Charitable Giving, Charlatan’s Self-Waged “War” on Christmas, Christian Extremism, Student Debt, Slave-Like Workers of Global Supply Chain, Apple, Online Shopping…

Charitable Giving, Charlatan’s Self-Waged “War” on Christmas, Christian Extremism, Student Debt, Slave-Like Workers of Global Supply Chain, Apple, Online Shopping…

Jonathan Gillis
23 December 2011 (Updated 24-31 December 2011)

Diversity of views and tolerance is often healthy. The manufactured illusion of diversity and tolerance is injurious. Arguably, through mass media, the public, and private, education system, and so forth, western dominant culture achieves the illusion of diversity and tolerance, not only of perceptions and attitudes, but of lifestyles as well. Even the alternative cultural lifestyles considered most “deviant”, across the social spectrum, are branded and marketed through neo-corporatism. The various genre and niche sub-cultures exist under the dominant culture, and often augment, and are augmented by, the dominant culture to varying, albeit marginal, degrees. Insofar as basic morality goes, anyone threatened by diversity, and intolerant of others’ beliefs and so forth, perhaps implies, among other possible implications, a defensiveness which might be interpreted as a lack of confidence in one’s own convictions.[1] This might be attributable to the reality, that to a great extent, many do not arrive at given convictions of their own volition or compunction, but rather, we are inculcated into perceiving an issue, or problem, one way or another within the boundaries of the permissible prefabricated assertions, of which we choose to accept or reject. For instance, if I accept the premise that human beings do not have a right to receive medical care, quality at that, rather they have the “privilege” of receiving such care provided they are able to afford to pay for it, I am less likely to favor universal medical care. My conviction implies that corporations have the right, to make a profit, over, or at the expense of the health and general wellbeing of a flesh and blood person. Perhaps, were I to find myself without medical coverage, without the money to pay, and in need of care, my perception would be quite different, because, among other reasons, my perception would be adaptively based on personal experience––not on a highly centralized, budgeted corporate production of “reality”. What of a society, in which some, if not many people are persuaded to retain firmly held beliefs not through self-education, critical thinking, or life experience, but through their role as spectator of the corporate media to which they subscribe? In certain circumstances, divisiveness might be a form of abuse, or even oppression. Though healthy dissension, and opposing liars, oppressors, etc., is certainly necessary, emotive dictators, and their followers, in combination with corporate media domination, i.e. Fox network and the rest, engage in particular diversions within the social conditioning apparatus as a whole, which, like bulk pop-media generally, is void of any relevance as concerns the real world.  

Holiday Spirit?

The insistence of some, perhaps many, Christians in preemptively offering a “Merry Christmas” to any and everyone whom they might encounter in their consuming, purchasing, working, and visiting travels is rather trivial. Though from there, a lead-in to matters of far greater importance might be followed. Firstly, it seems, when one celebrates Christmas, in a nation-empire mostly comprised of Christians, (so-called, (perhaps the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ, and Christianity generally, might proffer a different classification, for some, or many, of the actual meaning of not only the day, for it has been so commercialized, but of also the basic moral theme of Christianity itself, namely the direct support of and for the poor, for they have been so marginalized[2], with their destitution being derivative of the corporate culture), one is customarily expected to offer a “Merry Christmas” to everyone else, regardless of religious convictions if any, and expect the same to be returned. When in public at large, and in doubt of one’s religious convictions, if any, if at all the notion of which even registers, a kind “Happy Holidays” or similar inclusive greeting suffices, for it is the less narcissistic way to offer seasons, or winter solstice greetings. Perhaps this observation, albeit a trifle triviality, is too generalized and an over-simplification, though it is certainly noticeable for it occurs regularly every time winter approaches.[3] From a perspective which, to articulate the least, follows no organized religious doctrine or practice, one might simply embrace the Yuletide esprit, and put such banalities, and unsurprising observations aside. In doing so, it would be illustrative to mention a bit about the influx of donations to charitable organizations.

The disparity between charitable giving by the rich and poor is interesting. One would think that proportional to income and asset levels, the rich would donate more money to organizations that care for the poor; for the rich generally so despise the so-called “welfare” state. Profit over people and their well-being is not a natural phenomenon, nor should it be acceptable. In fact, it seems, that the more wealth one has, the less likely they are to care about, and thus give, to counter the plight of the poor, a plight which is directly linked to the corporate-state, of which, of course, they are the elites of. Judith Warner writes in the New York Times that going back decades, it has been understood that “upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.” This disparity tends to increase proportional to wealth. Even though the poor have no money to spend, proportionally, they typically outspend the rich in donating money, and do not itemize these taxable deductions. “The rich do have money to spend. Those who itemize [which most rich do] receive a hefty tax break to make charitable donations, a deduction that grows more valuable the higher they are on the income scale… [Rich] Americans [presumably] pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition, and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor”, i.e., with such social programs as universal healthcare.[4] “Empathy and compassion” appear “to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits [prove] to be in increasingly short supply” the more wealthy people are.[5]

