A Billionaire With A Conscience?

I have written often about the income disparity between the 1% and the rest of us, and I’m often critical of millionaires and billionaires for hoarding their wealth when children are dying every day for lack of food, medicine and hygiene.  Today I came across an OpEd in the New York Times by a millionaire who is a bit different than most, Eli Broad.  While I do not agree 100% with everything Mr. Broad says, what he proposes is a start, a step in the right direction.  Mr. Broad has an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, so he can well afford a bit of philanthropy and a higher tax rate.  If we must have millionaires and billionaires, at least let them have a conscience. Take a look …


I’m in the 1 Percent. Please, Raise My Taxes.

Wealthy people like me should commit to reducing the ravages of economic inequality.

By Eli Broad

Eli-Broad.jpgThere’s a story we like to tell about American capitalism. Ours is a country that prizes merit, rewards risk and stands apart in its commitment to the collective success of open markets and the free flow of capital. We are a nation of strivers who can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps with the right combination of grit and determination.

That’s the tale we love to tell and hear. But take it from a person who has found himself on the fortunate side of that narrative: This story is incomplete. For most people, our system isn’t working.

I say this as the child of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who came here with little more than an oversize belief in what America could offer. Their faith was well placed: My parents watched me build two Fortune 500 companies and become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

Two decades ago I turned full-time to philanthropy and threw myself into supporting public education, scientific and medical research, and visual and performing arts, believing it was my responsibility to give back some of what had so generously been given to me. But I’ve come to realize that no amount of philanthropic commitment will compensate for the deep inequities preventing most Americans — the factory workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and electricians, teachers, nurses and small-business owners — from the basic prosperity we call the American dream.

Some of us have supported closing the gulf between rich and poor by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, reforming our education system, expanding access to medical care, building more affordable housing.

But even in cities like my adopted hometown, Los Angeles, where many of these policies have been enacted, they have not adequately addressed the crisis. Our country must do something bigger and more radical, starting with the most unfair area of federal policy: our tax code.

It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax.

Some will say I’m calling for the populist masses to take out the pitchforks and take down the titans of Wall Street. Some will say it’s just too difficult to execute. Others will call it a flight of fancy.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating an end to the capitalist system that’s yielded some of the greatest gains in prosperity and innovation in human history. I simply believe it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else.

This does not mean I support paying higher taxes without requiring government to be transparent, accountable and equitable about how it spends the revenue, particularly for health care, public education and other programs critical to social and economic mobility. But let’s end this tired argument that we must delay fixing structural inequities until our government is running as efficiently as the most profitable companies. That’s a convenient tactic employed to distract us from the real problems.

The enormous challenges we face as a nation — the climate crisis, the shrinking middle class, skyrocketing housing and health care costs, and many more — are a stark call to action. The old ways aren’t working, and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges.

Democrats have offered an array of plans. Senator Elizabeth Warren would levy a 2 percent tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million. There’s an overdue proposal from Senator Bernie Sanders to increase taxes on estates and inheritances. And then there’s the mark-to-market approach proposed by Senator Ron Wyden, which would treat capital gains income as what it is — actual income for the wealthiest people in America. Currently people who have stocks and other investments that appreciate in value — usually people of means — are taxed at lower rates and are allowed to defer taxes.

I’m not an economist but I have watched my wealth grow exponentially thanks to federal policies that have cut my tax rates while wages for regular people have stagnated and poverty rates have increased.

So when the Democratic candidates take the stage this week for their first debate, I invite fellow members of the 1 percent to join me in demanding that they engage in a robust discussion of how we can strengthen a post-Trump America by reforming our tax code.

Let’s admit out loud what we all know to be true: A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too. What we can’t afford are more shortsighted policies that skirt big ideas, avoid tough issues and do little to alleviate the poverty faced by millions of Americans. There’s no time to waste.

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Good People Doing Good Things — Robert F. Smith

It’s graduation season at colleges all across the nation, but one commencement ceremony will stand out in the minds of many for the rest of their lives.  Graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, will be telling their grandchildren about their graduation “way back in 2019”.  Why?  Because of the generosity of one man, Robert Frederick Smith.

Mr. Smith gave the commencement speech at Morehouse last Sunday.  Watch (pay particular attention to the guy in the lower left-hand corner)

Who, you ask, is Robert Frederick Smith?  Never heard of him, have you?  Well, he is a 56-year-old African-American man, originally from Colorado, currently living in Austin, Texas.  He is a businessman, investor, and philanthropist, a former chemical engineer and investment banker. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners.  Not the sort of person I typically feature in my good people posts, and not the sort we usually think of when we think of ‘generosity’.

Smith’s net worth is estimated at $5 billion, but he is not your typical billionaire.  Smith was not born into abject poverty, but neither was he born into wealth.  Both of his parents were schoolteachers and his was very much a middle-class upbringing.  But Smith had drive, he had ambition, and he knew at an early age what he wanted.

As a junior in high school, Smith landed an internship at Bell Labs — by calling the company every week for five months until he got a slot. Smith tinkered with computers during his summer and winter breaks and went on to study chemical engineering at Cornell University. He earned an MBA from Columbia University, followed by an investment banking job at Goldman Sachs. After advising billion-dollar mergers for tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple, he left Goldman to found Vista Equity Partners in 2000.  Today, Robert Smith is the wealthiest African-American in the nation.

