How is Amber Heard doing as a philanthropist?

I’m wondering if the Depp v. Heard trial has shed any light on one of America’s more unusual philanthropists. It is not uncommon for an American to have sex with a rich person (oftentimes his/her/zir/their boss!), sue that person for divorce, alimony, child support, and property division, and then be celebrated in our media as a great philanthropist using the money obtained via having sex and going to family court.

Amber Heard was unusual in that she stated that her only motivation for seeking cash in family court was philanthropic. She promised to donate all of her profits from the one-year marriage to hard-working Johnny Depp. From Amber Heard: brave and financially independent (2016):

“Amber Heard ‘suffered through years of physical and psychological abuse’ by Johnny Depp, lawyers say” is a Washington Post article in which Ms. Heard is characterized as “a brave and financially independent woman” who is besieged because the defendant whom she sued has a “relentless army of lawyers.”

Although the only thing sought by her original lawsuit (previous posting includes a link to the Petition) is money (property division, alimony, and attorney’s fees), “none of [the plaintiff’s] actions are motivated by money.” (Amber Heard is also seeking to be divorced, of course, but California is a no-fault state (offering what scholars call “unilateral divorce”) so she is 100-percent guaranteed to win that part of her lawsuit.)

(A plaintiff suffered “years of abuse” during a one-year marriage says the newspaper that assures us inflation is being ably handled by the technocrats.)

“Amber Heard admits to withholding millions from Children’s Hospital” (PopTopic 2021):

Amber Heard admits to “failing” to donate to charity. After Johnny Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman subpoenaed two organisations that Amber Heard claimed she donated the entirety of her USD$7 million divorce settlement, it came to light that Amber Heard had lied under oath about making any donations. She reportedly pocketed the entire amount.

Amber Heard promised that she would donate the whole amount to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to prove that she was not after Johnny Depp’s money.

Presumably it isn’t relevant to the core of the issues at the current trial, but I wonder if it is now clear to what extent Ms. Heard acted on her expressed charitable intent.

(As previously noted here, the most obvious way for Amber Heard to have donated $7 million of money earned by Johnny Depp was to write checks from a joint checking account with Mr. Depp shortly before she filed her divorce lawsuit, then ask only to be divorced in the suit (an automatic win since California is a no-fault state). This has worked for plaintiffs in Maskachusetts. One gal transferred more than $1 million in joint account money via cash and checks to her boyfriend, then sued her husband for property division, alimony, and child support. The judge ruled that she was authorized to spend the jointly held money however she wanted during the marriage. So he split the remaining assets 50/50 and also awarded 20 years of child support and alimony to the victorious plaintiff. She ended up with perhaps 80 percent of the spending power. This was 20 years ago, so $1 million was real money at the time.)

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If you’d like to help Ukrainian refugees, I have two options

If anyone expresses support for low-skill migration into the U.S., one of my standard tropes is to offer to pay for a year of food for any migrants that the gracious welcomer wants to shelter in his/her/zir/their own home. After 20 years of making these offers, I have not had to spend one penny. Here’s the typical exchange:

  • friend posts hatred regarding the Texas governor busing migrants to neighborhoods in D.C. where every lawn has a “migrants welcome” sign (and the Florida governor piling on with “I hope these welfare-dependent migrants don’t show up in Orlando wanting taxpayer-funded gender ID education at Disney World)
  • I respond with “If you’d like to house any asylum-seekers or migrants in your own home I will be happy to pay for a year of Costco food for them. Just let me know how many you’re planning on welcoming!”
  • friend responds to the above with “not the point”

It seems that my bluff has been called, however, by an Irish helicopter enthusiast friend. He and his wife have welcomed a Ukrainian and her 15-year-old son into their suburban Dublin house (to occupy a couple of bedrooms that have been vacated by adult children). From WhatsApp: “They arrived last night with a cabin size bag and 2 shoulder bags.” Although he didn’t ask for any help, I decided to send 500 euro for a gift card at the local shopping mall (impossible to buy online with a U.S. credit card, so I did a bank transfer with his IBAN number and he will buy it; I trust him not to spend the money on essential-in-Maskachusetts-and-California marijuana because weed is illegal in Ireland). The mom will have a “PPS number” by next week and, therefore, will be allowed to work in Ireland.