The authors of a 2011 study published by the American Psychological Association “suggest that attention to and recognition of suffering is a prerequisite step before compassion [presumably meaning donating money] can take place.”[6] In other words, to give an example, if the rich do not view poverty as a problem, or presuppose a disingenuous definition of poor, essentially claiming that the bar, that is to say the federal poverty level, is set too low––as some right-wing commentators, or derisorily titled “experts on poverty and inequality” and education, of the Heritage Foundation assert––there will be a higher likelihood that the rich will not be imbued with monetary compassion for the poor. Incidentally, “[i]f the wealthy donate $10,000 to charity and are in the combined 50% federal, state and local tax bracket then their effective sacrifice is $5,000 and society as a whole, without its advice and consent, subsidizes the rest.”[7] Uwe E. Reinhardt, economics professor at Princeton, explains that “[i]t follows, then, that your $10,000 charitable donation cannot properly be called private charity, even though it is so reported in official statistics on charitable giving in the United States. Rather, it is a mixture of private sacrifice and tax-financed public subsidies.”[8]

In early December the Boston Globe reported that “[a]ccording to a study by the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, nearly two-thirds of all Americans gave to charity in 2008. American charities took in nearly $300 billion in 2010”, a comparable figure to 2009. [9] Many of the common non-profits, so-called, such as Red Cross, operate on a multi-billion dollar budget. In the case of Red Cross, CEO Gail J. McGovern’s six figure salary of $995,718, is a drop in the bucket for the behemoth.[10] On September 8 2006, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was fining the American Red Cross $4.2 million “because the charity has repeatedly failed to handle and collect blood supplies properly.” Before this punitive measure, the Red Cross had been penalized “$5.7 million in previous fines that the F.D.A. [had] assessed the American Red Cross for failing to follow basic blood-safety rules.”[11] It is worth mentioning, the Red Cross charges hospitals for the blood freely donated by volunteer donors. This is how they said they would pay the $4.2 million fine, using money from the profits of the sale of people’s volunteer blood––somewhat ironic.[12]

It is important to note, that 75%, or $227.41 billion, of the total 2009 charitable financial contributions was made by individual donors. Unsurprisingly, corporations accounted for a pathetic 4% of total contributions, while 8% or $23.80 billion was due to bequests. It’s rather striking, that in death, individuals donated double the amount of money to charitable organizations in 2009 than corporations. For the past 55 years, religion has received the largest share of total contributions, with 33% in 2009. Education received the second largest share, accounting for 13% of all contributions, while non-individual grant-making foundations took in the third largest share at 10%. Human services, such as direct emergency care and supplies, took in 9%, health was at 7%, while environmental and non-human animal charitable giving amounted to 2%.[13] Considering merely the environmental crisis, it is rather revealing that charitable giving to institutions of religion, among most other recipient organization categories dwarfs that of environment and nonhuman animal charity recipients.

Ostensibly, “a good part of private donations in the United States would be more accurately described as voluntary private financing of civic institutions that benefit all members of society. Museums, educational and religious institutions, public parks and monuments and so on come to mind.”[14] If charity means, or is to mean, the collection of money and other voluntary contributions to afford direct help for those in need, arguably an essential social function, such as feeding, sheltering, and medically caring for the poor––is supporting the institutions mentioned above, arguably non-essential, truly providing charity? Reinhardt conveys that “the word private in ‘private charitable giving’ is not completely accurate. A more accurate term would be ‘private donations coupled with involuntary, tax-financed public subsidies.’”[15] One wretchedly immoral aspect to charitable giving, and the totalitarian societal structure generally, is that over 45 million people are impoverished. “While many Americans have always given generously to help people, many others — including individuals with the deepest pockets and foundations with billions in assets — make donations of a different sort: building museums to house their art collections; underwriting new wings in hospitals or halls named for them at their alma maters; using their money and influence to sway public policy and influence political campaigns; or seeking to solve problems in distant lands rather than in their own backyards.”[16] Philanthropy is a multi-billion dollar business, yet overall, it seems that charitable giving is utilitarian strictly in the sense of maintaining status quo and cultural edifices, including educational institutions, which the elites directly or indirectly claim proprietary of, through the redistribution, or redeployment, of a tiny fraction of their amassed wealth. Meanwhile, the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates that 22% of all children in the United States live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.[17] One case in point is that of Karla Washington, who “worries how she will afford new school uniforms for her five-year-old daughter.” Washington’s $11,000 a year salary at a part-time university job, “must cover food, rent, health care, child care and the occasional splurge on a Blue’s Clues item for her only child.” In Washington’s words: “My biggest fear is not providing my daughter with everything that she needs to be a balanced child, to be independent, to be safe, to feel like she is of value”.[18]

“War” on Christmas?