Smith’s gift to Morehouse graduates is far from his first act of generosity.  Prior to the 2003 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Smith donated $20 million.  In 2016, he gave $50 million to Cornell University for its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students. He is the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation. Under his leadership, Fund II Foundation has invested in organizations such as Cornell, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), National Park Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and Global Wildlife Conservation, among many others.

In 2018, Smith was the largest individual donor at the City of Hope Gala, earmarking funds towards prostate cancer treatment for black men and for breast cancer research for black women. Smith also donated $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to advance prostate cancer research among African-American men.

In 2017, Smith signed on for The Giving Pledge, joining such notable philanthropists as Bill & Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and currently 190 others.

Robert-Frederick-Smith“I will never forget that my path was paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African-Americans whose names I will never know. Their struggles, their courage, and their progress allowed me to strive and achieve. My story would only be possible in America, and it is incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward. For these reasons, on behalf of my family, I am privileged to join the Giving Pledge with a commitment to invest half my net worth—during my lifetime—to causes that support equality of opportunity for African Americans, as well as causes that cultivate ecological protection to ensure a livable planet for future generations.”

As you all know, I typically have little or no use for billionaires, as very few use their wealth to help people.  But when a man pledges to pay off the student debt for 396 college graduates, my hat is off to him.

I did a bit of research and found that the average white college graduate leaves school with $28,650 in student loan debt.  But, according to Brookings Institute, the average black student has an additional $7,400 in debt, in part because black parents have less wealth to help pay for their children’s educations.  So, what Mr. Smith has done for these graduates is no small thing, for the total could well end up being around $15 million, according to my calculations.  And what he said toward the end of his speech … he called on those graduates to “pay it forward” … will ensure that his gift is one of those that ‘keeps on giving’.

Good People Doing Good Things — Liam and Scott Hannon

Last night when I began working on my ‘good people’ post, I intended to write about 3 or 4 people, as I often do, and I picked one with which to begin.  But, before long I was up to nearly 700 words and still had more to say about this remarkable duo … a boy and his dad …

liam-7Today, please allow me to introduce to you 12-year-old Liam Hannon of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Liam’s dad typically sent him to camp for a portion of each summer, but in 2017, when Liam was just ten, he informed his dad that he didn’t want to go to camp that year.  Dad said okay but insisted that Liam find something productive and positive to keep himself busy through the summer.

That first week of summer vacation, Liam and his dad found an online treasure hunt game called Brain Chase, where Liam chose three topics to focus on, one of which was ‘service’.  The game challenged Liam to find some way, some project to give back to his community.  Liam thought about the homeless people he saw every day right outside his building, and he had an idea.  The idea was to make … sandwiches!  Sandwiches to pass out to the people who needed them most.  And thus was Liam’s Lunches of Love born.liam-6In the first week, Liam loaded up a wagon and handed out 20 sandwiches with his dad’s help. He went from sandwiches to complete bag lunches, upgraded the wagon to a hand-cart, and to date has served up more than 2,000 bag lunches to homeless people in his neighborhood.  He doesn’t just make the lunches (with some help from dad), but on each and every lunch bag, he writes a handwritten message, often accompanied by an encouraging little bit of artwork.liam-3Liam hopes to someday expand his philanthropy to include animal rescue.  A story his dad tells of one incident furthers our faith in Liam’s good heart …

His father remembers Liam’s first animal rescue: a bucket of 15 baitfish. Father and son had gone fishing. Liam watched his dad jab one small fish with a fishing hook. The boy held the bucket against his chest.  “I heard him tell the fish, ‘Don’t worry. It’s OK. I’m going to talk to him,’” Scott said.  Liam persuaded his father to throw every single baitfish back into the water, including the one on the hook so he could ‘be with his friends.’ “He’s just a wise soul for his age,” Scott said.

Now, Liam obviously has a huge heart and is a ‘good people’, but I think his dad, Scott, has to get some of the credit here, too.  Scott doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk, and Liam has grown up seeing the examples set by his dad.

“One time, Liam said, ‘Dad, did you just tell that lady she didn’t have to pay you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, she’s 90 and lives on her own and has no one to help. That $80 means nothing to me.’ He has learned like that, but he’s always been a very empathetic kid.”

Scott is a single parent, working at a mid-level job and lives in a rent-controlled building, so needless to say, there came a point early on in this venture where they needed help to pay for the groceries for the lunches Liam was handing out.

“That first week, we made 20 lunches. That was going to be it, but then Liam said, ‘Dad, can we do this again? I like doing this.’…So we kept doing it, and each week it grew a little bit more.”

So, they started a GoFundMe.   Over the weeks, donations poured in to help Liam’s Lunches of Love, and local grocery stores contributed meals, too. Friends and neighbors also volunteered their time to hand out bags, which freed Liam and Scott up to spend more time with each recipient and get to know them. And that experience has opened their eyes.

