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Step Forward, Oh Great Ones

April 10, 2020 (851 words)

When the NBA suspended the remainder of its season in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, professional basketball player Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers announced on March 12 he was donating $100,000 to his foundation to help his team’s arena workers and support staff.

He was soon joined by many other NBA figures around the league who also vowed to provide similar financial support to their behind-the-scenes workers.

That same week, Fox Business first reported the White House would be meeting with large tech companies in an attempt to help coordinate efforts to contain the virus, and those meetings would include Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft.

On March 27 we learned that local hero Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast/NBC Universal, his wife Aileen and their family, have pledged $5 million to buy laptops that will go toward virtual learning in the Philadelphia School District, where about half of students don’t have a home computer.

On March 28 The New York Times ran a big story in its Business Section on how philanthropists are helping in this crisis, using their wealth to fill an enormous gap in revenue for non-profit groups.

On April 2 Jeff Bezos revealed he is donating $100 million to Feeding America, a non-profit group that runs a network of more than two hundred food banks across the country.

On April 3 The Wall Street Journal featured a detailed account of what went into arranging for a private jet owned by the New England Patriots to be allowed into China for three hours only, with the crew confined to the aircraft, in order to pick up and fly back with 1.2 million N95 masks, desperately needed by Massachusetts’ healthcare workers and patients.

And then there is the big enchilada, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, which is backing the development of seven possible vaccines for the coronavirus, to the tune of billions of dollars, including the construction of factories for all seven.

As Mr. Gates explains, “that’s just so we don’t waste time in serially saying, ‘okay, which vaccine works?’, and then building that factory.”


inspiring stories, every one…


These are all inspiring stories. A few of them provide a glimpse into how things probably should be running anyway, even when we are not in the middle of a pandemic.

It makes perfect sense to offer private funds to charitable organizations that are already doing what needs to be done, rather than reinventing the wheel and starting one’s own organization.

But what would be so wrong about offering private funds to governmental organizations that are also trying to do what needs to be done?

(Which is another name for “taxes,” isn’t it?)

In this vein I am thinking of how the White House was planning to meet with our tech giants to coordinate efforts to combat the virus. How is that going?

And rather than just offering advice to the government on the pandemic, or somehow supplementing what the government is doing, wouldn’t it make sense for one or more of our tech giants – or perhaps a consortium of tech giants – to sort of take-over the “systems” part of the country’s response?

For instance, wouldn’t providing us all with an easy-to-navigate government web site that actually works be a piece of cake for our tech giants?

Isn’t that what we generally complain about when it comes to federal or state administered programs: poor organization and planning, and incompetent systems?

What columnist Peggy Noonan told readers about her own experience with the coronavirus in The Wall Street Journal on March 28 rings true for far too many of us:

“Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I‘d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them”


would cooperation violate a sacred principle?…


Three cheers for the success our wealthiest corporations have been able to achieve, but at some point can’t they afford to share a morsel of their expertise with public agencies tasked with addressing the common good?

As for the Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Foundation, dedicated to finding vaccines for coronavirus and other diseases, we are all thankful for their efforts.

(Especially considering that not every cause they tackle shows positive results. Their educational initiative to improve U.S. public schools has so far been a dud. “We have no noticeable impact after almost twenty years of working in that space,” Gates said recently. “But we remain committed.”)

The thrust of their various other initiatives, however, are international in nature, designed to help underdeveloped Third World countries.

What large, lavishly funded private foundation exists to coordinate efforts here at home to address inequities in nutrition, potable water, shelter, and medical treatment?

Sure, the government’s efforts in this realm are often poorly organized and/or poorly executed. But why doesn’t that deficiency prompt our titans of industry to “lean in” and see how they can help, instead of sitting on their hands?

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
April 10, 2020

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