• Eugene Lang: For his spur-of-the-moment generosity that changed countless lives for the better

    Eugene Lang, who just died at 98, was a very successful investor who rose from poverty.  But that is not what makes his story so remarkable.

    It was something he began, on an impulse, in June 1981, when he spoke to a class of sixth graders at a Harlem Public School.

    The 61 students were black and Hispanic, and poor–as Mr. Lang himself had been at their age.

    He began by telling them how inspiring Martin Luther King had been, how important hard work is, and other familiar observations about how to make your own life and others’ better.

    But he quickly realized that these kids were on another planet and would simply ignore an old, rich white man, even though his background was as impoverished as theirs.

    He had grown up in a $12-a-month cold-water flat in New York, graduated from high school at 14, and went to work in a restaurant. A regular customer there talked with him, realized how brilliant his waiter really was, and arranged a college interview. Lang was accepted to one of America’s best colleges, Swarthmore, and given financial aid to make it possible for him to attend.

    As he spoke to the kids in Harlem, he must have seen a chance to pay back that regular customer a half-century later.

    So, on an impulse, he told the class something remarkable.

    He said he would give each of them a college scholarship if they were admitted to a four-year college.

    Stunned silence.

    Then, after the principal told him that only one or two would make it to college, he began to do more.

    He “adopted” the class and the school and began contributing in ways that would make them ready and eager to take advantage of his offer.

    With Lang’s help and the students’ commitment, the success rate was much higher, around 50%. As the New York Times says in his obituary:

    At least half of the original 61 sixth graders — they called themselves Dreamers — enrolled in public and private colleges, although The Daily News later reported that some students had misunderstood the offer as a promise to pay tuition even at expensive colleges and were bitter. Of those who passed up college, Mr. Lang often found them jobs.

    “I know I’m going to make it,” Aristides Alvarado, then a 20-year-old junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told an interviewer in 1989. “And someday I’ll be big — real big — and pay the tuition for my own class of Dreamers.”

    Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers at the time, observed: “Lang put up a lot more than money. He put himself on the line, too.” –New York Times

    Lang founded the “I Have a Dream Foundation” and established year-round enrichment programs. He persuaded many rich friends to open similar programs or contribute to his or others.

    Over his lifetime, he gave $150 million to charities, including $50 million to his alma mater, Swarthmore, and another $20 million to the New School for Social Research in New York.


    Eugene Lang: a true mensch.

    May his memory be a blessing.


  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, March 20

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Darwin at work: “Selfie-crazed teens keep falling through frozen Central Park pond” (New York Post)

    Another group of kids attempting to take a selfie on top of some ice at The Pond in Central Park plunged into its icy waters, officials said.

    Luckily, they were able to swim ashore and then walked away from the scene, multiple witnesses told the NYPD. –New York Post

     North Korea’s Test of Rocket Engine Shows “Meaningful Progress,” South Says  (New York Times). North Korea certainly agrees.

    North Korea said on Sunday that it had conducted a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine, which its leader, Kim Jong-un, called “a great event of historic significance.” –New York Times

    Comment: I expect the US to ratchet up the pressure significantly over the coming year.  Yes, the Chinese have been reluctant to put the screws to Pyongyang, mainly because they fear the regime could collapse. But the Chinese must be growing concerned themselves. Why? Because

    • The US is not rolling over anymore
    • The Japanese and South Koreans are certain to begin arming themselves in defense
    • Something rarely mentioned: The Koreans are historic enemies of China, and Beijing might be worried about which way those missiles might point

     Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch hearings begin Monday. 

    Washington Post headline suggests the expectation: “Gorsuch seen by man as smart, modest nominee for High Court” 

    Comment: He should sail through. But first . . . the Senators will preen for their political bases. Meaningless theater. 

    Then, the Senators will try to get him to say how he would decide controversial cases. He won’t. They know he won’t. Again, meaningless theater.

    Cable TV will feature more meaningless blather.

    Democratic Senators from deep blue states will likely vote no. D’s from purple states probably won’t want to vote against an obviously well-qualified, mild-mannered nominee.

    They’ll save their powder for the next nominee.

     Chance the Rapper: making contributions to his community

    The story is here, at Bustle.

     Bad news for brick-and-mortar retailers as shopping moves online. No simple fix for declining foot traffic and lower profit margins, says the Wall Street Journal, as chains scale back.



    ♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Randi Belisomo
    for the Chance the Rapper tweet


  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, February 24

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Last year, Trump skipped the premier conservative event, CPAC

    The year before, he was boo’d

    Now, he is the hero and will be become the first President to address it in his inaugural year

      Richard Spencer, a founder of the alt-right movement, expelled from CPAC after conference organizer denounces “fascist group” (Washington Post)

      Vice President Pence to CPAC: “We’re in the Promise-Keeping Business” (NPR) Steve Bannon said exactly the same thing.

     Everybody who assassinated their brother, please raise your hand 

      Malaysian police find nerve agent on Kim Jong-Un’s dead half-brother. (USA Today)

    Comment: To undertake such a risky act is a sign of the regime’s paranoia and internal instability. 

     SEVEN people killed yesterday in Chicago. SEVEN (Chicago Tribune)

    Here’s My Comment

     “Thank you, Jack”  Tribute to a Marine who “served his country quietly, died for it violently (at Iowa Jima), and had a small part in the storied history of the United States Marine Corps.” Bob Beattie, writing eloquently about the Uncle Jack he never knew (Medium.com)

    Comment: What a touching story. My friend, Jim Vincent, was named for an uncle he never knew, another soldier who died fighting in World War II. Jim’s uncle died in the long battle for Monte Cassino in Italy. Jim’s daughter, Ruth, researched that battle and found some of her great uncle’s buddies, who were alongside him when he fell.

     University of Michigan Students Demand “Black-Only’ Space”  (Pajamas Media)

    Comment: I am perfectly fine with African-American students forming their own clubs and societies and including (or excluding) whomever they wish.

    That is what a robust civil society should permit. But it is wrong to ask the state of Michigan to do it officially and to pay for it.

    It is also perfectly appropriate for anyone who doesn’t like a private club’s rules to protest them. Lots of all-male clubs were changed that way. Their corporate members resigned when the memberships became controversial and the clubs either changed or didn’t, as they chose.

    Yes, we can have all these “private” arrangements regulated by laws and statutes, but, in doing so, the arrangements cease to be private, cease to be voluntary associations. That is a huge loss, even if the goals of the laws and statutes are admirable.

     “ABC 7 suspends [sports anchor] Mark Giangreco for ‘lunatic’ Trump tweet” (RobertFeder.com)

    Comment: So, after sending this tweet, who exactly is the simpleton?


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
     for the University of Michigan story
    ◆ Robert Feder, outstanding reporter on Chicago media, for the Mark Giangreco tweet


  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, February 6

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles” (New York Times)

    The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

    This account of the early days of the Trump White House is based on interviews with dozens of government officials . . . At the center of the story, according to these sources, is a president determined to go big but increasingly frustrated by the efforts of his small team to contain the backlash. –New York Times

    Comment: Some of the new administration’s problems are the policies themselves. Others are the failure to vet them carefully before rolling them out. Still others are failures to think through the details of implementation.

    Some, such as communications, vetting, and implementation, should improve as the administration learns the ropes, assuming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is given scope to fix these issues. 

    Initial reports were that Trump dismissed the early problems as minor glitches that were overblown by a hostile media. Recent reports are that he now sees the problems as more serious–and more damaging. The media is hostile, of course, but the Trump administration’s serious mistakes have given reporters plenty of grist.

    I assume the President is getting candid feedback from VP Pence, as well as Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They will surely tell Trump that massive screwups, like the immigration mess and thin-skinned tweets, can imperil his big initiatives on taxes, regulations, and health care. If the President doesn’t know that already, he will learn it soon . . . the hard way. (Charles Lipson comment)

     Republicans and Trump supporters attack news reporting as biased

    One scorching, well-documented attack on media coverage is Clarice Feldman’s column: The Press Eunuchs Ratting Their Cups (American Thinker)

     “Trump’s Continued Defense of Putin Confounds Republicans(Washington Post)

    He seemed to equate the United States with its adversary when pressed by host Bill O’Reilly, who said: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”

    “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said in the interview, which aired Sunday before the Super Bowl. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

    Trump’s comments came even as his U.N. envoy, ­Nikki Haley, on Thursday condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine and as both the Senate and House intelligence committees launched investigations into alleged hacking by Russia of the U.S. election that the intelligence community believes was intended to benefit Trump.–Washington Post

     Good economic news from Germany: Factory orders surge, due to demand for capital goods (Bloomberg)

    Comment: The German economy is Europe’s driver. Strong performance there not only helps Germany, it helps all its trading partners. Good economic news is particularly welcome for Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose popularity has plummeted because of her immigration policies.