“Liam has learned a lot about the difference between what a real homeless person is like versus the idea he had in his head just from seeing people on the street. He realized they’re a lot different than he thought they were, and he’s grown up a little because of it.”

liam-1Liam and his Liam’s Lunches of Love have received national recognition from ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, the Boston Globe and others.  But the real honour came last month when Liam was one of five young people showcased on CNN’s “Young Wonders: A CNN Heroes Special” hosted by Anderson Cooper.  Take a look …

The five were also honoured the next night on “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute”.  As Anderson Cooper said at that event …

“The next generation reminds us of the unwavering foundation that really connects us all — incredible acts of kindness, unconditional love and the promise of a better tomorrow.”

liam-8I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Hats off and two thumbs up to Liam and his dad Scott … these are the people who remind us what humanity is really about, don’t you think?

For more about Liam, his dad and this project, be sure to check out the Liam’s Lunches of Love website.

Good People Doing Good Things — Betty Kwan Chinn

You are going to fall in love with today’s ‘good person’ …gateway-to-life.pngHer name is Betty Chinn, and as you may have already guessed, she is originally from China.  I’ll let her tell you about the days of her childhood …

Betty-Chinn“I was born in a very good family. I’m one of 12 kids. And then in the 1960s, they had the Cultural Revolution. My mom was a US citizen and a Western educator. My mom believed in God, religion. Because my parents had religion and education, my family was a target for the government.

I was separated from my family and I lived on the street by myself. I had to wear a sign on my neck that said, ‘I’m a child of the devil.’ I had nothing to eat, hungry all the time. Every time when I asked for food, I was beaten up by people. Torture, separation from my family, abandoned, betrayal … this all happened at a very young age.

My sister took me out of the country … and then to Hong Kong. I did not know my birthday.

I had never been to school. I stayed home. Then I found my best friends on Sesame Street. They were the ones who taught me English.

Each day when I get up in the morning, I get moving, that’s my birthday. I am celebrating my birthday every single day when I can move, and I can breathe. I have my freedom. That’s the way I look at it.”

And now that you know how Ms. Chinn got her start in life, let’s take a look with what she is doing today.  Eventually Betty was sent to live with a sibling in California and settled in the town of Eureka in Humboldt County.  Married to now-retired Humboldt State University physics professor, Leung Chinn, the couple had two sons, and it was this that would spark Betty’s passion for helping others.

One day in 1984, while volunteering at her son’s elementary school, one of his classmates complained that she was always hungry.  Betty began putting an extra sandwich in her son’s lunch for the girl, only to discover a few days later that the girl and her family were homeless, living out of their car. So, Betty began sending extra food for the family, as well.  Although she didn’t realize it yet, she had just started down the path that would last for the rest of her life. She began observing people in the town and was shocked to see how many other people were in the same situation and decided to make it her mission to provide for the less fortunate in her community.

“I’d do anything I could do to make people not hungry. When I even hear somebody say, ‘I’m hungry,’ my stomach hurts. I feel the hunger inside me. I still remember the hunger.”

She used income from her part-time job to buy food, which she would load into her car and deliver to people living on the street, under bridges and highways, anywhere she could find them. At first, she didn’t tell anyone about what she was doing – not even her husband.

“He did ask me, from time to time, ‘Why are you cooking so much food? Why we buy so much food from the supermarket?'”

He eventually found out – ten years later – and is now her biggest supporter!

Though she never publicized what she was doing, Chinn’s efforts were noticed and appreciated. In 2008, she received the Minerva Award for remarkable women from California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, which included a $25,000 prize.  By now, I’m sure you can guess that Betty did not spend that money on new clothes and a lavish vacation, right?  Nope, she built showers!  Yep, you heard me right … showers.  The following March, she opened Eureka’s first (only) free public shower facility, with the mantra “Providing Dignity One Shower at a Time”.

In 2010, she was one of 13 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama, the nation’s second highest civilian award. She was honored for showing how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten.Chinn-Obama-2010It was at that point that she started dreaming of opening a “Betty’s House,” a type of central location where she could help clients keep warm and fed while connecting them with a variety of services housed under one roof.  Four years later, this dream culminated in the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center which houses Betty’s commercial kitchen, helps clients connect with services, jobs and housing, while also offering after school care, wellness courses, and educational programming for homeless children.day-center.pngBut Betty didn’t stop there!  In 2016, she opened Betty’s House, a family shelter that provides transitional housing up to 8 families at a time, giving them the stability, services, and support needed to find a permanent place to live. The shelter’s downstairs, operated in partnership with St. Joseph Hospital, offers a space for up to 10 homeless people recently discharged from the hospital to convalesce under a nurse’s 24/7 care.betty-house-front.png

Betty-house-1

Betty-house-2Betty-house-3But we’re still not done …

Also in 2016, as the city of Eureka was working to clear its largest homeless encampment from a greenbelt near the bay, Betty partnered with the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights to convert some old Connex shipping containers into a housing village, known now as Betty’s Blue Angel Village, that shelters up to 40 people at a time while offering intensive wrap around services aimed at transitioning them into permanent housing situations. It is one of few shelters on the West coast that allows animals.Village-1Village-2There is so much more I could write about Betty Chinn … this woman … this woman is so good, has done so much for her community, that my words feel inadequate to describe her.  Betty arises at 2:07 every morning, ready to go, seven days a week, rain or shine.  I recommend paying a brief visit to her website, The Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, where you will find additional information, photo galleries and more.

