Altruism Today

Paying Up for Being Poor

April 18th, 2016  |  Source: Bloomberg

Being poor in the U.S. can be expensive. Judging from the latest inflation data, it's becoming more so.

Overall, inflation isn't much of a problem in the U.S. For the past several years, the Federal Reserve has been struggling to get its preferred measure of consumer-price inflation up to its target of 2 percent -- and many Fed officials think it could take a few more years to get there.

That said, individual experiences of inflation can differ, depending on what a person buys. Some spend more on Hamptons real estate and high-end art, while others are just trying to put food on the table. To get a sense of what inflation might look like for different income groups, I combined data on prices with estimates of spending on specific categories of goods and services (taken from the 2014Consumer Expenditure Survey). The categories don’t match precisely across the data sets, but they're close enough to draw some conclusions.

The result: the bottom two-tenths of households have experienced more inflation than most other groups. This is true over the past one, three and five years, and with or without including relatively volatile food and energy prices. The main exception is the very top tenth, which has benefited less from the sharp decline in oil prices because fuel accounts for a much smaller share of this group's typical budget. Here's a breakdown of annualized inflation rates during the five years through March, by decile of income:

The cost of rent has been the main driver of inflation for the poor: It took up about a sixth of the average household budget, and increased by almost 4 percent during the 12 months ended in March. Another noticeable driver is education, on which the poorest 10 percent spend more, as a share of their total budget, than any other group. These effects are more pronounced in so-called core inflation measures, which exclude food and energy. Here's a breakdown, again showing annualized rates over the five years through March:

See charts here:

Bill Clinton's crime bill destroyed lives, and there's no point denying it

April 15th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

‘For one class of Americans, Clinton brought emancipation, a prayed-for deliverance from out of Glass–Steagall’s house of bondage. For another Clinton brought discipline: long prison stretches for drug users; perpetual insecurity for welfare mothers.’

Here is an actual headline that appeared in the New York Times this week: Prison Rate Was Rising Years Before 1994 Law.

It is an unusual departure for a newspaper, since what is being reported here is not news but history – or, rather, a particular interpretation of history. The “1994 Law” to which the headline refers is the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act; the statement about the “prison rate” refers to the fact that America was already imprisoning a large portion of its population before that 1994 law was approved by Congress.

An important piece by Tom Frank; read on here:

Will Lethal Injection Survive Drug Shortages?

April 14th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

Virginia’s governor has a new plan to preserve lethal injection, but the end of capital punishment in the state may be imminent.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced this week that he would veto a bill allowing the state to execute inmates on death row via electric chair in the event that lethal injection drugs are unavailable — unless the legislation included an amendment to shield the identities of lethal injection drug manufacturers. McAuliffe’s proposed addition to the amendment would help compounding pharmacies that make lethal injection drugs avoid backlash from capital punishment opponents, and help the state secure a steady supply of the dwindling resource.

The secretive solution up for consideration in Virginia is just the latest strategy death-penalty states have introduced to keep capital punishment on the table. As Nick Welsh reported for Pacific Standard in 2012, lethal injection has been plagued by moral and medical obstacles since it was introduced.

Lethal injection emerged in the 1980s as a more humane alternative to the brutality of firing squads, gas chambers, and the electric chair. Today, it is the main way that capital punishment is carried out in the United States. The lethal injection process was developed in 1977 by Jay Chapman, the chief medical examiner in Oklahoma at the time, and was originally a three-drug protocol — sodium thiopental to knock out those sentenced to die, pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles and halt breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

From the beginning, botched executions due to fumbled injections or improperly mixed solutions plagued the protocol. “[C]ritics have claimed the drugs can cause excruciating pain, and have cited reports likening the feeling to that of a liquid flame-thrower,” Welsh wrote. But it was a shortage of one of the killer cocktail’s main ingredients that ultimately forced states to change tactics, he reported:

Companies that manufacture the fast-acting anesthetic sodium thiopentala key ingredientno longer produce it in the United States. European manufacturers, citing moral and political concerns with capital punishment, have refused to sell the drug to prison administrators in the United States. Now state executioners are in a desperate scramble to obtain supplies from other foreign sources. U.S. hospitals are experiencing collateral difficulties, reporting shortages of the drug. And earlier this year, Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the Food and Drug Administration could not allow sodium thiopental to be imported.