One of our loyal readers (I won’t share his name until I get his permission) is married to a Ukrainian and is sheltering up to 7 of his wife’s relatives in his suburban Paris home. They’ve gotten health coverage from the French government, but, as in the U.S., housing is a human right to which a 10-year waiting list is attached. We could get together and try to cover some of his hypermarché bills. I met this reader in person when I was in Paris with my mom so I can vouch for him. And I’ve seen the pictures of the crowded kitchen table.

Why send money direct to individuals in this manner? Donating to a non-profit org has the advantage that it might be tax-deductible, but Elvis Presley wouldn’t deduct any of his donations because he said that it “took away from the spirit of the gift.” Also, I don’t want to help a non-profit executive boost his/her/zir/their salary from $1 million per year to $2 million per year, even if that only keeps pace with housing inflation.

Finally, let me add that the Ukrainian friend whom I talk to most regularly is ambivalent about aid to refugees. He prefers to assist those who’ve chosen to stay in Ukraine (his own father has refused to bug out despite a quiet suburban American existence being within relatively easy reach (dad is over 60 and therefore free to leave Ukraine at any time)).

On the third hand, I feel sympathy for anyone who has to live under Irish weather conditions…

(above: part of Newgrange, where no refugees will be housed, from a May/June 2019 trip in which it rained for an entire week)

Comment here and/or email me (philg@mit.edu) if you want to be connected.

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How are American non-profits able to get donations while the war in Ukraine rages?

A money manager friend recently attended a charity fund-raising dinner in Palm Beach. The beneficiary is a liberal arts college in the Northeast. If they reach their goals, the Second Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will be able to hire a second assistant and the Office of 2SLGBTQQIA+ Allyship can get some gender-neutral Steelcase chairs. No doubt these are worthy objectives, but why are donors giving anything all when there are millions of Ukrainian refugees who need assistance? (One of our loyal readers is housing 7 Ukrainian relatives in his house in France, for example; they can get health care and education, but “no hope for housing, they go into the general multi-year queue for social housing.” (as in the U.S., the French think that housing is a human right, which is why some people get taxpayer-funded houses, but it is not enough of a human right that the French are motivated to tax themselves sufficiently to build sufficient taxpayer-funded housing).)

Speaking of Palm Beach, here are some photos from a recent trip to The Breakers where a friend was paying $2,000 per night for “a tiny room” that afforded “glimpses of the ocean.” It seems that $2,000 is the new $500 because that was the room cost in all previous years.

At the entrance we learn that if you tip the valets sufficiently, even the simplest rental Chevy can occupy pole position:

The beach in Palm Beach is crummy compared to what we enjoy in Jupiter, with heaps of rocks dumped on the sand to prevent erosion:

A cold front with thunderstorms had just rolled through, so the beach and pool were mostly empty:

Although there are no homeless encampments, visitors from San Francisco should still feel right at home:

For $2,500 extra per day, you can rent a pool-side day-use room with attached bathroom:

Back inside the hotel, a wedding takes shape:

(Note that, statistically, the more money that is spent on a wedding, the higher the probability of a subsequent divorce lawsuit.) The other big event in the hotel that night was a black tie ball raising funds for a nearby hospital (already on the 20-percent-of-GDP gravy train).

I wasn’t sorry to leave. Palm Beach is a nice island (literally), but almost any path in or out goes through some depressingly impoverished neighborhoods. In Jupiter, by contrast, you can go from the ocean to Interstate 95 and beyond without encountering anyone unable to pay $1,500 per month for an apartment. It’s presumably nice to be rich enough to afford a $50-100 million house (“brokers fear they may run out of mansions to sell”; “We’re now seeing $50 million transactions on almost a weekly basis.”) that is occupied only 2 months per year, but I wouldn’t want to be regularly reminded of How the Other Half Lives. Maybe the answer is that the residents of Palm Beach never actually leave the island (until it is time to catch the G650 at KPBI), but send servants out for supplies that are available only in West Palm.

