The problem with money is that too much of it in one place creates wealth. (It’s easy to imagine if you try.)
Money, an imaginary construct born of the human mind, is better at some things than others. What it may be absolutely worst at, perhaps, is as a yardstick for measuring the worth of human beings.
My personal theory is that the more you have the less likely you are to be deserving of it. And that truly stratospheric acquisition of wealth doesn’t provide enough atmosphere to sustain life. That’s why those with that much wealth have skin that looks like the surface of the moon.
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Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return and the media went nuts.
Every angle got explored. The narratives were legion.
- Romney gave a “gift” the the government by overpaying on his taxes.
- Romney’s 2011 rate of making charitable donations is higher than Obama’s. 29.4% for Romney vs. 21.8% for Obama.
- Romney’s tax return was crafted to prove he always pays at least a 13% rate as he previously claimed.
- Romney could have given more to charity but it would have lowered his tax rate.
- Romney’s taxes prove he’s not fit to be president based on his own words.
These are interesting times.
And on every side of every single one of those points there are voices shouting that it proves something and other voices shouting that it proves the exact opposite.
It’s enough to make your head spin. Ah, spin. That word is also interesting.
I have a different sort of question about all of this, though: Where Mitt Romney is concerned, what kind of “charity” are we talking about?
An analysis (by Business Insider) shows in years 2009 and 2010 the “vast majority” (approx. 80 percent) of Romney’s charitable contributions were directed to the Mormon Church.
As always, where Romney is concerned, the financials get rather complicated. The donations take the form of tithes and other contributions, like stock donations.
Interestingly, though, if you set aside Romney’s contribution to his own church, suddenly Obama has the higher rate of charitable contributions. And that’s not exactly the same narrative they want to be sold. Factor in that wee little fact and suddenly Obama’s rate of charitable giving becomes four times higher than Romney’s.
So the question becomes: Is giving to your own church the same as giving to a “charity?”
Americans are generous. We contribute about $300 billion to charitable causes every year. (About half of that is typically donated between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.)
We also give deep in the wake of disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti.
We are generous but we don’t want to be stupid, either. We know that there are some bad people who seek to profit from human suffering. I have personally seen scammers spring out of the woodwork like cockroaches shortly after major events like earthquakes, rebate checks, H1N1 and even 9/11. These people strike under the guise of some cause at a time when people are feeling emotional and particularly giving. That can make them easier prey. The sad thing is that none of the money that is purloined by fraudsters goes to help anyone. It’s simply outright theft. For the evil among us there are no decency limits of any kind.
On January 14th The Huffington Post reported that donations made by generous Americans using credit cards to charitable organizations assisting with relief efforts in Haiti were being “skimmed” by credit card companies by three percent.
The Huffington Post said that for every dollar donated about three percent was kept by banks and credit card companies in the form of transaction fees. It was additionally reported that these companies traditionally keep about $250 million from charitable donations annually.
Who knew that profiting from the generosity of others could be so bloody lucrative?
Then, on January 16th, I heard about the issue from MoveOn.org in an email:
But when Americans donate to charity with their credit cards, the credit card companies get rich. In some cases they keep 3% of the donation as a “transaction fee,” even though that’s far more than it costs them to process the donation.
Now the New York Times is reporting that “some” fees are being waived:
After being criticized for siphoning off up to 3 percent of charitable donations for transaction fees, the nation’s largest payment networks — Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover — announced that they would waive fees for some contributions aimed at aiding Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
The New York Times reported that these transaction fees typically range from 1 to 3 percent.
The Huffington Post also reported that only one time before did the credit card companies waive these transaction fees and that was for the tsunami disaster of 2004.
The rest of the time it is apparently business as usual which means profiting from charitable donations.
So the credit card companies said they’ll waive some fees. Who will do what? Let’s find out (per the New York Times):
- Visa – “would not apply interchange fees, through February, to donations made to a select group of major charities — the names of which were still being compiled — that are providing support to Haitian relief efforts. The company said it would also donate any revenue that was generated by charitable donations related to the Haiti crisis through next month.”
- Mastercard – “would wave interchange fees on relief donations made using United States-issued MasterCards to the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, Unicef, Save the Children and CARE U.S.A.” The article did not indicate a time frame for this.
- American Express – “through the end of February, it would rebate the transaction fees for charitable contributions made on its card directly to the nonprofit organizations listed on the Agency for International Development’s Web site in support of Haiti relief.”
- Discover – “said it was also waiving some fees but did not immediately offer details.”
Wow. What commitment. If that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart I don’t know what will. Apparently if you contribute to charity outside the bounds of these very narrowly defined exceptions they will still happily gobble up those transaction fee profits. Additionally they appear to be building in time limits on how long they are willing to do this, like a whopping month or two. I guess they figure they’ll do what looks good now in the moment when the public’s eye is focused on them and then go back to normal once this all blows over. It’s true the memory of the American people can be short.
Meanwhile, I’ve lost all “interest” in credit card companies. I already boycott them for financial reasons. Now I have extra incentive. Thanks, evil scum.