     Google “Home” apparently doesn’t like being talked about on TV  (USA Today)

    Google used the Super Bowl to plug its Google Home connectivity service, but the TV commercial apparently confused the systems in homes of those who already have it. For them, Google Home went whacko.

    Those who already have Google Home took to Twitter to complain that it interfered with their units. Apparently, the home systems heard the TV broadcasts calling its name, and it became befuddled. –USA Today

     China is now the world’s largest producer of solar power  The smog problems in Beijing are legendary. And the country is constantly building more coal-fired power plants. But it is also adding solar capacity. Non-fossil fuels currently account for 11% of Chinese energy–and solar only 1%–but Beijing planners hope to triple renewables over the next 15 years.

     Congratulations to NFL players, Eli Manning and Larry Fitzgerald, honored with the league’s Walter Payton Award for their charity work. Manning, who starred at Ole Miss, is the NY Giants’ Quarterback. Fitzgerald is wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. The generosity of these players–and many others–sets a standard for the rest of us.



  • Parents volunteer to help Chicago school kids; teacher’s union blocks them

    It breaks your heart.

    Chicago’s public schools are broke–and broken.

    Overburdened by excessive pension obligations (because city politicians deferred payments for so long), the city has asked the state for money.

    The state is broke, too, so the Chicago schools won’t get anything close to what they need.

    That leaves the schools with serious budget gaps. That, plus declining school enrollments, has led to some layoffs for teachers, administrators, and support personnel.

    Among those laid off: the new librarian at the Pritzker Elementary School, who replaced a long-serving librarian who retired.

    The loss of Pritzker’s librarian galvanized the parents, who want to support their children in a quality school.

    The parents did a wonderful thing: they pitched in and volunteered to staff the library in rotating shifts.

    That exactly the kind of civic engagement we need in cash-strapped cities.

    The Teacher’s Union Says Volunteer Librarians Will Hurt Their Members

    Teachers’ unions constantly say, “it’s all about the children.”

    It is not.

    It is all about the union’s members. That’s what unions do, just as corporations maximize profit.

    If the children’s interests overlap those of union members, that’s great because it builds political support.

    If not, tough luck for the kids.

    That’s what happened at Pritzker Elementary.

    “NO WAY we’re gonna let volunteers run this school library,” said the Chicago Teacher’s Union. (DNA Chicago)

    The Chicago Teachers Union filed a grievance against the school because the roster of 40 volunteers would be taking a union-based job, Pritzker Principal Joenile Albert-Reese confirmed Monday, one day after the conundrum made national headlines when Pritzker parent Michael Hendershot penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the issue.

    The WSJ op-ed is here.

    Why was the librarian laid off? Because the school’s pupil-count was a bit low, which meant the school received less city and state money than expected.

    The Union Does What Unions Do

    The Teacher’s Union does exactly what unions are designed to do. It fights for its members.

    That’s true even if their members’ interests are directly opposed to the best interests of children, their parents, and taxpayers.

    Parents and taxpayers are supposed to defend themselves, and in our political system, they have every opportunity to try.

    Because teachers unions are well-organized and powerful, however, because their members’ livelihoods are at stake, they have compelling reasons to mobilize politically. In city after city, in state after state, they have persuaded politicians to back their position, not that of disorganized parents and taxpayers.

    The results are predictable. In big cities with entrenched teachers unions, schools are designed around the main goal of adult employment, union employment. That showed up in stark relief at Pritzker Elementary.

    When you hear the teachers unions say “it’s all about the poor kids,” remember that 47% of Pritzker students are poor. (Data from the WSJ article.)

    When you hear the teachers unions say “it’s all about the minority kids,”remember that 47% of Pritzker students are minorities.

    When you hear nothing at all from the unions, remember they are thinking, “it’s all about us.”

    Again, that “me, first” approach does not make them different from other organizations, whether they are manufacturing unions or profit-making businesses.

    The question we as outsiders should ask is whether, in helping themselves, they are helping or hurting us.

    The Political Connection

    The nexus between unions and politicians shows up across the country, but it is particularly strong in deep blue cities, the last redoubt of unions.

    But even in blue cities, things are changing.

    The pushback against politically-connected teachers unions is growing because the financial costs have been so high, the educational results so mediocre.

    This pushback will soon gain a powerful ally in Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s newly-designated Secretary of Education.

    That is exactly why Senate Democrats will resist her confirmation with every bone in their body (excepting, of course, their backbone).

    For children who want a better education, that fight is one of the most important in the new Congress.


