Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: New York Review of Books

Philanthropy – the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday October 8 2014.

I am not sure who originally came up with the phrase “Philanthropy – the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I first encountered it in an article published in October 2012 by the novelist Howard Jacobson on the subject of Jimmy Savile. Savile used his reputation as a philanthropist to sexually abuse children. I recently encountered a use of the phrase in a book by James O’Toole: Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle’s Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness, published in 2005. James O’Toole is the Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver. O’Toole shows how a range of people embarked on quests that led them closer to achieving a good life based on awareness and values rather than riches and fame.

Aristotle: “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

 

I recently became embroiled in an argument on Facebook about Otara and Odels. Someone who thought he was supporting my point of view wrote that Otara should be spending her philanthropic funds on people rather than dogs. Compassion is not a zero-sum commodity. Anyone who loves animals is likely to have empathy for people. People who are cruel to animals – GW Bush, Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred West, Prabhakaran- are likely to be cruel to people. A friend of mine who is engaged in practical hands-on animal welfare was sceptical when Otara embarked upon Embark, predicting that it was a publicity stunt. I chided her for her cynicism but there has been criticism of how Embark operated. We will see how it goes now that Otara has more time to personally supervise it.

 

Noisy Philanthropy

 

I do have issues with celebrity philanthropy. The late Paul Newman raised $150m for various good causes. He explained a dilemma: “One thing that bothers me is what I call ‘noisy philanthropy’. Philanthropy ought to be anonymous but in order for it to be effective, you have to be noisy. Because when a shopper walks up to the shelf and says, ‘shall I take this one or that one?’ you’ve got to let her know that the money goes to a good purpose. So there goes all your anonymity and the whole thing you really cherish”.

 

Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics

When I was working with my cynical friend on an animal welfare campaign, her daughter had the brilliant idea of approaching ethical philosopher Peter Singer for support. Peter Singer has a motto: “make a difference”. He certainly made a difference to the way I live my life. Way back in the 1970s, I read articles by Singer in the New York Review of Books that made me see things in a radical new light. His subsequent books Practical Ethics and Animal Liberation reinforced the message of the articles. Singer argued that the boundary between human and “animal” is arbitrary. He popularized the term “speciesism”, to describe the practice of privileging humans over other animals. I was rather disappointed when Singer asked me to remove his name from my mailing list. He was not interested in giving painless direct help for the welfare of animals by simply lending his name.

Outsourcing Compassion

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Singer argued that it is morally indefensible that some people enjoy surplus abundance while others starve. When one is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase comfort will not have the same moral weight as saving another person’s life. Singer claims to donate 25% of his salary to Oxfam and UNICEF. He acknowledges that there are problems with ensuring that charitable donations are effectively spent.

In Joseph O’Neill’s latest novel, The Dog, the main character, X, is concerned about the working conditions of construction workers in Dubai. He deals with his concern by paying 37% of his gross salary to Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. This sounds like a big sacrifice but it is a comfortable way for X to delegate his conscience. O’Neill makes blatant the bad faith of Singer’s thinking. Singer’s method of giving means that it does not matter whether the money does anything to relieve suffering or poverty but it certainly boosts the giver.

 

Bono – Mrs. Jellyby in a Ten-Gallon hat

Novelist Paul Theroux has noted the similarity between the secular saint known as Bono and the philanthropic Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’s Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby tries to save starving Africans by financing coffee growing, making pianoforte legs for export and bullying people to give her money for those purposes. Theroux wrote in the New York Times on December 15 2005: “There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment.”

Bono says at U2 concerts, “We don’t want your money, just your voice.” Bono wants you to give the government your money in taxes and spend it for him. Bono’s ONE organisation wants Western governments to spend tax dollars on development and aid programmes. Many voices, those of William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo the most eloquent among them, have argued that aid does more harm than good to the countries receiving it.

Theroux taught in Malawi as a volunteer Peace Corps teacher 45 years ago and knows the country well. Despite large amounts of financial aid, Malawi “has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.” “I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens.”

In 2008, Bono’s ONE Campaign raised $14,993,873 in public donations — of which only $184,732 (or just over one percent) was distributed to charities. More than $8 million went to salaries for executives and employees at ONE.

In 2008, New Internationalist readers chose Bono as their Artful Dodger of the year. For many years, Bono’s home country of Ireland had not taxed the income of “artists”. Then the Government decided to set a cap of $200,000 a year – a fortune for most artists, but not for U2. Ireland is still a corporate tax haven and Bono would have done well enough had he decided to stay home. The Netherlands offered a more attractive deal, because of its link with offshore tax-havens in the Antilles. It seems that Bono wants ordinary people to pay through their taxes for his causes but does not want to pay tax himself.