Even as the number of executions nationwide declined from a peak of 98 in 1999 to just 28 in 2015, more and more states, including Kentucky, Texas, Missouri, and Virginia, began administering single-drug executions using powerful sedatives such as pentobarbital. But even if McAuliffe’s amendment is approved by the state’s legislature, shortages of these sedative drugs may finally put an end to capital punishment in Virginia — the state with the third most executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. TheWashington Post reported:

Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio are among the states that have placed similar shields over the pharmacies that produce lethal drugs and have faced lengthy legal challenges in state and federal courts. In Arkansas, which hoped to resume executions after a decade-long break, the legal challenge has delayed several lethal injections scheduled to take place last fall and winter.

But if McAuliffe’s plan is shot down by the legislature, the state will be left with a short supply of pentobarbital and no sanctioned, alternative execution methods. “All I’m doing today is providing a humane way to carry out capital punishment here in Virginia so we have options,” McAuliffe told the Post. “If they do not take it up, I want to be clear, they will be ending capital punishment here in Virginia.”

MacArthur Announces $25M iGrant for Local Prison Reform

April 13th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ


While Bill Clinton may still publically be supporting his massive 1994 federal crime bill, many local, state, and federal prisons continue to struggle under the weight of mass incarceration, the impact of which the bill exponentially expanded. Continuing in its effort to counteract mass incarceration, the MacArthur Foundation has announced for the second year initiatives helping localities reduce their jail populations while also addressing the racial and ethnic disparities apparent in our local prisons. According to the foundation, these grants are “part of the first-ever coordinated, data-driven effort to reform the use of jails.”

“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch in a press release. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”

Totaling over $25 million, 11 jurisdictions will receive grants between $1.5 million and $3.5 million toward new reform efforts over two years while another nine districts will receive $150,000 each to continue local programs and projects currently in place. The grant initiative for the 20 districts is part of the foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million national outgrowth and investment similarly focused on addressing mass incarceration and shifting the public view on the use of jails.

Read on here:

Match Grade proceeds donated directly to military charities

April 12th, 2016  |  Source:

Match Grade Apparel, a veteran-owned, US-made apparel company, has launched and is now providing comfortable clothing that you’ll feel proud to wear. All Match Grade products are made in the U.S.A. and $1 of every item sold is donated directly to a family-run, military charity which rotates quarterly.

“Upon completing seven years of service as a Marine, I entered civilian life and quickly realized there aren’t as many opportunities for veterans like myself to help others in the way I had done in the service,” said Alec Reisberg, founder of Match Grade. “This void led to the creation of Match Grade, which not only offers clothing that is comfortable and made right here on US soil, but also supports charitable military organizations.”

Match Grade currently offers three military-themed t-shirt designs for both men and women, all in various colors. Additional designs will be released each quarter. $1 of each product sold from April 1, 2016 - June 30, 2016 will be donated directly to the Cpl Chad E. Oligschlaeger Foundation for the Study of PTSD, whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of troop members suffering from stress, adversity and trauma encountered while serving their country.

To learn more about Match Grade’s products and mission, visit follow along on Facebook at Match Grade.


Match Grade Apparelis a veteran-owned, USA-made apparel company that launched in 2016 with a mission of providing comfortable, American-made clothing that unites active and veteran military and also gives back to the military. All Match Grade products are proudly made in the U.S.A, and $1 of every item sold is donated directly to a family-run, military charity which rotates quarterly. To learn more about Match Grade, visit follow along on Facebook at Match Grade.


Cpl Chad E. Oligschlaeger Foundation for the Study of PTSD’s mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of troop members suffering from stress, adversity and trauma encountered while serving the country. By raising public awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), their goal is to raise and provide funding for counseling and support groups, to support research into the causes of, and effective treatments for PTSD, to find temporary housing for our veterans who have returned and are returning from war, to advocate and lobby on behalf of the PTSD community for change in drug protocol in the military, and to maintain a website for access to helpfulresources, articles and educational information about PTSD.

Oxfam on How Tax Havens Perpetuate Poverty

April 8th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Oxfam

NPQ has published quite a bit over time about why nonprofits need to pay more attention to tax structures, and as the Panama Papers continue to roll out, this is an opportunity to remember why this issue is so centrally important.

An Economy for the 1%, a briefing paper that Oxfam published in January of this year to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, explains why we should all be concerned about tax havens and offshore financial centers (OFCs) even when they are not explicitly illegal. Those who author and influence the rules governing OFCs are, after all, generally not nonprofits acting in the interests of, or representing the rights of, lower-income people.

