Guinness and the Koch Brothers: How Money Buys Influence

It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without thinking about Guinness—which made things awkward for organizers of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this year.

Guinness decided not to join the parade because it barred gay and lesbian groups from participating. Days before, Heineken and Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co withdrew their sponsorships of parades in New York and Boston for similar reasons.

It’s a powerful statement coming from businesses whose products are typically associated with the holiday—especially when their financial backing allows the parades to happen in the first place. These events reinforce how having monetary power can garner attention and call others to action.

But those with wealth and high visibility have different ideas about what deserves attention. Guinness used its brand and money to reinforce its political stance at a parade; while the move is admirable, it only influences public opinion in the short run. People with more financial power, however, have a much farther reach—and how they spend their money can affect everyone.

Take David and Charles Koch, owners of the conglomerate Koch Industries: they believe in low taxes, minimal industry regulation, and reduced social services. While they have donated toward causes such as cancer research and the arts, their political involvement has leaders and citizens concerned.

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Figures such as Senator Harry Reid have rallied against the brothers for investing so much money in political causes they support. He has some substantial examples to work with:

  • Koch Industries is widely regarded as one of the largest air polluters in the country, yet the brothers convinced Congress members to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t back climate change legislation.
  • Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee that heavily relies on the brothers for funding, rolled out a series of ads against the Affordable Care Act—which didn’t really stick to factual information.
  • They invested $490 million in the 2012 election cycle, including fundraising for the Republican candidacy.

Regardless of whether anyone sides with the Koch brothers’ or Guinness’s political philosophies, you can’t help but wonder if wealthy people and businesses should feel responsible for supporting a greater good. It’s one matter to influence public opinion by withholding money or not participating (as Guinness did)—but if you provide financial backing to political figures and legislature behind the scenes, how do we know who works for our best interests?

Sure, it’s a stretch to compare a brewery to two wealthy brothers. But both have money, so both have power—it’s just a matter of quantity.

Should Guinness or the Koch brothers practice business differently? Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Why You Should Love Your Job Right Now (… if you weren’t furloughed)

I got a strange phone call a few weeks ago.

It was the supervisor at one of my two jobs. She said that due to a few unforeseen circumstances, I needed to stay home until things got straightened out.

I was not kept home because of mistakes on my part, at least—it was some kind of system error. But since this is one of two jobs I work, that phone call meant that I would have nothing to do for half the week.

This went on for two weeks. So if you’re the kind of person that hates their job and doesn’t care about money, you’re probably thinking That sounds awesome! I wish I could sit around and do nothing!

I don’t hate my job—and I do care a little about money—but the novelty of not having to go to work still hit me. Too bad that only lasted for a day, and then I went and got a nasty cold.

I’m the kind of person that feels the need to contribute something in order to feel meaningful in society. Heck, aren’t we all that kind of person? So sitting around feeling ill and not working made me feel meaningless. I wasn’t doing something or making something, and all I could do is read books and binge on Netflix. Not a terrible way to spend your days, but still.

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In light of the US government shutdown, I can’t help but think about the hundreds of thousands of federal employees that just got told they weren’t allowed to come to work either. I am not one of them, but I imagine those that were furloughed—including people like clinical researchers, FDA inspectors, NASA engineers, and many more—are being told that their work is not meaningful enough to sustain.

There are clearly many opinions about how well the United States Congress deals with funding government programs. Beyond any criticism, I’m thinking about the kids that be going hungry because their mothers’ WIC checks didn’t come, or the ones that may not even go to school because their case workers had to stay home. Or the families that depend on housing vouchers to keep roofs over their heads. Or just the realization that hundreds of thousands of people will simply not have paychecks as many agencies are operating on emergency procedures.

It’s beyond books and Netflix now—it’s a ripple effect that will reach all of us if these people cannot return to work. If you still do have a job at the moment, be grateful for it… even if it’s not your favorite thing to do every day.

What do you think about the government shutdown? Share your thoughts below.

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

What’s the Holdup (on Immigration Reform)?

Last Tuesday, the United States Senate voted “overwhelmingly” to begin a debate on the overhaul of current immigration policy. I love how a word like “overwhelmingly” can be used to describe a vote simply to allow a bill to be debated. So that’s great. Overwhelming bipartisan support to allow a discussion to begin. But where exactly does that leave us in regards to new immigration policy?

Nowhere.

