The War on Charity





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In the names of public health and public safety, municipalities continue to crack down on charities that feed the homeless. At the same time, a recent survey has found that cites are seeing a sharp rise in demand for emergency food.

The issue has largely become a debate about how charities are hurting local businesses and causing public sanitation and disturbance problems. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rather glaring rise in poverty and need for assistance, as found in a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors study.

According to Yahoo News, “a survey of 25 American cities, including many of the nation’s largest, showed yearly increases in food aid and homelessness. The cities, located throughout 18 states, saw requests for emergency food aid rise by an average of 7 percent compared with the previous period a year earlier…”

Among some of the highest percentages in demographics of the survey, it was found that unemployment was the largest contributor to these statistics. In addition, the study found that high percentages of these requests came from the elderly, veterans and the homeless. Almost one-third of these requests came from those who suffer from mental illness.

A War on Charity

The controversy has heightened in recent years, as cities are cracking down on charities that publicly feed the homeless. In Dauphin County, Pa., a religious organization called Isaiah 61 has been banned from using a parking lot that is owned by the county.

Isaiah 61 had been using the parking lot for five years as a place where they could provide hot meals to local homeless people. In response to complaints, the county posted “No Loitering” signs. Isaiah 61 says that this move “violates the group’s freedom of religion,” as reported by Jeff Frantz from PennLive.com.

In December 2013, another story from Bret Wilkins of Digital Journal reported on a controversial homeless feeding ban in St. Louis, and that the city is sticking to its guns, despite public outcry. It dealt with Churches on the Streets, a program that proved home-cooked meals and sermons to the city’s homeless.

Government to the Rescue?

City governments who decide to implement these bans have a rationale for doing so. The government naturally wants to have a say, especially when it comes to taking care of impoverished citizens. So, how are local government faring in their objective? The Yahoo News article finds an interesting answer in its recent survey. It says that a cut in SNAP benefits, formerly known as the food-stamp program, was also causing a decrease in food available for the needy. This is turn forces them to turn to organizations that are less prepared to face this demand.

So it seems that the government has been cutting food assistance, forcing the homeless to turn to charitable organizations like Isaiah 61 and Churches on the Street.

Though it can be argued that local governments never said that these charities weren’t allowed to practice their faith and feed the impoverished, they simply say that these charities need to have permits, inspections and can’t use public property. Another recurring theme found in these reports is that local governments are “burdening’” these operations to the point of infeasibility.

Simply put, the government isn’t completely banning charities from feeding the homeless, and this does seem to be a far cry from attacking religious freedom as a whole. However, this appears to be more of a classic government control and incompetence issue.

Obviously, the government does not want to make things easy for charities, and while they aren’t technically banning them from feeding the homeless, they are making it a logistical impossibility. Their rationale may be that they feel better able to deal with the homeless than churches and charities. Sure they are.

At the same time, we have found that government food assistance has taken a nosedive, driving the homeless towards charities that are now no longer able to help them. This is what happens when constitutional freedom and morality are abandoned by a control-obsessed government.

Sadly, the ones who stand to lose the most are the homeless.

Adrienne Erin is a skeptical freelance writer and designer who is always turning a critical eye to the news. To see more of her work, check out these Mustang reads.

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Why New York City Is In Danger





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On Tuesday, November 5, Bill de Blasio (above) was elected mayor of New York City. During his campaign, de Blasio promised he would get rid of Ray Kelly as police commissioner if elected. A large part of his desire to oust Kelly is due to the fact that the commissioner used a method called stop-and-frisk to apprehend criminals. This method has been somewhat controversial — many claim it is racist because it tends to target African-Americans and other ethnic minorities.

However, the policy has been successful in driving down crime rates. If eliminating stop-and-frisk could cause crime rates to increase, why would anyone want to do so? Moreover, why would any sane person want to remove Ray Kelly from office when he’s made the city so safe?

What is Stop-and-Frisk?

Stop-and-frisk is a policy in which police officers have the authority to take suspicious-looking people off the street and search their person for weapons or drugs. Ray Kelly enacted the policy in an effort to drive down crime in New York, especially in its seedier neighborhoods. For the most part, the policy has worked. Criminals carrying guns without permits have been arrested, and crime has gone down. As a result, you can walk in any neighborhood in the city during the day without fearing for your life.

