Ah, yes. The Ice Bucket Challenge has gotten popular so now people are coming out in droves decrying it as bad. For reasons. Mostly reasons that are racist and wrong.
I have some reservations myself, but this piece isn’t about that. The ALS Association seems to have committed no major not-for-profit sins and treating and curing ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a goal that isn’t worthy of your derision. Whether or not it’s the best charity or even cause for you to scrape together some cash for I leave to other writers. We’ll be working from the premise that unlike, say, Kony 2012, this charity is going to do good things with the money from their viral campaign.
I want to look at three things here today. First, I want to explain to you why the Ice Bucket Challenge is, from a not-for-profit standpoint, AWESOME! Second, I want to debunk that stupid “but it wastes water” objection. Third, want to talk about what I’ve come to call Hipster Objections, the practice of injecting disprivileged people into conversation to make yourself look better somehow.
I used to be a caller for IU’s Telefund, which was as awful as you think. It never stops being awkward to call people and ask them to give money to a cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, if the other person is nice about it, and if the cause is the most worthy thing in the world. Our norms are such that money and causes are charged, and it’s awkward to talk about them with strangers.
A “normal” fundraiser goes like this: the group approach people through their chose means, asks for money, and accepts what you get. The Ice Bucket Challenge has donors challenge other people to give, presumably people they already have the kind of relationship where talking about money and charitable organizations will be less contentious. The one hitch of asking for donations is that people sometimes want to give but can’t. The Ice Bucket Challenge lets those people get in on it too: you can dump ice over yourself and post it. It makes would-be donors into ambassadors as well!
This is the laudable “give what you can” ethos. Indeed, once the novelty of this challenge wears off, we’ll be left with a few lessons:
- If you care about a cause, it may be just as productive encourage people to give as to give yourself. Obviously both are better.
- Not-for-profits would do well to find things that committed non-donors can do, even if not as dramatic and viral as this.
- Making giving into a social event may make people more willing to give.
Just Shut Up about the Water
Ah, yes, a bucket of ice water. Surely someone else could use that!
Maybe poor people in Africa?
Ah, yes, whenver you talk about charities someone will smugly remind you that that money could be using to save poor black people.
First of all, unless you were planning on bottling that up and shipping to “poor people”, your water consumption has nothing to do with most other places. Water is complicated and there are several sources in any given place. One such source is aquifers, underground reservoirs, which usually serve small regions. If I leave the water running where I’m writing in Valparaiso IN, readers in Bloomington IN have a different water source. (And, in both cases, it’s actually surface water from lakes. Michigan in my case, Monroe in Bloomington’s.)
The point being, whatever your local water conditions are matters to wisdom of the challenge. Parts of California should not be doing the ALS challenge. We’re good in about all of the Midwest. This isn’t permission to waste water, but taking a charity challenge with a few gallons is probably less wasteful than a lot of your day-to-day practices. Still worried? Google for better water habits.
The Hipster White Savior
The other half of these objections are much more pernicious.
There is a tendency among a certain, cynical wing of the internet to interject themselves into conversations about developing countries, and to inject disprivileged people into conversations about themselves.
We see it when people decry that “the mainstream media” isn’t covering such and such an issue, usually in the developing world, but occasionally elsewhere. First of all, a Google search will usually reveal that’s wrong. But topically, the subtext is usually, “I read real news that let’s me be up on world events.”
The same phenomena occurs when people lament that, “This is the most important issue no one is talking about.” Again, a Google search reveals this is wrong. In turn, this genre is usually about the developing world. And again, the subtext often is, “Except, of course, enlightened people like me.”
And this sort of Hipster Objection is being raised with the water challenge. I believe that some people are well intentioned (though, hang on), but the smarmy, smug tone many people are taking is such that I can only think that they feel at some level, “Oh, I thought of the poor, suffering African children and all the people thinking about people with a degenerative nerve disorder (!!!) didn’t.”
