Archive for November, 2009

My heroes: Bill Moyers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I always knew the incomparable beacon of light that is Bill Moyers would be featured in this column at some point, so when I learned last weekend that he announced he will resign from PBS in April 2010, I figured now was the time to write a post about him. I have been watching Bill Moyer’s Journal program regularly since it was resurrected for a second life on PBS in 2007 – I believe at the suggestion of my Grandma. I don’t own a television so I watch it online and while I don’t follow the schedule, I check in weekly to see who he’s been talking with.

Qualities he possesses that I respect most include:

1. his commitment to being one of the lone voices speaking truth to power in the tattered shreds of what we call “news media”;

2. the level of sincerity that fuels his investigations and an honest desire to get to the truth of the matter;

3. the courage he demonstrates by presenting important issues from many different sides without apology.

His understanding and mastery of the process behind investigative journalism, knowledge of history and ability to place events in meaningful context is now a dying art in our media. He has been unrelenting in his coverage of the health care reform debate/debacle and very recently challenged the President and members of Congress to reinstate the draft if they feel we should send more troops to Afghanistan.

Earlier this month he featured an interview with Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most awe-inspiring and unflinching voices in American theater, about her current show Let Me Down Easy. Some of my favorite episodes include several conversations with the noteworthy economist Simon Johnson, a fascinating discussion about Thomas Paine with two noted scholars and a mind-bending dissection of potential outcomes in relation to an important case currently under review by the Supreme Court that “could decide to erase the legal distinction between corporations and individuals”.

Last week’s episode was a lesson in history and featured rare recordings of LBJ in conversation with various advisors talking about how to deal with the war in Vietnam. It was particularly compelling given the current political debate about how to deal with Afghanistan (a war I believe we cannot win and should not be fighting) and I am sure Mr. Moyers intended to provoke reflection on our past experiences waging wars in foreign lands against guerrilla fighters. As the (paraphrased) saying goes: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Bill Moyers is one of the last independent journalists in the U.S. who knows his history and is using his position and program to advocate for our society’s progress and evolution, instead of serving the same old interests with the same poor results.  Watch him (and check out the show’s archives online) while you can.

Mr. Moyers – you will be sorely missed. Thank you for always shining your light into the dark places of our society.

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe – a film made with fiscal sponsorship

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Last night, I had the immense pleasure of seeing a film on the “big screen” that I helped become what it is in a little tiny way…

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is a documentary about William Kunstler, the famous/infamous civil rights attorney who defended the Chicago 8, the Catonsville 9 and a host of other controversial figures throughout his career.

The film was made by two of his daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler. I met them while managing the fiscal sponsorship program at Fractured Atlas and worked with them to process the donations and manage some of the funds that helped make this movie a reality. They also used Women Make Movies as a fiscal sponsor, another important organization that serves women filmmakers.

The film is a beautiful story of a complicated man and the relationship his daughters had to him while growing up here in NYC. In Kunstler’s later years, he defended some rather unsavory characters, including handling two years worth of appeals battles in behalf of Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Jogger rapists who was later exonerated when the real culprit confessed to the crime.

The film is currently playing at Cinema Village in NYC – it runs through this weekend and will be extended if ticket sales warrant it. They are having talk backs/Q&As with the filmmakers and some of the key players after certain showings and if you have any interest in the history of civil rights and/or this fascinating man, I strongly suggest you see the film.

Yusef Salaam was one of the speakers at the Q&A last night. To hear him talk about being falsely accused, convicted and to ultimately serve 5+ years for a crime he didn’t commit at age 15 was frightening, heartbreaking and ultimately inspirational. He has become an amazing advocate and a bold example of why we need serious prison and judicial reform in this country.

It will be opening in LA, San Francisco, Seattle and more cities around the U.S. this weekend – you can find all the details on the film’s website.

Congratulations to Sarah and Emily for creating this amazing documentary about their father and an important figure in American history. To me, this is the best possible use of a fiscal sponsorship program in the arts.

Dear Foundations: Help us help them!

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Early this week, the Wall St. Journal’s Personal Finance section had an interesting article written about how to fix some of the most common problems that plague the philanthropic and non-profit sectors with regard to charitable giving.

For anyone who has worked in the sector for a substantial length of time, these suggestions are kind of a no-brainer, but it is good to see them in print in the WSJ nonetheless. The article also includes an interview with the author (in which he digs into the issue of how wealthy individual donors direct their support) and some great charts.

It is a quick read and it makes some fine points. Some suggestions (see #7) are already being implemented in certain sub-sectors (namely ours!), for example, the Cultural Data Project – a streamlined online application and data collection system developed and launched in Pennsylvania and now used in California, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.

