Altruism Today

Google disables April Fool joke amid user fury after prank backfires

April 1st, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Google’s April Fools’ Day prank has backfired, leaving the company looking the fool and a number of concerned users fearing for their jobs – or worse.

As 1 April began in Australia, the company announced its latest stunt: “Gmail Mic Drop”, a special version of the send button which appends a gif of a minion (one of the sexless, ageless merchandising icons from the Despicable Me series) dressed as the queen dropping a microphone to the end of your email.

“Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it,”Google added in a blogpost announcing the feature. “Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.”

For most companies, that would be the end of it, but Google has a longstanding tradition of actually building the products they “announce” on April Fools’ Day, even if they only survive for 24 hours.

Anti-Payday Lenders Group Targets DNC Chair Rep. Wasserman Schultz Using Public Charity

March 30th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source: Politico

Simultaneously serving as Democratic National Committee Chair and as a U.S. representative from Florida, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is no stranger to high visibility and political controversy. Politico reports that a nonprofit group called Allied Progress committed at least $100,000 to buy ads attacking Wasserman Schultz for supporting the payday loan industry. Specifically, the ads accuse her of taking $68,000 in campaign contributions from industry advocates, sometimes timed to coincide with her pro-industry actions. According to the Politico article, among other acts, Wasserman Schultz cosponsored legislation to delay the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules.

“Payday lending” refers to short-term, high interest loans typically made to people unable to obtain credit from banks and other mainstream sources. Proof of employment or ownership of a car (for “title loans”) are usually the only requirement. Annual interest rates for payday loans in Florida top 300 percent; interest rates in other states can be far higher. Many borrowers cannot pay back their initial loans and end up either renewing their loans or taking out new loans to pay old ones, with interest payments placing them still further in debt and even less likely to achieve financial independence.

Allied Progress, the group placing the anti-Wasserman Schultz ads, is a group led by Karl Frisch, a longtime political aide and commentator “perhaps best known for his work of nearly five years as communications director and then as a senior fellow at Media Matters for America,” according to his organization’s web site. It calls itself “a nationwide nonprofit grassroots organization.” Interestingly, Allied Progress is not a nonprofit organization; it is a “project” of the New Venture Fund(NVF). Its latest Form 990 states a mission “to support innovative and effective public interest projects.”

And what of Allied Progress’s 30-second video ad? Since Allied Progress is a project of a 501(c)(3), does the ad comply with the long-standing prohibitions against charities campaigning for or against candidates? It mentions Wasserman Schultz by name and criticizes her for her support of the payday loan industry. It encourages issue advocacy, but does not specifically ask voters to not support her. However, the timing of the ad is suspicious, airing days ahead of the Florida primary in which Wasserman Schultz was being challenged by law professor Tim Canova. Canova, in fact, wrote an opinion column published on the Huffington Postwebsite just before the Florida primary, criticizing his opponent for her apparent support of payday lending.

Under federal law, 501(c)(3) organizations may spend a small percentage of their budgets (known as the “no substantial part” test) on lobbying and may spend unrestricted amounts on more general issue advocacy consistent with their stated missions. Since 1954, however, charities, including religious organizations, have been expressly prohibited from supporting or opposing political candidates. Regardless of how one perceives either payday lenders or Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Allied Progress’s activities and the relationship between it and the New Venture Fund introduces a new twist on the use of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in political campaigns. Are the ads truly issue advocacy, or are they indistinguishable from attack ads run by campaigns and 501(c)(4) super PACs? Does Allied Progress’s mission and activities fit the New Venture Fund’s charitable mission? Has Allied Progress found a way, with NVF’s support, to inject tax deductible contributions into political races?

Taxing Yale’s Endowment

March 29th, 2016  |  Source:

Liberal professors get an education in income redistribution.

Our guess is that most Yale University professors are proud to be progressives. Well, they are now getting the chance to live their convictions as Connecticut Democrats attempt to soak Yale’s rich endowment.

Facing a $220 million budget shortfall, Democrats in Hartford have proposed taxing the unspent earnings of university endowments with more than $10 billion in assets. Only Yale’s $25.6 billion endowment—the country’s second largest after Harvard—fits the tax bill. Yale’s tax-exempt investments earned $2.6 billion last year, eight times more than the University of Connecticut’s $384 million endowment. Oh, the inequality!