All that besides, let’s say it’s in good faith. It’s still usually just using the suffering of “African children” to push your own point. They are rarely humanized at all, and reduced down to simply their alleged suffering. Bitching about using a few gallons of water in The United States—to help people with ALS, I can’t stress enough—doesn’t help “African children” or anyone else.
If you don’t think the ALS challenge is the best use of your resources, you may be onto something. The association behind it is getting oodles of money and visibility; other charities could use the love too. In general, I have some questions about the efficacy of using viralness to decide where to allocate our money to even good causes, and I’m not sure everyone taking the challenge has done their homework.
Still, this simply isn’t a threat to global water security, but let’s say you’re genuinely convinced that’s an issue in it’s own right. (You’d be right!) Find a worthy organization and give to that instead. And if you see someone complaining about the wasted water? Tell them to put their money where their mouth is. Tell them to use the lessons of the Ice Challenge and tell people they gave and encourage others to give too. Come up with your own social giving to raise awareness about domestic and global water security.
But don’t use dehumanized “African Children” to make yourself look better while detracting from a cause to earn money to fight an awful, degenerative disease.
The time has come yet again for me to take Benjamin Studebaker to task for a piece. His piece, Demilitarization of the Police Requires Demilitarization of Civilians is, frankly, chilling. A different piece with what he believes to be his core point—that so long as our citizens are unusually well-armed, so too must our police be—has some merit. If this were a piece about how military tools and tactics these fit into a rational police strategy in this country, I might have shared it.
It’s not. It’s a radical call for a shift to the policies of occupation. If any paragraph summarizes his denunciation of your basic rights, it is this one:
For a police for to be effective, it needs a large advantage in military power over the population it is policing. When citizens contemplate committing crimes, they need to know that they are not going to be able to defeat the police in combat, and when police officers contemplate engaging with dangerous criminals, they need to believe that they are very likely to succeed and to survive.
I would, as you will see, object to this as a conclusion, but what’s so especially troubling to me is that it is taken as a starting point. This is militarization, given only a cursory justification. This is what people are worried about—a shift towards this mentality. By taking it as a starting point, he assumes away the core objection many of us are raising against the erosion of the beat-police model.
Serve and Protect?
Military power is the ability to kill or incapacitate your enemy while at once achieving strategic goals. Charitably, Mr. Studebaker may have conceived of it differently and simply be unaware of the concerns being raised by groups like the ACLU.
Regardless of his conception, the issue at hand is the question if tactics and tools designed to kill and incapacitate insurgents in countries we’re occupying are appropriate for daily use by police officers. Still, there is reason to believe that Mr. Studebaker narrowly conceives of military power as the armaments provided by the Federal government:
In the United States, militarization of the police began with the formation of SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics). These teams were created during the 1960’s to oppose paramilitary organizations like the Black Panthers or the Symbionese Liberation Army. By equipping SWAT teams with military-grade weapons and training, police forces were able to raise the confidence of officers when engaging with heavily armed threats.
This escalated after the September 11th attacks. Police forces feared a nightmare scenario in which heavily armed, organized terrorists staged assaults on major cities. And with the increased incidence of mass shootings in the United States, police forces have become increasingly fearful of extraordinarily heavily armed individual killers.
Framing this in terms of arms is an expedition in missing the forest for the trees. That T in SWAT stands for Tactics, and refers to the special training centered around a more militaristic approach to dealing with threats. It’s something that those for demilitarization need to keep our eyes on too. The APCs with high caliber cannons loaded on them are symbolic, but much more dangerous is the training and tactics that go with them. And it’s not wise to separate the training from the weapons; you can’t give police military equipment and not train them to use it, which almost always means military-esque training. Therefore, militarization is first and foremost a change in methodology, albeit one currently driven by the munitions the Federal government is unwisely unloading.
Unsurprisingly, once the police have special weapons and tactics, they are like the proverbial man with a hammer–everything starts to look like a nail. And so we have seen a tremendous rise in the incidence of police forces using military tactics in seemingly trivial situations, such as no-knock searches of suspects homes for drugs and other contraband, or containing peaceful demonstrators. Yet police defend these operations on the grounds that they cannot know if the suspects or demonstrators are heavily armed. They claim they are taking precautions for the safety of officers and for the surrounding community. As long as there is a substantive chance that criminals or demonstrators will be heavily armed, police forces will want to be armed yet more heavily so that they can sustain an intimidating power advantage over potential perpetrators and remain confident in their ability to defeat them in combat without sustaining losses.
