I have no idea what to do with my life so I'm just going to take another PM job, byeeeeeee
Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to authorize about $8 billion in funding for Amtrak by an overwhelming 316-101 vote. That's mixed news if you're a person, as the bill has high and low points. But you're probably wagging your tail right now if you're a cat or a dog, because it also outlines a pilot program for passengers traveling with pets—the Pet Car:
Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, Amtrak shall develop a pilot program that allows passengers to transport domesticated cats or dogs on certain trains operated by Amtrak.
It goes on to describe how the pilot program would designate "where feasible, at least 1 car" for ticketed passengers traveling with pets, provided the animal is contained in a kennel that meets Amtrak's size requirements for carry-on bags. A separate provision allows the animal to travel as cargo as long as the baggage area "is temperature controlled in a manner protective of cat and dog safety and health."
Passengers will pay a pet fee that covers the "full costs" of the pilot program. Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California believes the Pet Car could ultimately be a money-maker for the train service. Here's Denham talking to The Hill:
"This is something that will allow new riders that didn't previously want to ride the train before because they couldn't take their pet on there to do so, but also a new revenue generation with paying for those pets the same way that our airplanes across the country are paid for taking their pets," Denham said.
This isn't Denham's first foray into the world of Amtrak passenger pets. In 2013, he sponsored a "Pets on Trains Act" that bears a strong resemblance to the new pilot program. And Amtrak is currently conducting a similar pilot in Illinois: the pet fare was $25 and made on a first-come, first-serve basis up to four reservations per train, with passengers required to keep pets under their seats and prohibited from bringing them into the kibble, er, café car.
Amtrak also lets service animals on board, a policy that wouldn't be impacted by the Pet Car. Under the terms of the House bill, the success of the pilot program would be evaluated after a year. The Amtrak bill now moves to the Senate—though it's reported to have the support of the White House. Including, obviously, Bo.
👏💁💌 #pdx (at SE Portland)
With pot legalized in Oregon, state Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) says people jailed for non-violent weed crimes should no longer be kept behind bars.
Frederick is sponsoring a bill in the Oregon Legislature that would reduce sentences for people sent to prison before July 1, 2015, for marijuana-related activities—like selling, growing and transporting—that will become legal this summer. In some cases, those sentence reductions would amount to an immediate release.
His bill would also allow people convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes to expunge their records.
Frederick introduced House Bill 3372 last night.
"A lot of people are going to be making a lot of money for the same activities that other people are still incarcerated for, or living with a lifetime of consequences," says Frederick's chief of staff, Susan Hagmeir. "I don’t think we’re the only ones putting forth this concept."
we have a goatcam on our flat screen now
"In Lawler's newly filed suit, she claims that she was only 18 when she took her first training course with Choudhury in 2010. Having spent $10,000 on the course, she says she became financially dependent on him and allowed him to assault her for more than two years, according to Law 360. "
Several of last night’s Oscar winners took their opportunity in the spotlight to make powerful statements about race and gender.
Labeled as “the most feminist moment” of the night by many writers, Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette advocated for equal pay and women’s rights during her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress: “To every woman who give birth to a taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s our time to have wage equality, once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Patricia Arquette’s speech was a declaration condemning the gender pay gap and the need for wage equality. Hearing the words “wage equality” and “women’s rights” uttered on a national broadcast delights me.
But then Arquette undermined her important words. In a backstage interview after her acceptance speech, she elaborated that after the age of 34, female actors earn far less than their male colleagues. But unfortunately, here’s where Arquette’s speech unravels. She said: “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now.”
Sigh. Why couldn’t she have just stopped? My initial excitement faded to disappointment, irritation, and anger.
Her statement implies that LGBT people and people of color have achieved equality. They haven’t. LGBT justice and racial justice still have far to go. It blatantly ignores coalition building that has happened across movements. Arquette excludes women of color and queer women with her statement. Women have multiple, intersecting identities. To ignore that fact erases many women’s existence. When feminists talk about women’s rights, we should not be claiming, either overtly or covertly, “women” equals straight, white, cis women. We white women need to do a much better job to make feminism an intersectional, inclusive movement.
Over labor day weekend, an article came out about me and apples on the epicurious blog titled:
Why We Should All Consider Eating Ugly Fruit <—click to read.
and then this happened on twitter…
This means that MC HAMMER read an article about me and apples and shared it with over 3 million people! How crazy is that?! So, he’s performing at the South Carolina State Fair next weekend and I’m thinking about going with a large box of heirloom ugly apples in tow. Maybe he’ll be my rap ambassador for apples! That would be awesome! Perhaps a music video could be in the works…
The folks at Metro have put together an amazing time-lapse video of beavers and nutria building a dam in the Smith and Bybee Wetlands. Other critters, mostly ducks and herons, stop by to watch.
