Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How dubious "charities" break your heart to rip you off

He, and thousands like him, are used as bait by "charities."
Ben Affleck pleads for your money to "help our nation's heroes."

    (12/28/14) The music swells and harrowing pictures flow by as TV ads for blown-apart, disfigured, brain-injured war veterans, and trembling, abused, beaten and starved animals flood the airwaves. These are carefully calibrated to move you to tears, and into action. "Just $19 a month," they beg you, or "just 35 cents a day," to alleviate unspeakable suffering. Given how often these ads run, they must have millions of people rushing right to their phones to donate on the spot. It's hard not to -- unless you do your homework. Even knowing as I do that they are exploitative, I can't ignore them. They are profoundly, albeit cynically, poignant. It's almost impossible not to be moved by them, even if you're well-informed.
    The Wounded Warriors Project has mounted a major  campaign on TV in recent weeks to speed up the influx of your hard-earned money. The executive director of this "nonprofit" pays himself more than $600,000 a year, according to its Form 990 tax return, and his deputy about $400,000 a year. Nine other executives haul in between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, plus benefits, pensions and expense accounts. Ben Affleck appears in a new ad for Paralyzed Veterans of America, which spends twice as much money to raise funds (60 percent of its income) as it spends on helping its "heroes."
    Is that where you want your money to go? Especially since billions of your tax dollars are already being devoted to veterans?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS: Helping a friend escape its brutal clutches....

...and soar into the sky, freed from his ravaged body. 

    When I learned that my middle-aged, former high-school friend and debate partner was dying of multiple sclerosis -- alone in a dismal "disabled living" facility, after being bankrupted by the unconscionable cost of his medications -- I was grief-stricken. We all thought he had been essentially cured when we were in college. I called him and begged him to let me do something for him. His response was surprising and intriguing. I could help him, he said,  to "soar peacefully" into The Great Beyond, by giving him a massage, three times a week -- but not the conventional kind. He had been a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation since his late teens, and he wanted our sessions to incorporate an ancient spiritual dimension, as reflected in Ayurvedic medicine. He aspired, contrary to Dylan Thomas's advice, to "go gentle into that good night." I didn't think my emotions or skills were up to the challenge, but he persuaded me to try.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Do you really want to donate to the Alzheimer's Association?

Actually it starts with a $2.7 million CEO.
   (Dec 12, 2014) This year as part of the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, Sunrise Senior Living ( raised more than $500,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association, providing less than 1/538th of its the "charity's" income (but it already has plenty, including a $20 million slush fund).
    The CEO of the Chicago-based "nonprofit" Association pays himself more than $2.7 million annually, according to IRS Form 990 for fiscal year 2013, and there are 70 local chapters which also have generous pay packages. The "nonprofit" spends one fifth of its income on fund-raising.
    In the past 32 years, the Alzheimer's Association has contributed only $335 million to research -- less than 18 months worth of its revenue over that time period

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Our Good Will turned "That" Goodwill into a "Nonprofit" Billionaire

Goodwill is generally regarded as the epitome of brotherly love and generosity.

       (12/11/2014) If you feel a warm-and-fuzzy good will toward Goodwill, it's probably because you don't know the facts. Until recently, when I was investigating Savers Thrift Stores' fraudulent modus operandi (,  I thought of Goodwill as being an honorable, charitable shopping venue where I could have a blast, buying great stuff for great prices, which I've been doing since the late 1970s. Its own website characterizes it as one of the nation’s top five most valuable and recognized nonprofit brands.  In 2012 and 2013, Forbes named it as one of America’s Top 25 Most Inspiring Companies.
    In 2012, Goodwill Industries International, Inc., the national parent corporation for all of the nation's secondhand clothing franchises, paid its president and CEO James Gibbons $729,000.  Dozens of state and local chapters copied the national headquarters' executive extravagance. IRS form 990s indicate their salaries were hundreds of thousands of dollars each (17 of them exceeded a million dollars), essentially for being store managers. It is they, not the umbrella organization headquarters, who determine their pay.
    That's where the profit from your donations goes. The government pays the disabled employees, costing taxpayers about $90 million a year..This is yet another "beloved" charity, such as the Red Cross and United Way, that has shown itself to be fundamentally corrupt and contemptuous of its good-hearted donors. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Bicycle Thief's Anaconda

Now, 70 years later, Mr. Walker was riding the same bike, in the same uniform.

