17 July 2014

I’m excited to launch ARPI’s blog.  The blog will be part news roundup on issues related to poverty especially in rural areas, running commentary on policy and pop culture, and an omnium-gatherum of things that interest me and our staff.  Once operations get running, it will also be a source of information on our organization.  My goal for the blog is for it to be informative, entertaining, and with the appropriate mix of solemnity, humor, and righteous indignation. 

With that said, the news today about MH17 is both frightening and tragic.  Frightening because this has echoes of the Lusitania and 1914.  Recently, 1914 has been on the mind of many scholars.  Regardless of what the future may hold for us after this, foremost in my mind are the victims and their families.  Let light perpetual shine upon them.

Poverty in the 21st Century:  “Sara Bareilles played softly through the surround-sound speakers of my husband’s 2003 Mercedes Kompressor as I sat idling at a light. I’d never been to this church before, but I could see it from where I was, across from an old park, abandoned in the chilly September air. The clouds hung low as I pulled the sleek, pewter machine into the lot. But I wasn’t going to pray or attend services. I was picking up food stamps.”  

Certainly not going to judge the decision that Mrs. Cunha made to support her family or her mode of transportation to pick up the assistance.  This is a classic “but for the grace of God go I” story.  A lot of people are one bad day away from dire financial circumstances.  Although, I found it ironic that she asks for people not to judge her, but that is what she is doing with the people she came across in the grocery line (especially the religious old man).  Her criticism of the application process seems silly (I actually found it a bit comforting that there is that much of a rigmarole to get public assistance), and the reference to conservative politicians seems overly partisan to me (especially since a certain Presidential front runner has made similar comments  and welfare reform was bipartisan.)

The larger issue here is the state of basic financial literacy in this country.  These were two well-educated individuals who were making decent money, and there should have been some form of rainy day planning.  The lack of financial literacy is an issue that moves across income brackets, but there is a real need to start teaching it in our schools and to the rural poor.  It is not one of ARPI’s current projects, but it will be developed in the future.

Ending Poverty:  York, England seeks to become a “poverty-free city”:  “York Press says measuring the impact of the poverty initiative is tricky, though it will continue to pursue its campaign, 'to keep the issue of poverty out in the open'.  The council admits it will take more than two years to achieve its vision. It plans a bold structural intervention to tackle York's hidden poverty, proposing to build 22,000 homes by 2030, including two sizeable new towns. Its house-building ambitions are not overwhelmingly popular with the nimby brigade in the city.” 

I used to be skeptical of these kinds of grand statements to end social problems.  That is until I read Rudy Guilian’s Leadership.  One of the best books on leadership in recent memory (and worth the read for his account of 9/11 alone).  In the book he talks about getting the crime rate to 0 in NYC, a goal even he would admit is unattainable.  Instead it was the mindset that was more important than the outcome.  So I applaud York on its goal.

I am skeptical of their approach that seems a government-planned solution (although that may just be The Guardian’s take).  It does seem that York’s city council is consulting private and faith-based stakeholders.

In other news, it seems less likely that I’ll contribute to the low-wage service industry that York’s tourism has created now that the Plantagenet Alliance lost out to Leicester Cathedral! 

Wait, There’s a Local Government?:  “Today we continue with the candidates’ responses to our questionnaire for those seeking positions on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.”  

Good on the Prairie Village Post.  Love this and this kind of stuff is another future initiative for ARPI.  I once had someone tell me that they only vote for President because local offices don’t really matter.  Voters need to understand how important these local offices are.  Many of the candidates interviewed in this don’t necessarily articulate how, through a position on the County Commission, they can make a difference—it is more a statement about how there is a growing problem of suburban poverty.  ARPI will look to go more in depth on these types of questions, as well as detail the potential impacts of local ballot initiatives.

Kindred Spirit:  “Australia’s Agriculture Minister is an enigmatic character, so why did he get into politics?  It turns out Barnaby Joyce was motivated by poverty and watching the decline of rural towns in regional New South Wales where he grew up.”  

Similar decline here as in NSW.  Also intrigued by the Heywire competition.  There needs to be a way to engage young leaders in rural areas.   

In more pressing questions than rural poverty is it Agricultural Minister or Agriculture Minister?  Is there a singular of congratulations?  These are things B.J. Novak should know.

Social Impact Bonds:  If They Don’t Like It Then It Must Be Good Edition:  That’s partly why Rhode Island’s AFSCME Council 94 opposed a recent bill in the legislature that would have introduced SIBs to the Ocean State. “[SIB supporters] have bought into the argument that with constrained budgets and constrained revenues, this would provide another source of revenue for noble and legitimate causes,” says Jim Cenerini, legislative affairs director and political action coordinator for Council 94. “Our skepticism comes from the fact that the impetus for this was created by a large Wall Street corporation that obviously has something to gain, ideologically and financially, from the implementation of these bonds. It seems wrong that already very wealthy individuals should be able to make money off of reducing recidivism.” 

There are legitimate concerns with social impact bonds, but the fact that Wall Street likes them is not a thoughtful one.  Especially for an organization like ARPI trying to introduce a “field-initiated SIB.”  Why is who profits a concern when a social outcome is achieved and there are associated cost-savings to government?