Video on click thru
This is a thing I want to do
Hop aboard your own pedal-powered railcar for a spectacular 12-mile round-trip on the old Joseph Branch rail line between Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon. Part bike, part old-fashioned railcar, a trip on a railrider is a one of a kind experience in Oregon. The brainchild of Kim and Anita Metlen, this excursion is one of just a few legal "railrider" operations in the country. The line veers away from the road, passing through forest and ranch and and gives you a view of Wallowa county you can't see any other way.
Shreveport and LA. #nevergo
Three years ago, The Los Angeles Times published a feel-good story on the Little Free Library movement. The idea is simple: A book lover puts a box or shelf or crate of books in their front yard. Neighbors browse, take one, and return later with a replacement. A 76-year-old in Sherman Oaks, California, felt that his little library, roughly the size of a dollhouse, "turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community," the reporter observed. The man knew he was onto something "when a 9-year-old boy knocked on his door one morning to say how much he liked the little library." He went on to explain, "I met more neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years."
Since 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a little, free library to honor his late mother, who loved books, copycats inspired by his example have put thousands of Little Free Libraries all over the U.S. and beyond. Many are displayed on this online map. In Venice, where I live, I know of at least three Little Free Libraries, and have witnessed chance encounters where folks in the neighborhood chat about a book.
I wish that I was writing merely to extol this trend. Alas, a subset of Americans are determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they've taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.
Last summer in Kansas, a 9-year-old was loving his Little Free Library until at least two residents proved that some people will complain about anything no matter how harmless and city officials pushed the boundaries of literal-mindedness:
The Leawood City Council said it had received a couple of complaints about Spencer Collins' Little Free Library. They dubbed it an "illegal detached structure" and told the Collins' they would face a fine if they did not removethe Little Free Library from their yard by June 19.
Scattered stories like these have appeared in various local news outlets. The L.A. Times followed up last week with a trend story that got things just about right. "Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country's biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books," Michael Schaub wrote. "Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they're in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections."We've constructed communities where one must obtain permission from the state before freely sharing books with one's neighbors.
Having written previously about crackdowns on parkway vegetable gardens, I knew the city's argument is that you can't do anything that might block emergency vehicle access, obstruct motorists' views, impede pedestrians or make it hard to open car doors. But the Tenn-Mann Library, at the intersection of a four-way stop, does none of those things. And I can't help but point out that a city tree in front of Cook's house, on the parkway strip, has untamed roots that have lifted the sidewalk a few inches, posing a clear and obvious obstruction and tripping hazard. The city pays out millions of dollars in trip-and-fall settlements every year, and last time I checked, tree-trimming was on a 45-year cycle—no joke. But put up a lending library and the city is at your door in a jiffy.
The column goes on to note that a city spokesman "said that if there is no clear obstruction, it might be possible to keep the library where it is if Cook is willing to apply for a permit. And it's possible that city arts funds could be tapped to pay for the permit." This is what conservatives and libertarians mean when they talk about overregulation disincentivizing or displacing voluntary activity that benefits people. We've constructed communities where one must obtain prior permission from agents of the state before freely sharing books with one's neighbors! And their proposed solution is to get scarce public art funds to pay for the needless layer of bureaucracy being imposed on the thing already being done for free.
The power to require permits is the power to prevent something from ever existing. This lovely movement would've never begun or spread if everyone who wanted to build a Little Free Library recognized a need to apply and pay for a permit. Instead they did good and asked permission never.
Radical libertarians who object to all zoning and building codes are told that they're necessary to keep refineries from operating next to day care centers and to ensure that houses don't fall down in earthquakes or burn up due to faulty wiring. And like most, I favor some zoning laws and building codes. One needn't even be a squishy libertarian to object when power ceded to government for such purposes is then used to interfere with a harmless activity to which almost no one objects.
In Shreveport, there was a community outcry and some much-needed civil disobedience.
The Shreveport Times reported:
To protest the shutting down of a Little Free Library on Wilkinson Street, artist Kathryn Usher placed a stack of books on a wooden block outside her Dalzell Street home. A sign reading 'Free Range Books Take One Leave One' hangs above it. Her action was in response to a notice a Little Free Library's owners, Ricky and Teresa Edgerton, received from the Metropolitan Planning Commission's zoning division—a request they cease operating it because the book swap violates city zoning law. If not, they risked further action if the matter were sent to the city attorney. "I did it in solidarity with Ricky," Usher said. "I'm basically telling the MPC to go sod off."
Eventually a reprieve was granted, and the city is at work on a new zoning ordinance. Alexis de Tocqueville would approve.
"I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them to voluntarily pursue it," he wrote, offering examples including attempts "to diffuse books." He posited that "the most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have, in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desire and have applied this new science to the greatest number of purposes."