One must ask: How common are combat situations in the United States? The write-up I linked above gave some startling statistics: 4 out of 5 of the deployments of SWAT were to serve search warrants, which are rarely active threats nor known to have weapons. Indeed, closer to 7 in 100 was for the justifications Mr. Studebaker gives.
Whether or not that remaining 7% even meets the standards for full “combat” is a semantic issue I’d prefer not to agonize over. But if we take it in a military context—supposedly the issue today—then it is doubtful that all of even those cases would meet a reasonable standard of combat. How often is the person they are taking on trained and trying to kill or incapacitate with wider strategic goals?
The specific answer to the question will determine how appropriate cross-training a small number of officers to handle these situations is. Further, before militarization, it was the Feds and National Guard who handled these sorts of things. It was an interlocking check and balance. Local authorities had a lot of latitude about when to intervene, but were limited in what they could do. State and National authorities had more power, but were restrained in when they could wield it. Certainly it wasn’t perfect, and certainly large municipalities which need these resources are capable of creating internal checks. But the exceptions proves the rule.
That our police want more power and get it because they believe they need it sets us up for gross violations of liberty, property, and life like we’ve seen from militarized departments.
The tradeoff of safety is somewhat dubious here as well. The foregoing statistics alone prove that, but so does experience. It’s almost comical to read that in Ferguson, “Three female police officers on bicycles stood by during the gathering, which remained peaceful and lasted just over an hour.” When your response to a grieving community isn’t escalation, things don’t escalate.
No surprise: When our police act as occupiers, our people act as the occupied. And let me pull something else from DeCarlo’s interview:
POLICE ARE NOT SOLDIERS, AND THEY SHOULDN’T STRIVE TO BE. SOLDIERS HAVE ENEMIES, AND POLICE DO NOT. POLICE HAVE COMMUNITIES.
I would be remiss to not discuss the racial coding of this. If the population of Ferguson is military threat to be killed or incapacitated—and was before the police shot Brown multiple times in broad daylight—then let us fully appropriate the language of colonization and occupation to describe policing. The white military force is failing to suppress the black locals. The locals have begun a revolution, and we should gun them down on the streets for the good of our occupation and the safety of our soldiers.
I don’t believe for a second Mr. Studebaker would take it this far. But one must merely turn on the news to see that’s where militarization leads. “Bring it on, animals!” Supposedly, that man was a fellow citizen of the animals he was ready to take on. But of course, in the United States, we all know that black people aren’t really citizens. So let us dispense with the nice words about peace, police safety, and order so we don’t have to discuss the unpleasant truth: We are occupying our own people.
There’s a lot more to be said, and a lot of people saying it very well. John Oliver managed to balance a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry piece while still conveying the anger and rage the community rightfully feels at the police occupation.
But perhaps it was the meme that got going early that summed it up most for me. I give the last words to Admiral Adama:
I’ll be upfront: Most of you don’t have the math to appreciate this. This post is for those who’ve taken differential equations, and is a bit indulgent. (Sorry/not sorry.)
The first-order differential equation:
can be solved through all sorts of means, but one I don’t recall covering in my class links it up to second-order differential equations. If you take the dirivative of the foregoing, you get:
You can set these equations equal to each other!
In turn, you get a simple equation:
If you took differential equations, this solves fairly easily to:
Now, a first order differential equation shouldn’t have two parameters like that, so we have to put it back into the first:
Simplification drops one of the parameters:
This implies that c1 is one half! Or:
It’s somewhere between a first and second order linear equation, which just tickles me. (Well, strictly it is a first-order differential equation, but you can feel an almostness in the et term.)
I at least find it delightful.
