by Reid Fitzsimons (note: off to East Africa for several weeks, will complete this article upon return)
The other week I was checking out at the Dollar Tree when the cashier asked, “Do you want to donate a dollar to the Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey relief?” I replied with a resounding, though polite, “No.” What a cheap SOB one might say, to which I am sympathetic. I will, however, justify my lack of charity in this case with two reasons.
The first involves the generosity of the Red Cross as it applies to salaries for its upper echelon employees, as old as this argument might be. The IRS form 990 is the means by which tax exempt/non-profit groups report their financial statuses, which is publicly available. Looking at the Red Cross 990 for 2014, there are at least 14 people at the national level who receive well over $350,000 in salaries and other benefits. The three highest are the CEO (Gail McGovern) at $556,772, the President for Biomedical Services (Shaun Gilmore) at $554,236, and the Deputy Chief Investment Officer (Anne Shelton) at $526,685. Hence, a mere three employees of this benevolent non-profit charity receive $1,637,693 in compensation: there is big money to be had in the world of the mega charities. In Dec. 2012, apparently in response to some controversy, the Red Cross released a statement: “The president and CEO of the American Red Cross is Gail McGovern, and her base salary has remained $500,000—without any pay increase—since she joined the American Red Cross in 2008. This is considered well within the range for executives of large non-profits like the Red Cross, a $3.3 billion organization.” I am reminded of my son at 10 or 11 arguing that all of his friends had Nintendo 16s. The cashier at the Dollar Tree could have asked, “would you like to donate a dollar to the Red Cross to cover 1/1,637,693th of the compensation for three Red Cross Employees?”
The second justification, more germane to this article, pertains to the Red Cross and the 2012 Presidential election. As a preface I would like to note that by my mid-40s I had donated many gallons of blood via the Red Cross. I had to stop in late 2001 because I began to spend quite a bit of time in 3rd-world areas where malaria is either endemic or epidemic, which is disqualifying as a blood donor. I spent, however, all of 2012 in the US, which would have allowed me to resume donations, and I was going to do so. Just before the election, however, Obama appeared in a TV ad with the opening script as follows: “When a natural disaster strikes, it can leave tens of thousands of families in need of help, and it can also bring out the best in the American people. In this country, we look out for one another. We have each other’s backs, because despite our differences, we are Americans first—and that’s what Americans do. These efforts are often led by the American Red Cross…”
This was delivered with Obama’s trademark timbre of an aloof professor with just a hint of playground bully at a private middle school, and I had to watch it two more times to realize it was not an Obama campaign ad but a PSA for the Red Cross. One might recall Obama often used the “when it goes down on the street don’t worry, I’ll have your back” imagery- kind of a tough guy with a manicure, and I was truly disappointed that the Red Cross leant it’s reputation for partisan reasons- enough to disassociate myself with the Red Cross, including no more giving blood. I appreciate this could be viewed as petty, but the Red Cross voluntarily entered the political world and decided alienating certain segments of the population was worth it- I certainly wasn’t alone in noticing this ad. Think of it like this: Donald Trump appears on TV and states “Founded 1881, the American Red Cross was part of what made America great. I ask you to support them now to help them help us make America great again.”
There is a time and place for things and, conversely, there are inappropriate times and places for things. Whether this wisdom was learned through reading Ecclesiastes, listening to the Byrds, or maturity and common sense, it really is a foundation for the economic and social commerce of life. To put it a little crudely, if I go to a topless joint I assume I’ll see bare breasts, if I take the grandkids to Chucky Cheese I assume I won’t. Culturally there seems to be an accelerating descent into a state where we can no longer depend on basic and reasonable assumptions, especially in regards to…to be continued