Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Surprises Among The Big Spenders

The Billionaires Club is a wonderful story. The effort by some of our wealthiest citizens to raise $600. billion for charities is big news, and the message they send in pledging half of their fortunes to worthwhile causes makes the story all the more important.

There are also, however, other equally interesting stories about philanthropy in America. One of those is The Giving Back Fund, a charitable organization that encourages philanthropy--seeking to increase the amount of giving, and seeking to increase transparency in giving.

The Giving Back Fund uses public records to compile an annual list of the most generous celebrities in America The most recent list has same names near the top that surprise me, and, perhaps, may be a surprise to you.

Some of the names I could have guessed would be there--Barbra Streisand, Brad Pitt, Oprah, Michael Jordan. But Rush Limbaugh? Maybe its my dislike for his polarizing commentary, but whatever, I would never have guessed that he would be among the ten most generous celebrities. And how about Mel Gibson? His recent escapades don't exactly portray him as a compassionate, caring person. Yet there he is in the top ten.

Seeing the late Paul Newman on the list is not at all surprising, but seeing him there at number one--after his death--is, for me, a surprise. His giving continues after his death through the Newman's Only Foundation. All net profits and royalties from the sale of Newman's Own products go to the Newman's Own Foundation, and to date, Newman's Own Foundation has given $295. million to charities around the world. Newman's Own food products hit the marketplace in 1982, and Newman's Own was one of the first food companies to use all natural ingredients.

In addition to being a great actor, Paul Newman was an astute businessman, whose business acumen was in evidence long before he started Newman's Own. I came across an article about his early years, which related how--while still in college--Paul Newman opened a laundromat. To encourage students to bring in their dirty clothes, he gave away a free beer with every machine load.

Referring to the act of giving, Paul Newman once said, "The need is great-and so is the effort to make a difference".

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Voice Of Reason

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is the wealthiest politician in America, but he didn't get that way by being Mayor. He had amassed his fortune prior to entering public service.

Michael Bloomberg is also one of the most generous politicians in America. He is a member of The Billionaires Club, and has put in writing his pledge to give half of his wealth to charity--during his lifetime or upon his death.

And there is one more thing worth noting about Michael Blomberg. He just might be the wisest politician in America; for as the debate over the Muslim community center near ground zero rages on, the Mayor continues to keep his cool, while most other politics are ranting and raving for political gain.

Last night, during a dinner party at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor was referring to the current controversy, when he reminded the gathering that "there are people of good will on both sides of the debate". He then added, "We in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims; and above that, we are Americans.....there is nowhere that is off limits to any religion".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding Hope In A Tree....

Yesterday, in the Netherlands, a 170-year old chestnut tree, diseased and almost completely hollow, finally fell down. The loss of a single, solitary tree is seldom a newsworthy event; but this was a very special tree, and its passing will be food for thought for people around the world.

It was Anne Frank's tree. It was her only link to the outside world, as she took refuge with her family in an attic hideaway during World War II. It was the only thing she could see.

Watching the tree go from season to season buoyed her spirit and gave her hope. It was something beautiful to be thankful for. She entered poignant passages in her diary about the budding of the tree just days before a betrayal resulted in Anne and her family being captured by the Nazis, and sent to their deaths in concentration camps.

Anne Frank's diary is beautifully written, and her story is a lesson in living through adversity. If you are not familiar with her story, do yourself a favor, and google Anne Frank. You will come to know why the loss of a tree is newsworthy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beware Of Hitchhikers

There are hitchhikers--and then there are hitchhikers. There's the human variety that you can pick up, and then send on their merry way, somewhere down the road. Then there's the insect variety, which are apt to stay with you a lot longer than you would like.

To be more specific, we are writing today about bedbugs--also known by pest control companies as "the hitchhiking pest". It hops a ride on your clothing, and then stays there long after your clothes have been removed.

Why you ask? What makes a story about bedbugs newsworthy? Why would anyone of sound mind want to write--or read--about bedbugs?