“It is our hope that these rich schools can use their wealth to create job opportunities, rather than simply to get richer,” says Yale tax proponent Martin Looney, or else “share a small percentage of their retained earnings with the state’s taxpayers, so that we could accomplish these same goals.” Translation: We’re going to take Yale’s money and redistribute it. State spending is projected to rise $1.2 billion over the next two years, and government-worker pensions that are less than 50% funded need a cash infusion.

Hartford is already taxing anything that moves. Last year Democrats raised the top individual tax rate to 6.99% and extended a 20% corporate surtax. The tax hikes precipitated General Electric’s decision in January to move its headquarters to Boston. Between 2010 and 2015, Connecticut lost 105,000 residents to other states. For the last five years, it has recorded zero real GDP growth. As Mr. Looney put it with a euphemism for the ages, “Connecticut’s economy is going through a transformation.”

Yale’s endowment funds about a third of the university’s $3.2 billion operating budget including $2 billion in worker wages and benefits. It also finances financial aid that allows students from families making less than $65,000—equal to the annual cost of attendance—to attend for free. The average need-based scholarship is $43,989. Yale also makes $8.2 million in “voluntary payments” to the city of New Haven, sponsors full scholarships for New Haven public school students to attend in-state universities, and provides housing subsidies for university employees.

Read on here:

Bison to return to Montana after 140 years in the Canadian wilderness

March 28th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than a century ago will be relocated to a Montana Native American reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island national park to the Blackfeet reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the US and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The 89 plains bison, also known as buffalo, will form the nucleus of a herd that tribal leaders envision will soon roam freely across a vast landscape: the Blackfeet reservation, nearby Glacier national park and the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness — more than 4,000 square miles combined.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s as European settlers advanced across the once-open American west.

Most of the animals that survive today are in commercial herds, raised for their meat and typically interbred with cattle. The Blackfeet have a commercial bison herd established in 1972 that numbers more than 400 animals.

The lineage of Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American Indians on Blackfeet land just south of Canada.

Those bison were later sold to two men, Charles Allard and Michel Pablo, who formed what became known as the Pablo-Allard herd. By the early 1900s, the Pablo-Allard herd was said to be the largest collection of the animals remaining in the US.

After US officials rejected a sale offer from Pablo, the Canadian government purchased most of the bison. The animals were then shipped by train to Elk Island, according to park officials and western historians.

“They’ve made a big circle, but now they’re coming home,” said Ervin Carlson, a Blackfeet member and president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council.

The relocation comes as the restoration of genetically-pure bison to the west’s grasslands and forests have gained traction. The efforts include the relocation of some genetically-pure bison from Yellowstone national park to two Indian reservations in eastern and central Montana.

The tribes — the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap reservations — are signatories to the 2014 treaty. But ranchers and landowners near the reservations have strongly opposed the plan, driven by concerns over disease and the prospect of bison competing with cattle for grass.

Read on here:

Israeli Minister Accuses Veterans NGO of Treason

March 25th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source: i24 News

In June of 2015, Rick Cohen wrote about the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS), a veterans organization dedicated to accurately reflecting the stories of those who served in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Its mission is to exhibit the “deterioration of moral standards [that] finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and…justified in the name of Israel’s security.”

On Monday of this week, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Breaking the Silence of treason. Although yesterday he walked the statement back a bit, revising his objection down to the collection of military information by an anti-occupation NGO, which he terms a “security offense,” the group remains in the crosshairs of the Israeli government.

Breaking the Silence was founded by IDF veterans. It has been gathering testimony from soldiers who have served on the West Bank and in Gaza to accurately portray to the public exactly what it is that the army is doing there. They go to great lengths to corroborate those testimonies and even clear all of their information with Israel’s military censor before publishing. The group opposes the occupation, but does not gather information only from those sympathetic to its cause.

When pressed on whether Breaking the Silence was committing treason, Ya’alon replied, “We are looking into the matter. […] Based on an initial examination, much of their information was indeed disqualified by the censor; they collected information without permission or authorization.”

Ya’alon insisted he was not trying to silence the group. “I am not calling to outlaw the organization,” he said. “It is their right to express themselves. They can oppose my policy. I am prepared to argue with them. However, such behavior is obviously unacceptable.”

Breaking the Silence responded:

After Ya’alon took back his dangerous, politicized and embarrassing accusation that Breaking the Silence is a bunch of traitors, it is only a matter of time until Ya’alon will be forced to take back as well the feeble charge of holding information. Breaking the Silence works in deference to the censor and its orders for over 10 years, and does commit any information offense. […] Breaking the Silence are soldiers and fighters, citizens of the State of Israel, who oppose the occupation and fight the far-rightwing government’s occupation policy, for the sake of the State of Israel.