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Enterprise that gets paid for abortions takes action to promote teenage pregnancy

“Condom rollout in all Vermont middle and high schools complete” (NBC):

This school year, all Vermont students in grades 7 through 12 gained access to free condoms in school.

Condom supplies come from planned parenthood of northern New England and are free of charge for schools.

Planned Parenthood’s revenue increases if the number of abortions increases and condoms in schools lead to additional pregnancies (see academic study below). A classic cui bono example?

See “Fighting AIDS, Changing Teen Pregnancy? The Incidental Fertility Effects of School Condom Distribution Programs” (full text). The same paper on PubMed: “We find that access to condoms in schools increases teen fertility by about 12 percent.” (the authors looked at births rather than abortions since the statistic is easier to gather than the number of abortions, but since it is difficult for a pregnant person to give birth without first being pregnant, it seems safe to assume that free condoms in increase the pregnancy rate and, therefore, the demand for abortions by pregnant people).

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Harvard Art Museums shows us the alternate universe of non-profits

Here’s a request for money from the Harvard Art Museums, recently received in the mail:

They lead with the fact that they were closed for 1.5 years. Surrounded by fully open (“essential” according to the governor) marijuana and liquor stores, adults meeting in restaurant-bars after Tinder matches, etc., the Harvard Art Museums decided that they would all sit at home and they want potential donors to know that. If we assume that the primary mission of an art museum is to have people come in and look at art, the non-profit did nothing to further their primary mission during this 1.5-year period, despite the fact that they were ordered closed by the governor for only about 3 months of the 18-month closure that they proudly highlight.

(Even now, they won’t be executing all that aggressively on their primary mission; visitors have to make online reservations before showing up, a significant discouragement to those strolling around (fully masked, of course!) Harvard Square.)

Readers: Does this seem like a good illustration of the alternate universe inhabited by non-profit organizations? A for-profit enterprise wouldn’t expect to win points with customers by highlighting more than a year of voluntary closure, would it?

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Non-profit logic: higher prices make the museum more accessible

From the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

(“We’re raising our membership prices on July 1 so we can continue to make art accessible for all.”)

So a middle-class family that wants to visit the museum regularly and not pay $50 per visit (two adults) will find art more accessible when annual membership is more expensive!

Separately, if you ever need someone to run an Ebola clinic, the MFA should be the first recruiting stop. We visited on February 19, 2021 and they’d set up a quarantine tent outside the front door. About six people were employed to check the handful of visitors to make sure that they had reservations, that they answered a bunch of COVID-19 symptom questions, that their temperature was checked, and that they donned orange wristbands to show that the screening process had been accomplished and they couldn’t somehow slip into the building without first going through the quarantine tent.

Once inside, the vast spaces had a post-apocalyptic empty feeling.

The white say-gooders who run the museum delegated curatorial responsibility to high school students (of color?):

An allegory of #Science crushing coronavirus via masks and shutdown:

And let’s not forget that closing the drinking fountains will keep us all safe:

If you’re not too dehydrated from the closed drinking fountains to need to use the restroom, the good news is that the Women’s room is for those who “self-identify” as “Women”:

A thoughtful technocrat determined a COVID-safe capacity for each gallery in which masked (a bandana was fine as PPE) visitors might congregate:

Directional stickers on the floor would, if followed, prevent people from passing each other while moving from room to room.

During a post-museum lunch stop, we were reminded that the same government that uses #Science to protect us all from COVID-19 will also buy us an unlimited supply of opioids as a means of treating our opioid addiction:

Although we’re members and returning to the museum would be free, we haven’t gone back. The constant COVID-19 messaging, the emptiness, and the screening procedures more elaborate than what local hospitals use for visitors made it an overly clinical experience.

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Charity idea: Raspberry Pi to Oaxaca for Kids on Computers

My personal favorite charity (after the Clinton Foundation, of course), is Kids on Computers, which sets up labs in public schools. They are headed to Oaxaca, Mexico in December and if you want an end-of-year tax deduction as well as the satisfaction of helping out, you can send a Raspberry Pi straight from Amazon to Oaxaca (Amazon added shipping and an import duty reserve so my bill for one worked out to $114.)

If you want to do some networking and setup while in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic places, try to jump on as a volunteer!

