Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Flying WASPs - Real Feminists 

Today's Wall Street Journal tells the story of WWII's Unsung Women Pilots, The Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). These pilots were real trailblazers, a group of 1,102 female civilians who flew military aircraft under the direction of the US Army Air Forces. From 1942-1944 the WASP ferried aircraft from factories to air bases throughout the United States. One of these great women, Betty (Wall) Strohfus, lives near Faribault, MN.

These feisty fliers contributed much to our air training, safety and defense during WWII yet went unrecognized by the military; they were considered civil servants and were unceremoniously deactivated in December of 1944.

Finally, those grandmothers and great-grandmothers will be recognized for their work. They will meet in Washington, DC to proudly take their place in history among the unsung heroes of WWII on March 10 when they will receive the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony that will be held at the US Capitol.

An added bonus: I have heard Betty speak - she is just riveting. The stories will have you holding your sides - her delivery is fantastic. You will be able to hear her stories at the CD 2 Reagan Dinner to be held May 14, in Lakeville, MN. Details will be forthcoming.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

American Generosity, Part III of III - Threats to American Philanthropy 

The first two posts on American generosity are here and here. This final post will address the serious threats to our freedom to choose where we wish to give. Three kinds of proposals coming from Capitol Hill, the IRS, state governments and sometimes even charities themselves can undermine what has been an incredibly unique, independently driven system never before seen by humanity.

First point: Behemoth governments and agencies with their one-size-fits-all mindset too often create proposals that limit the diversity and independence of the charitable world. When the now jailed Eliot Spitzer was NY's Attorney General [2003], he proposed a prohibition on foundations with less than $20,000,000 in assets because there were too many of them for the government to monitor and police. In 2007, a top IRS official proposed that the IRS evaluate the effectiveness and governance of public charities and foundations. Late 2009, the Congressional Research Service published a report calling for a NEW oversight agency for charities and foundations. [Do we really need more federal employees?]

The second threat is the argument that foundation assets are"public money" and that decisions about grant-making are subject to political control. Democrat Congressman, Savier Becerra of CA, calls the tax-favored treatment of charitable giving a "$32 billion earmark" and wants Congress to ensure that philanthropic assets advance the public good. [Or does he want to tax these charities??????] Charities do have public purposes and state attorneys general do have some power to enforce adherence to respective charitable purposes. BUT, this does not mean charities must serve the same objectives as government or that the government can intrude on their decision making. [Can government agencies perform charitable acts as efficiently as private charities? Highly doubtful. And, how much money do charities save taxpayers? Billions - that's a number followed by a minimum of nine zeroes (000,000,000)].

There is a historic covenant that has governed foundations - they must use their assets for charitable, not personal purposes.

The final threat to the freedom of American philanthropy comes in the form of proposals that would define what kind of giving is charitable. A growing number of them would like to confine charitable deductions to direct help for racial minorities and low-income families and communities, only. The problem with this? Americans of all races, creeds and income levels can benefit from giving to or receiving from religious institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals and medical research, the arts, environment and other causes that fall outside of these proposed, limited restrictions. Government should NOT be picking winners and losers.

American charitable giving is a strong indicator of economic freedom. In turn, economic freedom is an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. [Milton Friedman].

Again, article sourced is the January 2010 Imprimis published by Hillsdale College.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

American Generosity II of III - Reasons Why Americans are Generous 

There are three basic reasons America is the most charitable country on earth. First, we are the most religious people of any leading modern economy. Secondly, we respect the freedom and ability of individuals and their associations to make a difference. The third reason is that philanthropy is an important part of our nation's business culture.

Regarding the religious aspect: Americans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once a week give three times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. Annually, about $100,000,000,000 goes to religious institutions of all faiths. These same donors also give more to secular charities than those who never or rarely attend religious services. The book, Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks, thoroughly documents amounts, percentages and types of giving (including blood donations and volunteer hours) to support this concept. A review of the book, here, summarizes many of the key findings.

The freedom angle: Historically, Americans did not wait for the government or the local nobleman to solve problems - we often solved them ourselves. A forthcoming movie, The Little Red Wagon, tells the story of a six-year-old boy in Tampa, named Zach, who wanted to help families who had been left homeless. He took his wagon door-to-door for four months and collected 27 truckloads of supplies. This is a great example but there are also 1000s of examples of Americans helping others in need via churches, community food drives, packages for soldiers, etc. - people just taking action on their own as part of their community. These events happen all the time in America.

American corporations give through their own programs. One local example is the 5% pretax operating profit give-back of Target Corporation. Other companies assist schools, support athletic teams and scout programs. Included also are volunteer fire departments (Bloomington, MN has one of the largest volunteer fire department in the US.) Historically, there is Andrew Carnegie who founded US Steel and took his wealth to establish public libraries all across America. Bill Gates of Microsoft is working to eradicate malaria. The list is endless. Why? Freedom. Americans simply give back, voluntarily, to the society that gave them the opportunity to succeed.