The Senate is just now beginning what will be a month-long debate on the issue—with any eventual success there simply being the first step before sending the bill to the House. But the positive is that there is support to at least debate the bill. The majority of policymakers agree that the current system is broken. The difference, as always, comes down to how to fix it. An outline of the current proposal can be found here.

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On the Republican side, concern is that the bill won’t provide strong enough border security. More left-leaning groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claim that the current border setup already threatens civil and human rights, and that further bolstering it would only exacerbate the issues.

The second significant debate point is the issue over what government benefits are accorded to illegal immigrants. The new bill would allow for a path to citizenship for even illegal immigrants, albeit an arduous one. A large majority of applicants would be facing a process of at least ten years. Under the current provisions, these immigrants would be classed as “registered provisional immigrants” upon payment of a fine and a successful application. This classification would allow them to travel and work in the United States, while still being ineligible for most government benefits. Only then, after ten years in provisional status, could immigrants seek a green card and the right to permanent residency.

Even when things seem black and white, there’s always grey area. Or rather, one side sees it white, one black. But regardless of where the extremes fall and what may eventually arise as a compromise bill, the fact is that the discussion has begun. And where people are talking, we can hope one day for a resolution.

 

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

The Hole in Healthcare Coverage: States’ Rejection of Medicaid Expansion

Almost a year ago, I was working as a research intern at the National Institute of Health. It was during my lunch break when my friend and coworker peered over her smartphone to announce to the table that the Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act. Many of us had followed the debates and controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. And for the rest of the day, the excitement in the building was palpable as news of the ruling spread.

Ideally, the Affordable Care Act was indeed something to be excited about. It eliminates many gaps in healthcare, particularly amongst the uninsured. Notable changes to insurance coverage includes young adults’ eligibility to join their parents health plans, an end to exclusion of children and adults with pre-existing conditions, and a prohibition of lifetime or annual limits on benefits.

However, the Supreme Court ruling also struck down the law’s mandated expansion of Medicaid, a loophole that some states are now exploiting. With Wisconsin as the latest state legislature to reject the proposed Medicaid expansion, many of the country’s citizens with the lowest incomes would be among those left uninsured.

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A handy illustration of how the hole created by rejection of Medicaid expansion would lie directly under the poorest.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cited “fiscal uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C.” among the reasons for his opposition to the Medicaid expansion, but Democrats view the act as another ploy in the GOP’s continued resistance of “Obamacare.” You can check where your state currently stands using this interactive map.

Regardless of the reasons, states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri, along with their rejection of Medicaid expansion limit the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. Their resistance also burdens those who are the poorest. And such effects illustrate a dire failure in our basic responsibility to care for those most in need.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Limbo at Guantánamo Bay

On the heels of President Obama’s public reaffirmation and four years after his original promise to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, many are now simply wondering, “When?”

Earlier last month, the New York Times published a prisoner’s harrowing account of his own experiences at Guantánamo. An issue long forgotten by much of the American public, the Guantánamo debate was forcefully reignited as Samir Naji al Hasan Mobeq’s plea to “the eyes of the world” rippled through newspapers and television stations.

Recent inmate hunger strikes and subsequent force feedings, which themselves have been denounced as unethical by the American Medical Association, have once again turned the nation’s attention to Guantánamo. Added upon previous allegations of torture, the hunger strikes have left more and more people with the chilling sense that this, this cannot be justice.

The Guantánamo issue exemplifies the polarizing tension between national security and the rights afforded to suspects. In the wake of September 11, it’s not hard to imagine the reactions that contributed to the detainment of suspected terrorists, not hard to justify holding them without due process. However, now more than a decade after its inception, Guantánamo still holds over 100 prisoners who have neither been charged nor tried.

We often, understandably, let personal emotions seep into the political and the legal spheres. This is not an exclusively American phenomenon (see this, for example). Catchy, I know, but far from productive. Our immediate reactions are governed by our beliefs, our fears, our hopes. But a knee-jerk response too often clouds reason. And in the case of Guantánamo, reason has come roaring to the American public that this place is at odds with the fundamental rights we value as citizens and as fellow human beings.

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Amongst the rows of prison cells in Guantánamo, there is a hall of hauntingly beautiful landscapes painted by the inmates. They are a striking reminder of the humanity in us all. From the increasing support for Guantánamo’s speedy closure, I venture to say that we have not yet become so calloused that we are willing to sacrifice human rights for politics, human dignity for security. Nor should we be. These men are entitled to either release or trial. Let the law, and nothing short of the law, pass judgment.

 

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.