Americans with Little Free Libraries are acting in that venerable tradition. Those exploiting overly broad laws to urge that they be torn down are a national disgrace.
Top image via CC License.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.
In early September of this year, I traveled to Kyrgyzstan to go fruit and nut exploring in their ancient wild fruit forests. Kyrgyzstan has some of the oldest apple genetics in the world, and as a budding apple orchardist and student of permaculture, I wanted to see how these apples grew in the wild. I had heard that in this faraway land (including Kazakhstan), apples grew without any management strategy and are insect- and disease-free. This turned out to be mostly true, and with my permit to import seed, I set out to collect as much knowledge (and seed) as I could from these forests.
My trip started in the village of Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan, home to the largest walnut forests in the world (1.6 million acres). I brought a machete to these Kyrgyz forests in anticipation of hacking through the wild, jungle-like apple ecosystem. My roots in permaculture had me dreaming of an environment below these apple trees that was full of the beneficial plants needed to create healthy and disease- and insect-free apples. In actuality, the overstory was dominated primarily by walnuts(Juglans regia), with apples (Malus sieversii) and hawthorns (Crataegusspp.) irregularly sharing the canopy. The understory featured a forest floor of closely trimmed grass and cow and sheep patties. I couldn’t have used a machete if I had tried.
To be honest, the lack of a “wild” feeling was a bit of a letdown at first. I was supposed to be in this jungle-like fruit forest where natural chaos abounds. In this apple forest scenario, I had forgotten about the people connected to these forests. The Kyrgyz people are pastoral (some nomadic) with diets heavy in meat and dairy. Almost everyone has livestock, and the history of grazing their animals in these walnut-apple forests goes back more than 400 years. This is a long time period, and cultural relationships have developed within these forests to create a system where everyone and everything seems to benefit.
Here’s an example: Walnut leaves produce a smell that repels insects and keeps them from bothering the animals and the apples. Blemished apples containing these pests usually drop to the ground and are eaten by the grazing livestock. The grass eaten by livestock in the forest is believed to be anti-parasitic* and provides for a large part of their diet during the growing season. In exchange for health and nourishment, these animals fertilize the soil and create perfect conditions for walnut harvesting by keeping the grass low. Most people in Arslanbob derive the majority of their income from the walnut harvests, and walnuts are even a form of currency during certain times of the year. The blemish/disease/insect-free apples are harvested by the townspeople for their own consumption, because all domestic fruits go to market. We also must not forget the organic meat and dairy received from this relationship as well.
Suddenly, I realized that this place is not just a walnut-apple forest, but an integration of people and animals with food- and income-producing trees. It is a wild orchard, planted by no one and cultivated by everyone over hundreds of years. Shame on me for being let down when I didn’t see a jungle-like fruit forest. Humans are an inextricable part of nature whether we like it or not, and the instinctual behavior exhibited from the Kyrgyz people for more than 400 years is as much a part of polyculture as a plant guild.
This realization has impacted the way I view orcharding. My horizons are a little wider, and I can’t wait to experiment with integrating my life into an orchard system. I have an idea of where to start, but as a beginning orchardist, I’ve got a lifetime of relationships to make.
*I say the grass is anti-parasitic only because my guide told me so. After some thought and research, I think the animals may be ingesting some juglone, a natural chemical produced by walnuts that is known to be anti-parasitic and also somewhat toxic to some other plants, from the soil, walnut leaves, husks and/or roots.
About the author: Eliza Greenman is a former MOFGA apprentice at Super Chilly Farm and a former MOFGA journeyperson at Sandy River Apples. When she wrote this article, she was the property manager for the Three Streams Collective in Montville, where she designed and implemented fruit and nut orcharding systems. Now she is the orchardist for Foggy Ridge Cider in Southwestern Virginia and is starting her own orchards on neighboring land there.
DAN BUSSEY has been called “the James Audubon of apples” for his decades-long dedication to seek out and identify more, more, more old varieties to make sure they aren’t forgotten, even if some are indeed gone. His recent work revitalizing the collection of historic apples at Seed Savers Exchange means the nonprofit is now able to take pre-orders for custom-grafted young trees of these oldtime treasures, so the varieties can live on in American gardens and farms.
Let me admit: I have a soft spot for old apples, and the massive, century-plus-old trees I’m blessed to cohabitate with deliver loads of imperfect but delicious fruit with the occasional soft spot—or at least various marks of character.
The venerable trees have taught me an appreciation of botanical history, more than some modern idea of perfection. That lesson was underscored in 1999, when I visited Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa, where about 10 years earlier founder Kent Whealy had begun the orchard, each tree bearing a name, and a backstory, I’d never heard before. Apples such as the ones up top (clockwise, from top left): ‘Franklin,’ ‘May Queen,’ ‘Woodard,’ and ‘Blue Pearmain.’
