Scientists: Move or Postpone Olympics Due to Zika

A group of 150 scientists, researchers, and academics have written an appeal for organizers to either move the Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro or delay them, citing the ongoing Zika virus public health emergency.

The letter reads in part:

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed or moved, but cancelled. Other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola. FIFA moved the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the USA because of the SARS epidemic, based on the advice from university-based experts, as many of us are.

The letter proceeds to express concern that tourists from around the world will carry the virus back home with them to countries not yet exposed to the epidemic. Poor countries in particular concern the letter’s signatories, who argue that the Olympics pose an unnecessary risk that may lead to outbreaks in regions ill-equipped to cope with the mysterious virus.

Amir Attaran – a professor at the University of Ottawa and prominent signatory of the letter – informed The Guardian of his pessimistic post-olympics forecast, remarking that the “odds are extremely high that somebody will take the disease elsewhere and seed a new outbreak.”

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement downplaying the  Olympics’ role in spreading the Zika virus update, stating that “canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding that Brazil is simply one of nearly 60 countries which have reported cases.

The WHO reaffirms that tourists should simply follow the world health body’s travel advice, which essentially amounts to wearing mosquito repellant and practicing safe-sex.

Purportedly, the International Olympic Committee has not consulted with the WHO regarding the organization’s dismissal of scientists’ fears, though the governing body of the Olympics has long maintained that there is no possibility of moving the games, the multi-billion dollar budget for which grows every week.

There is likely intense resistance to calls for a delay or cancellation from interests that have contributed to the immense sum of money invested in the games.

Zika virus has been proven to cause microcephaly in new-born infants, which causes malformed heads and debilitating and/or lethal brain damage. Additionally, there may be some links between the virus and deleterious side-effects in adults, including a possible correlation between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.

The United States Olympic Committee has told athletes and staff that they should skip the Rio games if they are concerned about Zika, Reuters reports.

The Tap will bring you further coverage as the Olympics approach concerning Zika virus and other ongoing events, including the political strife and economic turmoil currently ravishing the host country Brazil.

6 Artist Reactions to the N.C. Bathroom Bill

(Bruce Springsteen cancelled a North Carolina performance in protest of the discriminatory HB2, also known as the bathroom bill)

Since North Carolina passed HB2 – legislation colloquially known as the bathroom bill that prohibits transgender individuals from using restrooms that correspond to their gender -there has been immense blowback.

Initially designed as a ill-conceived response to an ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that granted explicit permission for the transgender community to exercise this basic right, the law has resulted in a legal battle between North Carolina and the federal government. The Department of Justice has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state, and has threatened to slash federal funding for North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina. The governor and other high-ranking officials chose to respond with a lawsuit of their own, making it official: HB2  is not only the latest attempt at state-sanctioned discrimination against a historically marginalized group, but also a complete waste of public tax dollars.

Once again, resources that could work toward the Social Good are instead used to prop up inequality and create social division.

In addition to the federal government’s swift response, a number of other organizations, companies, and public figures have staked their own positions, either protesting the law, supporting pro-equality groups, or boycotting North Carolina until the discriminatory measure is repealed. The list of businesses that have boycotted the state grows every week, and as of this writing includes Paypal, Deutsche Bank, General Electric, Hyatt, Hewlett Packard, Whole Foods, Levis Strauss & Co., and Lionsgate.

Artists, too, have made their opinions heard in one way or another. Here are 6 examples of artists and groups voicing their support for the transgender community and the nonprofit groups supporting greater equality in North Carolina and beyond.

1) Bruce Springsteen – The Boss decided to cancel a show scheduled in Greensboro in protest of the law, releasing the following statement:

To my mind, [HB 2 is] an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments.Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them.