Geldof

 

I was one of those caught up in the mass hysteria generated by Live Aid in 1985. I responded to Bob Geldof’s exhortations to pay up to save the starving Ethiopians. Live Aid turned Geldof from a has-been pop performer into a global charity superstar. Not everybody was impressed. World Music champion Andy Kershaw wrote of the Wembley concert: “It became clear that this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent didn’t see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer.”

Alex de Waal estimates that the relief effort may have cut the death toll by between a quarter and a half. However, critics say that NGOs were complicit in the Ethiopian government’s “resettlement” of 600,000 people from the north while enforcing the “villagisation” of three million others. Donor governments and mainstream relief NGOs turned a blind eye while government officials raided refugee camps. This was a totalitarian scheme masquerading as a humanitarian effort. The conservative estimate of those dying en route is 50,000. MSF’s (Médecins Sans Frontières) estimate is double that. Asked about allegations that 100,000 had died in the transfers, Geldof said, “in the context [of such a famine], these numbers don’t shock me.”

Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s poorest countries. Whilst making a fortune for charity Geldof has also shown an aptitude for making himself rich. One of his companies, Ten Alps Communications is Britain’s fastest growing media, entertainment and marketing company. The company deals with some unsavoury allies, creating “branded environments” for BP, Glaxo Smithkline and Microsoft, and even the British Foreign Office. When Geldof tried to relive Live Aid with Live8, Nestlé, BAE Systems and Rio Tinto sponsored some of the concerts. Nestlé has been accused of benefiting from the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa by selling more milk substitute products; Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining corporation, has been condemned for human rights and environmental abuses; BAE Systems, according to Mike Lewis of the UK’s Campaign against Arms Trade, is “fuelling conflicts across Africa”.

Many people involved in the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign were not happy with Geldof. He chose to hold Live 8, without consulting the MPH organisers, on the same day in 2005 as the main MPH demonstration in Edinburgh, stealing most of the media coverage. Geldof praised Tony Blair and GW Bush for saving millions of African lives and promoted the Washington Consensus of free trade, foreign direct investment and privatisation.

 

 As with Live Aid in 1985, Geldof was criticised for not including any African musicians. At the final press conference that concluded the G8 summit in Gleneagles, the South African activist Kumi Naidoo acted as spokesperson for Make Poverty History gave the coalition’s verdict that: “The world has roared, but the G8 has responded with a whisper.” Geldof turned on Naidoo in front of the assembled media, attacking his statement as “a disgrace”. African civil society representatives went on television afterwards to make public statements dissociating themselves from Geldof’s remarks.
Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was a practical philanthropist. He knew how to make money and he knew how to use it effectively. Carnegie established charitable organisations that are still active nearly a century after his death and he set the template for other philanthropists through his well-written thoughts on the theory and practice of charity. Carnegie urged the wealthy to provide for themselves and their dependents and then make it their “duty” to use the rest of their funds for their communities. He warned successful men who failed to help others that “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Modern day rich givers like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have expressed a Carnegie-like wish to divest themselves of their wealth.

 

This echoes The Buddha’s aphorism about the wealthy man who enjoys his riches without sharing, digging his own grave. Those of us who are not wealthy would be advised to give directly to those in need rather than outsourcing to huge corporations or overweening rock stars. Make a difference to the poor not to the rich.

 

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 12 2013

Titid – Le Petit Aristide – was hugely popular with poor Haitians and hated by the elite. The case against him has been put by Peter Dailey in the New York Review of Books, Andre Linard and Maurice Lemoine in Le Monde diplomatique. Kim Ives has demolished Dailey’s NYRB articles. My virtual friend, who calls herself Zen Haitian, has challenged Le Monde diplomatique. Paul Farmer has made the case for Aristide in London Review of Books and been supported by Peter Hallward and Brian Concannon.

 
Linard wrote of Aristide: “He was attacked for setting up an anti-democratic regime and accused of enriching himself through illicit trafficking. The public was divided between three explanations. Some feel they were conned by Aristide in 1990. A slightly less widely shared view is that he was changed by the 1991 coup that ousted him, his exile in the US and return to power in 1994. There are those who saw him as a victim of constraints: ‘se pa fôt li (it’s not his fault)’, they say in Creole, preferring to blame both his entourage and the international community”.

Dailey’s assertion that the “Aristide government’s increasingly authoritarian behavior has left it isolated and condemned by the international community, which suspended crucial foreign aid” was countered thus by Ives: “The ‘international community’, if defined as the majority of the world’s nations, is sympathetic to the Haitian government and disapproving, at the very least, of the Bush administration’s strong-arming. … the majority of the OAS and CARICOM member states have pleaded for the release of the aid and loans to Haiti, held hostage only by Washington’s hostility to Aristide.”