Oxfam is of the opinion that these structures are a major driver of extreme poverty, eroding national tax bases and the mechanisms to collect taxes.

This system is exploited by highly paid and very industrious professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries, who take advantage of an increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy. It is the wealthiest companies and individuals, who in a progressive tax system should be paying the most in tax, who have the biggest incentives to exploit this architecture to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, and who can afford to hire the enablers.

Read on here:

Fair Housing for Ex-Offenders: What’s the Story?

April 7th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; New York Times

“Reentry” is the word for the emerging issue of finding jobs and homes for “returning citizens”—which is to say former inmates. The issue field is actually broader than just persons who are recently released and includes anyone who is denied work or housing because of a criminal record. The success of the “Ban the box” movement of the past couple years has overshadowed the equally significant problem of finding housing. Discrimination against persons based on criminal background is a well-known and widely accepted practice. However, as the U.S. moves to correct the policy catastrophe of mass incarceration, more and more returning citizens will be seeking to reunite with their families and integrate into communities.

HUD took a small step towards suggesting that blanket policies barring housing to returning citizens might be illegal. The New York Times announces, “Federal Housing Officials Warn Against Blanket Bans of Ex-Offenders” in reporting on HUD Secretary Julian Castro’s warning to landlords to discontinue so-called “one strike” rules against renting to formerly incarcerated persons. But, wait…what’s new here?

Secretary Castro’s statement and the new HUD guidance do not create a new protected class for ex-offenders under the Federal Fair Housing Act. Only Congress or a state or local legislature could extend that kind of protection. In fact, the Castro warning and the new HUD guidance reiterates what’s been settled policy at HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) section for some time. The basic principle is, if the application of a rental policy has a disproportionate impact on a class of home-seekers who are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, then the policy could be discriminatory, even in the absence of “intent” to discriminate. The Times quotes Secretary Castro from a prepared statement saying, “Right now, many housing providers use the fact of a conviction, any conviction, regardless of what it was for or how long ago it happened, to indefinitely bar folks from housing opportunities.”

The concept of “disparate impact” has a controversial history over the last five decades during which the Fair Housing Act has been the law of the land. However, last year’s Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Inclusive Communities upheld the principle of disparate impact, though with some court-suggested guidelines.

For reentry advocates who have anticipated strong leadership from HUD, the new guidance is another instance of thoughtful equivocation that dates back to Secretary Donovan’s 2012 letters to public housing directors and private owners. In both documents, then–Secretary Donovan recommended (but did not require) federal housing providers to exercise discretion instead of “one strike” type policies. Then, six months after a stinging letter to HUD from Representative Maxine Waters decrying HUD’s “one strike” policies, HUD issued guidance suggesting that there never was a “one strike” policy for former offenders.

HUD does not require that [public housing agencies] and owners adopt or enforce so-called “one-strike” rules that deny admission to anyone with a criminal record or that require automatic eviction any time a household member engages in criminal activity in violation of their lease. Instead, in most cases, PHAs and owners have discretion to decide whether or not to deny admission to an applicant with certain types of criminal history, or terminate assistance or evict a household if a tenant, household member, or guest engages in certain drug-related or certain other criminal activity on or off the premises.

And now HUD offers a “dog whistle” to private nonprofit fair housing agencies to bring cases that fit the blanket bias description. A staffer at a private enforcement agency has said in a private conversation that she has a “disparate impact” case in hand, and maybe in two to four years, she’ll have a decision. The NYT article notes that the key case in this area of the law has been in Federal Court since 2014. In the meantime, HUD can skip over doing any real enforcement of its own.

Could Democratic Party politics explain HUD’s soft-pedaling on this issue? The power of the private prison industry in preserving policies of mass incarceration and recidivism is inextricably tied to the Clinton political machine. President Bill Clinton was present at the creation of the era of mass incarceration, and the private prison industry is heartily supporting frontrunner Hillary Clinton. It is also clear that Julian Castro’s appointment as HUD Secretary in 2014 was an effort by the Obama administration to raise his national profile as he was being shortlisted as a vice presidential prospect. So check the boxes. Secretary Castro stays in the news with an announcement around a popular progressive issue that will not offend his patron’s financial backers.