2) Itzhak Perlman – The renowned Israeli-American violinist joined ranks with Springsteen, announcing that he would not follow though with a May performance in Raleigh with the North Carolina Symphony. For an artist representing an underfunded art form, the move is quite bold. The virtuoso explained his decision to NPR, stating that he intended to go through with the performance so long as he was permitted to donate his fee to Equality North Carolina, a nonprofit organization working for equality, and publicly explain his reasoning. The symphony informed him that the state would now allow such a statement. That’s when he made up his mind:

I thought, ‘I am going into a hostile situation.’ And that’s when I said, ‘As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I’m canceling.’

3) Animal Collective – The popular electronic-indie group may not have canceled any performances over the bathroom bill, but have instead released a pair of live albums intended to raise money for North Carolina-based organizations fighting to reverse HB2. The band wrote an explanation to fans:

We felt that canceling our [Asheville] show, like many others have done in protest of this law, would be a disappointment to our fans and decided to go on with the performance. That being said, we don’t condone or agree with any type of bigotry or discrimination…For those who were at the show, you may have seen a table set up for Progress NC, who we were introduced to by NC Needs You. They are an organization ‘dedicated to being a voice for forward-thinking North Carolinians who want to protect the balanced approach to government.

4) Beyoncé – International pop sensation Beyoncé voiced her opposition to HB2, releasing a statement in support of Equality North Carolina. The singer appealed to fans to donate or volunteer for the organization in order to make a difference on behalf of the transgender community. Her statement reads in part:

It all began earlier this year when Charlotte passed a decree expanding North Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws allowing LGBT people protection in places of public accommodation. The ordinance, which was set to go into effect on April 1st, would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify as, amongst other progressive rights.

Rather than accepting the progression in LGBT rights, that same night, legislators returned to the state house to overrule the ordinance that would ban discrimination against LGBT people…Among the many organizations doing the good work to get this bill overturned, there is Equality NC, a local organization dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) North Carolinians.

5) Maroon 5 – The popular pop band headed by singer Adam Levine announced that they, too, would be canceling North Carolina performances – in both Charlotte and Raleigh – in response to HB2. In a statement posted online, the band expressed regret – but also their resolve – in making the decision:

We have announced that we will be canceling our upcoming shows in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina because of the recent passage of the HB2 legislation. This was a difficult decision for us to make as a band. We don’t want to penalize our fans in North Carolina by not I’m going to create an event around the show as a form of protest to say that despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away.performing for them, but in the end it comes down to what we feel is morally right.

6) Against Me! – The critically acclaimed art-punk has no plans to cancel an upcoming show in North Carolina. The band’s lead singer Laura Jane Grace – an outspoken transgender woman passionate about social activism – responded on Twitter to questions as to whether her band would cancel a May performance in Durham: “It was suggested to me in an interview that we might cancel our May 15th show in Durham, NC because of the states HB2 bill. Hell no!”

She elaborated further on the decision for Buzzfeed:

I’m going to create an event around the show as a form of protest to say that despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away.

Red Cross Gives Money Directly to Canadian Wildfire Evacuees

Much of central Canada is still ablaze. According to reports, wildfires just spread to the Saskatchewan province having torn through Fort McMurray over the past two weeks, scorching well over 100,000 hectares of land and displacing more than 80,000 people. The number of individual fires numbers at least 49, and more than 16,000 structures have been completely destroyed.

This is a harrowing disaster for those directly impacted. Their homes and belongings destroyed, they face an uncertain future and a steep hill to climb before regaining normalcy in their lives.

The Red Cross – in conjunction with Canada’s federal government – is trying fresh approach to disaster relief that places financial resources directly in the hands of those impacted by the wildfires. Debit cards have been distributed to people fleeing the destruction, with each adult receiving $1,250 with an additional $500 for each child. As of this week, the total funds distributed amounted to $65 million disbursed to more than 63,000 evacuees.

According to Canadian Red Cross CEO Conrad Sauve, the organization’s move is a milestone in disaster relief strategy, calling it “the most important cash transfer we have done in our history.” The ongoing disaster – set to break records for the costliest in Canadian history – certainly warrants bold efforts.