Dan Bussey manages that collection today, now numbering around 1,200 varieties, and joined me on the public-radio show and podcast to talk apple history, apple care, and even apple pie.
Read the full interview here:
macouns every time
"Rubyfrost may weather the rigors of storage and handling best, with firmer texture and more athletic crunch. Nonetheless Macoun is the more interesting and sophisticated apple even past her prime. Even past its prime, Macoun is great, withstanding the test of time in more ways than one."
In his six-decade career, Levine found grace and beauty in the lives of working people, especially the people and places of his youth. He was a United States Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner.
this was amazing <3
Coffee negronis at Either/Or, Sellwood
REBLOG IF YOU WOULD WATCH THE FUCK OUTTA THE DAILY SHOW WITH JESSICA WILLIAMS
somebody just give her the job already
Portrait of Islan Nettles Last year Islan Nettles was beaten to death outside a police service area in New York. Here murderer was charged with a misdemeanor for assault. Transgender women face extreme rates of discrimination, and for trans women of colour that often comes in the form of violence. The murder rate for trans women of colour is insanely high compared to the rest of the general population, and it is not uncommon that the murderers go free. This is outrageous. Its a sad part of our society, and needs to be dealt with in some way.
This is so powerful.
Caught between two equally undesirable alternatives—remaining in a difficult situation at home or going out into the city on her own—Kasey was forced into a decision no teen should ever have to make.
"It was because of the way that I am that my mother, you know ... got rid of me—because I'm a lesbian," said Kasey, then 19. Kasey's grandmother took her in for some time, but even that was short lived: The emotional abuse she experienced there became too much. "I can't be here because it's really tearing me apart … I would rather sleep outside than be here with my family."
Roque's story is different but in many ways the same. And if not for his teacher, Maria Rivera, 17-year-old Roque would likely be out on the streets, too—or worse. "He would say, 'Drop me off at this place,' and it wouldn't be the place they were living the day before," said Rivera, who took it upon herself to look after him. "Then I would start to see him circling—so then I started circling, and I was like, 'He's not going home.'"
"When we offered [a] room he took it immediately, and in front of me he called both parents," Rivera continued. "There was no 'No Roque! Come here [from the parents].' That was heart breaking."
Finally, there's Anthony, who was driven to the streets by an abusive stepfather when he was just 14."When I came home, [my stepfather] would just take the phone and smack me and be like, 'If you don't like how it is in my house then you can get the fuck out. You don't have to be here,'" recalled Anthony, 18."Then I would just leave."
The stories of and interviews with these three Chicago teenagers are the centerpieces of The Homestretch, a recent documentary created by filmmakers Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly that aims to challenge stereotypes about youth homelessness. The documentary demonstrates the complexity of the issue—a problem that's often hidden from the public eye.Youth homelessness is as subtle as it is insidious.
"We were searching for subjects that hit us in the heart," Kelly told me, reflecting on how she and de Mare developed the documentary, which debuts on PBS in April but is already being featured in public screenings across the country. "We found this kid was basically kicked out because he had come out as gay in high school … We started researching and learning over time that there were over 15,000 kids registered in the Chicago public school system classified as homeless and no one was really talking about it."
Since embarking on the project, Kelly and de Mare have realized that the problem isn't only prevalent—it's also growing. By the close of the 2013-14 academic year, Chicago Public Schools had identified more than 22,000 homeless students, which are defined by the U.S. Department of Education as those "who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." These kids account for roughly 5 percent of Chicago's total public-school student population.
And Chicago's young homeless population is by no means an isolated one. The DOE's latest national survey, which was conducted during the 2012-13 school year, showed that there were 1.2 million homeless students across the country. Moreover, the statistic only includes children officially classified as homeless; the number of students living without a fixed residence is likely much higher.
Where The Homestretch most succeeds as a film lies squarely in its authentic, no-frills portrayal of what it means to be young and homeless in America. It doesn't overload the screen with tear-jerking montages of young panhandlers tethered to street corners, begging cup in tow. Instead, it reveals that, in the U.S., youth homelessness is as subtle as it is insidious—and that disagreements over what "homelessness" looks and feels like, and over the role schools should play in conquering it, have perhaps been the greatest obstacle to finding a solution.
Being homeless as an adolescent or young adult entails more than simply lacking a reliable place to resort to after school. It's compounded by the absence of stability, both physical and mental, at a time when a person is most vulnerable. It's not easy to focus on algebra homework when your nights are spent curled up on a friend's couch counting down the days until you wear out your welcome; imagine cramming for a history test in an overcrowded shelter surrounded by strangers.