In 2015, she received yet another award from President Obama …2015-Chinn-ObamaLast week, Ms. Chinn was named one of CNN’s Heroes … an honour well-deserved. In addition to American recognition, Betty has received commendations from China and is hailed as the “Hong Kong Angel.”  And around Humboldt County, she is known as the ‘Chinese Mother Teresa’.  Eureka’s police chief, Andrew Mills, described her as a philanthropic force of nature. “It’s a humbling experience just to sit in her presence.”

Heck, I found it humbling just to research and write about this woman … I am in awe.  If I had a third, I would give this woman three thumbs up, but as I have only two, I shall give her both.  Thank you, Betty Kwan Chinn, for making such a wonderful difference in the lives of so many!  👍👍

♫ Cat’s in the Cradle ♫

I’ve always liked this song, which was Harry Chapin’s only #1 hit song.

The song’s lyrics began as a poem written by Harry’s wife, Sandra “Sandy” Gaston; the poem itself was inspired by the awkward relationship between her first husband, James Cashmore, and his father, John, a politician who served as Brooklyn borough president. She was also inspired by a country music song she had heard on the radio. Chapin also said the song was about his own relationship with his son, Josh, admitting, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”

Harry Chapin was a dedicated humanitarian and arguably the most politically and socially active American performer of the 1970s.  He fought to end world hunger; he was a key participant in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977.  In 1987, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.  According to his wife, “Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away.”

Sadly, Chapin’s career was cut short in July 1981 when, at age 39, he was killed in a fiery car crash.  His wife and son Josh carry on his philanthropic legacy through the Harry Chapin Foundation

Cat’s In The Cradle
Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day;
Came to the world in the usually way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
He was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it.
And as he grew he said,
“I’m gonna be like you, Dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you comin’ home ?”
“Son, I don’t know when.
We’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, my son turned ten just the other day.
He said , “Thanks for the ball, Dad. Come on, let’s play.
Could you teach me to throw ?” I said, “Not today.
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s okay.”
And he walked away and he smiled and he said,
“You know,
I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you comin’ home ?”
“Son, I don’t know when.
We’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“I’m proud of you. Could you sit for a while ?”
He shook his head and he said with a smile,
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please ?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you comin’ home ?”
“Son, I don’t know when.
We’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
“I’d like to see you, if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu,
But it’s sure nice talkin’ to you, Dad.
It’s been sure nice talkin’ to you.”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you comin’ home ?”
“Son, I don’t know when.
We’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Songwriters: Sandy Chapin / Harry F. Chapin
Cats In The Cradle lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

♫ Wild World ♫

Cat Stevens, nee Steven Demetre Georgiou, is a British singer/songwriter.  I have a confession to make … I did not know he was British!  I’ve always loved this song … it is on my ‘walking’ playlist, as it gets me going faster than some and adds a bit of bounce to the steps.

Stevens tells why he wrote the song …

“I was trying to relate to my life. I was at the point where it was beginning to happen and I was myself going into the world. I’d done my career before, and I was sort of warning myself to be careful this time around, because it was happening. It was not me writing about somebody specific, although other people may have informed the song, but it was more about me. It’s talking about losing touch with home and reality – home especially.”

cat-stevens-2008

Yusuf Islam – 2008

In 1978, Stevens converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and abandoned his musical career, saying that it had “becoming a chore, and not an inspiration anymore”.  Today, he uses his ongoing royalties for philanthropic works, and has founded several schools and Small Kindness charity, which initially assisted famine victims in Africa and now supports thousands of orphans and families in the Balkans, Indonesia, and Iraq.

There is a considerable amount of controversy surrounding this artist, but this is a post about the music, and not a place to delve into controversy.  And so … let us enjoy the music …

Wild World
Cat Stevens

Now that I’ve lost everything to you
You say you want to start something new
And it’s breaking my heart you’re leaving
Baby, I’m grieving

But if you want to leave, take good care
Hope you have a lot of nice things to wear
But then a lot of nice things turn bad out there

Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
I’ll always remember you like a child, girl

You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do
And it’s breaking my heart in two
‘Cause I never want to see you sad girl
Don’t be a bad girl

But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware
Beware

Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
And I’ll always remember you like a child, girl

Baby I love you
But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware
Beware

Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
And I’ll always remember you like a child, girl

Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
And it’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
And I’ll always remember you like a child, girl

Songwriters: Yusuf Islam
Wild World lyrics © BMG Rights Management

2018 World Happiness Report

World Happiness Report 2018Last year I wrote a post about the ‘World Happiness Report’ published annually by the United Nations.   The report ranks countries by those factors that are found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. 

Rank 2017 2018
1 Norway Finland
2 Denmark Norway
3 Iceland Denmark
4 Switzerland Iceland
5 Finland Switzerland
6 Netherlands Netherlands
7 Canada Canada
8 New Zealand New Zealand
9 Australia Sweden
10 Sweden Australia

The top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years, although with some swapping of places.  It should come as no surprise that the U.S., once again, is not in the top ten, and in fact has dropped from 14th place last year to 18th place this year.  The UK remained in 19th both years.

From the Executive Summary portion of the report …

“The main focus of this year’s report, in addition to its usual ranking of the levels and changes in happiness around the world, is on migration within and between countries. Perhaps the most striking finding of the whole report is that a ranking of countries according to the happiness of their immigrant populations is almost exactly the same as for the rest of the population. The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live. Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live. Immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration. The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.