And, an interesting aspect: while many people in the upper quintile of earnings give more money to charity, those in the lowest quintile give the highest percentage to charity. Go here for a summary.

Update - I thought this had been posted; this will address some of the issues raised by commenters on I of III. Janet

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Friday, February 12, 2010

American Generosity - Part I of III 

This post is the first of three discussing the generosity of Americans. This section covers charitable giving in general, the American history of giving and who gives. The second post will describe reasons Americans are generous and the third will discuss the threats to American philanthropy.

The basis of this information is a speech given in Washington, D.C. on January 8, 2010 by Adam Meyerson, President of The Philanthropy Roundtable. My source is Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. (A free publication - go here to register to get your monthly articles.)

In 1859, a professor and preacher named Ransom Dunn started a horseback journey to raise funds for a young institution of higher learning, Hillsdale College, in southern Michigan. 6000 miles later, Dunn had raised $22,000, the equivalent of about $500,000 today. The sources of his success: rural families of the upper Midwest. The largest donation was $200. What does this even show?

Charitable giving in America has never been exclusively limited to the wealthy. Throughout America's history, Americans from all walks of life have given generously. When giving is calculated as a proportion of income, the highest percentage of givers is the working poor. Secondly, Professor Dunn, did not play on guilt, too often the ploy of today's charity solicitors. Dunn appealed to people's ideals, aspirations and religious principles.

This charitable aspect of Americans is central to our free society. Hillsdale was the second American college to grant a four-year liberal arts degree to women. Hillsdale was the first American college to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex. These unique components would have been difficult, if not impossible to implement if Hillsdale had had to rely on public moneys.

The 19th century was a great age in America for the creation of colleges. Every town in the decentralized America of that time wanted its own college to promote economic opportunity and encourage citizen leadership. (In 1880, Ohio [with 3,000,000 inhabitants] had 37 colleges; England [with 23,000,000 people] had four degree-granting institutions.)

Today Americans give over $30,000,000,000 a year to support higher education. Even state universities depend upon private contributions. In addition, private charity sustains museums, orchestras, hospitals, clinics, churches, synagogues, animal refuges and habitats, youth programs, grass-roots problem solvers, etc. Private charity makes possible great think tanks, left, right or center.

Our awareness of charity is usually low, until there is a disaster. During Hurricane Katrina, Americans gave $6,000,000,000 and in 2009, Americans gave $300,000,000,000 to charities. This final amount is about twice what we spend on electronics equipment, three times what is spent on gambling and 10x as much as spent on professional sports.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Why President's Day??? 

For many going through school, there was always some history covered in February. First we studied and celebrated Lincoln's birthday, February 12. We learned of Abraham Lincoln's growing up in Indiana, teaching himself to read, doing a number of jobs to make a living. At age 21 he moved to Illinois where he eventually ecame a member of the IL General Assembly and the US House of Representatives. He earned a living as a lawyer.

He opposed slavery and argued for years against its spread. A speech that propelled him to national attention was given in a race for US Senate against Stephen Douglas in 1858. Though Lincoln lost the Senate race, this speech was a turning point in his political career. The most quoted line from this debate is:
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'(Mark 3:25) I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved � I do not expect the house to fall � but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
Students know he was President of the United States and was Commander in Chief during the Civil War, a war fought to preserve the union, that is, keep the United States from becoming two (or more) nations, abolish slavery in the southern states (done with the Emancipation Proclamation) and prevent slavery's expansion to new states as the US moved west. His most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, remains one of the most quoted in US History. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation.

The second president we studied and celebrated was the birthday, February 22, of our nation's first president, George Washington. He is known for: leading the Americans against the British in the Revolutionary War; working with the great minds of the time in the crafting of a government founded on the principle (a first) that all men were created equal and that people could govern themselves; and becoming our first president.

Washington had a physical presence that commanded respect yet he was humble enough to value the opinions and decisions of others. Some wanted him to become king. He refused and by refusing, set the stage for a limit of two terms for the presidency. This was practice was honored until Franklin Roosevelt (D) became president during the Depression. Later the two-term limit was codified in the US Constitution by the 22nd Amendment, passed in 1947.

Today, much of what our children learn is about the negatives of these two incredible men.
While there are many good presidents, these two, more than others set the stage for what has become an experiment in freedom, real freedom. Lumping them with all presidents, into a "Presidents Day" diminishes their achievements and ideals.

We would not have what we have today, nor would so many people from so many cultures be able to live as we do without the ideals created by our Founders and put into practice by these two great men. Ideals have to be created, defined, then put into action. Both of these presidents understood that an elite class cannot hold sway over others - that once that happens, freedom for all erodes and eventually disappears.

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