Altruism Today

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.

Funding the Nonprofit Grocery Store

April 1st, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source:  Waco Tribune and NPR

In the United States, 2.3 million people live in food deserts—places without access to grocery stores offering fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. Across the country, grocery stores serving rural and low-income areas are struggling and many are dying. As the large chains leave, residents are banding together to explore new methods of maintaining their neighborhood stores, including membership, connecting to other nonprofit or business services, and crowdfunding.

In Waco, Texas, Mission Waco has raised thirty-eight percent of the funds it needs to convert a vacant 6,500 square-foot building into a vibrant “Jubilee Food Market.” Its goal is to raise $488,000 to transform the eyesore into a community asset. Many years ago, the building was home to a Safeway, but the grocery store has long abandoned the community. Now, the nonprofit is looking to donors from as far away as Maine to rebuild this essential resource.

Jubilee Food Market supporters purchase shares of stock for as little as $25, although larger investment options are welcome. Mission Waco’s project budget consists of 4000 $25 stock shares for remodeling, 10,000 shares to operate the store for the first year, and 5525 shares for the ECSIA Hydroponics Greenhouse. Shareholders receive quarterly reports on the store’s status and the opportunity to participate in the shareholders’ meeting. All donors and residents of the 76707 ZIP code receive an Oasis Club Card entitling them to discounts on store purchases. The store is scheduled to open in September 2016.

Mission Waco chose to open a grocery store after surveying residents and learning the overwhelming majority wanted a supermarket. The organization’s mission is to provide Christian-based holistic programs that empower the community’s low income. The organization also operates a World Cup Café and Fair Trade Market, Jubilee Theatre, and Urban Edibles food trailer.

In Bowdon, North Dakota, residents are also at work. They came together to continue the operation of their grocery store after the store’s owner died and no other owners came forward. The next closest grocery store is eighteen miles away.

Run as a membership store similar to Costco and Sam’s Club, the effort is working but the margin is tight. They recently opened a thrift store and bakery nearby to increase business. The tiny town surrounded by fields of soybeans, wheat, and corn lost its community school years ago. Without the grocery store, the town would disappear from the map.

The loss of community grocery stores and its effects on rural America led to six federal agencies creating an $800,000 Obama administration initiative, “Local Foods, Local Places,” to support programs to create community owned grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Twenty-seven communities were selected from over 300 applications. Each community will work with a team of experts to recognize local asset and opportunities, set revitalization goals, and develop an implementation plan using these resources.

Throughout the United States mega-grocery stores are abandoning their rural and low-income urban communities for wealthy city edges and suburbs. Without these businesses, residents lose access to fruits and vegetables and gain more processed fast food outlets and convenience stores full of fat, cholesterol, and sugar. This phenomenon is contributing to the obesity epidemic and leading to an increase in heart disease and other diseases associated with this condition.

Food is Power, a California nonprofit “seeking to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices,” found that wealthy areas have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones. And the disparity is even more pronounced when comparing racial makeup: White neighborhoods have four times as many grocery stores as African American communities, and the stores in African American communities are smaller with a more limited selection. Overall, according to the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, 2.2 percent of all households do not own a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket.

Although creating and running a community-owned grocery store is a challenge, Willow Lake, South Dakota’s Lake Grocery has been a beacon for the community for over five years. Operated by Willow Lake Area Advancement, the store employs a full-time manager and two part-time employees in addition to volunteers. Although the organization described the project as a leap of faith, it has worked out well for the community and the nonprofit.

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:

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