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip to
    ◆ Joe Morris
     for highlighting this story


  • A Very Quiet Hero of Philanthropy

    The New York Times calls him the “James Bond of Philanthropy.” 

    Nearly five years ago, Charles F. Feeney sat in a cushy armchair in an apartment on the east side of Manhattan, grandchildren’s artwork taped to the walls, and said that by the end of 2016, he was going to hand out the last of a great fortune that he had made.

    It was a race: Mr. Feeney was then 81, and Atlantic Philanthropies, a collection of private foundations he had started and funded, still had about $1.5 billion left.  …

    He [has] contributed $8 billion to his philanthropies, which have supported higher education, public health, human rights and scientific research.–New York Times 

    His name doesn’t appear on buildings. In fact, it was only a quirk in the laws that forced disclosure of his name at all.

    He made the money himself.

    Now, 86, Mr. Feeney and his wife live in a rented apartment in San Francisco. They have retained $2 million to live out their lives.

    But all those billions they had have gone to make others’ lives better.

    I stand in awe.


    Opinionated Footnote about the New York Times:

    (1) The NYT deserves kudos for finding this inspiring story and reporting it.

    (2) But the New York Times deserves brickbats for sandwiching this story between two gratuitous swipes at Donald Trump, one to begin the report, one to end it.

    I am not defending–or attacking–Trump here. But this story has nothing, nada, zip to do with Donald Trump. Not one damned thing.

    To plonk him into the story is simply editorializing in a news report, something the NYT does with such regularity that they probably no longer notice they are doing it.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, Dec. 12

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ If Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is picked to be Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, lots of Democrats and some Republicans will push back hard, says the Wall Street Journal.

    Republican hesitation over Mr. Tillerson marked the first sign of division between congressional GOP and the Trump team over its likely cabinet picks. All of President-elect Donald Trump’s other nominees so far appear likely to be confirmed by the Senate.

    Mr. Tillerson, a seasoned deal-maker whose company has a long history of doing business in Russia, is drawing unease from senators on both sides of the aisle. Republicans can likely afford to lose only two GOP votes next year in the new Congress when it meets to consider Mr. Trump’s nominees. –Wall Street Journal

    Some reservations, like those of John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), are to be expected. But Marc Rubio (R-FL and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) also raised a warning sign. “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir,’” he tweeted, “is not an attribute I am hoping for” in the next secretary of state.

    But it might be an attribute Trump is looking for, or at least doesn’t care much about. Tillerson is a very experienced deal-maker with extensive international experience, and he has run the biggest company in the world extremely profitably.

    Clarice Feldman’s weekly column is always smart and incisive. This week’s is no exception. Her target is large philanthropies, which, she argues, are often engaged in openly political agendas, pay senior officials rich salaries, and operate with little public oversight, despite their tax-exempt status. (American Thinker) She is particularly critical of the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers, and Pew Charitable Trusts.

    She proposes 5 strategies to rein them in:

    1. Impose greater oversight of their tax-exempt status at both the state and federal levels
    2. Stop their tax-exempt grants for political lobbying
    3. Make them pay out endowments more rapidly
    4. Require them to state their charitable aims more clearly and then stick to those aims
    5. Demand transparency

    Comment: These are characteristically thoughtful ideas. Most seem sensible, and all are worth debating. It’s obvious (to me) that these foundations should not be used for private enrichment and political activity at taxpayer expense. Do that on your own dime. But I have one reservation as we debate these issues. We need to prevent the government from crushing independent elements of civil society, and that includes foundations.

    Private foundations, like other elements of civil society, stands between citizens and their government, largely outside the state’s control. The more control government has over these foundations, beyond preventing fraud, the more like they are to squash the organizations’ independence and direct them to support government policy. That is exactly how Lois Lerner and her comrades were using the IRS. They controlled the spigot of tax exemption, giving it to charities whose purposes they approved and denying it to those they disliked.

    Any changes, like those proposed by Feldman, need to be sure to cut out the cancer and not the healthy tissue of civil society.

    ◆ The Anti-Defamation League is one of the most prominent voices in the Jewish community, particularly in the fight against discrimination, not when it affects Jews but also when it affects blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, and others. For years, it was ably run by Abe Foxman.

    Now, controversy is swirling around his successor, Jonathan Greenblatt, who has deep roots in progressive politics and has steered the ADL in a radically different direction from Foxman.