Racial Prejudice?

Those who oppose stop-and-frisk do so because they feel the practice is bigoted. Opponents say those who receive pat downs are almost always a member of a racial minority. They claim that stop-and-frisk unfairly targets these groups.

However, racial minorities are only targeted because they are more likely to commit crimes. Police are instructed to look for minorities because they are far more likely to be violent criminals. This is a cold, hard fact, not an unfair racial prejudice. Why would you only target white people when they’re not the ones carrying illegal weapons?

Many of the city’s more dangerous neighborhoods are also ethnic neighborhoods. Of course, police will pat down fewer white people when patrolling these neighborhoods because they’re not as likely to live there. Unfortunately, ethnic neighborhoods are some of the poorest. This is nothing against the people who live there — again, it’s just a fact. Sometimes ethnic minorities may not be U.S. citizens and may not be able to find good jobs. Sometimes they may simply be new to the country and have not yet been able to get on their feet. Often, ethnic and racial minorities were oppressed in the past and may have not yet been able to move themselves out of poverty. In any case, the poorer a neighborhood is, the more likely it is to be crime-ridden.

The Future of New York

The New York of today is not the New York of twenty or thirty years ago. In the 1970s and 80s, it wasn’t safe to take the subway, let alone walk around the Yankee Stadium in the south Bronx. Today, however, violent crime in the city is very low; and you don’t have to worry about being caught in crossfire or mugged on your way home from work. Taking the subway is one of the fastest, cheapest, and safest ways to get around the city. It would be a shame for crime to rise simply because people have a problem with stop-and-frisk. Under Ray Kelly and his staff, New York became a safe place to live and work. Sadly, though, an increase in crime may very well occur if Kelly is forced to leave office.

 

Adrienne Erin is a skeptical freelance writer and designer who is always turning a critical eye to the news. To see more of her work, check out this infographic about preventable death, one of America’s most embarrassing statistics.

 

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The Case For Abandoning Political Parties





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Political parties in this country need to be abolished. It’s a fact. The bickering in Washington over “Obamacare” and the debt ceiling, as well as much of the gridlock that has taken over Capitol Hill in recent years, has made that evident by now. We are fed up, and we know Washington hears it. But is Washington really listening? Do they truly hear the will of the people?

Maybe we have not been listening to Washington. George Washington, that is. The truth is that we abandoned the warnings of our great leaders, intentionally or unintentionally, a long time ago.  Papa George warned us about the danger inherent in party politics in his farewell address to the nation in 1796, and his words were clear:

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.

John Adams warned us too, in 1789:

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

I like the more recent words of President Eisenhower (in 1956) the best:

If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.

The human drive for power and to win at all costs motivates our leaders when it should be the drive to represent the people and make their lives better. Party politics is evil because it encourages competition; and as a result, our lives are not better. But what is even worse than us failing to listen to our greatest leaders is that our current leaders are failing to listen to us.

Throughout the government shutdown that just ended last week, we the people, Republicans and Democrats alike, rallied. We made it known in the media that we did not want political rivalries and ill will to be the reason that hard-working Americans who just want to earn a living were furloughed, services withheld, and our most treasured landmarks locked up.  But what makes the situation worse is that the world is failing too because, like it or not, the world economy depends heavily on the United States. When our economy is stable, so too is the world’s economy.

But Obama wouldn’t compromise, and neither would Boehner. Their desire to remain loyal to their party affiliations rather than the ones who matter most took over and would not rest until someone cried “uncle.”  Their egos took over; and we nearly defaulted on our loans, which everyone knew would mean trouble for a country and a world that is still trying to recover from the Second Great Depression.

Obama and Boehner have not been able to compromise on anything, and the sore on our stability as a nation will continue to fester when they are gone and others have taken over their positions. The political parties have locked horns and refuse to cooperate. It’s Republican versus Democrat. Someone has to win, and no one is willing to lose. It’s no longer about having legitimate debates, making arguments, and speedily legislating the affairs of the country in the best interest of the people.  It’s about winning.

