Street Art in San Francisco: Balmy Alley

Street Art in San Francisco: Balmy Alley

Jul 27

Image: Via www.streetartsf.com In San Francisco, there are several clusters of murals or street art that have gained attention. Many of these exist in the Mission District. For the mural lover, Balmy Alley is one of the highest concentrations of murals, and it is steeped in history. The Alley is located between 24th St. and 25th St., and Treat St. and Harrison St., which is a short walk from a BART stop. The ally contains murals in a variety of styles and on a variety of topics from human rights to gentrification. The history of Balmy Alley begins in the mid-80’s. During this time, the neighborhood was primarily Latino.  In the previous decade, a famous mural called Las Lechugueras had been painted by two women called Mujeres Muralistas. A couple of murals were painted in the area, but it was Ray Patlan who had the intentions for the area. He brought together a group of muralists to create a project in this ally. They wanted each garage door or fence to have a mural on it. The theme uniting the paintings would be the “celebration of indigenous Central American cultures, and protest of U.S. intervention in Central America.” By September 1985, 27 murals had been painted thanks to the funding Zellerbach Foundation and paint donations from Politec Mural Paints. After its completion it received more publicity than any other murals in San Francisco and significantly affected the creation of La Lucha Continua Art Park in New York City. Since then, other murals have sprung up in the same area on a variety of different themes while some of the older murals are being restored. The best way to visit this iconic area is by foot, either individually or on the tour with Precita Eyes Mural Arts. This is a great way to get some history behind some of the major murals. Either way, if you appreciate street art, Balmy Ally is a San Francisco...

Making It a Little Easier to Investigate Charity Fraud

Making It a Little Easier to Investigate Charity Fraud

Jul 19

Image: Shutterstock Between 2005 and 2016, the number of non-profits in America jumped from around 500,000 to over 1.6 million. Consequently, the number of fraud cases brought against nonprofit has increased as well. There have been a number of scandals in the non-profit field in 2015 and 2016 alone, and they’ve brought to light just how hard it can be to investigate such cases. The IRS, with which all non-profits have to be registered, is finally helping to make that a little easier by making available digital, or digitized, 990 forms. In so doing, they have made these forms, which are required for non-profits, available for anyone to pursue or to mine for data, in order to find out how many non-profits work on X issue, or have claimed more than Y donations. That will, hypothetically, make it easier for investigators to determine if fraud accusations are truthful. It’s a process that should have been completed some time ago, a lot closer to when President Obama issued an executive order to make government agencies more transparent. The IRS claimed they didn’t have the resources to do so, but the courts didn’t agree. It’s also not a perfect system. There are still a number of forms missing, from about 40% of groups that didn’t file electronically. Going forward, mandatory electronic filing might be in the works, and would certainly make life easier for investigators. But it’s also not the easiest system to use, and is better suited to broad searches that require a lot of data, than for one person to tack down one organization’s filings. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. It also brings to light at least one simple thing that non-profits can do to help: file electronically with the IRS. Fraud is bad news for the whole field, so it’s in every non-profit’s interest to make rooting out charity fraud...

