Altruism Today

Why Are Americans Killing Themselves?

April 26th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

The national suicide rate is at its highest in nearly 30 years. Why?

So much for a country built on boundless optimism. More Americans are committing suicide now than at any other time in the last 30 years, according to a new analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The NCHS study released last week indicates that the national suicide rate jumped an astonishing 24 percent (to 13 in every 100,000 people) between 1999 to 2014, the highest it’s been since 1986, according to the New York Times. The increase was particularly pronounced among middle-aged Americans between the ages of 45 and 64: Suicide rates for middle-aged men jumped 43 percent, while the suicide rate for women grew by a whopping 64 percent. In 1999, 29,199 people died by suicide; by 2014, that number had spiked to 42,733.

The study follows alarming research published in the Proceedings of the Natural Sciences last year that showed middle-aged, white Americans have been dying at a greater rate than ever before. Starting in 1998 — around the same time as the increase in the national suicide rate observed in the NCHS study — the United States saw “half a million deaths” among middle-aged white Americans alone. 

So what’s eating white America? As I noted when the PNAS study was published in November, suicide is a frequent indicator of a broader social dysfunction. That’s been the case since Émile Durkheim’s groundbreaking 1897 book Suicide transformed sociology into a study of social facts rather than an exercise in political philosophy. The core concept from Durkheim’s analysis is anomie, “a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals,” where citizens morally disconnected from the broader civil society through economic, political, or social upheaval find themselves without solidarity and belonging. For those tasked with providing for their families, their perceived helplessness combined with a lack of social integration can be particularly deadly.

“The role of suicide, drugs, and alcohol in the white midlife mortality reversal is a signal of heightened desperation among a population in measurable decline,” Paul Starr wrote in the American Prospect in November. “The phenomenon Case and Deaton have identified suggests a dire collapse of hope.”

As it turns out, inequality kills.

That this sense of despair is centered on middle-aged, economically disadvantaged whites with less education makes complete sense in the context of Durkheim’s suicide hypothesis; after all, it’s those whites who have certainly been left behind economically, politically, and socially.Consider that some three-quarters of the eight million jobs lost during the Great Recessions were in manufacturing—the sort of trade that primarily employed white men. And those jobs aren’t coming back any time soon.

Or consider that, with an electorate that’s growing increasingly diverse and shaped by non-white demographic groups, whites of all genders are experiencing a relative (if not totally catastrophic) erosion of their relative political clout. And consider that those financially stressed, lesser-educated voters are far less engaged with the civic institutions of American life (to a degree that might make Robert Putnam shudder).

Of course, the experience of anomie is relative for this troubled group. Objectively, minorities don’t enjoy the same comforts as white Americans. The mortality rate among African Americans is still significantly higher than whites, as is the unemployment rate; and the majority of the gains from the economic recovery have flowed to white Americans, both men and women. The white American experience is still represented and reinforced more than any other group in the media and broader culture. And as I wrote in November, the daily stresses of living as a black person in the U.S. are far more traumatizing than the daily inconveniences of whiteness. Whites have taken their privileges for granted, and any relative deprivation is far more disconcerting and debilitating for them than marginalized groups that have spent their lives getting a raw deal in the U.S. political economy.

It’s unclear as to why the jump in suicides over the last 30 years has affected women in particular. While the overall rise in the national mortality rate has equally affected white, less-educated men and women, a 21 percent difference in the change in the suicide rate between the sexes is worth noting. Almost every age group for women in the U.S. saw increases in suicides, with those middle-aged women between 45 and 64 experiencing the largest increase. 

Read on here: https://psmag.com/why-are-americans-killing-themselves-d535dc4366e7#.adg5ljlxe


Why America’s spare bedrooms are worth $174.9 billion

April 25th, 2016  |  Source: Finder.com

Extra rooms are an untapped real estate opportunity.