Meanwhile, local movements to open up housing for returning citizens are growing fitfully around the country as citizens and social service organizations wonder where the Federal leadership on the issue will come from. No wonder housing providers don’t seem too worried by the new HUD initiative. The Times quotes landlord attorney Neil Garfinkel saying, “I always advise a holistic approach and to look at the applicant as a whole.”

Welcome! is an app that connects refugees and immigrants with locals to learn about their new home.

April 6th, 2016  |  Source:

Europe is in the middle of a major refugee crisis, with more than one million migrants arriving in 2015 alone. Now, developers in Stockholm are coming up with new ways for arrivals to integrate into their new homes.

Welcome! is an app based in Sweden, a country that has operated a broadly open policy to immigration in recent years. The developers say the app aims to break down social and language barriers between Swedes and refugees. Welcome! is translated into Arabic, Persian, Swedish and English, and it enables users to create, host and join activities, as well as ask questions of locals, chat with new contacts, and browse events that are nearby.

The idea is to solve one of the major difficulties for immigrants arriving in Europe by encouraging the new arrivals and locals to interact and connect, helping the refugees to settle in. The app offers real-time auto-translation through its four languages, and can be downloaded for iOS and Android.

The group behind Welcome! are also hosting a Welcome! Party in Stockholm, a get-together to help locals and refugees in the area meet one another.

We have already seen an initiative in Finland helping to set up startups with refugees. Could these ideas be applied in other refugee-receiving countries?


Drug addiction should be treated like a learning disorder – not a crime

April 5th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Since entering recovery 28 years ago, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the conundrum of addiction. The most commonly accepted definition – the one used in psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM – can be summarized as “compulsive drug use despite negative consequences”. It’s completely odd, then, that we treat punishment, which is just another word for “negative consequences”, as the best way to stop it.

During my addiction to heroin and cocaine in my 20s, I kept using despite getting suspended from Columbia University, which I’d worked most of my conscious life to be able to attend. I kept injecting despite losing friends – though difficulty socializing was one of the main reasons I took drugs in the first place. I kept on despite the risk of overdose death, disease, the disappointment of my family and the stigma.

And yet the US has some of the toughest drug sentences in the world. American drug policymakers expect fears and harsh consequences – like arrest and incarceration – to stop addicts like me from using illegal drugs. Instead, to begin addressing America’s opioid epidemic, we need to recognize addiction as the specific type of brain health issue it really is: a learning disorder – specifically, one characterized by failure to learn well from punishment.

Why is learning so important in addiction? For one, addiction can’t occur without it. If you don’t learn that a drug makes you feel better (at least at first) and then continue to take it to cope even when it does more harm than good, you can’t be addicted. If you don’t learn the connection between the drug and its effects, you basically wouldn’t even know what to crave, so you couldn’t pursue it.

Second, like other developmental disorders – such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism and schizophrenia – addiction unfolds as the brain matures through specific stages and the person responds to formative experiences. ADHD and autism, for instance, tend to start producing symptoms in early childhood, while schizophrenia does not usually appear until adolescence and early adulthood.

Addiction, too, is overwhelmingly a disorder of emerging adulthood. Ninety percent of all addictions begin during the teens and 20s. This isn’t coincidental: during this time, the circuitry of the brain involved in love and parenting begins to come online, and it is this same system that goes wrong in addiction. When vulnerable people – particularly those predisposed to mental illness and those who have experienced childhood trauma – reach their teens, they often learn that drugs ease their way into the social connections that are so important at this age.

Nonprofit Donates Phones to Wi-Fi-Dependent Refugees

April 4th, 2016  |  Source:

Organization supplies prepaid cash cards and phones to those most in need

Digital Reliance is a Swedish non-profit organization aiming to supply mobile phones and SIM cards to newly arrived refugees through their Refugee Phonesinitiative. In today’s world, being able to contact a loved one to know that they’re safe is as important to some as having access to food and shelter. The Digital Reliance organization coordinates with phone manufacturers, service providers and volunteers, to collect and repackage easily distributable phone kits that are handed out to refugees, offering everything from electrical adaptors and chargers to full kits of prepaid smartphones and Wi-Fi access. By having a presence at train stations, airport terminals and refugee help centers, the Refugee Phone volunteers are able to give the phone kits out to refugees in need, as well as help them with assembly and phone settings. The initiative has, since its start in September 2015, given out over 4,000 smartphones and 7,000 prepaid SIM cards.

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