Kelly and de Mare wanted to portray the reality of the problem without superficially pandering to viewers' sentiments. "We really wanted to try to show what we were seeing in terms of how much these kids have to move in order to survive," Kelly said. "We were not interested in perpetuating this image of the kid on the sidewalk. That's not what we were seeing."
The Homestretch also delves into the basic logistical challenges faced by homeless high school students. In the film, a local shelter for young people known as "The Crib" is shown turning away the hoards of kids waiting outside nightly simply because it lacks adequate beds. The caretakers call out the names on the list—a homeless draft of sorts—as the teens listen attentively, hoping they are lucky enough to hear their names called. At least half of the kids waiting are turned away, forced to spend the night at a friend's or curled up in a cold city corner. The reality is that there just simply isn't enough space to house all of America's homeless youth: On any given night in the U.S., fewer than 5,000 emergency and transitional-living beds are available for young homeless people to crash on.
* * *
Homelessness rarely exists in a vacuum; it's typically just one of the many challenges plaguing an individual, particularly when that individual is still growing up. On top of showcasing the day-to-day experiences of group of homeless teens, The Homestretch explores issues ranging from immigration to growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)—experiences that serve as clues to why certain children end up on the streets.
It also demonstrates that being homeless makes young people much more vulnerable to additional dangers: A 2014 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless showed that, the longer a kid is homeless, the greater the likelihood that child will be physically assaulted, raped, or trafficked. A widely cited 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Services—one of the only reliable data sources for such information—suggests that as many as four in 10 homeless youth have experienced sexual abuse. "One of the things that no one really talks about is that very often when young people run away from home—they are running away from abuse," de Mare told me.
Still, statistics delineating youth homelessness in the U.S. are either hard to track down or narrow in scope, significantly handicapping efforts to address the problem. And the data is sparse in large part because homeless kids often become very adept at dealing with—and hiding—their situations. "Everyone was so engaged in moving forward because that's all they could do," de Mare said. "A lot of these kids, because they have been through so much, know how to process their experiences. It comes out of being a survivor." In other words, these kids' ability to mask their predicaments unfortunately makes it more difficult to alleviate that suffering.
And, as The Homestretch demonstrates, this is where the public school system plays an important role. Every school district in the country is legally required to designate so-called "homeless liaisons" for their campuses. But, as the film reveals, these liaisons are often overworked, meaning it's up to the teachers who go above and beyond their duties in the classroom, filling in as de facto social workers.
The reality is that there simply isn't enough space to house all of America's homeless youth.
"When we started having these conversations with teachers, they said, 'We're in this crisis situation and nobody is talking about it. We are scrambling to try to figure out what to do, there are no resources to really support us,'" Kelly said. "Schools really became the kind of replacement home in these situations ... because it's a place where you have shelter, food, and a bathroom so you can have that kind of consistency."
"But also it's also a place where you go every day, and the teachers were probably the only ones in your life asking, 'Where are you going?'"
Barbara Duffield, a director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, touted the documentary for exhibiting how integral educators are to helping get their students into stable living situations. "I have [the documentary] ingrained in my mind. I say that because you would think having seen it that often that it would lose its impact, but it never has," said Duffield, who's worked with homeless children for 20 years and saw the movie six times. "Teachers like Maria who are savvy. They really have to be the eyes and ears because otherwise this is population that tries to blend in."
Most teachers probably know the warning signs: A kid starts dropping grades, acting out, wearing dingy clothes, or, perhaps most telling, putting his or her head on the desk first thing in the morning. Still, teachers must tread lightly, even when asking the simple question: 'Is everything alright?' "Adolescents don't want to be different for any reason, especially if it's because they didn't have shoes," Duffield said.
Other advocates, however, worry about the country's over-reliance on teachers to address homelessness. One of them is Daniel Cardelli, who runs Communities in Schools, a national program focused on creating formal support systems for students to ensure that they don't drop out. The organization for its part employs a team of coordinators who work within the schools. They are trained to identify and address homelessness, theoretically taking some of the onus off of classroom educators.
"Teachers are with the kids all day, but they are not trained to understand what's going on, and they are dealing with 30 other students. We don't think it should be left to chance," Cardelli said. "When schools are places of holistic support, we have a really good chance of catching kids when they are in distress. You have a much higher probability of getting to a problem before it becomes really disastrous."
The greatest obstacle, however, isn't necessarily that there aren't enough resources and caring adults to dedicate to these children. It could be the ideological disagreements among federal policymakers about what defines homelessness and what method is most effective in eradicating it.
Absent manpower and resources, state and local governments have largely used a triage approach to address homelessness, ranking people based on their needs. The people in immediate danger—essentially those on the streets who are on the verge of death—are typically deemed "most important." While some believe this is the most effective approach, others fear that there isn't enough attention being paid to the root causes of homelessness; this often translates into a political battle between the reactive advocates and proactive ones.