It’s not unusual to have an extra bedroom in your house. Indeed, a finder.com analysis of United States Census data suggests that there are 33.6 million of them across the nation. If you assume that each of these rooms could be rented out for $100 a week (which would be cheap in many areas of the US), that adds up to a whopping $174 billion in missed opportunities for extra cash each year.

According to the Census, there are 357,032,421 bedrooms in America, and 323,391,100 people, leaving a surplus of 33,641,321 rooms. The total number of spare rooms is likely to be even higher since many couples share a bedroom. Overall, there are 9.42% more bedrooms than people.

The simple reality is that if you’re not using a spare room, you can easily score $5,000 a year in extra rental income. An extra $400 a month could help you pay off your mortgage faster.

Renting became increasingly common across the US, after the wave of foreclosures that followed the global financial crisis. Currently 35.6% of properties are rented, up from 33.8% in 2000. That in turn means rental prices are rising, creating a potential opportunity to rent rooms to people who can’t afford to rent an entire property themselves.

Before you take that step, though, consider these issues:

§  Check with your accountant for the tax implications of the extra income and how to handle relevant tax payments.

§  If you’re a homeowner, check on relevant county or state laws surrounding letting spare rooms.

§  If you’re renting, check if the terms of your lease allow subleasing of rooms, and if there are only relevant local regulations.

§  Make sure that your home insurance policy covers tenants as well.

§  Do careful background investigation of potential tenants. Interview them in person and ask for financial records that demonstrate their income.

§  Request a rental bond and two weeks’ rent in advance — this will offer you some security if your tenant proves unreliable.


The Loss of Prince: The Loss of a Social Activist and a Part of Us

April 22nd, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; CBS News

“Does anybody hear us pray?/For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray/Peace is more than the absence of war/Are we gonna see another bloody day?”

—“Baltimore,” Prince

Yesterday, Prince was found dead at his home. Coincidentally, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death. As we mourn the death of Prince, it is worth remembering not just his phenomenal musicianship, but also his social conscience, which was often focused on the lives of young people of color.

His music video for “Baltimore” features #BlackLivesMatter protesters across the country chanting “If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace!” and Michael Brown’s mom smiling at his “Rally 4 Peace” benefit concert in Baltimore. The proceeds of that were dedicated to local youth-based charities and concertgoers described that event as “just what Baltimore needed to heal.”

As CBS news reports, Prince’s social conscience and advocacy for peace was always there, His 1981 “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” entreated President Reagan, “Ronnie, talk to Russia before it's too late/Before they blow up the world.” In 2010, he addressed income inequality in “Ol’ Skool Company,” singing,

Everybody’s talkin’ about hard times

Like it just started yesterday.

People I know they’ve been strugglin’

At least it seems the way.

Fat cats on Wall Street

They got a bailout

While somebody else got to wait.

700 billion but my old neighborhood—

ain’t nothing changed but the date.

In 2011, he donated $1 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Let’s then remember these words as we see Prince out of this world. “The system is broken. It's going to take young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life.”—Ruth McCambridge


Schwan Foundation Loses $600M and Sons Demand Answers

April 21st, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)

When Marvin Schwan died suddenly in 1993 at the age of 64, most of his frozen foods estate went to the Schwan Foundation, which he established the year before. The foundation has seven designated beneficiaries, all Lutheran Church-related entities.

Next week, the South Dakota Supreme Court will hear an appeal from two of Marv Schwan’s sons to compel the Schwan Foundation’s trustees to disclose information on why their father’s foundation has lost as much as $600 million since its founding. News reports and a review of the Form 990 returns from the Schwan Foundation reflect a baffling mix of conflicts of interest, overseas real estate investments in resort properties by the foundation, and the use of a “trustee succession committee,” designed to review the performance of trustees, on which the two sons serve.

Based on its Form 990 filings, in 2002, the Schwan Foundation held $886 million in assets and gave $44 million in grants. By 2013, assets shrank to $449 million and grants totaled $14 million, less than half the 2002 total. The 2002 Form 990 was already reporting net foundation asset and income losses; in 2011 alone, the foundation’s assets dropped by more than $240 million in that single year. About a third of the foundation’s assets are invested directly in various real estate projects in the Caribbean and held through offshore corporations in the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere. Two of the foundation’s trustees also serve as directors of a for-profit in which the foundation held a $90 million investment in 2013.

