Altruism Today

Microfinance leaves India’s banks in the dust

August 23rd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Microfinance is making India’s big banks look bad. Small lenders that help the poor buy everything from bicycles to sewing machines are back and growing at breakneck speed after the industry nearly collapsed six years ago.

The last boom ended badly after a number of borrowers committed suicide. That prompted authorities in Andhra Pradesh to effectively stop micro lenders collecting debts. The state once accounted for up to 40 percent of industry loans. The Reserve Bank of India has since capped usurious lending rates.

India’s microfinance firms typically focus on lending to women in groups where they act as guarantors for one another. That ensures social pressure to repay. Scale, technology, and shared credit data has helped the industry to thrive again in a segment underserved by big banks.

Bharat Financial Inclusion is the ultimate comeback kid. The group, formerly known as SKS Microfinance, shrunk after the crisis and is now growing fast. Lending rates are now below 20 percent – not too far off what big banks offer well-heeled unsecured borrowers.

Net interest income grew almost 70 percent year on year in the first quarter, gross non-performing loans are almost negligible at 0.1 percent, and BFI earns a 29 percent return on equity.

That’s much better than India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, where interest income is growing at 4 percent, gross NPLs are 7 percent, and ROE is below 8 percent. Other state banks are in worse shape.

Banking is a preferred way to bet on rising consumer power. But the poor health of India’s traditional lenders, after years of crony capitalism, has forced investors to look elsewhere. That helps explain why BFI shares have risen 50 percent this year, while shares in smaller rival Ujjivan Financial Services have risen almost as much since it listed in May. U.S. private equity group TPG also recently led another fundraising for Bengaluru-based Janalakshmi Financial Services.

BFI looks fully valued at almost 4 times book value but other measures suggest room to run. Eikon data shows the lender trades at just 15 times forward earnings, a measly premium to SBI on almost 14 times. Super-fast growth is always risky in finance but microfinance firms are well-placed to meet the huge demand for credit from India’s poor.


Here’s Why the Navajo Nation Is Suing the EPA Over Colorado’s Mining Catastrophe

August 22nd, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

The San Juan River is one of the most sacred and agriculturally important areas to the Navajo Nation. It’s also the site of a three-million-gallon toxic mine spill.

This time last year, images of Colorado’s Animas River were going viral, leaving many mystified or downright disturbed by the waterway’s Willy Wonka-esque shade of golden orange. The culprit of the bizarre phenomenon: a slurry of mining chemicals which had burst from a sealed entryway to a defunct gold mine, the Gold King Mine, located upstream. The images were met with outrage: In the last year, there have beenCongressional hearings and an ongoing criminal investigation into causes of the spill.

Just this week, the Navajo Nation filed its own lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The Gold King Mine, one of 48 mining sites in the Bonita Peak Mining District, has been closed for almost a century. Years of mismanagement and neglect, however, caused floodwaters and extreme pressure to build at the mine’s sealed entryway, the suit alleges. When the mine burst, it sent more than three million gallons of acidic, chemical-laden sludge downstream into the San Juan River.

Of all the 27,000 miles that comprise the Navajo Nation’s reservation, the San Juan River watershed, which flows from Colorado through New Mexico, may very well be the most agriculturally and spiritually rich in the reservation.

“The Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected, or their way of life restored,” reads the suit, which was filed on Tuesday by the Navajo Nation in the U.S. District Court for the district of New Mexico. The EPA’s egregious neglect of the mine and its failure to properly compensate the Nation for damages, mirrors the government’s longstanding indifference toward the tribe, according to the lawsuit.

Two contractors, four mining companies including Gold King Mines Corporation, and 10 other unnamed defendants are also named in the suit. The lawsuit alleges that, despite knowing of the potential for an entryway to burst, officials were unprepared for any major accidents when excavation began last August to assess the mine seal. The EPA should have known of the environmental risks, the suit alleges, as the agency has twice already considered listing the Upper Animas Watershed as a Superfund site — once in the 1990s and again in 2008. After the mine initially exploded, it took nearly two days for the EPA to alert the Nation that millions of gallons of toxic water was making its way down the watershed.

