Category Archives: charity

Part of the problem

Pope Benedict XVI

That’s what Pope Benedict XVI is, even though he’ll never admit it. His declaration last week that AIDS in Africa was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems” was the construction of yet another obstacle in the path to an epidemic-free continent, where over 22 million are infected with the disease. His solution? “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”

Now, I may be an atheist, but I’m certainly not the militant type that actively seeks to dismantle religion at any given juncture, but it’s hard to listen to this without feeling a sense of both shame and anger at the words of someone who is, through the influence of his church, such a huge influence to the lives of millions. Religion gives hope and structure to many people throughout the world, and there’s a place for it, just as there is a place for atheism, and agnosticism, but what hope do abstinence and praying give to those already dying of the disease? They deny our human nature, our desires, our attraction. To suggest that they are the only ‘failsafe’ method to halt the devastating swathe that AIDS and HIV cut through the continent is, while understandable within the context of the Catholic faith, naive and sticking your head in the sand. But to suggest that AIDS will worsen through the use of condoms is laughable, (presumably a reference to the skewed logic that it will promote promiscuity, in a continent where it is in part responsible for the spread of the virus) closing the door after the horse had bolted. What it really is, and what the Catholic church can sadly never admit, is a contributor to the very deaths themselves.

With so much influence in the region, such dogma can only serve to confuse, to undo the tireless work of the aid agencies, and to send thousands or even millions to their death, no doubt safe they will be rewarded in heaven. And yet the Catholic church ploughs on with the theory, and with it, pious voice floating over the parapet, refuses to engage with medical science and modern life. It’s a tragedy of global proportions, and while the Pope can sleep safely knowing his life is a far cry from the ungodly, erratic existence of those in Africa whose lives are a sea of (in Benedict’s words) “divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality “, what hope will his words give those dying millions?

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When something sounds too good to be true….

It usually is.

Bernie Madoff

Take Bernie Madoff. Financier to the stars, the rich, the cream of America’s (and the world’s) elite. A genius player of the money markets, a former chairman of the NASDAQ, a Wall Street legend. What better pedigree could you choose? And who better to invest with? The perfect high-rolling individual with whom to invest your millions. Or so it seemed. An investment return that defied the markets. And yet, in the end, no more than a Ponzi scheme.

Despite the intelligence of many of his clients, it was the oldest trick in the book. There was no capital, merely the payment of money to investors using other investors’ money. A paper profit but a puff of smoke. A house of cards. Arguably the biggest private fraud in history – $50bn – and perpetrated by an individual with an aura of invincibility that allowed him to convince those willing to make a seemingly staggering return to part with their life savings. There was the rarefied air of the Palm Beach Country Club, home to most of his investors, who he personally chose. There was no application to this exclusive group, you were invited by Madoff, adding to the air of elitism.

But the sad fact was many of these were older, couples, many charities that saw his philanthropy and followed it for the benefit of their charitable purposes. Big banks suffered as well – investors at BNP Paribas, Banco Santander, and HSBC were among the heaviest hit. Amazingly, the SEC investigated Madoff’s organisation eight times in the last sixteen years, and, incredibly, found no evidence. Similarly, a rival firm, determined to replicate his amazing results, concluded they were impossible, and in 2005, a report to the SEC still resulted in no findings. In the end, the credit crunch was what took the rug from under his manicured feet. Wishing to withdraw 7bn, Madoff couldn’t cover the cash. The end was nigh.

This week he pleaded guilty to 11 charges of fraud, and may face up to 150 years in jail. He’ll most likely die there. But while he admits his role, and remorse, only he will know why he did it. It is, in a time where greed is laid bare to us all, a staggering conceit, and one that probably says as much about personal greed (and, at the same time, the willingness for people to accept anything in order to make money) as any. Gordon Gecko would be proud.

When Gaza means dying children are too political for tv…

In a word, pathetic. That’s the decision of ITV, BBC and Sky not to show an appeal film by the British charity DEC on their screens. It’s particularly galling from the BBC (though not entirely unsurprising considering its slanted coverage of the crisis as a whole) that it sees its impartiality under question if it had gone ahead. Judging by its past form it’s depressing that a public service broadcaster with the breadth and reach of the organisation shouldn’t use its voice to help appeal for money in what is another in a long line of humanitarian crises.

They’re just covering their consciences, most likely in light of their recent scandals, but it’s a totally spineless act. It does seem that it’s ok for appeals from tsunamis, famines and earthquakes, but when children are dying from starvation from a conflict it’s not. What the fuck did they think was going on in Eritrea, Congo or Rwanda?

Gaza's dying children