With regard to the tired arguments for or against “Obamacare” that have been playing out in the press, both sides have valid arguments. The financial climate may not be adequate to cover the medical bills of every man, woman, and child; and it may never be adequate. But at the same time, how can we let those who are unemployed and can’t afford health care flounder? I don’t know who is right and who is wrong.  The reason our country is failing is not entirely anyone’s fault. The source of the gridlock on Capitol Hill is party politics. The sooner our elected leaders can shake off the shackles of their party affiliations and talk like adults rather than as children, the sooner the sore that is hurting our society will heal.

 

Adrienne Erin is a skeptical freelance writer who is fed up with the bickering between major parties no longer being about the welfare of the people. To see more of her work, check out this infographic about the world’s tallest buildings.

 

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The Obama Administration And The NSA: Victories In Strange Places





Obama Big Brother SC The Obama Administration and the NSA: Victories in Strange Places

To call Barack Obama a controversial president would be a pretty grievous understatement. With every decision he’s made since he took office in 2008, he has practically appeared to thrive in the midst of controversy. It’s a long list, and growing: he pushed through his unpopular health care law; he begged the American people for their blessing to start yet another war; and he has, at best, been complicit with a series of crimes perpetrated on the American people. At worst, he has been instrumental in them.

We’re talking, of course, about the National Security Agency and its terribly skewed worldview that seems to hold that the security of our nation and the personal privacy and liberty of its citizens are mutually exclusive.

Members of the Obama administration have tried to placate outraged Americans by claiming that Obama’s role in the NSA’s recently uncovered and far-reaching surveillance programs have been minimal, and that the NSA’s practices actually reach back quite a few years to the Bush Administration. That may not be as true as Obama supporters are probably hoping.

A recent story broke that revealed that the Obama administration had a sort of private victory in 2011 when they persuaded a surveillance court to lift certain restrictions on the NSA’s use of intercepted telephone calls and emails. In effect, this “victory” is responsible for allowing many of the most heinous crimes of the NSA to continue. During these last two years, the court’s decision has allowed the NSA to actively search through the communications of American citizens.

The court also ruled to extend – from five to six years – the length of time the NSA is permitted to retain communication records it has obtained, though this ruling allows for even longer periods of time under vague “special circumstances.”

The NSA and its accomplices in the Obama administration seem to be playing some kind of game of semantics where the word “target” is concerned, which is largely responsible for some of the murky and troublesome language in the court’s ruling. In other words, there seems to be little distinction being made between ordinary American citizens and genuine threats to national security.

Gregory T. Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology has pointed out that there is, in practice, no real difference between “actively” targeting American citizens and deliberately searching through Americans’ records after they’ve already been collected. The difference is essentially a semantic one.

Whatever the wordplay involved, however, there’s no denying that the government has very recently and fundamentally turned its own surveillance practices and philosophies on its head. There was a time when American privacy and civil liberties were the highest priority of our elected officials and various branches of government. Now, we live under a government that collects our sensitive data first and worries about the fallout and justifications later.

After the revelations about the NSA and PRISM came to light, the public outcry was rightfully deafening, though a select few held shakily to the argument that “innocent Americans have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide.” This defense of our government’s crimes, and President Obama’s complicity in them, is built on the shakiest of foundations.

To begin with, it seems to be alarmingly comfortable with the notion that the average American citizen has nothing to hide that isn’t related to terrorism. Even more than that, though, it ignores the inalienable right of the citizen of a civilized nation to have a degree of privacy.

Somewhere along the line, our leaders lost sight of the fact that liberty is security. A governmental agency that sacrifices liberty for security is essentially devouring its own tail. The NSA’s mandate is to protect American citizens from both foreign threats and the more insidious variety on American soil. The terrible irony in all of this is that it now is quite unable to protect the American people from themselves.

Had the true extent of the NSA’s overreach of its mandate come to light just a couple years ago, it could have cost Obama the presidency. The American youth that enthusiastically shepherded him into office in 2008 and 2012 have decried Obama’s lack of transparency and complicity in NSA precedents that are several years older than his own presidency. In particular, they have railed against the NSA’s incursion on the Internet, which is in many ways the last bastion of free speech left to us. If our conversations on the Internet are not private, they seem to be saying, nowhere is safe.

