• 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.


  • 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

  • Trump: Very little charity, No transparency

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    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.