Read that last sentence again.  Ring any bells?  Chapter 7 of the report addresses the U.S. specifically …

“The most striking fact about happiness in America is the Easterlin Paradox: income per capita has more than doubled since 1972 while happiness (or subjective well-being, SWB) has remained roughly unchanged or has even declined.  Social support networks in the U.S. have weakened over time; perceptions of corruption in government and business have risen over time; and confidence in public institutions has waned.”

Just goes to show that old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness” is true, folks.  But more to the point … Donald Trump keeps telling us that he is “making America great” by increasing jobs, bragging about the employment rates and GDP, but all of that has not added to the happiness quotient, since all the other factors affecting happiness are in decline.  How ‘great’ is a country where the people are far less happy than they were a year ago?

The chart below is from the 2017 report and was not replicated in 2018, but I think it bears taking a look. It compares the U.S. to the top-ranked nations according to six variables:  log income per capita (lgdp), healthy life expectancy (hle), social support (ssup), freedom to make life choices (freedom), generosity of donations (donation), and perceived corruption of government and business (corruption).comparison to high ranked nationsThe results I find most interesting are personal freedom and corruption of business & government, for those are the areas in which the U.S. is furthest from the top-ranked nations.

“Indeed, while America’s income per capita has increased markedly during the past half century, several of the determinants of well-being have been in decline. Social support networks in the U.S. have weakened over time; perceptions of corruption in government and business have risen over time; and confidence in public institutions has waned. Since these various dimensions of social capital have all been shown to be important determinants of subjective well-being, it seems likely that gains in U.S. well-being that would have resulted from rising incomes have been offset by declines in social capital. In addition to the loss of social capital, there is another possible culprit that has been less widely discussed in the context of the Easterlin Paradox. America’s public health, as measured for example by HALE, has improved much less than in most other high-income countries, and in recent years, is experiencing an outright decline.”

One of the elements affecting health is obesity.  Interestingly, the U.S. is the most obese of those studied … take a look for yourself …obesity

“The Report ends on a different tack, with a focus on three emerging health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Although set in a global context, most of the evidence and discussion are focused on the United States, where the prevalence of all three problems has been growing faster and further than in most other countries.”

My opinion is that the current head of government and the socio-political divide that he has caused, is at least partly responsible for the rise in obesity, drug use and depression.  Next year’s report should be especially interesting, and I fully expect a further drop in the U.S.’ ranking in 2019.

There is much of interest in the report, particularly the Executive Summary, Chapter 2, and Chapter 7.  You may want to take a look for yourself, so here are a couple of links.

Executive Summary

Full Report

Good People Doing Good Things – Steven A. Culbertson & YSA

In the wake of last Saturday’s successful and inspiring March For Our Lives across the nation and beyond, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the things that are being done by the nation’s young people to make the world a little bit better place for us all.  Rather than highlight specific members of our youth, I am shining a big, bright light on a man who has done more than perhaps any other to assist kids in finding their path to being a powerful force.  You may remember that one of my Good People posts last November highlighted an organization called Youth Service America.

Steven A. Culbertson is President & CEO of YSA (Youth Service America), a global nonprofit activating youth, 5–25, to find their voice, take action, and acquire powerful skills as they solve problems facing their communities. The Nonprofit Times twice named him to its list of “The 50 most powerful and influential leaders” in the sector, saying, “Steve Culbertson has helped to position volunteering and young people as an issue and a national priority.”

Mr. Culbertson began his work with YSA in 1996, and I will let him tell you a little about his experiences in his own words, for his words are powerful and wise..

“When I took over the helm of Youth Service America from its founders 20 years ago this spring, I thought my job was going to be all about motivating apathetic youth, more interested in video games than saving the world.

I could not have been more wrong. Young people are volunteering at record rates, more than any generation in history.

Instead, my biggest challenge has been skeptical adults.

I’ve spent a good deal of the last two decades encouraging adults to remember their own childhoods, reminding them how powerful they felt when they were trusted, heard, respected, counted on, and asked to contribute.

Countless times, I’ve made the case with doubtful elected officials that young people need to be at the decision-making table, especially when issues that affect youth are on the public-policy agenda. As they say, if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.

The history of the world is the history of power, and there is no question that young people become powerful when they bring their energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity to bear on the world’s problems. As the history of people who are African-American, women, immigrants, disabled, or LGBT reminds us, those in power do not share it easily.

The United Nation’s has publicly stated that the Global Goals will not be achieved without the significant contributions of young people around the world, so we have a lot of hearts and minds to change. A 16-year-old African girl in Lesotho told me that I was the first adult to give her permission to change the world. Less than a month later, I heard the identical complaint from a 16-year-old American girl from New York. When commencement speakers tell graduates that they are tomorrow’s leaders and the hope of the future, we put young people “on hold” at their most creative time in life. For too many youth, the promise of leadership never surfaces.

As adults, we must raise our expectations for what youth can accomplish in the present — as players, not spectators; as actors, not recipients. We simply cannot afford to wait for young people to grow up before they start tackling the biggest problems facing the planet — we need them to be the leaders and the hope of today.