The NSA debate is probably the scandal many on the political right were hoping for throughout Obama’s first term, the one that would make him a one-term president. Instead, it came a little too late.

The good news is that history will remember Obama as the president that – quite by accident – helped to drag the ugly practices of our government into the unforgiving daylight. In that respect, he’s been one of the most productive presidents in modern times. It’s a strange sort of victory, but it’s the kind the American people need right now.

 

Adrienne Erin is a skeptical freelance writer strongly interested in politics. To see more of her work, check out a chart she designed explaining the Affordable Care Act, or tweet with her at @adrienneerin.

 

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The Obamacare Fallout Continues: America As A Part-Time Nation

Obamacare To Die For Shipping SC The Obamacare Fallout Continues: America As a Part Time Nation

It seems that every week or so, we discover a new casualty of the Obama administration’s healthcare law, known more popularly as Obamacare. Every week, there’s new evidence that the suite of healthcare laws is hurting or outright destroying portions of the industry, and indeed the nation, that it claims to be protecting.

The latest development in America’s march toward socialized medicine is a veritable landslide of claims from across the country from employees that have had their hours drastically cut and their health benefits packages gutted. This isn’t isolated to a particular industry, either; this is happening in a tragically diverse selection of industries.

There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence of this alarming trend, but let’s take a look at something a little more empirical. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released data indicating that the ratio of full- to part-time jobs has essentially flipped this year, as compared to years past. Just one year ago, there were about six full-time jobs for every part-time job. This year, there is only one full-time job for every four part-time jobs.

Employers both large and small are beginning to feel the pressure that Obama’s health care law has caused in a variety of industries. The best known of the law’s many provisions is the employer mandate, which states that any business that employs 50 or more people must provide health care to those employees. Businesses that do not or cannot comply can face fines of up to $3,000 per year for each uninsured employee.

In order to cope with the penalties, employers such as Loren Goodridge (owner of 21 Subway restaurants) and St. Petersburg College have had to dramatically cut the hours of their employees.

Employees of Goodridge’s sandwich shops have seen their hours reduced to just 29 per week, which falls below the cutoff for full-time employment in many establishments. St. Petersburg College also has reduced the hours of 250 of its employers, confirming that they cannot afford to provide them with heath care.

Joseph Hansen, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, has added his voice to the many now decrying the employer mandate. Those in his camp originally backed the President’s legislation but have come to realize the danger that it represents not only for their industry, but for every other industry as well. Hansen confirms that the health care law will have a “tremendous impact as workers have their hours… and incomes reduced.”

If the president of a labor union has turned his back on Obama’s unpopular law, it’s safe to say there’s cause for alarm.

This is only the latest example of how the Obama administration continues to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. In their exalted march toward what was billed as a fair, affordable, and universal health care system, they seem to have been largely ignorant of the larger repercussions that will last much longer than President Obama’s two terms in office. While there’s no denying the scope or severity of the collateral damage of this healthcare legislation, there’s also no way to tell just where it’s going to end.

Consider an eerily similar and basically perennial cause championed by the left: the minimum wage. There is quite simply no version of this country in which every employee in every position of employment can be paid a so-called “living wage” – not without significant blowback. By demanding that employers raise the wage of their employees to the proposed $10 per hour, the government will be guaranteeing layoffs and decreased hours on an unprecedented scale.

Further increases in the minimum wage, along with the employer mandate in Obamacare, are going to be devastating to a wide range of industries, causing employers to cut hours and lay off employees to account for the increased payroll burdens (a fact that seems to elude many in Washington.) Even worse, many left-wing voters seem to be willing to gladly follow their favored politicians into oblivion.

The minimum wage debate and the Obamacare debacle-in-progress confirm for good and all how fond the current administration is of leaping before they look. Frankly, both initiatives reek of pandering; after all, nobody really wants to vote against higher wages and “free” healthcare, right? The public was pulled in by the administration’s fairy tale version of the United States where the government can quite suddenly legislate equality into being.

Thankfully, most of America is beginning to realize that the fairy tale we were sold – once in 2008 and once in 2012 – was a lie.

 

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