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A University for the People becomes an Apple Store

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I worked near the Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903 as “A University for the People” and engraved with the names of authors such as Shakespeare and Plato. Today it is a place for people who prefer to read Facebook posts on their iPhones…

In my own Facebook post at the time of encountering this mixture of private philanthropy, government administration, and conspicuous consumption, I wrote

it is a shame that the Republicans who control the DC local government could not resist becoming stooges for Corporate America.

Are the minds of District residents being elevated by this repurposed temple to reading? Here’s a sticker from a nearby lamppost:

(I saw these in multiple location around the city; see also https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2019/07/01/resist-permanently-on-a-d-c-public-sidewalk/)

Who is excited to order an iPhone 11?

Also, from the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum, a 1905 portrait of Andrew Carnegie:

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  • https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2007/03/03/andrew-carnegie/ Carnegie was the Bill Gates of his day. Carnegie became the richest man in the world through a combination of intelligence, hard work at an early age, a certain amount of what we today would regard as illegal insider trading, and connections. Once he was the richest guy in the world, everyone listened to everything he said very carefully. He looked around and decided that the greatest evil facing the world was war. War did not provide who was right, only who was stronger. After concluding that he was, in addition to being the richest guy in the world, probably one of the smartest, he invested much of his money and most of his energy in achieving peace among nations. Folks such as Teddy Roosevelt privately thought that he was an old fool, but nobody would say it to his face. Carnegie pushed for peace and mediation among nations and spent four of the last five years of his life watching World War I sweep through Europe. [The analogy with Bill Gates is that, after becoming both the richest and smartest guy in the world, he decided that he could solve the problems of poverty and disease in Africa that had defied attempts by the world’s biggest governments and NGOs.]
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Aviation Non-profit idea: Great day out for one child at a time

Kids plus Aircraft plus Non-profit typically equals “ride factory.” The most familiar example of this is EAA Young Eagles. Kids line up and are packed into aircraft as efficiently as possible and lofted up with some 100LL. Maybe it will be a wonderful 10-minute memory or perhaps the smarter children will say “JetBlue was so much better!”

Some local aviation enthusiasts take a different approach with Above the Clouds. They pick some children and teens who could use a literal boost. Each child is welcomed by a big crowd, offered a delicious breakfast, and then escorted with a parent or other adult to an aircraft. The pilot meets and talks to the young person and they agree on a route to be flown, driven substantially by the child’s interests. After the flight, there is a gift bag with items picked to match the child’s passions and also a flight jacket.

I did one of these earlier this summer with a Robinson R44 from East Coast Aero Club:

After the flight:

It would be nice to see this kind of approach taken in more places. Maybe it would even warm up the hearts of the aircraft-haters in Santa Monica!

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Can we please have more non-profits that explicitly refrain from trying to do good?

At Oshkosh I attended a dinner for members of a “type club,” i.e., people who enjoy flying the same type of airplane. I had hoped for a talk about aviation. Maybe just someone in the club who had taken a trip to an unusual destination and had a slide show to share and a few stories. Instead, however, we were “entertained” with a PowerPoint regarding a new scholarship program that the type club had started and how we would all be better off if we donated money to this do-good cause. There were some children in the room and they were plainly not engaged by this righteous effort.

One of my favorite non-profits, on the other hand, is nearly 100 years old. The charter explicitly forbids the organization from trying to do good works. The purpose of the club is social/fellowship. Prices for gatherings are kept low so that few will be excluded due to lack of means. Nobody will feel bad that they can’t afford to donate $X to a worthy cause that is highlighted at a meeting (since a person who pitched that cause would be pitched out!).

Readers: What do you think? Do we need more non-profits that don’t try to justify themselves with attempts at charity or reform?

[Separately, a friend told me about an older rich guy who’d previously advised him “If it Flies, Floats, or F**ks, rent it.” The friend had been stunned to discover that the guy had agreed to a third marriage, after having previously been sued by Wife #1 and Wife #2. After going through all of that litigation, what was the rationale for not taking his own advice and renting? “[Johnny,]” said the old rich guy, a pillar of the non-profit in his home city, “you can’t take a hooker to a charity dinner.”

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