“Spring, which once symbolized the bringing of new life as many Navajo families planted their crops, now represents a looming threat.”

At a minimum, the Nation has sustained about $2 million in costs, according to the lawsuit. That figure includes the effects of the spill on farmers, the prices of safety-related water sampling, the delivery of clean water across the Nation, and the establishment of an Emergency Operations Center dedicated to spill response. So far, the EPA has paid the Navajo Nation $602,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit. The EPA has so far declinedto comment, saying it cannot do so on active litigation, though the federal agency notes that it has provided more than $29 million in the last year to nearby states and tribal areas to mitigate damages.

The EPA claims the San Juan River is currently safe for agriculture, fishing, and irrigation, owing to a water treatment plant installed last November to treat continuing acid mine drainage. Anyone living, playing, or working near the river should avoid any discolored sediment or soil, which still has high concentrations of mining metals, however, according to the EPA. Children under the age of six have been warned about ingesting any river water.


DOJ Files Suit against Mississippi for Forced Institutionalization of People with Mental Illness

August 19th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Care2 “Causes”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed suit against the state of Mississippi for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. The allegation is that the state has forced people into psychiatric hospitals instead of providing them with community-based care that would prevent escalation of illness and trauma, and that in so doing, it has failed in its duty of care.

This suit is one among approximately a dozen filed against states, and it should come as no surprise, since the DOJ issued a report in 2011 finding that appropriate services to adults and children with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities were not being provided by Mississippi.

According to a statement from the DOJ and Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

When individuals with mental illness receive the services they need, they are better able to find meaningful work, secure stable housing, build personal relationships, and avoid involvement with the criminal justice system. For far too long, Mississippi has failed people with mental illness, violating their civil rights by confining them in isolating institutions. Our lawsuit seeks to end these injustices, and it sends a clear signal that we will continue to fight for the full rights and liberties of Americans with mental illness.

“When individuals with mental illness get the services they need and the care they deserve, they can live and work in their own communities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Mississippi violates the ADA by denying residents with disabilities the services the law requires and the support they deserve, forcing them to cycle in and out of state hospitals, emergency rooms and jails. The Justice Department’s lawsuit demonstrates our firm commitment to vindicate the rights of people with mental illness.”

This is not the only lawsuit pending on this issue of inappropriate institutionalization of mentally ill community members in Mississippi. In a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is alleged that the state violated the Medicaid Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by illegally confining mentally ill children in institutions instead of ensuring that they can be treated at home. That suit is still pending.

The 1999 Olmstead v. United States case saw the Supreme Court rule that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects the right of people with mental health issues from being forced into institutions in the following circumstances:

·       If community care is deemed appropriate by medical professionals

·       If that care will be less restrictive; if community care is agreed on by the individual

·       If the placement can be reasonably accommodated by the state

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has criticized the DOJ for the lawsuit, dubbing it “another attempt by the federal government to dictate policy to the states through the courts.”

The state of treatment for mentally ill people in this country is scandalous, with states and insurance companies actively trying to simplify or offload their responsibilities under the law. The DOJ’s pursuit of these cases has been critical for sending a coherent national message to the states, but we wonder what might happen to these efforts to see the ADA enforced properly once the presidential administration changes.


Amid Questions of Responsiveness, American Red Cross Mobilizes in Louisiana

August 16th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; CNN

Just 10 days after ProPublica published an article on the criticisms of the American Red Cross’s disaster response to the floods in Louisiana in March, thirty parishes have now been declared flood disaster areas—nearly half the state. At least five people are dead and 20,000 have needed to be rescued. The Louisiana National Guard and military police have been called out, and so has the Red Cross, so, for now, we must wait to find out whether the ARC had the necessary capacity to meet the challenges of this historic event.

They do have the volunteers, apparently. Chapters in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin have mobilized volunteers and resources in response to the chapter in Baton Rouge reaching out, but these must be well deployed to be effective.