The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
The context is suing Obama over not implementing the employer mandate on Congress’s schedule. If you’re curious, Vox has a piece about how this has only a tiny chance of succeeding. (It removes only one of several of the historical hurdles.) Conservatives are citing Federalist 47—the broad argument for separation of powers—as to why this is so grave. Ironically, Federalist 47 lays out exactly why the courts are slow to side with Congress.
No, really, think about it! Congress is butthurt that Obama isn’t executing the law they want and is asking the Courts to force a particular execution. If any powers are being mixed, it is that Congress is asking for greater say in how the executive implements its will! The Courts have repeatedly held in line with the principles in Federalist 47 that the Executive has some prerogative when implementing a Congressional mandate. The Courts have held that it is not their place to tell the Executive when to roll out laws, and that Congress’s power to do so is limited by not being the ones with the power to roll them out.
The Courts have found that executives are dragging their feet, which if we’re being honest, is not an unfounded charge. Provided The House can overcome the standing problems detailed in the Vox piece, that may well be the finding of the Courts.
But it’s hardly that anything has changed; the Executive still gets to execute on their schedule, not on the Legislative Branch’s.
Confession: I’m an occasional stress-eater. Not so much the archetypal unhealthy stress-makes-me-binge-eat-every-time stress-eater, but when under pressure I occasionally cave and have fried chicken or a pair of donuts. And right now, I’m in the middle of a move. The stress is killing me and I was hungry to begin with and my apartment is a pleasant walk from an around the clock donut place. So I went for donuts.
I was enjoying the walk when crossing a nearly-deserted intersection someone yelled, “Faggot!”
I wheeled around to see my every stereotype confirmed. A 20-something I can only describe as a “douche-bro*” was leaning out of red, moving pickup truck. My mouth dropped open. I was genuinely surprised.
First off, I have passing privilege! Folks on the street don’t peg me as gay so long as I don’t, you know, talk. I have only twice had this kind of drive-by harassment in Bloomington. Once it was truly a surprise, the other time I was holding my then-boyfriend’s hand. I know LGBT folks in Bloomington get street-harassed, but I have the privilege of “passing” as straight and usually don’t. It’s always jarring to lose it.
But also—this is Bloomington!
That’s why I’m putting this down. This happens to less “straight-seeming” folks than me on a regular basis. (Those who feel comfortable, please, please consider testifying to that fact in the comments either here or on Facebook.) It’s easy to sit back and think, “Ah, Bloomington! A place where gays can be gay!” But it’s not so simple.
Homophobia, both casual and aggressive, still permeate many spaces. This is just one facet. It spans from micro-aggressions and tokenization to outright violence. One must still be careful in some bars, mind what they say to some professors, and in general worry about things straight folks still don’t have to.
Don’t mistake me. Bloomington has been very good to me, as a gay man and beyond. I feel a bit guilty that these will be among my parting words. But if I learned anything here, it is the importance of Justice and calling out these sorts of things.
So to everyone, Bloomington’s great. Gay friendly. I’ve told younger LGBT folks that, if the University is a good fit academically, they needn’t worry too much about being out and proud in this town. My boss here endorsed me giving my number to a flirty costumer. If I have a complaint, it’s that the gay men here are a little too comfortable with the status quo.
But to those who are still going to be here, and those of you who’ve left, we have work to do. Bloomington isn’t perfect. Whether we’re talking about what to do moving forward or thinking back to what Bloomington did right we want to carry elsewhere, we should remember that.
Because, dammit! I know most of you want to make it all the better.
P.S. For those who might be worried, I’ll be fine. I’m well past the point that a little street-harassment will do more than unsettle me for a few minutes. I post because not everyone is as confident as I feel.
*Yes, “douche-bro” is hardly a term that shows grace on my part, but I’m not going to apologize for this either.
Kansas cut taxes hoping it would get enough growth. It hasn’t happened, and we shouldn’t expect it to have.
We Bore the Freshmen With This
The concept Kansas is working with is called The Laffer Curve. In theory it’s a sound idea, but it’s a good example of wishful thinking all the same.