Directly distributing funds to disaster victims, however, is historically controversial, considered by some in the humanitarian sector to lack the oversight and transparency of top-down organizational spending through which aid groups provide services for the dispossessed rather than providing them financial resources directly.

This conventional wisdom was shaken following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, for which the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars from an energized international public struck by the tragic scenes splayed on television sets across the world. Much of the money vanished, without tangible infrastructure or humanitarian improvements in the poor Caribbean nation. A joint report from NPR and ProPublica found a number of dismaying statistics; for example, the Red Cross initially announced that it provided homes for 130,000 people, whereas reporters were only able to uncover six permanent homes.

The Red Cross is also known for its decision to use funds donated in the wake of 9/11 for general operating costs, infuriating the public and ultimately bringing down the organization’s chief officer.

As the Canadian wildfires represent one of the highest profile disasters in the Western hemisphere of the last decade, perhaps the decision to provide funds directly to victims is – in part – an attempt to pursue the organization’s mission without the liability of generating another front-page snafu tarnishing the humanitarian group’s image.

How the evacuees fair in the short- and long-term will indicate whether such a strategy is worth emulating for future disasters.

Marijuana Tax for Good? It’s Still Regressive

(Marijuana plants growing at a dispensary)

The city of Aurora, Colorado has chosen to spend some of its tax revenue from marijuana sales on a worthy project.

City officials announced plans to spend $1.5 million of the projected $4.5 million in marijuana tax revenue it will take in over the next two years on combatting homelessness and supporting other nonprofit causes. To kick off the new initiative, Aurora City Council members voted to direct $220,000 to the Colfax Community Network to cover general operating expenses. The vote also included the provision of funding for Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Mental Health for homeless outreach.

Los Angeles is considering a similiar approach with a tax on revenue from medical marijuana, which – should the proposed measure pass – could generate up to $16.7 million annually. If the state fully legalized marijuana as Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon have done, the resources generated for anti-homelessness programs in California would greatly expand beyond that figure.

While the emergence of a brand new revenue stream directed toward social good causes is objectively positive, the fact remains that the resources stem from a regressive tax. Sin Taxes – as tariffs that tax habits considered unhealthy by the general consensus are known – have attracted disapproval from across the political spectrum for their negative impact on poorer Americans.

Along with other forms of regressive taxation – such as sales taxes – these tariffs disproportionately harm economically disadvantaged citizens, who are less equipped to cope with the larger hit on their finances that certain consumer behaviors cause. Smokers, drinkers, and gamblers are the traditional targets of such taxes.

A recent trend also includes higher taxes on sugary beverages and fatty junk foods.

Ostensibly, these taxes are intended to alter behaviors that have a negative effect on society while generating revenue to account for the deleterious results that stem from those behaviors. But as a trio of economists discussed in an op-ed for U.S. News, the taxes do not quite achieve their supposed aim:

[T]he orthodox justification for sin taxes was that they would reduce the costs smokers, drinkers, and gamblers impose on others—drunk driving, exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, and losing the family paycheck at the craps table. But that rationale was a nonstarter because of the relatively small impact these taxes have on the sinful consumers’ behavior. Such taxes may “nudge” consumption in the desired downward direction, but bad habits are hard to break.

As these and other economists argue, there is evidence that these taxes produce a positive social benefit. And while wealthier citizens can simply stomach the higher cost of their favorite bad habit, poorer citizens are financially sapped. Indeed, the further immiseration lends itself to a feedback loop, in which people living in an increasingly stratified economy with less money turn to their bad habits for solace.

A widely-discussed study from last year supported these claims, finding that white working Americans have seen a decline in life span, resulting in part from greater alcohol and drug abuse attributed to economic insecurity.

The tax on marijuana in Colorado is actually lower than the rates applied to alcohol and gambling. Nonetheless, the simple fact that the burden of the tax – like all consumption taxes – falls primarily on the poor gives one pause for thought: Why do so many initiatives aimed at helping the poor fall largely on the backs of poor taxpayers?

