Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

The Charity Shuck

Is charity is just a cheap way to try to deal with intractable problems?

If you go to the Wikipedia entry for Carl Keyes, you read the following:

Carl Keyes is an internationally recognized humanitarian and founder of several non-profit organizations who has orchestrated some of the most significant emergency relief efforts in the history of the United States. Colin Powell, US Senate and the President of the United States formally recognized his first response efforts after the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina as Carl Keyes' efforts were inserted into the Congressional Record of the United States.

What a guy! A former construction worker turned minister, he has single-handedly created some of the most effective charities to respond to some of the worst disasters in world history!

Oh, did you see the recent (September 24) AP news article?  It's not mentioned at the Wikipedia site. It's titled: "Tragedy meant big money for NY minister."  Huh, wonder why they left it out of his Wiki entry?

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— Keyes diverted large sums donated for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina into his cash-starved church, then used charity and church money to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal credit card bills and other debts, documents show.

— He used large church donations from a wealthy supporter to pay his sons' private college tuition.

— The minister used a big donation meant for one of his charities to clear a mortgage on his family's house, according to an accountant who told Keyes he was quitting, in part because of the transaction.

I bet that has never happened before!  Oh, do you remember Hale House, the legendary Harlem charity that took in abandoned, sick children, often AIDS victims?

In 1985, Mother Clara Hale’s home for drug-addicted children was among the most famous charities in the world. In January of that year, President Ronald Reagan invited Mother Hale to be his guest at the State of the Union address. He called her an “American heroine” and awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a civilian, for her work to save, love, and nurture drug-addicted and other abandoned babies and young children. Celebrity supporters at the time included Princess Diana, Rosie O’Donnell, and Sarah Ferguson. Hale went on the Phil Donahue show, and private donations from groups like the National Mother’s Day Committee poured in.

After Mother Hale died, the charity was taken over by her daughter, Dr. Lorraine Hale, who held a doctorate in early childhood development, making it a family business. "She immediately began planning a major expansion of the home’s services, with new branches to be built in drug-plagued cities up and down the East Coast, and embarked on a prodigious fund raising campaign that netted more than $40 million in less than eight years."

So where did all the money go? According to the Better Business Bureau, last year Hale House spent less than half its money on services for the children in its care. The attorney general’s office reports that money went to support a stunning variety of perks for Hale, including a $450,000 collection of African American art and a posh executive suite that she was careful never to let reporters see. (Former staff members claim she would tell them she wanted “to set an example for [the] children so that they see a better life.”) Despite her $200,000 salary, she admitted to borrowing over $100,000 from the charity to give her Scarsdale home a facelift.

Do you see a trend here? Not all charity waste is due to stealing; sometimes charities just flush money down the toilet. An extremely appealing and well-regarded charity in recent years has been CURE, which builds needed hospitals in Afghanistan and elsewhere: At its Web site, we are told, "CURE's hospital in Kabul is transforming the lives of children with disabilities and their families." Look at the picture of the beautiful little girl at the Web site! God Bless Them!

Whoops, according to Al Jazeera (who trusts them?):

Al Jazeera gained access to one such facility, Jumhoriat Hospital, built by Chinese contractors.

But it is so badly built that it is too dangerous to open to the public, even after three years of completion. Afghanistan's health ministry is now trying to find private companies who are willing to run hospitals.

To fix Jumhoriat Hospital, it would cost $44.1m, which is almost 1/3 of the entire national Afghan annual health development budget of $135m. And this budget excludes the salaries of medical professionals.

With a $60m price tag to rebuild Jumhoriat Hospital - the cost to tear it down and start again would not be that much more.

Okay, a few problems.  But what about the greatest charity of them all? You know, the one created by the celebrated Greg Mortenson, whose miraculous story of wondering in out of the Himalayan cold to found 170 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was recounted in the runaway best seller, Three Cups of Tea.

Uh-oh, don't tell me. . .  An investigation by 60 Minutes and writer Jon Krakenauer found that Mortenson had "fabricated parts of his amazing backstory [no, not that great backstory!]. Worse, 60 Minutes visited 30 of the schools supposedly built by his Central Asia Institute and found half empty or unsupported by the nonprofit. More stories of ghost schools emerged after the program aired."

This article in Slate draws the following important lesson:

The Three Cups of Tea scandal has led to soul-searching and anger among charitable givers and recipients. Nonprofits are scrambling to better account for their dollars. Aid workers in the region are grumbling about the crass imperialist narrative that helped popularize CAI, with a heroic First World dude swooping in to rescue Third World kids.