The fanaticism which routinely occurs each holiday season with increased fervor, at higher echelons of programmed, or manufactured, culture, is a matter that, while a toxic faux, is perhaps more important than seasonal greetings. “In just the last few weeks, the Heritage Foundation[19] billed an Agriculture Department initiative to raise revenue for tree farmers as a ‘Christmas Tree Tax’; Fox News said that standard federal safety warnings were proof that the government wants to ‘tell you how to decorate your Christmas tree’; and conservative activists criticized Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, for daring to consecrate a ‘holiday tree’—rather than a ‘Christmas Tree’—at the Statehouse.” Separation of Church and State, an ambiguous and arbitrary notion as it is, apparently be damned. The “American Family Association continued its annual effort to denigrate companies that substitute ‘Happy Holidays’ for ‘Merry Christmas.’”[20]

Similar lunacy abounds. Tantrums like these are pathetic, albeit high-funded distractions from real problems that should actually matter to anyone with an iota of decency and consciousness. Perhaps the fundamentalist Christian right should look in the collective mirror of its own, namely that of some parents in their community/networks whom abuse and kill their own children, undoubtedly interpreting and implementing suggestions of “child rearing”––which have in many instances amounted to nothing short of outright child abuse, and in some cases, murder––in the heavily questionable book authored by Michael and Debi Pearl, entitled, To Train Up a Child (1994).

Slate magazine reports that Larry and Carri Williams, a Skagit County, Wash., couple, have been charged with killing their adopted 13-year daughter. “Carri and Larry Williams starved Hana for days, put her in a locked closet, shower room and forced her to sleep outside in the barn in the cold. She wasn't allowed to use the bathroom in the house, instead a porta-potty behind the barn. In addition, Hana was struck daily with a plumbing tool, a tube with a round ball on the end…When police found Hana, her naked body—30 pounds underweight—was wrapped in sheet in the backyard.”[21] KING 5 news reported that “[i]n the charging documents, Carri Williams talked about how much she disliked her two adopted Ethiopian children”, Hana, and a 10-year-old boy. In December 2010, “Hanna was forced to watch the family celebrate Christmas from outside and only let in when her parents had guests.” The William's “biological children and adopted son have been removed from the home.  In the documents, a book entitled ‘To Train a Child Up,’ was referenced.  [Skagit County Prosecutor Richard] Weyrich [said] it includes punishment techniques the Williams' mimicked.”[22]

In early 2010, Alicia Bayer reported in the Examiner, that “Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz of Paradise, California, are accused of murdering their 7-year-old adopted daughter during a ‘discipline session.’ The couple is also charged with the torture of their 11-year-old adopted daughter and cruelty to a child for signs of bruising discovered on their 10-year-old biological son.” The similarities of this case with that of the one mentioned above is obvious; “[t]he parents allegedly used a 15 inch length of plastic tubing used for plumbing to beat the children, a practice recommended in the book ‘To Train Up a Child’ by Michael and Debi Pearl of ‘No Greater Joy Ministries.’”[23]

In yet another case, “[f]ive years after 4-year-old Sean Paddock was suffocated to death [in 2006] by his adoptive mother, a civil court jury found that his adoptive father [Johnny Paddock] was also responsible for the boy's death.” That Paddock was found civilly, and not criminally, responsible for Sean’s death is of little consolation, especially considering “Paddock wasn't in the courtroom to hear the jury's findings. He didn't attend any of the trial, nor did he send a lawyer. That left lawyers for the Children's Home Society [the agency through which Lynn and Johnny Paddock adopted Sean] to defend him.” On the other hand, “Lynn Paddock was convicted of first-degree murder in 2008 and will spend the rest of her life in prison.”[24] It appears that, “both the Paddocks found merit in the Christian child-rearing advice of Michael and Debi Pearl, who advocate using PVC piping, ‘10 licks at a time,’ to reprimand a [non-behaving] child.”[25] In 2006, Salon Magazine reported, that “for believers in child-‘training’, causing the child palpable harm is antithetical to their mission. Child Training Resources offers this disclaimer with its ‘chastening instrument’: ‘Though each instrument includes instructions for proper use, we highly recommend parents train themselves by reading and discussing Biblically-based parenting books together. Child Training Resources stands firmly against any and all child abuse and is not responsible for misuse of this product.’”[26] Needless to mention, tragically there are many similar cases of sadism which has led parents whom are followers of Michael and Debi Pearl, and others like them, some even more extreme––who it should be mentioned, are arguably responsible to an extent in these heinous acts––to abuse and murder their biological and adopted children.