Coordination, communications, and accurate deployment are absolutely critical during a disaster response, but the complaints that surfaced in Louisiana in March are similar to those heard from local disaster response officials in West Virginia regarding the ARC back in January. A national consolidation of ARC chapters that has reduced their numbers by two-thirds has, in the opinion of some, left a presence too disconnected to respond quickly to calls for help in some areas. Among the concerns recently expressed about Louisiana is that the Red Cross had undergone so much turnover that local government emergency managers didn’t know whom to call, and when the calls were made, they were not consistently returned.


Wanted: Help handing out Warren Buffett’s fortune

August 15th, 2016  |  Source: Boston Globe

For anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to give away millions of dollars to people in need, here’s your chance to help Warren Buffett and his sister do just that.

One consequence of being extremely wealthy is that strangers ask you for money — not just donation requests from countless charities, but pleas for financial help from individuals all over the world.

Each year, Buffett, the billionaire investor, receives thousands of letters from people asking whether he would pay their mortgages, medical bills, credit card debt, and more. Through a unique sibling partnership, Buffett forwards the letters to his older sister, Doris, who decides which ones to fund. Over the past decade, at least 22,000 letters hav crossed their collective desks, and they have given away more than $12 million.

And now, in what might be Boston’s most unusual volunteer opportunity, Doris Buffett — who moved to the city last fall — is looking for people in Greater Boston to help her read a backlog of those letters, as well as new batches that continually arrive.

“My brother is putting up the money, so we’re sort of limitless,” Buffett, 88, said in an interview with the Globe. “He’s told me that any time I run out of money, all I have to do is call him.”

Read on here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/08/13/meet-doris-buffett-warren-sister-she-wants-your-help-spending-her-brother-billions/aEc47mXfoSeRkTgal5FgvK/story.html


Athletes Crowdfunding Success in Rio

August 12th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Mother Jones

More than 550 American athletes are competing in this summer’s Olympic Games. Another 250 will compete in the Paralympic Games in September. For many, particularly those competing in lesser-known sports, the battle to fund training and travel to the Games almost overshadows the competition itself.

Gregory Brigman’s passion for soccer began as a child. He suffered from cerebral palsy, and after years of wearing a leg brace, surgery, and physical therapy, he eventually played for UNC Charlotte. After graduating, he worked as an engineer at a local civil engineering firm. In March of this past year, he became a member of the U.S. Paralympic team. Realizing he could not successfully train and work, he left his job and began training full-time.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation funds the majority of his expenses, but he quickly realized that a small amount of living expenses for himself and his family were not covered. He turned to GoFundMe in late July. He’s asking for $6,000, and is nearly halfway to his goal after one month.

Gregory is part of a growing list of athletes turning to crowdfunding sites for help in funding their training and travel to Rio. GoFundMe is the most popular and has catered to Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The site has a single landing page for athletes’ campaigns, and by the month before the games, it had connected almost 4,000 donors to ninety campaigns, raising more than $400,000.

Among the other crowdfunding sites supporting Olympic and Paralympic athletes,RallyMe serves as the official campaign site for the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Cycling, and U.S. Bobsled teams. RallyMe donors often receive a small thank-you gift, such as a mention on the team’s social media, in exchange for their participation in the rally or fundraising campaign.

American athletes are creating these crowdfunding campaigns because, unlike many other countries, the U.S. Olympic team is not government-supported. The U.S. Olympic Committee is a nonprofit organization and solely represents athletes competing in the Olympic and Paralympic games. It depends on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support team facilities, send athletes to competitions, and compensate its staff. American athletes are not the only ones not supported by government funding;Australian athletes are also heavily dependent on crowdfunding.

Successful crowdfunding campaigns share elements of other successful fundraising campaigns. Athletes need a compelling story. Strong relationships with fans, including a large number following active social media campaigns, are also essential. These efforts cannot be turned on every four years but take years to build and considerable efforts to maintain.


What Are the Social Costs of the Flint Water Crisis?

August 10th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

Never mind the infrastructure investments: The damage done to Flint’s kids could be much worse.