The “trustee succession committee” was apparently designed as a way for an independent body to assess the foundation’s performance and hold trustees accountable for fulfilling the donor's mission. The committee has the authority to remove foundation directors should the committee believe a breach of duty has occurred. Marv Schwan’s sons, Mark and Paul, serve on the committee, but three other committee members are also current foundation trustees. Those three members, along with two non-trustee committee members, have opposed the sons' demands for information.

The foundation’s board has its own long-standing conflict with one of its employees. Rev. Lawrence Burgdorf, a trustee and member of the trustee succession committee, is the father of Erik Burgdorf, the foundation’s associate director. Rev. Burgdorf is also the foundation’s former executive director, with a reported 2002 salary in excess of $300,000. Erik Burgdorf's 2013 compensation as associate director was just over $200,000.

One might think the seven foundation beneficiaries would have a strong interest in seeing the foundation become more accountable to the trustee succession committee and rebuild its assets. The reason for this may be contained in the following quote from the foundation’s 2013 Form 990:

Key employees and/or trustees of the foundation maintain close and continuous relationships with each of the foundation's supported organizations by serving on the organizations’ governing body and/or maintaining a working relationship with the beneficiary organizations’ Board members. These relationships allow the foundation to remain responsive to the needs of its supported organizations as well as oversee the use of the grant funds. Further, these relationships provide the supported organizations with a way to exercise a voice in the investment and grantmaking activities of the foundation. The majority of the grants are not designated for a specific purpose; however, by the beneficiary organizations adhering to their stated missions, the foundation is satisfied that proper stewardship of the grant funds have been attained.

This might explain why the beneficiary organizations are joining the foundation in opposing the lawsuit brought by Mark and Paul Schwan in their roles as members of the trustee succession committee overseeing the foundation’s trustees.


Housing Crisis Finally Hits a Presidential Candidate’s Radar

April 20th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Observer

After months of waiting for the presidential aspirants to address the housing affordability crisis, Bernie Sanders has stepped forward with some sweeping proposals. The article, “Bernie Sanders Promises Massive Federal Investment in Public Housing,” in New York’s Observer newspaper hits the highlights of the Sanders initiative, which comes on the eve of the New York State primary. Like most newspaper accounts of housing policy, the story is headline rich but on a detail diet. That’s okay; after all, it is only the first rough draft of history.

The initial political impact seems like Bernie hit the mark for rent-weary New Yorkers asking for attention to housing issues. With impeccable timing, the Sanders housing agenda comes on the heels of yesterday’s CNN story lamenting the “sounds of silence” on housing issues from all the candidates. Just having a housing strategy gives Sanders some “street cred” as the campaign moves into rent-stressed Pennsylvania on its way to the West Coast epicenter of the affordability crisis in Oregon (May 17th), Washington (May 24th), and California (June 7th).

Alas, there’s not much in the details to cheer communities wrestling with homelessness and housing emergencies. Secretary Clinton issued a “Housing Investment Program” back in February, but the plan has received little mention “on the trail” and in the media. And Sanders’ “Fighting for Affordable Housing” seems remarkably incremental and, dare we say it, Clintonian:

1.     Expand the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Check.

2.     Raise the minimum wage. The campaign needs to work harder to connect the dots between minimum wage and rent burden.

3.     Reinvigorate federal housing production programs. “We must return to pre-2010 funding levels by ending sequestration and invest more, not less, in affordable housing.” This is the theme of a new Center for Budget and Policy Priority study.

4.     Defend Fair Housing. No new programs or new funding levels mentioned. No mention of the Obama initiatives around Affirmatively Further Fair Housing, administrative protections for LGBT households, or the new pseudo-initiative around returning citizens. These could be issues where candidate Clinton can distinguish herself from Sanders and keep hip to hip with mentor Obama.