Another real problem, to take a different tract, is student debt. Kristin Rawls, indebted to Sallie Mae and Citibank for $100,000, attended, and reported on, the Evangelical Christian Wild Goose Festival earlier in 2011. Rawls wrote an article in December, explaining how when she contracted lupus (systemic autoimmune disease), her life was profoundly derailed, and she had to drop out of graduate school. Rawls retroactively expressed what she would have liked to say to the attendees during the summer Wild Goose festival. “You insist on praying for people like me, but you haven’t the slightest idea that I walk among you. I have conversations with you. I hold my own in arguments. I call you out on your bullshit. I am unlucky, but I don’t think ‘downtrodden’ describes me very well. I’m not downtrodden. I’m pissed off. So, no, I do not want your prayers. I do not want an invitation to your church, and I’m not interested in discussing ‘the poor’ as if they are some kind of abstract concept. The things you had to say—the things you’ve built your careers on—are irrelevant in the face of actual poverty. It was shameless, the way you paraded a few token ‘poor people’ around for kicks.” Rawls continues, in her justifiably combative response to Evangelical paternalism, stating “I cannot eat your prayers, and it’s a struggle to buy food these days…You are not helping me. You do not speak for me. I am the new poor. I wasn’t supposed to be. I did all the right things, but we’re seeing the systematic erosion of the bourgeoisie here in America, after all. It started with home foreclosures.”[27] Incidentally, an estimated two-thirds of college seniors who graduated from a four-year college with a B.A. in 2010 “had student loan debt, with an average of $25,250 for those with debt, up five percent from the previous year” according to a November 2011 report by the Institute for College Access & Success.[28] When we think of student debt, most of us are inclined to think this implies almost exclusively to college kids. Reuters reports that “[e]ducational borrowing is up for every age group over the past three years, but it has grown far more quickly among those between 35 and 49, according to the analysis of more than 3 million credit reports”.[29]       

Yet another real matter, pertaining to the real world, of far greater importance than seasonal greetings or Christmassy corporate advertisements, deserving of far more attention and attendance of action, are the unseen workers in the Asian (and Latin American, and so forth) supply chain that enable the continuation, in the interim, of the average U.S. imperial way of life. Being the beneficiaries of sweatshop, or slave labor, while cruelly rationalized within the doctrinal regime, is relational, or an extension of the fundamental basis of industrial, and post-industrial, civilized way of life. Our entire way of life is based on violence, on the use of nonrenewable “resources”, such as oil, the hyper-exploitation of renewable “resources”, such as marine life, and is thus non-sustainable, as well as, arguably, thoroughly morally wrong. Since culturally, we perceive human animals, as well as nonhuman animals, and other forms of life such as trees and rivers as resources to exploit and waste, we rationalize our exploitation, use, and waste, and thus think virtually nothing of our benefit from such exploitation, use, and waste; contrary to perceiving life forms, be they human animals, nonhuman animals, trees and so forth, as say, for instance, a tree, or a particular tree, and entering into a mutual relationship with them. 

In a culture of cyclical consumption and perpetuate waste, buying merchandise, most of which is made in horrific conditions by the slaving poor in countries largely subjugated by so-call “Free Trade” agreements, and so forth, might be considered patriotic. The entire economy of the U.S. is based on oil after all. There is something extremely ironic about U.S. citizens waving souvenir American flags that were made in China. There is also something to be said of buying items for loved ones, clothing, toys, tools, and so on, much of which is made in sweatshop factories in China, as well as many other countries, under the supposition that to a certain extent, giving gifts has become an indicator of measurable or at least identifiable affection, not to mention social status and cultural enrichment. “U.S. shoppers flocked to malls and websites during Thanksgiving weekend, spending a record $52.4 billion.” Consumer spending, “which accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy”, is a large part of why the dominant way of life is perversely unreasonable, to say nothing of the immorality of it all.[30] The growth at all costs doctrine, which is to say the unrestrained, influentially self-possessed capitalistic market principles essentially founded by the revoltingly lauded Chicago economist Milton Friedman, has stridently exploded “world economic growth [which] has been nothing short of astonishing in recent decades.” Tim Jackson, U.K. economist “notes that the global economy has doubled in size in the last quarter century, at the same time ‘an estimated 60 percent of the world's ecosystems have been degraded.’”[31] 

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