The increase in revenue for the homeless in Aurora is good news, but this qualified success should not halt efforts to design and implement more equitable, just alternatives to public social good fundraising.

Germany Poised to Annul Convictions of Gay Men

(Participants in Cologne’s 2014 Gay Pride March)

The Federal Republic of Germany took a positive step toward atonement this week, as the government announced that it would annul convictions of homosexuality left over from a now repealed law known as Paragraph 175. The annulments will apply to the convictions of more than 50,000 men.

The law was first put in place toward the end of the 19th century, though was half-heartedly enforced, especially in Berlin where gay culture thrived compared to other European capitals during the first quarter of the 20th century. Under the Nazi regime, however, gay Germans faced fierce prosecution, with many sentenced to castration and over 15,000 sent to concentration camps where Nazi authorities compelled them to wear pink triangles to distinguish themselves.

Following WWII, West German authorities left the law in place, maintaining a persecutory environment that greatly harmed Germany’s gay citizens. While the law was largely defanged in 1969, the government did not take the full leap in reconciling itself with the nation’s history of anti-gay sentiment and policy. For instance, while most survivors of German crimes against humanity during the Nazi terror received some form of reparations by the late 1960s, those prosecuted for homosexuality did not.

Paragraph 175 was fully repealed in 1994.

While the LGBT rights movement has secured major victories over the past several decades, even gay-friendly nations have not addressed past human rights transgressions committed out of anti-gay animus. In 2013, British Queen Elizabeth II granted a post-humous pardon for Alan Turing – the brilliant mathematician depicted in the 2014 film The Imitation Game who was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration. He died shortly thereafter. The pardon occurred after an online petition called for the restoration of Turing’s good standing. A mass pardon for thousands of men similarly convicted, however, was put on hold in 2015 after members of the Tories claimed that the pardon would benefit those convicted of pedophilia.

Jennifer and Peter Buffett: Power Shift Key to Social Change

(Peter Buffett, left, is both an accomplished musician and famed philanthropist)

Jennifer and Peter Buffett – daughter-in-law and son of the billionaire investment expert Warren Buffett – penned an intriguing op-ed for Time early this week that fits in with the philanthropy zeitgeist. On the heels of the Ford Foundation’s announcement that it will begin focusing on systematic change that empowers underprivileged communities, the Buffets (who head the NoVo Foundation) seem prepared to follow suit.

The Buffetts write:

Over the last decade, we have been on a journey, at once both global and deeply personal, toward a deeper understanding of the economic, cultural and political systems that shape our world and what transformative change really means. And if anything is clear, it’s that true change will always require challenging conversations about “us”— not a monologue about helping “them.”

In our work around the world visiting NoVo grantees, we started to see how philanthropy often thinks that it knows what’s best for communities rather than the other way around. Social progress was seen as something that should be driven by experts from outside, with new “solutions” and technological innovations that could drive “impact” in communities who needed help from others. We came to recognize philanthropy that dictates solutions top-down to communities as patriarchal at its core, even when it’s intended to help women and girls.

How we give is therefore intrinsically linked to why we give. Form and function have to align. A philanthropist from on high will never reach down and “empower” a girl in Sierra Leone. That girl is inherently full of power and potential, and we should start by asking what stands in the way of her having a strong voice and influence on the decisions that shape her life and her community.

Whether or not this rhetorical shift lends itself to future NoVo operations that genuinely offer empowerment solutions versus one-off fixes remains to be seen. It is, however, welcome that yet another high-profile grant-maker has come to see some of the contradictions and inefficiencies of token philanthropic wisdom.

Click here to read the whole op-ed.

Campaign Finance Reform Would Help Nonprofits

As we discussed in our previous post, there are a number of ways that nonprofits can successfully fundraise during election season. While campaign solicitations inundate emails and people everywhere tire of institutional messaging, nonprofits can still artfully reach their target demographics, raising the money they need to succeed.

