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“The Elite Charade” – Philanthropic Foundation Fail

An Expose On The Workings Of What I Call “The Green Mafia”

National Public Radio (NPR) ran an interview this morning with Anand Giridharadas, author of  “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” – listen to “Generous Giving Or Phony Philanthropy? A Critique Of Well-Meaning ‘Winners’:

Giridharadas: A lot of well-meaning liberals — and it’s going to, it hurts to hear this — but a lot of well-meaning liberals paved the road for Trump. And they did so in two ways. First of all, by peddling a lot of pseudo-change instead of actually fixing the American opportunity structure, instead of actually repairing the American dream over the last 30-to-40 years — by doing that, they allowed some of the biggest problems in this country to fester for decades and not be solved.

Mr. Giridharadas is not alone – a  few years ago Dissent published a far more critical assessment, see: “Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy”

The power relationship between grantor and grantee has always been one-sided in favor of the grantor. Sycophancy is built into the structure of philanthropy: grantees shape their work to please their benefactors; they are perpetual supplicants for future funding. As a result, foundation executives and trustees almost never receive critical feedback. They are treated like royalty, which breeds hubris—the occupational disorder of philanthro-barons. By taking over the roles of project originator and designer, by exercising top-down control over implementation, today’s mega-foundations increasingly stifle creativity and autonomy in other organizations. This weakens civil society. Some mega-foundations even mobilize to defeat grassroots opposition to their projects. When they do, their vast resources can easily overwhelm local groups. This, too, weakens civil society.

And a recent article in The Atlantic writes about the history and role of philanthropy. It’s not a pretty picture – read the whole thing: “Against Philanthropy”:

“Big Philanthropy is definitionally a plutocratic voice in our democracy,” Reich told me, “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.” …

Because big philanthropy is an exercise of power, and in a democracy, any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude.”

I am pleased that this issue is finally getting national media attention. Hopefully, it will generate much needed reforms and accountability measures.

I hope it brings focus on NJs foundations, including the Dodge Foundation, the Wm. Penn Foundation, and Duke Foundation, the NJ groups they fund, what they fund them for, and how that funded work has undermined NJ’s historic leadership in grassroots activism and strict environmental regulation.

[Update – Here’s a perfect example: Penn Foundation’s “non-regulatory” Delaware Watershed initiative: GRANTS AWARDED TO IMPROVE HEALTH OF DELAWARE RIVER WATERSHED – band aid restoration projects divert resources, public and media attention, criticism, and activist opposition from Christie DEP rollback of stream buffer and Highlands protection. NJ Audubon gets funded while they log public forests in the NJ Highlands. Elite organizations, with corporate Boards and huge budgets and staff, undermine grassroots activists.]

Mr. Giridharadas is actually too kind to those he calls the “well meaning liberals”,. These are folks I’ve written about numerous times and called out as self serving and self dealing members of NJ’s Green Mafia, see:

Mr. Giridharadas is correct in his analysis of how the “well meaning liberals” are self serving and promote what he calls “pseudo change”, i.e. politically safe work intended to derail truly progressive policies, that undermines grassroots activists, and reinforces the status quo.

In my own assessment, I focus on how Foundation funded groups I call The Green Mafia, advocate a corporate agenda that is based on individual, private, market based, non-governmental, and non-regulatory window dressing feel good measures that do not threaten the status quo.

Examples range from NJ Audubon’s “corporate stewardship” and voluntary property owner programs to plant milkweed, to corporate funded frauds like Sustainable NJ and NJ Future.

As I wrote:

So when Wm. Penn Foundation and their well paid partners tout their “voluntary”, “cooperative”, “bottom up”, and “flexible” work with these nice guy small family farmers, you are hearing myths – a crock of shit in a well funded corporate campaign – that was originated by the infamous “Powell memo” – that is advancing an anti-regulatory ideological agenda. Here’s a succinct summary from today’s NY Times story on Trump EPA Administrator Pruitt:

“Since taking the helm of E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has barnstormed the country, meeting with farmers, coal miners and local leaders and promising an end to his predecessor’s regulatory approach.

Even more harshly, Chris Hedges has called such efforts “boutique activism” of a “faux liberal class“:

A faux liberal class, epitomized by amoral politicians such as the Clintons and Barack Obama, has led many disenfranchised people, especially the white underclass, to direct a legitimate rage toward liberals and the supposed liberal values they represent. Racism, bigotry, religious intolerance, homophobia, sexism and vigilante violence, condemned by liberal, college-educated elites, are embraced by those who have been betrayed, those who now speak back to liberal elites in words, gestures and acts, sometimes violent, designed to denigrate the core values of a liberal democracy. The hatred is the product of a liberal class that did nothing to halt corporations from driving tens of millions of families into poverty and desperation as it mouthed empty platitudes about rights and economic advancement….

The liberal class failed for decades to decry neoliberalism’s assault on the poor and on workingmen and -women. It busied itself with a boutique activism. It is not that cultural diversity is bad. It isn’t. It is that cultural diversity when divorced from economic and political justice, from the empowerment of the oppressed, is elitist. And this is why these liberal values are being rejected by a disenfranchised white underclass. They are seen as serving the elites, and marginalized groups, at the expense of that underclass.

NJ’s Green mafia and manipulative and self serving Foundations are excellent examples of the “Elite Charade”.

Let’s hope Chris Daggett and friends up in Morristown finally come under some well deserved scrutiny and criticism.

[Update: More relevant Chris Hedges:

A democracy is only possible when all of its citizens understand the machinery of power and have a role in the exercising of power.

Gramsci [1891-1937] would have despaired of the divide in the United States between our anemic left and the working class. The ridiculing of Trump supporters, the failure to listen to and heed the legitimate suffering of the working poor, including the white working poor, ensures that any revolt will be stillborn. Those of us who seek to overthrow the corporate state will have to begin locally. This means advocating issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting for clean water, universal health care and good public education, including free university education, that speak directly to the improvement of the lives of the working class. It does not mean lecturing the working class, and especially the white working class, about multiculturalism and identity politics.

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