We already know that replacing the lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, is going to cost a lot of money. Early on in the crisis, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver calculated the cost to be $55 million; a more recent estimate suggests it could come to four times that. But if that sounds like a staggering figure, consider this: The social costs could reach close to $400 million.

The water problems in Flint began in April 2014, when the city stopped getting its water from Lake Huron via Detroit, opting instead to build its own pipeline to the lake. In the meantime, the city switched to the Flint River for water, but failed to treat that water to prevent corrosion. That decision ended up flooding residents’ taps with lead, a metal that causesdevelopmental delays and learning difficulties.

“The lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan … has created a new awareness of a public health crisis that has never left us because the in- vestment needed to remove lead from pipes in high-risk areas was never made,” Peter Muennig, an associate professor of public health at Columbia University, writes in Health Affairs. “But what is the cost of inaction?”

The answer: a lot. In a 2009 paper, Muennig considered several important social consequences of lead poisoning—lower educational attainment, reduced lifetime earnings, increased crime, higher health costs, and so on—and compared a scenario in which policymakers took no action to one where the managed to reduce children’s blood levels to less than 10 micrograms of lead per liter. Compared to inaction, Muennig argues, the latter scenario could save an average of about $50,000 per child over the course of their lifetimes.

Based on one estimate, as many as 8,000 kids in the greater Flint area may have been affected by lead-poisoned water as a result of the crisis, so simple arithmetic implies the long-term social costs of Flint’s lead-laden water will total around $400 million—much, much more than the $5 million in savings Flint supposedly got from switching its water supply to the Flint River.


Think Tanks and their Corporate Funders: Who’s Selling What?

August 9th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; New York Times

A devastating article last weekend by Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams, part of a series running in the New York Times, last weekend raised big questions about the independence of the think tanks that specifically trade on that independence, issuing research reports and generally acting as research based-arbiters of a wide variety of issues in the media and the highest levels of government. Perhaps think tanks have gone for the same short-term-return-above-all-else strategy that has caused such havoc in our general economy, a strategy inadvertently aimed at destroying what is most valued in the organization.

The behavior of think tanks vis-à-vis the issues that their corporate funders are invested in has been raised repeatedly by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who has termed the practice “thinly disguised lobbying.” NPQ has covered a number of reports about theirfunding in general, by foreign governments, and the corporate funding of right-wing think tanks on issues like education.

“This is about giant corporations,” Warren said, “who figured out that by spending, hey, a few tens of millions of dollars, if they can influence outcomes here in Washington, they can make billions of dollars.”

Indeed, a group of state attorneys general is investigating whether ExxonMobil worked with think tanks to produce reports that would obscure the impact of fossil fuels on climate change.

Are these institutions that function with government subsidies so they might act in the best interests of the public guarding their ability to do so, or are their business models carelessly but specifically courting a lack of integrity and credibility?

The annual budget of the Brookings Institution has doubled in the past decade to $100,000,000, so whatever it is doing seems to be working financially—at least in the short term. But stories like the one below may begin to erode its necessary reputational capital.

Brookings is featured front-and-center in the Times for its close “strategic partnership” with Lennar Corporation, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States and now central to a controversial $8 billion redevelopment plan in San Francisco. (Before we go any further, we want to provide a link to a very brief refutation made by Brookingsyesterday in response to the article.) Brookings received $400,000 from various divisions of the corporation and Brookings began an aggressive promotion of San Francisco project, offering among other things to “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.” It also named Lennar Executive Kofi Bonner as a senior fellow at Brookings. Bonner is in charge of the San Francisco project. An internal Brookings memo suggested he would be a “trusted adviser” even as a $100,000 donation was being solicited from Lennar.

The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed documentation indicating that other corporations like K.K.R., Hitachi, and JPMorgan Chase (which donated more than $15.5 million to the nonprofit— for which they received, among other things, a lot of profile nurturing) were often promised that Brookings would provide “donation benefits” like events on the topics of interest that would mix donating corporate executives with government officials, presumably helping to brand the corporation as a credible policy player.