Fraudulent Maryland Veterans Charity Barred from Soliciting

Fraudulent Maryland Veterans Charity Barred from Soliciting

Jul 12

Image: Shutterstock The state of Maryland has barred a fraudulent charity from soliciting for donations following a number of complaints and an investigation that found the charity was not operating within the law. The Southern Maryland Veterans Association claimed to be helping homeless veterans, but was not using the money they raised for those purposes, and in fact was not even registered with the Secretary of State. Without being registered, the group could not legally solicit for donations and was misrepresenting itself as a charity. They were a familiar sight outside of grocery stores and other locations, and had been soliciting for long enough that there couldn’t be a reasonable argument for why they were not registered with the Secretary of State. The organization was issued a cease and desist order earlier this year, but they requested several hearings to have that order overturned, all of which failed. The Secretary of State, which regulates charities in Maryland, upheld the cease and desist and has urged residents to report further solicitations by the group. This case is yet another example of charities, registered or otherwise, which purport to support veterans defrauding donors. Although fraud in the non-profit sector is actually pretty rare, it does come up in the news when it happens, and in the case of veterans charities, the problem seems to be snowballing. Why veterans charities? It’s a disgrace that we even need veterans charities, that former military personal should have to rely on the kindness of others to help them out instead of the government is beyond many people. And as such, veterans are seen by many as a party well worth supporting with their charitable money. Charity fraud tends to crop up following tragedies which generate a lot of donations (like hurricanes or mass shootings) but for the average scam artist, veterans seem to be quite the cash...

Rapper Big Sean Donates Money to Help Homeless College Students

Rapper Big Sean Donates Money to Help Homeless College Students

Jul 05

Image: Via dailydetroit.com The difficulty of life growing up in a city like Detroit is one of the central themes that runs through hip-hop. For rapper “Big Sean” Anderson, bringing those difficulties to light isn’t enough, so he’s trying to help out. He recently donated $25,000 to a group called HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher), which helps students struggling with financial difficulties make it to graduation. HIGH is focused on Wayne State University in Detroit, but the problem of college homelessness isn’t limited to the Motor City. Students who can’t afford housing, food, books, or clothing while they attend classes can be found at schools around the country. HIGH has been working to address the problem at WSU, and they’ve gotten a nice boost from Big Sean, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed elsewhere, both by non-profits and through political action. With a significant portion of local students, Wayne State University is home to some problems that other schools don’t see as often. Big 10 universities and Ivy League schools tend to have large endowments to help students with tuition, or mostly attract wealthy students in the first place. But as a working class state school, WSU has many students who live at or below the poverty line, and it is exactly those students that HIGH was founded to help. Big Sean donated the money through his Sean Anderson Foundation, which partners with other groups to raise money for a variety of causes. Foundations like this are pretty common, and they’re a good model for people, especially celebrities, who want to help out but maybe aren’t willing to dedicate themselves wholly to one kind of charitable work. Big Sean likes to keep the focus in Michigan, and his foundation recently helped raise $82,755 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to help children affected by lead poisoning in that...

Trump Could Face Charges for His Falsified Donations

Trump Could Face Charges for His Falsified Donations

Jun 28

Photo credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com Lying about charity isn’t an ethical or nice thing to do. Saying that you’ve donated money to a cause, when you really haven’t, might sound like a little white lie, but the act of donating is seen as a social good. It’s something that people can look at and judge you as a good member of society. It’s great if it’s true, but if you’re lying about your charitable works, then you’re gaining good press for something you never did, which is unethical at the very least. It may also be illegal in some cases. Donald Trump has appeared in the press numerous times over the course of this bid for the 2016 presidential election precisely because its become apparent that he isn’t honest about his donations. He has routinely claimed that he would donate the proceeds from various products, like his recent book, “university,” or vodk to charity. But it keeps coming back that those claims aren’t true, and that money isn’t going to charity. He’s just been using the promise of donations to entice people to buy his products. So a number of experts have been trying to get New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann to press charges against Trump for deceptive business practices. The Attorney General has not moved on these accusations, nor commented on whether he will, but the office is aware of the allegations. It certainly seems like a valuable use of the Attorney General’s time. Fraud is fraud, regardless of who commits it, and it’s obvious that Trump has lied, time and time again, about his “charitable work.” But he hasn’t just used these lies to build his image as he has also used them to trick people into buying his products, and that’s not something we should let...