5.     Demand more from Affordable Housing Developers. “In my view, once we subsidize rental housing, we shouldn’t have to pay again and again simply to ‘preserve’ it.” This is actually a departure from the current models for preserving affordability and, if pursued, would be a radical re-engineering of current housing development models.

6.     Repair Public Housing. “We need sufficient funding for public housing operating and capital costs, and we need to reduce the unacceptable backlog of public housing capital needs.” This element of the Sanders program is a sharp turn away from current HUD policy, which favors re-capitalizing public housing stock with public-private partnerships through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.

7.     Protect Rental Assistance. Really just a reiteration of point #2.

8.     Expand Housing Choice Initiative. Instead of embracing a sweeping change bymaking housing subsidies an entitlement, Sanders offers only incremental change.

9.     Make HUD-assisted housing lead-free. Far from being a pledge to make federally-assisted HUD housing “lead-free,” Sanders appears to be arguing to lower the threshold of what is “lead safe.” From the statement: “Not only has HUD failed to adopt the new CDC threshold for purposes of requiring landlords to mitigate lead in apartments with children, but HUD has not updated its blood lead level standard since 1999.” Helpful tinkering, but still depends on poisoned children to be the canaries in the coalmine.

The non-rental pledges in the Sanders statement also seem to focus on “more of the same” rather than sweeping changes to current homeless and homeownership programs. No mention, for example, of changing the mortgage finance system by reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Likewise, there’s no mention of homelessness prevention strategies despite the recent announcement that New York City was revamping its strategy. It’s okay, though. If journalism is the rough draft of history; campaign platforms are the opening shots at a real policy.


Apple to Donate Proceeds from 27 Apps to World Wildlife Fund

April 19th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; TIME

It’s no secret that Apple’s making strides to improve its green cred. This Earth Day, the company is raising funds for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) through some of its most popular apps.

Apple said on Thursday, April 14th, that it would donate its proceeds from 27 apps and games, including some of its most popular downloads, until April 24th to the WWF. Those proceeds include profits from Trivia Crack, the second edition of Angry Birds, Recolor, and two dozen other apps.

Apple hasn’t said how much it hopes to donate through the program, called Apps for Earth. However, Apple typically nets about 30 percent of revenue of its apps’ sales and in-app downloads—which means that WWF could receive a good chunk of change.

The move aligns with Apple’s goal of halting climate change and follows an announcement that it would issue $1.5 billion in bonds to fund clean energy projects. Over the past year, Apple has also touted its commitment to renewable energy use in its own facilities and to its electronics recycling efforts. Last April, the companypledged to partner with the Conservation Fund to improve sustainable forestry.

Apple has also upped its good-guy reputation via charitable donations under CEO Tim Cook. A matching program, through which Apple matches employee donations of both money and time, is the company’s biggest charitable effort; the program matched about $25 million during its first four years. Apple has also given large corporate gifts to a few organizations, including the Silicon Valley anti-poverty group, SF Gives.

However, Apple rarely ties corporate giving to sales of particular products. Its Product Red line, which has included phone covers, that red iPod Nano from 2006, and the corresponding Mac Pro from 2013 that went at auction for nearly a million, has been the only recent and notable exception. In 2014, Apple partnered with app-makers for Red versions of popular apps, and donated the proceeds from those apps to the AIDS charity.

First Red, and now green; it seems that, when it comes to proceeds-based donations, app sales may be a testing ground for Apple.


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: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-04-18/paying-up-for-being-poor


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: 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/15/bill-clinton-crime-bill-hillary-black-lives-thomas-frank?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Version+CB+header&utm_term=167343&subid=11002792&CMP=ema_565


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

Source; Mic.com

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: http://nonprofitquarterly.org/2016/04/13/macarthur-announces-25m-in-grant-initiatives-for-local-prison-reform/




About Value News Network

Value is the only commonality in an increasingly complex, challenging and interdependent world.
Laurance Allen: Editor + Publisher

Connect with Us