Rockefeller Family Fund Divests from Fossil Fuels

March 24th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source: Reuters

In a letter posted on its website, the Rockefeller Family Fund announced on Wednesday that it would divest from fossil fuels “as quickly as possible,” eliminating its holdings in ExxonMobil Corp., which it called “morally reprehensible.” This is significant in that John D. Rockefeller Sr. made his money running Standard Oil, the company that evolved into ExxonMobil. Thus, by some lights, the fortune that the charitable fund is now divesting was made through that business. But another Rockefeller-associated foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, led the way down this path, divesting in September 2014.

We reprint the Rockefeller Family Fund’s statement in its entirety here:

The Rockefeller Family Fund is proud to announce its intent to divest from fossil fuels. The process will be completed as quickly as possible, as we work around the complications of modern finance, which is increasingly dominated by alternative investments and hedge funds.

While the global community works to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, it makes little sense—financially or ethically—to continue holding investments in these companies. There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons. The science and intent enunciated by the Paris agreement cannot be more clear: far from finding additional sources of fossil fuels, we must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead.

We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil. Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded. Appropriate authorities will determine if the company violated any laws, but as a matter of good governance, we cannot be associated with a company exhibiting such apparent contempt for the public interest.

To operationalize this decision, the Board has instructed its advisors, effective immediately, to eliminate holdings of ExxonMobil, and all coal, and tar sands-based companies outside the portions of the portfolio managed by third parties, and to keep exposures for these three categories of investment below 1 percent across the entire portfolio. The Family Fund’s Finance Committee will soon be entering the second phase of its divestment work, which will entail seeking suitable alternatives to certain commingled funds now held. The field of Socially Responsible Investing is dynamic and growing and we are confident that a variety of options will soon emerge for mid-sized endowments such as ours.

Needless to say, the Rockefeller family has had a long and profitable history investing in the oil industry, including ExxonMobil. These are not decisions, therefore, that have been taken lightly or without much consideration of their import. But history moves on, as it must. Indeed, it is past time for all people of good will to do everything in their collective power to make our new path one that recognizes the deep interdependence between humanity’s future and the health of our natural systems.

Exxon was unsurprised. “The Rockefeller Family Fund provided financial support toInsideClimate News and Columbia University Journalism School, which produced inaccurate and deliberately misleading stories about ExxonMobil’s history of climate research,” it declared. These stories led to an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office, and now the California AG into whether Exxon had lied to and defrauded the public and shareholders.

Exxon claims those stories “wrongly suggested that we had reached definitive conclusions about the risks of climate change decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development.”

For background on this issue, last year, Rick Cohen wrote an excellent article documenting and calling out the generally very slow movement of foundations toward the embrace of mission-related investments.

Who Cares about the Native American Vote?

March 23rd, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

With all the talk about black and Latino votes, there has been a dearth of national discussion about the Native American vote. But Native Americans are, at 5 percent of the state’s population, the second-largest minority in the state of Arizona and have a definite impact on elections—like the primary held yesterday which was eventually won by Clinton.

“Despite our comparative smallness, Arizona Indian voters as a bloc can be the swing vote,” said David Martinez, a professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.

Mark Trahant, a blogger on tribal voting issues, notes that in state and local elections, the Native American vote can play a decisive role, apparently because it is not uncommon for a tribe to vote relatively uniformly.

“That’s the real advantage of Indian country,” Trahant said. “You start getting those kinds of waves coming in, and you can make up a lot of ground really fast.”

Former Navajo president Peterson Zah says that there is, indeed, a lot at stake this year. “There are a lot of legal issues that go the Supreme Court almost every year involving Native American issues and communities,” he said. “So it’s going to be pivotal to see who’s nominating the next Supreme Court Justice.”

Mikah Carlos of the Salt River Maricopa Tribe says that in tribal lands, the heroin epidemic, unemployment and the economy, and environmental justice are all important issues, and both Democratic candidates are addressing them. Bernie Sanders has been actively campaigning at Native American venues across the state, calling for protecting Native languages, cracking down on sexual violence by non-Natives against tribal women, blocking a copper mine planned for land used by tribes near Superior, and the renaming of Washington, D.C.’s professional football team. But Clinton, others believe, has a track record. Lisa Blackhorse says, “When she was First Lady, Bill Clinton actually did the first tribal leaders meeting and it was at the White House and they started building those relations.”