The intuition is easy enough. The higher the tax, the lower consumption. When the tax is zero, the state makes no money. At some point, the tax will be so high that the thing in question won’t be sold, and the revenue will also be zero. (Well, legal sales, anyway, but modeling the black market is unnecessary. If you have properly estimated the legal market, the black market is implicitly accounted for in your curves.) That means that state revenue as a function of the tax rate will have a characteristic “hump” shape. This curve is called the Laffer Curve.
This is one of those things that is true for most markets. It’s possible to mathematically contrive situations where the Laffer Curve won’t have that hump, but those goods would be extraordinary. They’d violate the laws of supply or demand! So, Laffer isn’t wrong and those who follow him make a fair point.
But that dries up fast.
An Elementary Example
Most intro classes put supply and demand down as lines a plane. This stylization is just that—so we must keep in mind that any results we derive from this are limited by our model’s assumptions. Still, this graph will look familiar:
What you find is that state can increase its revenue only to a point, as suggested by the Laffer intuition I detailed above. That point happens to be a 300% tax rate! The state can tax up to 300% before increasing it further costs it money!
Granted, the state may have other goals besides revenue collection. After all, by sheer numeric coincidence, the deadweight of this policy happens to be half of the taxes being collected. Whether or not its worth it to collect those taxes is open to debate, but it will never be worth it to collect more than 300%.
Pretty much whatever models you use, you get a large turn-around point. Without getting to much into the technical details, the simple models give positive results more often when you are measuring over smaller intervals; it may be a bit hasty to suggest that we have data to estimate the turn-around point. Still, Kansas should hardly have assumed itself near it!
Now Comes the Ass-Covering
The economist Stephen Moore was a proponent of this model. Cut taxes, increase revenue. As a testable proposition, even he concedes he failed. He’s written a piece for The Kansas City Star. I’m not here to take the piece to task, but it’s full of factual inaccuracies. (Krugman and the President are pretty far apart on economic strategies, for example.) What I am here to point out is that he’s engaging in some pretty simple misdirection:
As for Kansas, the tax cut has been in effect a mere 18 months—not a lot of time to measure the impact.
You’re kidding, right?. The Laffer argument is based on conditions on the ground. If you have have to appeal to long-term changes, you’re not doing a Laffer analysis! People should be aware that if they cut taxes, their state will likely move towards the red. In the long-run, those states might recover—though if you’re running a deficit, it’s hard to argue your state is attractive.
Taking the piece at face value, there may be pseudo-Laffer effect whereby cutting taxes leads to an increase in population. Two things must be noted. The piece takes data from sustainable cases; the states in question aren’t in the red. Second, this may still imply a per-capita falling of welfare—welfare here in the economic sense of GDP per person. If you double GDP but triple population, the average person is worse off. By the same token, if you double population but keep government spending the same, it has effectively fallen.
There’s a lot more to parse in that piece—and one might reasonably support sustainable cuts to government—but don’t fall for the misdirection: Kansas’s government was not able to make up the difference from growth.
Well, Did It Create Growth?
Tax cuts are expected to create more consumption on net, and so more jobs. A good deal of the difference is lost to rearrangement. Cutting a 5% tax rate in half in the above example increases the amount of money in the economy by a mere quarter of a percent.
But this assumes the markets being intervened in are unaffected by the tax cut—which is likely wrong. If government intervention is correcting an imbalance there, then it will eat that small margin. People like Laffer and Moore are optimistic that those interventions are inefficient as well, and so the margin might be bigger than a quarter of a percent.
This is notoriously hard to measure. It’s why a good policy mix isn’t just a matter of empirical fact. (Though, yes, that matters.) A good rule of thumb, then, is to consider what’s being lost when we make the tax cut.
Laffer was wrong, again. Cutting taxes, when taxes are not exorbitant, will not lead to an increase in government revenue.
Freshmen in college are shown these models. There is simply no reason for Governors and economists to misunderstand them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That lowering the rate you collect revenue should raise the amount of revenue is extraordinary.
Don’t fall for it.