A new bipartisan bill attempts to bring everyone on the same page, but while some advocates believe it could help, others aren't so sure. The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 would "amend the definition of a "homeless person" under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to include certain homeless children. The McKinney-Vento law was originally passed in 1987 under President Ronald Reagan, and Congress has reauthorized the act a number of times since then, most recently in 2009. The new proposal essentially aims to broaden the Department of Housing and Urban Development's current view of homelessness—one that focuses on the homeless facing particularly imminent risks. Proponents of the bill claim that the department's narrow focus often means that the kids who go from house to house—the floaters and runaways, for example—don't necessarily get the support they need."When schools are places of holistic support, you have a much higher probability of getting to a problem before it becomes really disastrous."
But the bill has already garnered a good deal of pushback. Among its critics is Nan Roman, who oversees the National Alliance to End Homelessness and describes the legislation as misguided. Roman and others worry that widening the door could take away resources from the homeless individuals who are most in need of support. "It will include a lot of people who aren't homeless; they would then be competing with people who are homeless for resources," Roman said.
Yet others disagree, and at last week's briefing at the U.S. Capitol, no one was more earnest about the bill's promise than Stephanie Van Housen, a DOE-designated "homeless liaison" in Iowa. In her testimony she told stories of young people in her school district, some of whom are forced to sleep in motels next door to sex offenders."I cannot stress to you enough the importance of [expanding how we identify] who is homeless," she said. "I do not want to have to tell one of my students, 'If you really want help just go sleep under the bridge at the Iowa River.'" In order for many of these struggling teens to qualify for assistance, she emphasized, they would have to be "homeless" in the most literal definition of the word.
The unintended consequence of these debates is that government agencies end up playing a game of hot-potato with homeless teens. Is it a housing-department problem? Or is it a wake-up call for those managing the child-welfare system? Should resources be concentrated among the older homeless people dying on the streets? Or should they instead focus on the younger generations so kids can't get out of the cycle before it's too late?
As Duffield put it: "We need to keep people alive. But I think the bigger issue is that in the last 10 years children and youth haven't been a priority of federal efforts, period."
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.
Portland, you're reading my dreams...
goth garden inspiration (attn rosalind)
Alnwick Poison Gardens. The gardens were established in 2005 by the Duchess of Northumberland who’s affinity for the apothecary gardens inspired the collection of nearly 100 deadly and hallucinogenic plants.
We're excited to have Bill Gates as our guest editor in February. Throughout the month, Bill will be sharing his vision of how technology will revolutionize life for the world's poor by 2030 by narrating episodes of the Big Future, our animated explainer series. In addition, we'll be publishing a series of features exploring the improvements in banking, health, farming, and education that will enable that revolution. And while the topics reflect the bets Bill and his wife Melinda are making with their foundation, they've asked us for nothing less than fully independent Verge journalism, which we're more than happy to deliver. Turns out Bill Gates is a pretty confident guy.
Nilay Patel, Editor-in-Chief
In the village of Sori along the banks of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, fishing has long been the lynchpin of the local economy. Jobs here are largely divided by gender: men catch the fish, and the women process the meat, take it to market, and handle finances.
As detailed in a 2012 study from the SIT Graduate Institute, residents of Sori traditionally kept their money at home. Theft was a constant concern, and many of the women interviewed reported their husbands misappropriating their savings. For many, traditional banks were either too far away, or demanded minimum deposits the villagers could not afford.
All that changed in 2007 with the introduction of M-PESA, a mobile service that allows Kenyans to store and transfer their money using only a cell phone. Funds can be exchanged over the network using SMS messages, meaning it works on almost any mobile phone. M-PESA agents spread throughout the country allow users to convert their credit to cash and deposit or withdraw from their accounts. The majority of Sori women interviewed for the study now keep their savings in M-PESA accounts, safe from criminals and wasteful purchases.
M-PESA also revolutionized how the women sold their goods. Prior to M-PESA, the women worked only in cash. To sell their fish, the women would have to travel by bus to markets, trips that cost them money and time. Since the adoption of M-PESA, the women send the fish to market by bus and receive payment remotely. "Where it may have taken a woman a week to sell two bags of fish in Nairobi, she now spends one morning buying and sending the fish on a bus to Nairobi for sale by her customers," reports the study. With their newfound savings, women reported being able to make long-term investments: sending their children to better schools and building themselves more durable homes to withstand seasonal floods.