Teach for America to Shed 15% of National Staff

March 22nd, 2016  |  Source:

Teach for America is reducing its national work force by a net 150 jobs in a move the teacher-training nonprofit's leaders say will give its more than 50 regional offices greater independence, The Washington Post reports. The organization, which places new college graduates in poor school districts for two-year classroom stints, will shed 250 office positions while adding 100 new ones.

In a letter to Teach for America alumni and current members, CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard said the retooling will give local offices "more autonomy to adapt and innovate on our program in ways that meet the unique and varied contexts in which we work.” In an interview with the Post, she said the nonprofit is entering "a different phase of our organizational life.”

Founded 25 years ago, Teach for America experienced years of growth and attracted significant government and philanthropic support, but it has drawn criticism from teachers unions and some former members, who say the group's rotating corps of inexperienced teachers fosters instability in already-troubled schools. Its recruitment has declined for three straight years, and a previous round of job cuts shrank its national staff by 200.

It’s Chemistry not Character

March 21st, 2016  |  Source: It’s Chemistry not Character

It’s Chemistry not Character, (, (#itschemnotchar), has launched a national campaign to change the conversation about opioid addiction and the stigma attached to it.  According to leading medical authorities in this country, opioid dependence is a predisposed genetic disease not a moral failing.  The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), has labeled the opioid crisis an epidemic.  This opioid epidemic kills nearly 80 Americans each day, more than 85% of people in recovery relapse, and more than 2,500 12-17 year old adolescents in America try an opioid for the first time every day.

Since we launched our campaign, thousands of opioid stories have been published by hundreds of local, state, regional and national media outlets.  They include CNN, CBS "60 Minutes", HBO, ABC News "20-20", NBC Nightly News, and more.  Our message is about changing the conversation and ending the stigma attached to opioid addiction.  We share this message through daily postings and shares on all of our social media networks including our official blogFacebook pageTwitter feed,Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, and YouTube Channel

Our videos tell the story most effectively and appear on digital press releases, our official website and  YouTube Channel. And while our videos have received more than 140,000 views since early February we need your help to reach the millions of people in this country affected by this disease.  This is the first video in a series being released over the next year.  The people featured in the film are:

·        Kelly Clark, President Emeritus, The American Society of Addiction Medicine

·        Patrick Kennedy, Former US State Representative, (D-RI), Co-Author, “A Common Struggle”

·        Gary Mendell, CEO and Founder Shatterproof

·        Steven E. Chavoustie, MD

·        Andrea Barthwell, MD, Former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Addiction Specialist

·        Matthew A. Torrington, MD, Addiction Medicine Specialist

·        Bobbi Cattanese, Founder and CE Links Advocate and Resources Center

It’s Chemistry Not Character is a community of people with opioid dependence and those who care about them – including family, friends and doctors. Join us here to change the conversation that currently takes place in society on opioid addiction so we can intelligently change the approach to fighting this national epidemic.

It's time for charities to stop wasting money on social media

March 18th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Social media has changed the world. It has changed how we access information, communicate with our friends and it has changed how charities raise awareness and fundraise. In fact, most charities now spend countless hours and money investing in their social media channels and it is time to stop.

A recent report found that entrepreneurs say social media is a waste of time, with no discernible impact on their sales, and I believe the same could be said for charities.
In theory, social media connects you to over a billion people who are active on Facebook or 320 million on Twitter. But in reality it’s far fewer than that.
Hardly anyone sees what people are posting
Facebook’s newsfeed now only shows the posts it thinks are most relevant to its users, so messages may only reach 2.6% of a charity’s audience. On average, a tweet only reaches around 10% of followers, and the average click-through rate for a link on Twitter is around 1.6%. So it is likely that just a small fraction of the public will see the posts or make it to the charity’s website.

If that tiny audience is more likely to do the things that truly matter to the charity in question, then maybe this small reach is OK, but the problem is they often don’t. Social media traffic has a high bounce rate, which means that even if people do click through on a post or tweet most are going to leave the charity’s website immediately.

I’m not suggesting charities should immediately shut down their social media accounts, especially if they have checked the data and confirmed it works for them. Instead, they need to think carefully about how resources are allocated. What if they reallocated the same people, money and effort into places that are proven to reach the audience who need the charity most?
Get to grips with Google

One way to improve might be to dedicate resources to search engine optimisation (SEO). The public turn to Google rather than social media when they want information, including giving and receiving help. This is evident from the 3.5bn Google searches that happen every day, searches that now include Twitter content in the results.
Read on here:

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