When teenagers across the country took the reins of the gun safety debate after the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, they reminded us that young people have always played a pivotal role in America’s common life, starting with the birth of our Nation. The average age of Founding Fathers like James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton was only 19 when they rebelled against the 38-year-old king of the most powerful empire in the world. The #NeverAgain students also honor other youth-led movements ranging from Women’s Suffrage, Voting Rights for 18-Year-Olds, Campus Free Speech, Ending the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. In each case, youth leadership moved America forward, with some measure of kicking and screaming.

One question I’m constantly asked, often with skepticism, is “What do they actually do?”.

Well, if you’re pre-teens like Jackson Silverman, Katie Stagliano, and Will Lourcey, and you cared about hunger, you and your friends started nonprofits like I Heart Hungry Kids, Katies Krops, and Friends Reaching Our Goals. You then spend your adolescence feeding hundreds of thousands of people. Literally.

YSA also supports children and youth volunteering to end homelessness, climate change, illiteracy, gender inequality, middle school bullying, water scarcity, and just about every health, education, human service, human rights, and environmental issue on the planet. To measure our global impact in more than 100 countries, YSA aligns our outputs and outcomes with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to build a better future for everyone.

When young people decide to tackle a problem, YSA suggests they do it ASAP. Yes, we want them contributing to the greater good today, long before they become adults. But we also recommend they change the world using one (or more) of the four ASAP strategies: Awareness, Service, Advocacy, Philanthropy.

Youth are powerful forces in raising awareness about big community problems. Consider their roles in successful public education campaigns to stop littering, start recycling, wear seat belts, and limit exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Today, YSA supports students raising awareness in their communities about everything from water conservation and clean energy, to the humane treatment of animals, childhood obesity, and the opioid addiction crisis.

The “S” in ASAP describes the traditional community service route many kids take. They clean beaches and parks, tutor younger students in English and math, teach seniors how to use technology, ladle soup in shelters, include their peers with disabilities in extra-curricular activities, deliver groceries to people The second “A” in ASAP is about advocacy and the common good. It may be the most difficult, but also the most sustainable contribution youth make, since it focuses on changing the rules of the game. It’s about inclusivity, fairness, and equality in policies and laws. Since it may buck tradition and age-old power structures, youth advocacy requires intense working sessions with public officials, as well as compromise and patience. One project YSA supported with a grant was the Texas Hunger Warriors. After studying the official hunger statistics, these third-grade students decided it was unfair that 1 in 5 of kids like them lived in food insecurity. So they donned orange t-shirts, rallied in front of the State Capitol in Austin, and worked with the Legislature to pass the Texas Breakfast Bill. Don’t tell them that 9-year-olds can’t change the world!

The “P” in ASAP is for philanthropy. Bake sales for the hungry, lemonade stands for the Tsunami victims, car washes to help refugee kids, and even 46 hour Danceathons at Penn State that raise more than $10 million for children’s cancer every year. Sometimes it just takes money to solve the problem.

When young people serve their community ASAP they gain experience and agency, but they also learn critical workplace skills valued by every employer on the planet — empathy, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. They become more likely to vote, give money to charity, and participate in the civic life of their community for a lifetime.

Congressman John Lewis, who was handcuffed and bashed on the head as a teenager trying to make “A More Perfect Union” describes student activism like the #NeverAgain movement as youth getting into “good trouble.” Oprah went so far as to compare the Parkland students to the white and black students who banded together as Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The history of the world is the history of power, so it’s high praise to be compared to another generation of young people who succeeded in changing the world. It’s also a high bar. But armed with the courage to turn their unfathomable grief into something positive, plus their cell phones, social media accounts, lots of adult champions, and a natural dose of energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity, we must be optimistic they will succeed.”

This man has dedicated the last 22 years of his life to helping our youth to be all that they can be, and I think he deserves a huge round of applause.  Next week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the young people he mentioned who have done great things.  Thank you, Mr. Culbertson, for showing us just how much our kids are capable of, if we just give them the guidance and a little bit of encouragement.

Good People Doing Good Things — Four To Love

Every Wednesday morning, I go in search of those people who are selflessly giving of themselves, whether it be in the form of money or time, to make the world just a little bit better place by doing good things for others.  This is one of my ways of stepping back for just a brief time from the dark place that seems to define not only the U.S., but much of the world in this, the 21st century.  I find that I never have trouble finding those good people … they are everywhere, though they go largely unnoticed, for the sad reality is that bad news sells much better than good.  Shining the light on these people should give us all a reminder that there is yet hope for the cause of humanity in the world.  So sit back, if you will, and take just a few minutes to hear about these good people doing good things.


Raymond Suckling

Sewickley,  Pennsylvania, is a suburb 12 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh.  The borough’s population is under 4,000, with only about 950 families.  Until his recent death, Sewickley was home to Raymond Suckling.  Raymond was just an average guy.  He never married nor had children, but he had a lifelong companion, Betty Hallett, who died in 2002. Raymond had worked hard all his life, a WWII veteran and a mechanical engineer at Koppers Company in Pittsburgh.  Raymond lived in a modest home, drove a Subaru and liked White Castle hamburgers.  An average Joe, right?  But when Raymond died, he made the second largest donation ever to the Pittsburgh Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing a wide variety of issues in the community.  How much, you ask, did he donate?  $37.1 million!

