could otherwise earn driving buses or cleaning offices. And — thanks in part to the chefs and eaters who support them — they’ve succeeded at maintaining a small but growing front against monocropping and factory farms.

The NYTimes editorial page catalogs the myriad ways in which the GOP is waging a War On Women:
On Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, Republicans are attacking women’s rights in four broad areas.

ABORTION On Thursday, a House subcommittee denied the District of Columbia’s Democratic delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a chance to testify at a hearing called to promote a proposed federal ban on nearly all abortions in the District 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill flouts the Roe v. Wade standard of fetal viability.

Seven states have enacted similar measures. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that bans most abortions two weeks earlier. Each measure will create real hardships for women who will have to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy before learning of major fetal abnormalities or risks to their own health.

These laws go a cruel step further than the familiar Republican attacks on Roe v. Wade. They omit reasonable exceptions for a woman’s health or cases of rape, incest or grievous fetal impairment. These laws would require a woman seeking an abortion to be near death, a standard that could easily delay medical treatment until it is too late.

All contain intimidating criminal penalties, fines and reporting requirements designed to scare doctors away. Last year, the House passed a measure that would have allowed hospitals receiving federal money to refuse to perform an emergency abortion even when a woman’s life was at stake. The Senate has not taken up that bill, fortunately.

ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE Governor Brewer also recently signed a bill eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood. Arizona law already barred spending public money on abortions, which are in any case a small part of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. The new bill denies the organization public money for nonabortion services, like cancer screening and family planning, often the only services of that kind available to poor women.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature tried a similar thing in 2011, and were sued in federal court by a group of clinics. The state argues that it is trying to deny money to organizations that “promote” abortions. That is nonsense. Texas already did not give taxpayer money for abortions, and the clinics that sued do not perform abortions.

Last year, the newly installed House Republican majority rushed to pass bills (stopped by the Democratic-led Senate) to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X. That federal program provides millions of women with birth control, lifesaving screening for breast and cervical cancer, and other preventive care. It is a highly effective way of preventing the unintended pregnancies and abortions that Republicans claim to be so worried about.

EQUAL PAY Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the epicenter of all kinds of punitive and regressive legislation, signed the repeal of a 2009 law that allowed women and others to bring lawsuits in state courts against pay discrimination, instead of requiring them to be heard as slower and more costly federal cases. It also stiffened penalties for employers found guilty of discrimination.

He defended that bad decision by saying he did not want those suits to “clog up the legal system.” He turned that power over to his government, which has a record of hostility toward workers’ rights.

President Obama has been trying for three years to update and bolster the 1963 Equal Pay Act to enhance remedies for victims of gender-based wage discrimination, shield employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with co-workers, and mandate that employers show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Last month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, designed to protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse and bring their abusers to justice. The disappointing House bill omits new protections for gay, Indian, student and immigrant abuse victims that are contained in the bipartisan Senate bill. It also rolls back protections for immigrant women whose status is dependent on a spouse, making it more likely that they will stay with their abusers, at real personal risk, and ends existing protections for undocumented immigrants who report abuse and cooperate with law enforcement to pursue the abuser.

Protest and dissent have been criminalized in Quebec.

Aaron Bady on Quebec's Law 78.

Nick Kristof discusses the must-read Chicago Tribune series on toxics and the chemical industries efforts to lie and deceive. (In a sane world, the Tribune's series will be awarded a Pulitzer for investigative reporting.)

After two years of research, we learned that when it comes to reducing your carbon emissions, what matters most, in order of importance, is:  what and how you drive, the energy you use at home, and what you eat.”

The American public, despite what the GOP would like you to believe, still supports environmental protection.

Tell the truth about the environmental destruction caused by fracking and risk be sued by Big Oil.

Why killing Bambi is the right thing to do.

The secret to Tokyo's transit success: moving beyond transit-oriented development to embracing rail-integrated communities.

How far can you travel on 30 minutes of public transit?

Cheap gas limits CCS.

A strong economy requires a strong middle class.

The victims of our failed commitment to desegregation.

A photographic journey through the Central Valley.

Amanda Marcotte on the odious group of characters supporting a watered-down, pro-abused VAWA: “Prior to this year, even Republicans by and large felt that tacitly endorsing moderate levels of wife-beating was a bridge too far, but since their new motto is, "Bitches: Fuck 'Em", I suppose this sort of thing was inevitable”.

The perfect example of the GOP's anti-intellectualism and proud embrace of ignorance: eliminating the Census's ACS.

The House GOP sends the Constitution through the shredder yet again, all in the name of the War On Terror.

Arizona endorses malpractice in the name of religious liberty.

Arizona: Land of Ignorant-Ass, Racist Public Officials.

Changing attitudes towards gays across the world.

A belated apology for believing in a cure to gayness.

Where innovation really occurs.

The Beasties and the OED.

Celebrity food scraps.

A hilarious summary of Salem, MA's attempts to ban saxophones.

For my fellow dying-whale-sounds aficionados: the new album from Sigur Rós is streaming at NPR.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Pancakes!

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