    Writing the NY Post, Alex VanNess, levels serious criticism against Greenblatt’s leadership of the ADL. Under him, VanNess says, the ADL has devised school lesson plans that promote Black Lives Matter “despite BLM’s support for BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction against Israel) and open hostility toward Israel.”

    Greenblatt has thrown the ADL into the fight in favor of Obamacare, even though it has no clear relationship to his organization’s missions.

    He has supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), running to head the Democratic National Committee, as a “man of good character,” despite recordings of Ellison saying Israel and the Jews control US foreign policy.

    VanNess says Greenblatt won’t change and the ADL should toss him out.

    ◆ Is Turkey Still a Democracy, asks the International Business Times, as Pres. Erdogan seeks to expand his powers still further?

    Comment: The answer to IBT’s question contains only two letters.


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
     for the Anti-Defamation League story
    ◆ Belladonna Rogers for Clarice Feldman’s column


  • Giving back: Dak Prescott sets a great example

    ◆ One of the best things about this season is its emphasis on giving.

    That begins, of course, with gifts to family and friends. But, happily, it does not end there.

    America is filled with great charities that focus on the truly needy, whether they are poor, sick, hungry, lonely, or isolated.

    The best charities do that without spending too much on salaries or collecting donations and with close attention to what recipients need and what actually works.

    Our country benefits in many ways beyond the immediate help given to the needy and the good feelings of those in a position to help. We benefit because we come together voluntarily to give. In doing so, we fulfill our moral and civic responsibilities–and, in the process, create a dense, supportive network of social connections.

    dak-prescott1◆Celebrities and star athletes are in a special position: they can set an example for the rest of us. A prominent, positive example.

    One young man who has been doing so is Dallas Cowboys star quarterback, Dak Prescott. He did so when he starred at Mississippi State. And now, on a national stage, he is doing the same thing.

    NBC in Dallas-Fort Worth has this headline: Dak Spotted Shopping for Salvation Army/NBC 5 Angels. Here’s a picture of Dak and another of the Cowboys team at a Dallas children’s hospital, an annual tradition.


    Congratulations to Dak Prescott and a Cowboys team that knows the real meaning of “giving back.”

    ♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ David Wayne Henley
     for this story

  • People who make a difference: Irving Fradkin, Founder of “Dollars for Scholars” program

    The obituary of Irving Fradkin, an optometrist who died recently at 95, tells a story of how selfless efforts by ordinary people can help thousands.

    Here’s the opening paragraph of Fradkin’s obituary in the New York Times:

    In 1957, Irving Fradkin, an optometrist, declared his candidacy for the School Committee of Fall River, Mass., a struggling former mill town. He had been struck by how few of his young patients planned to attend college, mostly because they could not afford it. . . . He was defeated.

    “I’m sorry for you, Dr. Fradkin, but I’m even sorrier for the students,” he recalled his receptionist’s son’s lamenting. “You lost an election. We lost a college education.” –NYT obituary of Dr. Irving Fradkin

    irving-fradkinHe began the program at his card table at home. The next year, he gave out $5,000 to a two dozen local high-school seniors, enough to give them significant help with college tuition (which was then quite modest).

    One of the early recipients in Fall River later headed the Environmental Protection Agency. He remembered Dr. Fradkin–who loved to raise money for this cause–standing on a local street corner, wearing a graduation cap-and-gown, asking for money. Another told the story of Dr. Fradkin being rushed to the hospital after a heart attack. “The emergency room supervisor told him not to worry. After all, she said, she had gotten through nursing school with his program’s help.” (New York Times)

    Six decades later, what began on Dr. Fradkin’s card table has grown into Scholarship America, which has given more than $3.5 billion to 2,200,000 students. That’s not all, it has helped another 500 local affiliates which have award more that $600 million, and it advises still more donors who want to support students’ college expenses.

    This son of poor Russian immigrants once said of his work, “I have fulfilled the dream of democracy.”

    Indeed he did.


    Note to readers:

    I have filed Dr. Fradkin’s life story under the important category, “Civil Society.” It is these private, voluntary associations–standing between citizens and the state–that are foundational to American democracy. They are the Little Leagues, churches and synagogues, duck-hunting clubs, and reading groups that knit us together.

  • Trump: Very little charity, No transparency

    0 No tags Permalink 0

    The Washington Post entitles the article: Trump’s campaign says he’s given ‘tens of millions’ to charity, but offers no details and no proof.

    Here’s the money paragraph, or rather the lack-of-money paragraph:


    Thanks to Daniel Drezner, a penetrating analyst of international politics at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who tweeted the Post story.