Well, before you scratch us off your list of the blogs that you read, please allow us a few more moments, so as to explain.

We came across a story, which we know, in advance, is not one you will enjoy. But this story contains information that is good to know, and should be passed along.

According to the National Pest Management Association, statistics reveal that the problem with bedbugs has nearly doubled in the last decade. A survey of pest control companies found that 76 percent of those questioned listed bedbugs as the most difficult pest to treat and control.

Now this is where the story gets a little scary. Cleanliness is not a factor in preventing and controlling infestation by bedbugs; and contrary to conventional wisdom, motels are no more likely to have bedbugs, than a five-star resort, or a laundromat, or a movie theater. It is this fact--that bedbugs can be picked up almost anywhere--which gives the bedbug its nickname, "the hitchhiking pest".

Then there is the item in the story that is so surprising, that it had us checking out its accuracy. It's this item, this fact, which makes the story newsworthy.

Bedbugs, which thrive on human blood, nevertheless can amazingly live for up to a year, in semi-hibernation, without eating anything--no blood, no nothing! During that time, a female bedbug can produce up to 400 offspring. Little wonder then that the creepy critters are so hard to get rid of.

Bedbugs do have natural enemies that attack them; but neither of these predators--cockroaches or spiders--is a welcome solution. So what can be done? First, google "bedbugs" to make yourself as well informed as possible on the subject. Then carefully select an insecticide to solve a minor problem. Consulting a pest control company may be necessary for a major infestation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Organ Donation -- A Global Issue

As we discuss and debate social issues, it is interesting and often helpful to look beyond our borders and see what is happening elsewhere. In today's world, it is likely that a social issue getting attention here, is also big news in other countries around the world.

We devoted an earlier column to Australia's efforts to encourage organ donations. The government there has recruited the aid of an organ donor's widow to that end. Because her husband had the foresight to make certain he was properly registered, his organs and tissue are credited with saving TEN lives.

Yesterday, we related how legislation has been introduced in New York state to provide organ donor information--a yes or no--on driver licenses and state I.D. cards.

Following that blog, a reader in India posted a comment to advise us that the government there has already made organ donor information mandatory on all required forms such as driver licenses.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Billionaires Go Public!

Whoa! Hold it right there! Today's column is another installment in what has become a series of stories about "The Billionaires Club"; and in the event you have missed the earlier editions, we would like to urge you to read those earlier editions--before reading this article.

That's easy to do. At the bottom of this article are the words "Labels - The Billionaires". Simply click on to the word Billionaires, and those earlier editions will appear on your screen.

Our first Billionaires column, back on June 18, ended with the suggestion to "Stay Tuned". And just as we thought it would, The Billionaires story has become more and more interesting. It all began with tantalizing tales of hush-hush meetings of America's super rich; and then the story began to catch fire--fueled by the rampant rumors and the wild speculation of a doubting, but all-the-while intrigued national media.

It has all seemed too incredible to be true--billionaires uniting in an effort to raise $600. billion for charity, and in the process changing forever the way that the wealthiest of our citizens look at how, and to what extent, they help those less fortunate. And what makes it all the more unbelievable is the timing--during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction; and all doubts were removed in the last few days--for The Billionaires Club has now gone public! Yep, there he was, Monday morning on CNN--billionaire businessperson and philanthropist, Lorry Lokey--confirming the existence and purpose of The Billionaires Club. A self-made billionaire, Mr. Lokey's philanthropic efforts favor education--financial gifts to schools. And that is something very special about The Billionaires Club. A pledge is made to give away at least half of total net worth, during lifetime or at death; but each billionaire can direct his or her giving to the charity or charities of choice.

There are, at present, 403 billionaires in America. We have seen figures of 24 and 40 as to the number of billionaires who have thus far committed themselves to the effort, and have made the pledge. Among those already on board are some household names, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, and Michael Bloomberg. And how about Oprah, you ask? No--at least, not yet.

In billionaire circles, this philanthropic effort is being called
"The Giving Pledge". In journalistic jargon, this story has legs. Stay tuned