Titid vs. Washington Consensus

Aristide came under fire from those who advocated more enthusiastic compliance with the US and IMF. Ives: “Aristide was proving to be mercurial and uncooperative about privatizations and other neoliberal reforms.”
Brian Concannon: “The ease with which Haiti’s leftist elite and its foreign supporters joined sweatshop owners, Duvalierists and the Bush administration in a crusade to overthrow Aristide says more about the fluidity of their own political commitments than about Haiti’s government. The real cleavage in Haiti has always been not left-right but up-down. When push came to shove, class allegiance trumped any professed commitment to social equality or democracy.”

Military coup

Aristide was overthrown in a military coup September 1991, in which the US and France were heavily implicated. The military’s leader, General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. Both the Organization of America States and the United Nations issued international sanctions against Haiti in response to the coup.
In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorized by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. My friend Zen Haitian commented: “He was forced to agree to their structural re-adjustment measures in order to be restored to power– he lost some, but was still able to command the love and respect of a majority of Haitians.”

Another electoral triumph

In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. The Haitian government, faced with crippling poverty, was required to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts, many of them linked to loans paid out to the Duvalier dictatorship and to the military regimes that ruled Haiti with great brutality from 1986 to 1990.

 
The US State Department ignored repeated opposition attacks against Lavalas and the deadly campaign being carried out by neo-Duvalierist guerrillas. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US groups helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH.

Abduction and exile

Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on 28 February, 2004. Aristide has accused the U.S. of kidnapping and deposing him.

In his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague focuses on the period beginning in 1990 with the rise of Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Sprague traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti and in the US and the Dominican Republic.
Peter Hallward argued that people with – generally tenuous – connections to Aristide’s Lavalas party were probably responsible for around thirty killings in all the years he was in office. Five thousand Lavalas supporters were killed while Aristide was in exile between 1991 and 1994, and fifty thousand deaths have been attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.

For all its faults, Lavalas remained the only significant force for popular mobilization in the country. No other political figure of the past fifty years has had anything like Aristide’s stature among the urban and rural poor. Class sympathy among Western elites who felt themselves under similar threat, both at home and abroad, goes a long way to explaining the international perception of the Lavalas regime.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17745-reconciliation-in-haiti-part-3.html#sthash.o9OGpDFG.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Kenya: Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 14 2012.

 

“If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.” Eric Griffiths-Jones, Attorney General of the British administration in Kenya.1957.The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya was set up in 2008 to address the violence that followed the 2007 elections. There were 1,500 deaths, 3,000 rapes, and 300,000 people were internally displaced. Before dealing with that I look at Kenya’s colonial past.

Three Kenyans, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, have established the right to sue the British government for the torture they suffered in the 1950s. A fourth claimant dropped out while a fifth, Susan Ciong’ombe Ngondi, died two years ago, aged 71.Men were castrated with pliers or anally raped, sometimes with the use of knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels and scorpions. Women had similar objects thrust into their vaginas. Guards and white civilians chopped off ears and fingers, gouged eyes, mutilated women’s breasts with pliers, and burnt people alive.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when, at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenya suffered a familiar imperial pattern of land theft and divide-and-rule. The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands by European settlers was a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land. Settlers demanded ever more labor and attempted to turn tenant farmers into laborers. When the natives revolted, the Mau Mau were portrayed as savages by the British. Only 32 British civilians were killed by rebels. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000 and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted.

Many civilians took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects and settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Katharine Warren-Gash ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There, suspects were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labor, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti and buried their babies in bundles of six at a time.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan history. On March 3, 1959, 100 detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured.

According to Harvard historian Caroline Elkins, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.
In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands dead.”

Many have found fault with Elkins. A cache of documents has now come to light, which leaves no doubt about the brutality of the British Empire in Kenya. Hanslope Park, in Buckinghamshire, contains a secret archive which would create a tower 200 metres tall if it were stacked upright. One document is a letter dated June 1957. Eric Griffiths-Jones, the Attorney General of the British administration in Kenya, wrote to the governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, advising that prisoners should in future be beaten mainly on their upper body, and that “those who administer violence … should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate,”. That prefigures Obama’s claim: “Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists”. Sustainable torture?

The British government has long resisted the claims of the elderly Kenyans on the grounds that too much time had elapsed, that the current Kenyan government should be responsible for compensation, and that no documents existed. William Hague, the foreign secretary, now concedes that under the obligations of the Public Records Act 1958, the FCO should have assessed the documents and passed any of historical interest to the National Archives at Kew.

 
Legal experts in other former colonies are now weighing the possibility of suing the British government, as atrocities were committed throughout the Empire.
Neil Ascherson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity … In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an anti-partisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Further examination of this subject can be found at:
http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=36424
https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/obama-tortured-by-british-shock/

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/11461-reconciliation-in-kenya-part-1.html#sthash.Zci1I2SJ.dpuf

 

 

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