Lady Gaga wears a dress made of meat stitched in ‘pink slime.’ Even the jaunty bonnet on her head is a slab of beef. If you think the rest of the column is about meat, you’re dead right. My apologies to vegetarians and vegans. Before exiting, bear with me. I’m merely attempting to show humans who answer to the description of pink slime: ‘rejected fat, sinew, bloody effluvia and occasional bits of meat cut from carcasses in the slaughterhouse.’ I have more news for you: this so-called fine meat is packaged into 28 million pounds of ground beef sold in America every week! The consumers are fast-food restaurants, supermarkets and school lunch programmes.
Indelicate as this whole thing sounds, one needs to deal with it. Like their twin the pink slime, there are people amongst us who have made money by robbing the state or its citizens. Yet like the pink slime, they pass off as ‘fine’ and ‘wholesome.’ While we know most to be made up of drivel, dirt and double-talk, still like the pink slime, we find them indispensable.
At lunch in New York on a flat grey day, a guest in our group clears his throat to tell us his latest word coinage. The wordsmith’s opening sentence, “While you’ve heard of money laundering — the type our ‘unimpeachable’ leaders, society’s godfathers and captains of industry practise to switch their black money to ‘white’— few of you may know or care to know, some of these unworthy characters (expletives deleted) are actively involved in ‘reputation laundering.’”
‘Go on Einstein,’ says a lady sitting next to him. The rest of the lunch is spent in an animated discussion, naming the infamous who have pilfered, shoplifted, robbed, swiped, purloined, embezzled the state and its citizens in Pakistan. By now their names are writ in stone, still they are trying to move from the gallery of rogues to the gallery of heroes! “Once they see that life is limited and their end is near, or even before that, they become conscious of their reputation. It is then that they start doing this philanthropic stuff to launder their image and their reputation.”
The world is full of such people of different gradations, says the wordsmith. In South Dakota, there is a multi-billionaire named Dennis Sanford. He made his billions by charging 22 to 24 per cent interest on credit cards. Unable to pay their credit card bills and the huge interest slapped by this man, their properties or whatever they owned got confiscated by Sanford. “Now that he is 70 years old, he’s ‘donated’ 400 million dollars to the local hospital (Sioux Valley) which dutifully changed its name to Sanford Hospital. He gave 20 million to the local medical school and they changed their name to Sanford School of Medicine.”
Ranked at 701 in Forbes list of richest people in the world, Sanford and his business entities have a history of violations of Federal rules of banking practice. But now he’s celebrated as a great philanthropist who is helping kids and diabetics and breast cancer patients. “How he made his money is forgotten.” Business Week magazine in 2006 listed him as one of the top 50 most ‘generous philanthropists.’ Our friend, the wordsmith who claims a trademark on the phrase ‘reputation laundering’ saying it’s his exclusive ‘invention’, attacks the media for laundering the image of these no do-gooders by praising their philanthropy.
Well, not all the press is on the side of the no do-gooders. Recently there was an outcry by a well-known TV anchor Ed Schultz of the Ed Show denouncing Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. The Brazilian born American knows he’ll earn billions after Facebook goes public on the US stock market. To avoid paying capital gains tax ($600million) on his estimated $4 billion earning, he has renounced his American citizenship and moved to Singapore. Ed Schultz and Senator Chuck Schumer are fuming mad. The latter has sworn to pass a law in the Congress banning Severin from ever entering the US. “He has spit in the nation’s eye,” says the senator. Still, America will watch helplessly when Saverin takes his booty to deposit in Singapore, literally laughing all the way to the bank! His Harvard friend, now estranged, founder Mark Zuckerberg, who just turned 28 and is billed the youngest billionaire, too, is hemming and hawing at paying his full share of taxes to Uncle Sam. Instead he’s turned charitable like his billionaire-buddy and Internet geek Bill Gates.
Many Americans suspect that the main motive for the ‘Giving Pledge’ is vanity, a lingering and often mistaken sense of guilt among the very wealthy and a bit of tax avoidance from charitable contributions, wrote a Canadian columnist some time back. “These men and women may wish to believe that funding vast campaigns to lift people from poverty in Africa, to fight malaria is a great idea but that is because they have not given these projects even one per cent of the thought that goes into the business enterprises that made them rich. “Walk away from Facebook and start again. If he (Zuckerberg) really wants to help the poor, he should come up with a good idea that will make money, jobs and wealth.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is being called a “vulture” by some. As head of Bane Capital, he profited by stripping companies of their assets, selling them for profit and leaving them bankrupt and their employees jobless! He swears he has given a lot to charity!
More on ‘reputation laundering’ next week. Meanwhile, let me give the last word to Honourable Justice Fakhruddin Ebrahim, a blunt stickler for principles: “As Chairman of Infaq Foundation, the country’s largest charitable foundation, I have visited a fairly large number of institutions all over Pakistan. It’s an unpleasant indictment that we hardly know of them much less give them recognition.
“Our foundation runs schools, spending Rs5,000 per month on each student; a clinic looking after nearly 100 patients a day; a technical training institution; free board and lodging for male students from the hinterland. It organises sports activities and has built huge multi-purpose halls in remote pasmandah elaqas. On a lesser but more significant level you will be surprised to know that, thanks to Edhi, Saylani Welfare Trust and a few others, at least in Karachi, no one goes to bed without at least one meal.”