Playing Zelda for Charity: Zeldathon

Playing Zelda for Charity: Zeldathon

Jun 23

Marathons are a common event in the charity world, with people signing up to run or pledging money to support friends and family who are running. But not everybody can, or wants, to run, and some people don’t really pay attention to charity marathons. For some of those people though, there are video game marathons. The basic principle is the same: people do a thing for an absurdly long time while others watch them. In these cases, they play a video game, or series of video games, for some length of time while others watch them. Social video services like Twitch.TV allow people to tune in from around the world. There are lots of events like this, and most of them use the platform to raise money for charity. A lot of different charities benefit, like Direct Relief, which is the recipient of funds raised at this year’s first Zeldathon. Zeldathon is held multiple times each year, and started back in 2009. It’s a pretty simple concept: players go through the entire Zelda franchise, periodically putting on silly costumes or eating weird foods because people donated a certain amount of money. Paying to embarrass players is pretty common in these kinds of marathons. But it’s effective. Since 2009, Zeldathon has donated 100% of the $875,000 they’ve raised to various charities, which is no small number. This time it’s Direct Relief, which works around the country and the world to help alleviate poverty, and has earned a perfect score from Charity Navigator, no small task. If you’re interested in watching the action, you can check out the Zeldathon website for more information. If you miss it, don’t worry, there’s probably another charity gaming marathon coming up any time...

Turn Your Gardening Hobby into a Charity

Turn Your Gardening Hobby into a Charity

Jun 14

Image: Shutterstock For gardeners with a charitable streak, donating part of your harvest to charity can turn your hobby into helping others. According to Plant a Row, a nonprofit dedicated to this exact idea, about 84 million households in the United States have yards or gardens. They maintain that if each of those gardens simply added another row of vegetables or the like and then donated that yield, it could take a pretty big bite out of hunger. About 50 million people, almost the population of California, suffer from food insecurity, and rely on food banks or other organizations for help, when they can get it. But those organizations don’t always have enough food to go around, and fresh produce can be especially hard to keep on hand. Fresh fruit and vegetables are important to human health, but are all to often neglected or out of people’s price range. Local gardeners can help change that though. There are a lot of ways that this idea can be put into practice. Home gardens are the obvious choice, but community gardens built with charity in mind are a wonderful idea as well. Not only do such gardens generate food, but they create green spaces and provide exercise and recreation for people in the community. Schools often undertake gardening projects, and those are a perfect opportunity to not only teach kids about biology, but to help instill a charitable tendency as well. And charitable gardens don’t require much more work than normal gardens either. Crops like leaf lettuce, onions, or carrots are easy to grow, hardy, and should have no problem finding a good home. Get in touch with local food banks, or organizations like Plant a Row or Feeding America to see how you can help out, and if you can’t find a local organization to contribute to, why not start your...

The Billionaires to Donations Ratio in China is Skewed

The Billionaires to Donations Ratio in China is Skewed

Jun 07

The number of billionaires in the People’s Republic of China has increased significantly in the last decade or so, but their charitable giving has not kept pace. In 2015, China saw a rise in the billionaire population of 38%, with a net worth of $830 billion, meaning that country has the second largest number of billionaires after the United States. But the United States far outpaces China in charitable giving. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most significant is a lack of transparency on the part of charitable organizations. In recent years, there have been a number of scandals involving charities in China, especially as pertains to the use of funds, which has made many people cautious. The government has stepped in to address the situation, but as is common in China, that has largely been to restrict who can claim charity status, and what they can focus their mission on. The result is that many charities are now beholden to the government. Some billionaires, a class that has only recently come into being in the nominally communist country, are reasonably cautious about how the government perceives them, and so they must choose their donations very carefully. But there also aren’t many tax incentives for donating in China. Here in the United States, although many people donate out of the kindness of their hearts, there are a number of tax benefits that companies can claim by donating to charity, and they make sure to do that. Regardless of why a person, or a company, donates to charity, the end result is still a donation. While the number of charitable organizations in China has increased in the last few years, up to 4,211 as of 2015, giving to those organizations is still slow. The Chinese government does seem to be interested in finding ways to get people to support select charitable causes though, so this may change over the next few...