When we asked Bill Gates to edit The Verge this month, he pointed to digital banking solutions like M-PESA as a technology that will revolutionize the lives of the poor in the near future. "In the next 15 years, digital banking will give the poor more control over their assets and help them transform their lives," he wrote in his annual letter. "By 2030, 2 billion people who don’t have a bank account today will be storing money and making payments with their phones. And by then, mobile money providers will be offering the full range of financial services, from interest-bearing savings accounts to credit to insurance."
Mobile money is a fast-growing industry across many parts of the developing world. But can it really transform the lives of those living on just a few dollars a day?
Of the 2.5 billion people in the world who have no access to a traditional bank, approximately 1 billion have a mobile phone. The widespread adoption of mobile phones has enabled some of the poorest economies on earth to leapfrog ahead of developed nations when it comes to tech-driven financial solutions. A report in The Atlantic noted that adults in Sub-Saharan Africa are three times more likely to use mobile money as their counterparts in Europe and the Americas. In fact, another recent report found nine African nations now have more mobile pay accounts than traditional bank accounts.
Sub-Saharan Africans are three times more likely to use mobile money as Europeans and Americans
Kenya is frequently cited as a successful example of how mobile money can dramatically transform a country’s economy. In 2006, less than 30 percent of adults in the country had access to formal financial services. Thanks to M-PESA, today that figure stands above 65 percent. Developed by telecom giants Vodafone and Safaricom with the blessing of the Central Bank of Kenya, by 2010 M-PESA was considered the most successful mobile money service in the developing world. In 2014, the service processed over $20 billion in transactions, a figure equal to more than 40 percent of the nation’s GDP.
Widespread adoption has bolstered Kenya’s economy, says Dr. William Jack, a professor of economics at Georgetown who, along with Dr. Tavneet Suri of the MIT Sloan School of Management, has studied the service and published several papers on its impact. "There is unequivocal proof that M-PESA has a positive impact on people’s financial health."
Those financial benefits convinced many, including the Gates Foundation, that mobile money was a powerful tool in the fight against global poverty. "People being able to participate on their phone, no matter where they live, even if they’re in a remote rural village in Tanzania or Kenya, they’ll be able to save small micro-payments," Gates told The Verge during an interview in New York. "They can participate on the economy through their phone, but also in the fall when it’s time to pay the school fees, they’ve saved the money for the year. That’s transformative for their family."
But as banks, governments, and telecommunication companies have learned, replicating the success of M-PESA in other developing nations is not so simple.
Between 2010 and 2013, mobile money services began a push to expand in countries like India, Nigeria, and Brazil, but onlookers were dismayed by the pace of adoption. "There have been about 200 of these experiments around the world, and maybe only four or five have been successful," Michael Joseph, director of mobile commerce at Vodafone, told Financial Times.
"People saw what happened in Kenya and were excited for mobile money to take the rest of the world by storm," says Claudia McKay, a senior financial sector specialist with CGAP. "People thought it was this magic service that would pull us all out of poverty, but it wasn’t working like it did in Kenya anywhere else in the world. Do you know the hype cycle? Well the last few years have been our trough of disillusionment."
The Gartner Hype Cycle, which McKay refers to, illustrates the five phases of new technology adoption. Source: Jeremykemp/en.wikipedia
One of the primary reasons M-PESA took off so rapidly was that it was offered by Safaricom, the nation’s dominant mobile carrier. "People had already come to trust them with their money," says Dr. Jack. "And the lack of competition, and fragmentation, made it much simpler to grow."
Kenya’s institutional dysfunction also proved to be an advantage when it came to mobile money adoption. An underdeveloped banking industry, unreliable roads, and an unstable government made M-PESA an appealing option. "All the reasons it worked there are the same reasons that it wouldn’t work if you tried to bring it to the more developed and tightly regulated markets," says Peter Wennemacher, a mobile banking analyst with Forrester Research. "The government and the financial institutions [in Kenya] were comfortable with a lot more risk."
That risk included the use of M-PESA by criminals to move illicit proceeds. Laundering dirty money was now as simple as sending a text message. "Most countries would hesitate to help a massive channel for illegal transfers like that to develop," says Abhishek Chauhan, a mobile banking analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "People were aware that this was being used by drug lords and smugglers."
Laundering dirty money was now as simple as sending a text message
"The Central Bank took a very hands-off approach," says Dr. Jack. For example, regulators tolerated a near complete lack of deposit insurance. The bank accounts that M-PESA stored funds in were federally insured for 100,000 Kenyan shillings. But Safaricom pooled everyone’s deposits together into just a few accounts. In the event of default, it would be impossible to pay everyone back or determine who got some of the small amount covered by insurance.
Additionally, in countries like India, where a robust banking sector already exists, mobile payments have been less successful. There, the ability to launch mobile payment services was restricted to established incumbents. "The banks are inclined to protect their existing revenue streams; there is less motivation to innovate," says Wennemacher. "And to be fair, there are a lot of regulatory pressures that some of the tech innovators don’t face."
