How Quickly We Forget

Hey, remember all the uproar and lawsuits surrounding the Red Cross after 9/11? The thrown-out blood donations, the undisbursed relief money? Yeah, me either. Fortunately there are people out there with longer memories than me who are able to maintain their skepticism over the long term.

For example, this came across the wire today on Allan Weisbecker‘s email list. Allan is an author whose works I’ve followed for a while and with whom I’ve developed what I call a one-way friendship. That is, I keep track of what’s going on with him without actually bugging him about it. It’s about the level of interaction either of us have time for, I think. Anyway, he just sent a pant-load of money to the Red Cross (didn’t we all?) and told the people on his list to do the same. One of his readers pushed back, validly I think, and here’s part of that exchange. Keep in mind, this is an exchange that was forwarded to me but to which I was not an original party.

But there’s bad news too.

As a subscriber pointed out, the Red Cross is not the way to donate money for Katrina Relief.

I’m going to reproduce the subscriber’s email here…

Okay, the email:

> Allan,
> After such an eloquent and well-stated letter, it
> pains me that you would suggest people donate to the
> Red Cross.
> Yes. The vast majority of those who work for and
> volunteer their time on behalf of the Red Cross are
> very fine people. And they do this work with the
> best of intentions and for all the right reasons.
> However, the Red Cross itself is a tool of the very
> same forces you rail against (the establishment)..or
> in Orwell’s words which you quote in your
> letter.. the “oligarchical ruling group.”
> There are some within the upper echelons of the Red
> Cross who are utterly corrupt. And for the most part
> they are running the show.
> Consider what happened to the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS
> of dollars donated to the Red Cross for the EXPRESS
> PURPOSE of helping the families of those who
> perished on Sept. 11th. These families got a mere
> pittance and they had to literally DRAG it from the
> Red Cross under threat of lawsuit.
> Not only that, the funds that the Red Cross received
> following September 11th were utilized for efforts
> all over the country (many of which were completely
> unrelated to the 9-11 tragedy) clearly against the
> wishes of those who donated for the specific purpose
> of helping those families who lost a loved one.
> Red Cross also made all sorts of impassioned pleas
> for people to donate blood after 9-11 (and again
> with Katrina). Virtually everyone involved in the
> 9-11 tragedy either made it out alive and well….or
> they DIED. There was not a need for massive amounts
> of blood. Most of this blood was either sold for a
> profit or destroyed (it’s true) because they had too
> much.
> The Red Cross established the “Liberty Fund” after
> 9-11. Out of the nearly $600 million raised, they
> BEGRUDGINGLY distributed only $154 million.
> The explanation was that this money was being used
> to fight the “War on Terror.” When questioned about
> the withholding of funds, Red Cross President Dr.
> Bernadine Healy arrogantly responded, “The Liberty
> Fund is a war fund. It has evolved into a war fund.”
> Families of 9-11 victims complained bitterly, but to
> no avail.
> This was certainly not the first time this has
> happened. When the devastating earthquake struck San
> Francisco several years ago the Red Cross received
> $50 million in donations. Only $10 million of that
> amount was distributed for the purpose it was
> intended.
> My best advice is that you take the time to do the
> research and find a reputable national charity or a
> group in one of the affected areas and direct your
> donation to them. That is unless you don’t mind the
> fact that 80 cents of every dollar you send to the
> Red Cross will never make it to Louisiana or
> Mississippi.

> Respectfully,
> Jon Herring
> Here are a couple of links in case you care to look
> into this subject further.

Of those two links, I think I’d pay more attention to the first one, since it’s CBS News. Granted, not the most reliable source in the world, but they don’t appear to have retracted the story. The second one devolves into conspiracy theories toward the end. Obviously you should do your own research and come to your own opinion.

My perspective on this, having worked on a few projects that were ostensibly “for charity,” is that there really is a lot of overhead and corruption between you putting in your money and anyone receiving a benefit. I personally worked (pro bono via my employer) with a group that went in with claims of “minimum overhead” and ended up pushing as little as 20 cents on a dollar to the actual charity organizations involved (that’s the organization, not the people receiving the benefit!). I guess it’s fortunate they weren’t very good at attracting donations.

Given that this is Louisiana we’re talking about in the present case, a state with high levels of ambient corruption, I’m not sure what choice you have if you want to donate. One serious option is to take direct action, rather than just sending money. Help at a shelter. Participate in a food or clothing drive. Or network, find someone you know who knows someone who is taking direct action and help them. For example, I can personally vouch for Blankets for the Gulf. These are people who are going to do what they say they are. And they’re not even asking for money! Though if you can’t make a blanket, you might seriously consider donating vehicle driving/use/rental, gas cards, storage or a donation point (in the Central Texas area), use of a vacuum bagging/shrinkwrap machine, or any number of other logistical support items I’m sure will be needed come December. If you want to help, get in touch with Heather. At the very least, spread the word to any craft-handy people you know.

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