You mean, no one had figured this out before, after Hale House et al.?  But Slate draws a more important conclusion:

But the most important lesson of the scandal, and one that hasn't gotten any attention, is something entirely different. It is a lesson that applies not just to Mortenson's organization but also to charities that are much-better run: Stop building schools. Or rather, it is a mistake to devote much money or attention to constructing physical school buildings. Throwing up structures is simple. Educating children is a much more complex, expensive, and necessary goal.

You mean charity is just a cheapshit way to try to deal with intractable social and economic problems we (us and society) are simply unprepared to deal with head on?  That will take some getting our heads around!

Okay, dear reader -- I've been gentle with you up to now.  Now come the really bad charities.  You know, starting with the Catholic Church, which Bill Maher (damn him!) describes as a worldwide operation organized for the purpose of procuring children for priests!  (Read his disgusting comments, which were rightly attacked by Congresspeople and others.)

But there have been some remarkable instances of Catholic charitable schools and homes which, well, did you read the Ryan Report, which described a large swath of Irish schools and orphanages whose very purpose seems to have been humilitating and sexually abusing poor children?  I know, that's old news.  Likewise, the story of Father Bruce Ritter, the American Catholic priest who founded Covenant House for homeless teeenagers, and who was toasted and supported by the leading Catholic philanthropists in America.  Ritter ripped Covenant house off financially to lead the high life.  But, most crucially, he used the charity to recruit young men to sexually abuse.  What a guy!

Thank God that could never happen today. Father Ritter died in 1999 -- most people who stay or eat at the Maritime Hotel and its restaurant in New York (which has replaced Covenant House) have no idea of its past.  Whenever I eat there I ask the server what the history of the building is -- none has ever heard of Father Ritter.  So we've forgotten all of that.

But, then did you hear about the new British scandal -- about Jimmy Savile, Britain's Dick Clark?  He used his position on the venerable BBC as host of "Top of the Pops" to molest scores -- it may turn out to be hundreds -- of young women.  You know, just like Jerry Sandusky -- they both were very charitable men:

Like Sandusky, he buffed his reputation by throwing himself into charity work. Like Sandusky he seems to have used his philanthropy both to identify vulnerable children for his personal sport and to inoculate himself against suspicion. The good deeds helped earn Savile two knighthoods, one bestowed by the queen, the other by the pope. He was Sir Jimmy, confidant — or at least photo-op accessory — of royals, prime ministers, even Beatles.

Wow -- charities as recruitment tools for child sexual predators!  And what a guy -- everyone knew and loved Jimmy, like they did Jerry!

Let's close with a different sort of infamy.  EVERYBODY in America loved Lance Armstrong, the amazing bicycle racer whose string of seven Tour de France victories put him at the top of his sport -- really, of American sports.  Especially when he continued this skein after overcoming cancer.   And, especially, when he used his experience with the disease to start a major foundation in his name.  Armstrong's foundation uses him as a model, along with the catchword, "livestrong," to help and inspire cancer victims and survivors.

Well, what if he used this all simply to cover up his doping, and to force other riders on his team (the United States Postal Service team no less!) to join him?  (By the way, don't steroids -- which were some of the drugs used -- cause cancer?)  In short, it turned out that American hero Armstrong was "an infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully."  I imagine Armstrong consulting with his doping and publicity consultants: "Lance, you need to develop a large charity so people won't see what you're really up to.  Then you can attack anyone who questions your motives or actions as a degenerate."  "Perfect," Armstrong smiled.

Let me introduce you to Emma O'Reilly, who was formerly racing team America's masseuse and, let's face it, bag woman. For O'Reilly, "a young, onetime electrician from Dublin, the chance in 1996 to be a soigneur for the United States Postal Service cycling team was an extraordinary opportunity."  She quickly learned that her job was to procure, transport, and administer drugs to the team under Armstrong's forceful direction.  After she quit, O'Reilly was reluctant to speak of the matter.  Finally, she was prevailed on to answer questions for a book, one which was excerpted in a British newspaper.  Here was the result:

Ms. O’Reilly said Mr. Armstrong demonized her as a prostitute with a drinking problem, and had her hauled into court in England. Ultimately, a legal settlement was reached, and Ms. O’Reilly tried to pick up her life, sometimes talking about Mr. Armstrong and drugs, but to little notice.

And why would anyone pay attention to a small person like O'Reilly, against a great champion, and one who founded such a remarkable charity!  Armstrong (like Ritter, Hale, and all the others before him) makes The Master look like a Sunday School teacher. 

What a guy!

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Need help with an addiction—see Stanton's Life Process Program.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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