The article concedes that much of Brookings’ work appears unconnected, at least on the surface, to corporate interests. Still, as Bill Goodfellow, the executive director of the Center for International Policy, another think tank, said, “People think of think tanks as do-gooders, uncompromised and not bought like others in the political class.  But it’s absurd to suggest that donors don’t have influence. The danger is we in the think tank world are being corrupted in the same way as the political world. And all of us should be worried about it.”


This story of lost Syrian refugees in a Canadian train station is going viral.

August 4th, 2016  |  Source: Upworthy

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere since 2011. 6.5 million people are still displaced in Syria. And Canada has resettled over 29,000 of those refugees since November 2015.

One such Syrian family was traveling in Ontario recently, on their way to stay with family members. The family of seven arrived at Toronto's Union Station with their five children — two of whom require strollers — many heavy bags and a plastic bag of cash that they hoped would get them through their journey.

Next began a series of interactions with around 50 Canadian good Samaritans.

Valerie Taylor, a psychiatrist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, saw the family at Union Station, and a young woman was helping them with directions. They were lost. 

Taylor recounted her adventure in chaotic Canadian kindness in a Facebook post that's been shared over 28,000 times:

 As Taylor recounted to the CBC, she approached the group and asked, "Are you new here?"

One of the five kids, an 11-year-old boy who spoke English, said yes. It was through him that Taylor found out the family was from Syria and was trying to reach family in London, Ontario. 

Taylor said they helped the family purchase train tickets for what they thought was the right train.

Other people started to notice their large group too, according to Taylor's post. Folks stepped in to help the family carry bags. They helped find them seats on their new train. 

Basically, strangers offered this family some good old-fashioned human kindness. 

“No one had to be asked to help, no one had to think about the right thing to do. This is what you do.” 

Taylor said they helped the family purchase train tickets for what they thought was the right train.

Other people started to notice their large group too, according to Taylor's post. Folks stepped in to help the family carry bags. They helped find them seats on their new train. 

Basically, strangers offered this family some good old-fashioned human kindness. 

“No one had to be asked to help, no one had to think about the right thing to do. This is what you do.” 


Lawyers exploit foreclosure ‘rescue’ fee loophole

August 2nd, 2016  |  Source: Publicintegrity.org

Government decision enriches attorneys, stings homeowners

In 2011, three attorneys set up a firm called The Mortgage Law Group that took advantage of a federal program aimed at helping people threatened with foreclosure to stay in their homes.

Business boomed. In just over two years the Chicago firm signed up more than 5,200 clients who paid more than $18 million in advance fees for legal services they hoped would either reduce the size of their mortgage payments or hold off foreclosure.

But federal regulators say the firm was little more than a sophisticated telemarketing scam that masqueraded as a law practice and cheated thousands of financially vulnerable people.

Most Mortgage Law Group clients received little for their money, according to federal officials, who in a lawsuit filed in 2014 accused the firm of employing misleading and deceptive sales tactics to lure in customers.

One telemarketer deposed in the federal court case described the high-pressure atmosphere on the sales floor in the firm’s Chicago offices as straight out of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Wolf of Wall Street. He said some sales agents even posed as lawyers to close deals.

Attorney-affiliated firms that aggressively market mortgage reduction plans have mushroomed in the past few years because of a loophole in a government program called “loan modification.” Created in 2009, the program was designed to help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure brought on by the recession. But a government decision to exempt lawyers from a ban on charging advance fees for modification services has led to scams that have cheated thousands of homeowners.

Many homeowners who were supposed to benefit instead lost millions of dollars to firms that promised them loan modifications and other foreclosure-relief services that they failed to deliver, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

Since 2010, these practices have drawn tens of thousands of consumer complaints to federal and state authorities, sparked multiple legal and ethical concerns over what constitutes the legitimate practice of law, and raised questions about how aggressively states have monitored the conduct of lawyers who profit from the schemes, the Center’s investigation found.

The Center identified more than 1,000 attorneys — more than one-third of them in California and Florida — who participated in loan-modification and foreclosure-prevention schemes that resulted in either law enforcement actions or disciplinary reviews by state legal authorities.




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