Here is a quick list of the suggestions made the author, Pablo Eisenberg, who is is senior fellow in the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.:

1. Increase the Distribution Percentage (Referring to how much of their assets Foundations are required to grant out per year – this is my favorite suggestion)

2. Increase General Operating Support (A topic those of us in the arts have been talking about for years)

3. Increase Multiyear Funding (Yes, yes, yes – foundations offering financial stability year over year – what a concept!)

4. Adopt Rolling Grant Making (Especially given the range of fiscal years that exist, it would be helpful with planning & cash flow)

5. Allocate More Funds to the Truly Needy (I can get behind this given our current economic contraction and high unemployment – but take it from somewhere else besides the arts orgs!)

6. Reach Out to Local Groups And Underserved Regions (We are all in this together people – think Purple, not Red vs. Blue)

7. Simplify Application and Reporting Procedures (Amen, hallelujah!)

8. Improve Public Accountability (I don’t think the non-profit sector are the ones who need more accountability right now – how about going after the banking and finance sector first?)

9. Fund the Watchdogs (Having working for an arts service organization for the last 4+ years, I wholeheartedly agree)

To me, the elephant in the pie-chart is the unavoidable fact that the largest percentage of charitable giving goes to religious organizations who often operate a lot of programs for the poor & needy. I can’t figure out why Pablo doesn’t address this and instead lumps together “higher education, health, the arts and culture” (in the interview) as the largest recipients of individual and institutional support and suggests that support should be redirected for more “charitable purposes”.

His statement about the largest recipients doesn’t agree with the charts included in the article that are sourced from Giving USA –  if you add the percentages listed (education 13%, health 9% and the arts 4%) you only get 24% of total giving going to these areas which is hardly a whopping majority. Maybe he is including the religious organizations in his definition of “culture” and if so, then he is absolutely correct, but this should be clarified if that is indeed the case.

What suggestions would you add to the list?

Triple tragedy

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

In less than a week, the U.S. has witnessed three ugly incidents in which an armed gunman entered a public place and started shooting people. The current state of affairs in this country is pretty disastrous in my opinion, so while I am saddened by this news, I can’t say I am surprised.

– First was Fort Hood, Texas where an army psychiatrist shot up a military base right before a graduation ceremony was to begin (PTSD anyone?). My brother is a retired army veteran, so incidents involving the men & women of our military hit me close to home.

– Second was a disgruntled worker in Orlando FL (where I lived for almost four years and still have close ties) who returned to his former employer’s office to settle a score, apparently believing the firm was sabotaging his quest for unemployment benefits.

– The third happened yesterday just outside Portland OR – a murder/suicide perpetrated by a man allegedly in a relationship with the woman he killed, who also injured two innocent bystanders before killing himself.

I wonder – is this symptomatic of a general unraveling of our collective psyche?

Are these challenging times stressing people out beyond their breaking point?

Or are stories like this just the result of an overzealous media ploy to divert our attention away from more important issues (economy/jobs, health care, financial regulation, climate change)?

Is this any different from the normal scale & scope of violence we see in our society or does it portend something bigger?

Are we approaching a tipping point wherein our citizens reject traditional methods of conflict resolution and resort to taking matters into their own hands via gun violence?

I have no idea…What do you think?

Would you pay to read Fox News online?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Rupert Murdoch thinks you will and has announced plans to remove all his “news” sites from Google sometime next year when they launch required paid subscriptions to access content. Apparently discussions surrounding his plans may violate some anti-trust laws in the U.K..

What a fantastic business strategy for publishing in the 21st century, especially at a time when (according to The Guardian) Newscorp has experienced “a plunge in profits from newspapers, which saw their earnings fall from $134m to $25m”.

Way to be Murdoch. Too bad you fail to realize that in the U.S., your target demographic for Faux News can’t afford toothpaste these days let alone online content….Of course, Murdoch also owns the Wall St. Journal, but folks who read that publication online have plenty of cash to pay for content and already do so.

An interesting article supporting the strategy appears in HuffPo of all unlikely places. I suppose only time will tell if it works.

As my English Granny likes to say “Good riddance to bad rubbish”!

I say “Don’t let the printing press hit you in the ass on the way out.”

UPDATE: Here is some NY Times coverage featuring thoughts from the blogosphere on the subject. My favorite reader comment is this:

It reminds me of the episode of “The Simpsons” in which Mr Burns attempts to block out the sun and then charge a fee for its use. — Ceadan

Go Vote NYC!

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Today is election day here in NYC. Polls are open from 6am – 9pm.

If you need information about your polling site or anything else related to the election, you can find it here or by calling The Board of Elections at 866-VOTE-NYC.

Participate and make your voice heard!