Suckling-1This man, who had lived simply and frugally all his life, mowed his own lawn, always gave to various charities throughout the year, had wealth that nobody, not even those close to him, knew a thing about.

Suckling-2The money will be divided among Sewickley Public Library, the Heritage Valley Health System in Sewickley, and nonprofits and programs in the Sewickley region that help low-income youth and families.

Thom Hallett, one of Betty’s sons, said, “I recall him saying — and I think he meant this as a teaching moment for us — that having wealth also means having the responsibility to do good works.”  This was a man who lived up to his words.


Paula Garcia

In 2015, Paula Garcia of Vancouver, Canada, and a group of friends decided to do something about the plight of the homeless in downtown eastside of Vancouver.  They formed a small non-profit called Small Steps  and every Tuesday evening, they prepare sandwiches and load up with other essentials and hand deliver them to those in need.  The organization is small, its scope limited, but these are people volunteering their time and resources to help people.  Just think what the world would be like if every one of us dedicated just one evening a week to helping people.


Will Lourcey

FROGS Dinner Club has, to date, prepared over 175,000 meals for hungry children through Tarrant Area Food Bank, packaged 50,000 backpacks for the Backpacks for Kids Program and helped serve 10,000 families through Mobile Food Pantry.

Pretty nice, yes?  But … wait for it … the founder of FROGS is none other than 12 year old Will Lourcey whose motto is “See a need, make a plan, gather friends, and change the world”. I think we could all stand to take some of Will’s advice … I know I sure could.

will lourceyFROGS, short for Friends Reaching Our Goals, is a community outreach program that gets young children together to plan fun events that raise money, awareness and help feed hungry children.  If you have two minutes to spare, please watch Will tell you in his own words about FROGS … I guarantee you will fall in love with this young man … I did!


Lourdes Juan

One of my pet peeves is food waste.  Just ask Miss Goose about my fussing and grousing when I clean out the fridge and have to toss some moldy cheese, or a container of something unidentifiable, but growing a layer of fuzz on top.  Grocery stores throw out thousands, if not millions of dollars worth of food every week that could have fed hundreds of families.  My next good person is doing something to combat food waste and help feed those who might otherwise go hungry.

Lourdes Juan, of Alberta, Canada, says, “My cousin and I saw how much food was going to go to waste if we weren’t there to rescue it.”  Juan founded the non-profit group Leftovers Foundation, which rescues perishable food from stores and restaurants — things food banks often can’t handle.

Lourdes JuanEvery week in Alberta, 1,814 kilograms (4,000 lbs) of produce, day-old bread, pastries and prepared meals is saved.

“Food that is a bit spotted, is close to expiry, but not yet expired — so food that is destined for the landfill, we come in and rescue that,” Juan said.

Two-hundred volunteers in Calgary and Edmonton pick up food from about 55 businesses, seven days a week. The volunteers use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas.  The rescued food is then distributed to a number of agencies throughout Alberta.  One of those agencies is Home Mission, where spokesperson Robin Padanyi said, “To be able to have — not just food, but healthy food that’s going to be able to replenish some of the nutrients that our guests really need is important to us.”


All of these people … Raymond, Paula, Will and Lourdes … have given of themselves to help those in need.  Isn’t it wonderful to see that there are people like this in the world?  These people are not so self-focused that they cannot see the plight of others, and they are willing to give of themselves, their time, money and energy, to help others.  My hat is off to each and every one of these good people doing good things.

Good People Doing Good Things — Toyin Saraki

“If people need help in their life, you should be grateful you are in a position to help them.” – Toyin Saraki

Sakari-2Recently, a reader suggested I look into Ms. Toyin Saraki with an eye toward my ‘good people’ post.  I followed her suggestion and am so glad I did.  This is one amazing woman, and I think you will agree.

We don’t often think of those born into a wealthy royal family as being the type to give not only of their money, but also of themselves to help make the world a bit of a better place, but that is exactly what Ms. Sakari is … both royalty and a top philanthropist.

Toyin Saraki was born into the Ojora and Adele royal families of Lagos, Nigeria, as the daughter of the Yoruba aristocrat Oloye Adekunle Ojora, the Otunba of Lagos. She then obtained her L.L.B degree from the London School of Oriental and African Studies and her L.L.M (roughly equivalent to a JD in the U.S.) from King’s College London, both of the University of London. She returned to Nigeria and passed the Nigerian Bar in 1989. Royalty, wealthy, a lawyer, a privileged class, yet one thing changed the path Ms. Saraki might otherwise have taken.  She lost a child.

The year was 1992 and 25-year-old Toyin was 28 weeks pregnant with twins when she traveled from London to Nigeria on holiday.  And then she went into labour prematurely.  The first girl was alive, weighing a scant 1.2kg, or 2 pounds 10 ounces, but the second died.  She never saw her dead baby, and to this day does not know where the baby is buried.

“In our culture, we don’t really deal with grief. You don’t bury your child, so every time I go to a funeral, I am always checking to see if my child is there. One of my husband’s uncles knows but he won’t tell me. Imagine being unable to put flowers on a grave.”

To add insult to injury, Toyin felt her family and friends blamed her for the baby’s death. “I’d given them names so people blamed me because it’s bad luck to name a baby here until seven days after birth. I was made to feel like it was me.”