But let’s do a thought experiment – what if the competition from political campaigns didn’t exist? What if the more than $1 billion that campaigns and third-party Super PACs have collectively raised so far for election 2016 didn’t go toward 16 months-worth of mudslinging campaign ads, and was instead allocated for other purposes – say, for gifts to charitable organizations?

The U.S. presidential election cycle is unique in the world, where many nations have publicly funded campaigns that do not require enormous fundraising efforts in order for candidates and/or parties to run competitive campaigns. In Britain, nation-wide general elections last three weeks. During the last one, the two primary British parties – Labour and the Tories – collectively spent £25 million, or $37 million. This is a dramatically lower figure than what we see in U.S. general elections, where candidates, parties, and Super PACs have already spent 27 times that amount. And we’re not even to the general election yet!

In the United States, high profile figures across the spectrum have discussed the merits of campaign finance reform. From reining in the influence of dark money to democratizing the level of financial support that average citizens can offer to campaigns, there are a lot of benefits to discuss.

Another big-time benefit? Freeing up money for charitable causes.

Not only do political campaigns distract the public from all the ways that donors can make a difference right now by supporting nonprofits fighting important battles, but it saps available philanthropic dollars by cornering the public’s resources set aside for making donations. With well over $1 billion already poured into election war chests, campaigns and third-party organizations are spending immense sums of money on trying to influence people, when that same money could be used by nonprofits to immediately help people or in some way improve the lives of the U.S. public.

There is certainly a lot at stake in elections, and it would be disingenuous to imply that all politicians raising money and angling for public support aren’t genuinely interested in the Social Good. But, looking out at the world, there are cheaper alternatives, and by pursuing one we as a country we can augment the resource pool for the 1.5 million nonprofits operating inside the United States. The media industry may lose its sports spectacle-esque cash cow, but nonprofit pros would be better equipped to follow through on their important missions.

Nonprofit Election Survival Guide: 5 Tips for Fundraising Pros

(When will it end?!)

The U.S. presidential election cycle is truly unique in the world. Involving an 18-month media frenzy, the contest is unparalleled for its drawn-out drama and immense cost.

So far, candidates have raised $720 million, and Super PACs have amassed $446 million in funding. Campaigns and third-party organizations spend a large portion of this funding on communications. From non-stop emails to seemingly omnipresent campaign spots, the candidates and the groups supporting them are competing aggressively for the public’s attention.

To complicate things for nonprofits, many campaign-related communications solicit money. This can create donor fatigue among a public eager to shut out the nonstop buzz flooding their emails.

There are, however, some steps nonprofits can take this election cycle to improve their chances of edging out their political competitors during election 2016.

1. Step Up Direct Mail – Campaigns are spending more and more on technology-based communications in order to reach a plugged-in public. This has resulted in torrents of email communications that frustrate some and spur others to blacklist institutional messages. Amp up your nonprofit’s direct mail. It’s still the best way to close on small gifts, and it is currently less inundated with political appeals than the email alternative.

2. Offer Reprieve from the Madness – For your nonprofit’s digital communications, consider adding content that may serve as a pleasant distraction from the election hubbub. Humorous videos and other visual media that tie into your mission can be just what an election-fatigued public needs.

3. Interact with Your Constituency – Remind your supporters that your nonprofit is more than a faceless institution. Connect with them on social media platforms, interact with the content they post, and thank them for their continued support. A personal touch can be refreshing stand-out quality during the nonstop slugfest between rival campaigns looking to get ahead.

4. Mind the Passions of Your Constituents – Try to avoids stepping on toes or engaging in needless political advocacy. Accidentally creating the impression of support for this or that candidate can attract negative responses from passionate individuals deeply involved in the ongoing election debates.

5. Start Planning for November Now – While the election cycle may seem interminable, it does actually end. In fact, it ends in November, during peak year-end fundraising time for nonprofits. With an eye toward the conclusion of the 2016 election, be prepared with the best possible year-end fundraising plan in order take optimal advantage of the dissipating communications rivalry from disbanding election campaigns.

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