After the trough of disillusionment comes the slope of enlightenment, and there is good reason to believe that in the last two years, mobile money has found its stride, learning from its mistakes in the post-M-PESA boom. There are now well-established markets with multiple competitors across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Research from the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), which has received funding from the Gates Foundation, shows the number of mobile money services across the globe expanding from just 64 in 2010 to 255 at the end of 2014.
In Bangladesh, where state-sanctioned mobile money services launched in 2010, mobile money services have more than tripled in size over the last two years. A similar story has played out in the archipelago nation of the Philippines, where a trip to the nearest bank can take days and may require a boat ride. A 2012 IMF study found that not only was mobile money far faster and safer than traditional banking in the Philippines, but it was also less expensive: fees on remittance using banks averaged 2.5-10 percent; on mobile, that same transaction had an average fee of just 1 percent.
But whether or not mobile payments can significantly address global poverty is up for debate. "I think there is some evidence that the basic deposit, withdraw, and send functions help poor people to have more choices, more convenience, more privacy, and more security in their financial lives," says CGAP’s McKay. "But people thought it was a magic service that would pull us all out of poverty. I would not say that mobile money in and of itself is going to pull people out of poverty. That would be going too far."
Afghanistan has paid policemen with a local variant of M-PESA, and Tanzania accepts taxes over mobile
In the short term, mobile banking could address a number of critical issues, including corruption. "When you’re dealing in cash in economies with a lot of corruption, half of your wages are gone before you see that money," says Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester Research who has written extensively on mobile money. "With the government using mobile to pay your wages, you can avoid a lot of that." Afghanistan has paid policemen with a local variant of M-PESA, and Tanzania accepts taxes over mobile.
And in the longterm, experts believe layering additional services on top of a basic mobile financial platform could make a significant impact on poverty. In Kenya, M-PESA has begun partnering with banks and companies to offer a richer array of services and financial products. "Once these services get going, then there will be competitive innovation in offerings like special savings or credit plans related to farming or education," says the Gates letter. In Kenya that looks like M-Shwari, a partnership between M-PESA and the Commercial Bank of Africa. In the two years since it launched, M-Shwari has attracted 9 million customers with a combined $1.47 billion in savings. Customers can earn interest on their money and, if they develop good credit, access loans to help them make big purchases or start a business.
Utilities are another service being layered on top of mobile money. In many parts of rural Kenya, villages aren’t on the electrical grid — 35 million people depend on kerosene lamps for light and borrow power from car batteries to charge cell phones. Now, a company called M-KOPA is offering Kenyans low-cost solar panels, and M-PESA is at the heart of their business.
M-KOPA sells its devices for a small down payment, about $30, with the rest paid out in installments over a year. Inside each solar panel is a SIM card connected to a nationwide cell network powered by Safaricom. People can use M-PESA to pay their bills. If they miss a payment, they can’t draw power, but can easily switch that back on when their finances stabilize. The flexibility of this system has allowed a population to access modern energy that was previously out of reach.
At the end of their letter, Bill and Melinda Gates note that the innovation in mobile money will eventually "trickle up" from developing to developed nations. Indeed, mobile banking innovation is also happening in the United States in response to banks increasingly abandoning lower-income customers.
A mix of new regulations and record low interest rates means small savings accounts are no longer profitable for traditional banks in the US. As a result, more and more Americans are joining the ranks of the unbanked. In New York City, a startup called One Financial is trying serve these individuals and recreate the success of M-PESA.
"After the financial crisis, a lot of major banks shut down branches in less wealthy neighborhoods because they weren’t as profitable," explains One Financial co-founder Vinay Patel. That has led to the closing of nearly 2,000 bank branches, more than 90 percent of which were in poor neighborhoods. "For many of their customers, that now means they don’t have a bank and are served only by check-cashing and payday loan stores with extremely high fees."
Patel says that even though the old banking model with expensive branches and extensive infrastructure is no longer viable within low-income communities, on mobile it can still be a profitable market segment. One Financial is hoping to offer customers a virtual bank that exists primarily as a phone app. They can use a mobile device to deposit checks, receive their wages directly, check their balance, or transfer funds. A debit card takes care of paying at merchants and withdrawing cash from ATMs.
As Gates told The Verge, "It starts to be economic to bank the very poorest. Not with branches or ATMs, but simply with the cellphone." He further elaborated the point in his letter, noting that "because there is strong demand for banking among the poor, and because the poor can in fact be a profitable customer base, entrepreneurs in developing countries are doing exciting work." That’s increasingly true no matter what part of the world you live in — anywhere traditional banks can’t or won’t serve a large portion of the populace, the technology in our pockets is helping fill the gap.