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Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

The most popular TED talks tend to be uncontroversial and, to use TED’s own terminology, “jaw-dropping.” People want to stare in wonderment or be blown away by the advances we have made in the sciences or hear about a new discovery.

People don’t like to hear about race, poverty, and justice, so Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk is a bit outside of TED’s usual purview of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

But to me, this fits perfectly into the question of design. When we design something, we must think about its purpose; design is more than attractive chairs. Institutional design determines how we administer justice in our society. What are the values we uphold? What does the design of our systems tell us about the answer to that question?

Stevenson’s talk doesn’t quite answer those questions, but it digs at the heart of what we believe to be a justice system and the shrugging apathy we afford it.

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The way this story about school lunch fraud is written, you would think that school officials labeled their children as requiring free or reduced lunch in order to score the lunches themselves.

High-poverty schools have the ability to receive Title I funds from the Department of Education, generally defined by the states or local districts through a formula that relies heavily on the percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch. This statistic is generally used as a shorthand for the school’s poverty level because it is easier to collect than family income alone and because it represents paperwork that most families are willing to fill out.

Although I believe that it’s entirely possible that these administrators’ children were fraudulently enrolled in the school lunch program to get free lunches. (But having eaten many of these free lunches at a high-poverty school, I doubt it.)

More likely, they are gaming the numbers to increase their percentage of free or reduced-lunch students, and thereby increase their funding. I bet a systematic audit of any major urban district would reveal similar fraud.

At the same time, the pursuit of these kinds of fraud is targeting the wrong places for graft. The cost of such an audit would far outweigh any monetary benefit that any individual school is currently receiving, and might find as much underreporting as overreporting.

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There’s been plenty of unhappiness about GOP Medicare proposals, but a much less flashy but equally disastrous change has been proposed for Medicaid.

Unspoken in much of the coverage, notably NPR’s story this morning, is that this plan to give more “flexibility” to state governors is less about flexibility and more about placing restrictions on Medicaid. The best way to gut Medicaid coverage is to change requirements and claim that costs are prohibitive, which you can’t do as long as Medicaid is an entitlement. Turn Medicaid into a block grant and suddenly state governments will be pinching pennies any way they can.

Broadly, though, people think this program won’t be likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. But if it comes down to a budget deal, Democrats would probably sell out poor people to keep Medicare intact.

Middle class voters and the elderly show up at the ballot box enough to keep their issues in the conversation. Upper class voters contribute to campaigns to keep their issues in the conversation. Industry can pay for armies of lobbyists.

Poor people have no lobby and no money, and they participate the least in voting. I predict that whatever the final budget looks like, poor people will bear the worst of it.

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1.) Many have correctly stated that Haiti’s disaster is driven by its poverty. (For comparison, the Northridge quake, similar in terms of intensity and population density, resulted in 72 deaths.) Tyler Cowen’s post “Why is Haiti so poor?” led me to wonder. After all, the question has struck many, especially contrasting the relative wealth and stability of the Dominican Republic with Haiti just next door. Some of Cowen’s suggestions seem too “out there” (polygamy? voodoo gods?) and he fails to include Jared Diamond’s Collapse hypothesis (the Haitians cut down all their trees; the Dominicans, not as much).

My theory is a combination of other proposed theories, most specifically that the US and European nations strongly rejected Haiti after its violent revolt against colonists and ban on European property ownership. A systemic embargo kept Haiti from advancing, followed by the forgotten occupation of Haiti by US Marines from 1915-1938. This, followed by the kleptocracy of the Duvaliers, has hampered Haiti’s efforts to grow.

The central difference between Haiti’s experience and its neighbor’s is the difference in its treatment by the great powers. The U.S. propped up one dictator (Trujillo in D.R.) but not the other (Duvalier in Haiti); Europe continued to shun Haiti even after losing most of its colonial holdings post-WWII. Haiti had no Commonwealth like Jamaica and Barbados, and no international patron like the Dominican Republic.

In effect, we are seeing not a natural disaster, but a man-made one.

2.) Donations are troublesome, because of the amount of human desire to help and the number of actual things that people will use. Long after the tsunami hit Aceh and Sri Lanka, monies acquired during the aftermath remained unused by relief organizations, which faced difficulty in spending the money in appropriate places, as well as long-term projects which could not be achieved at once. Boxes of unused materials sat at airfields, because the infrastructure did not allow people to move it to the most affected areas, and the unsorted boxes could contain anything from wigs to unmarked pills to stuffed animals.

What you should give is not stuff, but money. Additionally, give it to a major relief fund, not a local or smaller charity. In order to coordinate this quantity of supplies, we need the big shots — Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, or Direct Relief.

3.) This is the best rebuttal of Pat Robertson ever.

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