Nothing drives a person to action quite like having catastrophe strike, and thus began Ms. Saraki’s lifetime of philanthropy.

In 1993, the year after the death of her baby, she and a group of friends established The Lifestream Charity, which sponsors children with heart deformities to receive corrective surgeries in Israel, the U.K. and South Africa. The Lifestream also builds schools, offers scholarships to needy students, and offers disaster relief.

But in 2003 she gained a new platform, a new voice.  Her husband became the leader of Kwara State, Nigeria, and Toyin was now the First Lady of the state. One of the first things she did was to lead a movement for every citizen in Kwara to have access to education and healthcare and founded the Kwara Wellbeing Trust.

One of the first things Ms. Saraki noticed when she and her husband moved to Kwara was that not only were babies dying at a high rate, but mothers were dying in child birth an even higher rate.  So she began watching very closely, and in her first year there … “I realised there were so many women who were ‘unlucky’. When I went to I counted 1,000 births, and 200 [women] had died.”    Saraki then went to meet the health minister and thus began her crusade.

On a trip to London, she came across the red books healthcare workers give pregnant women to record their children’s immunisations and other data. “I realised we needed this in Nigeria,” she explains. She tracked down the makers and had thousands printed to take back to Nigeria.

In her effort to find ways to prevent so many deaths, Saraki first focused on doctors. “Eventually, I thought ‘why am I struggling with these doctors?’ Midwives are the ones that are with these women and they’re not so hoity-toity that they won’t listen. It’s an alliance.”

And then came her most lasting achievement, her widest outreach, her legacy, if you will.  But I would like to let Ms. Saraki tell you a bit about it in her own words:

In 2004, I realised that the silence on the inadequate maternal health system in Nigeria and Africa could not continue, and it had to change. This is when I founded the Wellbeing Foundation Africa.  It was actually my own traumatic experience in my home country Nigeria, where I lost my own child; which made me fully aware of the challenges and deficits every mother was experiencing, every day, every birth – be it unsanitised and old equipment to cold and unwelcoming health workers.

I had always understood that many Nigerians suffered from lack of education and opportunity, but this inequality was most pronounced in childbirth.  Every aspect of the process – from medical staff access to availability of resources to even basic cleanliness – is impacted upon by regional and national standards.  The trauma of losing a child opened my eyes to how few options were available for Nigerians. For all to learn, to be vocationally skilled and to be employed. All of this is dependent on various social factors, including class, geography, and gender. Women and girls unequivocally face the greatest challenges and barriers to education, work and rights in Nigeria and across Africa.

We advocate for improved health, education and individual empowerment across Africa through a multi-layered strategy of research, advocacy, policy development, education, community engagement and private-public sector partnerships.

Toyin-Barack

Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Toyin Saraki

Ms. Sakari and Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) do so many things, and Ms. Sakari is so involved with not only her own organization, but many others also, that I could write a short book here, but time and space being limited, let me just summarize a few of her most important accomplishments.

Through the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, which achieved consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Welfare Office in 2015, and working with high-level partners that include the UN and the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health, Saraki has demonstrated leadership on the UN Secretary General’s Every Woman, Every Child initiative and continues a focused advocacy on the post-2015 agenda. A committed grant maker, this year Mrs Saraki launched the Alaafia Universal Health Coverage Fund which bestows 5000 health insurance access grants annually to pregnant women, newborns, children under 5, adolescent girls and aged citizens in Kwara State.

Saraki is the global ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives, Newborn champion for Save the Children Nigeria, board chair of the White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, Goodwill Ambassador of the Olave Baden-Powell Society and board members of the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence and The Africa Justice Foundation. Her Foundation WBFA works in line with the Saving One Million Lives, the MDG Health Alliance and the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria.Global Philanthropy Forum

I am exhausted just from reading about all she does and has accomplished. I cannot possibly do her justice in this post, cannot begin to give her enough credit for all that she has accomplished, for all that she has given.

Saraki launched the Mamacare clinics two years ago and has educated more than 200,000 mothers about birth and children’s health. Subjects such as drugs, domestic violence and savings are discussed too. “By the time a woman’s done eight months of Mamacare classes she’s got a new worldview.” The results are remarkable: they haven’t lost a Mamacare mother yet. “I’ve seen triplets – born at 24 weeks – all survive. We did kangaroo care, with the mother, the grandma and the aunt.”

Sakari-4In the early days, Saraki most often paid when a mother needed hospitalization or a Caesarean, and sometimes she still does. Recently she was called by one of her midwives at 2:00 a.m. the night before a flight to London. A mother was having triplets and didn’t have money for a Caesarean. So, Toyin headed to Abuja General Hospital. “I didn’t even know the name of the mum! I said, ‘Is there a Mamacare Mum here?’ A woman popped out of bed and said, ‘It’s me!’ By the time I landed in London at 3pm she’d had the babies — a boy and two girls. Gorgeous children!” Not only that but they found her husband, who’d lost his job, new work with a senator: “We’ve turned into an employment agency too!”

 

Saraki says how much she loves her work. “I know this isn’t sexy work – and I’m not saving the world, but one mother at a time. They are living. They are actually living. For me, that’s fulfilling.”

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