    (Dec 8, 2014) Mr. Walker was 94 years old, and he spent most of every morning, afternoon and evening whizzing around our beautiful neighborhood -- with its 19th century homes and huge trees -- on a beat-up olive-green bicycle and wearing his World War II uniform. When I was out jogging, in the predawn darkness, he was already racing up and down the streets, tossing the Salt Lake Tribune onto people's lawns. Before long, the news would become a soggy mess (having formerly been a scandal- and catastrophe-filled mess) when the sprinklers burst into action.
    "It ain't my fault, baby girl," he told me. "They should be up and eating their eggs and bacon by now. The news waits for no man."
    I loved being called "baby girl," for some perverse reason. Black guys referred to me as "baby" and "sugar" and "mama" when I lived in New York, and it made me feel special, even though they called everybody that (the ladies, anyway). In Utah nobody called you anything. Then I turned fifty, and cool young dudes started calling me "ma'am," even when I was wearing my MegaDeth T-shirt, cargo pants and combat boots. Bummer. I didn't feel "mammy" at all.
    Mr. Walker took a leisurely breakfast break after finishing his paper route, and then he escorted his two little yapping dogs for a brief walk. They yapped even louder, and with a bit of joyfulness thrown in, after they'd "done their business," which I totally related to. "You can't beat a good shit," Mr. Walker told me. "Nothing makes sense until that deed is done." So true.
    But as soon as the pups' evacuatory needs had been met, he was back out there on that bike again, as if he were a patrolman, careening through the neighborhood . His very sweet face was red and splotchy from all that sun exposure. He was a tall, lanky, handsome man.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sex and the Singular Girl

She had the exotic glamor of a foreign film star.
      Stan was the sexiest girl I had ever seen in person. She seemed to belong on a European movie set -- the leading lady in a passionate, complicated, black-and-white work of directorial genius -- not in our high-school Creative Writing class, circa 1965. Another student told me he had once asked her if "Stan" were her real, given name. She just laughed and replied, "Apparently."
    She was a senior, and I was a sophomore. From my assigned seat, I could stare at her as much as I wanted, which was pretty much all the time. She sat side-saddle, just one desk up and to my right. She mesmerized me.  I had never seen such radically arched eyebrows, even in a magazine. They made her appear to be perpetually alert and fascinated.  Her posture was positively regal -- that of a full-blown woman, not a teenager. She had the warmest, most open and gently amused face I had ever seen. Even so, she had no friends.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

StoryCorps' predictable plot

Here we go again: A charming upstart becomes an insatiable Fat Cat.
                                                             "Fat Cat" 2010 by ira upin
    (Oct. 30, 2013) During this past month, StoryCorps -- a favorite feature on NPR -- celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its founding premise was simple: Put two friends or relatives into a cozy, private booth -- along with a microphone and a box of Kleenex -- and magic will happen.
    Magic did happen, according to series creator and CEO David Avram Isay, as tens of thousands of ordinary people experienced an extraordinary emotional intimacy, thanks to this modest format.
    The real magic, though, was in the bank account. Astonishingly, StoryCorps has evolved into a $10 million a year enterprise, with 140 employees. Your tax dollars make up a third of the budget, and foundations pay most of the rest. So how does Isay manage to blow 11.4 percent of the budget on his full-time fund-raising?
    In many respects, StoryCorps -- which portrays itself as a unique medium of heartfelt Truth -- has become an elaborate fiction. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The lie at the core of StoryCorps

(Or is it the con of a lifetime?)
    (Dec. 3, 2013) The lie at the core of StoryCorps is that it enables you to share "profound, intimate" moments with a loved one in a recording booth, and then -- if you sign a consent form -- to have that interview archived for posterity at the Library of Congress. What a lovely, heartwarming idea!
    The truth at the core of this fundamentally dishonest and calculating operation is that the consent form has been deliberately misrepresented to tens of thousands of people, who had no idea that they were signing over the copyright to their stories and photos to StoryCorps, "permanently and irrevocably," permitting the "nonprofit" to use their "sacred" interactions in countless ways. It has already turned people -- many of them dead -- into amusing cartoons, as well as books and DVDs. It wouldn't surprise me at all if StoryCorps employs its "intellectual property rights" to develop an "Our Town"-like theatrical production, or maybe even a rock opera like "Rent," or a multimedia museum exhibit, with your face projected on the walls, and your voice wafting through the gallery. Maybe a caricature of you will appear on T-shirts, tote bags and mugs.You have no say in the matter, as StoryCorps explores new media to exploit your likeness and precious moments. You are the raw material it has dug up to dump into its self-promoting processing plant and to "create more content," as the CEO puts it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Michelangelo Dentist

     (12/1/14) In the waiting room of dentist Saaren Van Wyck is a startling sculpture. which made me wonder if I should have selected a different dentist. It is a four-foot tall bronze, depicting a headless artist with a palette in one hand. The other hand is reaching out with a brush toward an unsettlingly real set of teeth. It is from the "world-famous" Ronadro collection, and it looks as if it defies gravity. The sculpture seems to convey both derangement and vanity. It is grandiose yet tacky. Dr Van Wyck, who I insisted on calling Van, because I'm lazy, told me proudly that he'd bought it in Las Vegas for "only" $5,000.
    As he settled me into the chair of his very attractive, high-tech office, he took my hand.
    "Sylvia, we are embarking on a journey together: The journey of your beautiful smile. It will be a long journey, and we will become very good friends. When I am  through with you, you will be a reborn. I am an artist, and you are a new canvas for me. I am champing at your bit, so to speak."
    Get me out of here: I just came in with a chipped tooth! Van looked into my mouth hungrily, obviously seeing a wide-open realm of terrible imperfections and  imminent catastrophe. Even so, over the next few months, I would come to regard him as one of the most complex and charming characters I have ever met.