Showing posts with label Poor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poor. Show all posts

June 20, 2020

Tunisians Kids Coming From Poor Families Turn to Cheap Deadly Alcohol to Cope

Photo of alcohol with inscription in Arabic. Photo by Ben Abdallah Abdel Karim on Flickr used under Licence CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0.
In May, young Tunisians looking for a buzz by drinking homemade alcohol ended in tragedy. 
At least seven youth died and 56 were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in Kairouan, an ancient Islamic center about 130 kilometers from Tunis, the capital, and one of the poorest governorates of Tunisia, where nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line. 
A neighbor of one of the young people who died in a video uploaded on Facebook said:
Young people want to forget their situation. They don’t care about dying. In fact, they say sometimes they want to die. Look at their environment, at the poverty. We don’t even have roads; the water is dirty. We are not stupid, but we don’t have the means. We are forgotten by the authorities.
The parents of three brothers who died from the poisoning added
My sons were unemployed. One of them was 37 and unable to get married and start his own life. We don’t even have toilets at home.
This is not the first time toxic homemade alcohol has killed young people in the Middle East. Alcohol and drug use is on the rise in the region, where young people who can’t afford locally produced or foreign imports opt to drink homemade, methanol brews —  strong concoctions mixed up by illicit dealers. 
Methanol — used for industrial and automotive purposes — is a highly toxic and potentially deadly substance that can cause blindness, kidney failure and seizures and death if consumed in high quantities.  
Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol and many Arab countries ban or enforces strict regulations on its sale, but it’s still widely available, whether obtained underground or on shelves.  

| En Tunisie, le décès de sept personnes après la consommation d’alcool frelaté a provoqué beaucoup d’émoi. Hormis la tragédie, c’est la précarité de la population et l’indifférence de l’État qui sont pointées du doigt. @HanZbiss analyse 

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In Tunisia, the death of seven people after consuming adulterated alcohol caused turmoil. Beyond the tragedy, it is the precariousness of the population and the indifference of the state that are pointed out. 

The thirst for cheap booze

The Middle East region has the largest youth population in the world, with more than half under the age of 25, but it also accounts for the highest unemployment rates reaching 27 percent in 2019. In 2011, youth-led protests — known as the “Arabic Spring” — erupted after years of frustration over social, economic, and political exclusion.
A 2019 report by the Brookings Institution argues that this delayed transition to the work market affects “other pathways to adulthood, including marriage, homeownership, and civic participation.” 
Young men, traditionally seen as breadwinners for their families, are unable to fulfill their social obligations. 
Within patriarchal societies in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine, men  “face tremendous stress to be providers. Men are ashamed to face their families due to lack of money,” according to a BBC report on patriarchy in the Middle East. 
Alcohol flows freely in restaurants, bars and shops in the Middle East — for those who can afford it. In Libya, for example, a bottle of Chivas Regal in 2014 was available for US$100 whereas a homemade Libyan brew was only US$15 a liter.
But in these conservative countries — where drinking is expensive and also a social taboo — it can turn into a grim and risky endeavor. Mohamed Cheik, a Tunisian activist, told Global Voices: 
Homemade alcohol is widespread among idle young people, especially in poor remote areas. But it only makes the news when it ends in tragedy.
The Alexandria Faculty of Medicine in Egypt reported that 5 percent of monthly poisonings are related to alcohol, a figure likely lower than the true scale. Due to social stigma, shame and fear, many methanol consumers do not go to hospitals for treatment unless they are in critical condition. 

Taboo: Caught between tradition and modernity 

Alcohol is widely available in the Middle East, but it remains a taboo with negative associations and connotations. Young people in these countries often struggle to balance traditional Islamic values with the desire to live a liberal, globalized lifestyle. 
Tunisia has a contentious relationship with alcohol, where consumption rose sharply from 20 to 30 percent since the 2011 revolution. And yet, a survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 affirmed that 82 percent of Tunisians disapprove of the consumption of alcoholic beverages. 
Social class also influences attitudes. Educated, wealthy Tunisians who live in big towns and are often more secular may drink openly, whereas the less well-off living in more rural, conservative areas may drink discreetly but still consider the behavior morally corrupt. Taher al-Saidi, an underemployed college graduate from Iraq, told Global Voices:
We are like schizophrenics. We drink and enjoy drinking while at the same time thinking it is bad and we should not be drinking. I can’t drink in front of my family and society. They would think I am a bad guy and lose my respected social status

Complex alcohol sales legislation 

In the Middle East, commercial alcohol sales are largely restricted on religious grounds. In Tunisia, since the 1990s, for example, shopkeepers can not sell alcohol on Friday, an Islamic prayer day, or during the holy month of Ramadan and religious holidays — except in bars and hotels. In some countries like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan and Iraq, alcohol is completely banned. 
Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, with large foreign communities, apply partial bans toward Muslims only. 
In Yemen, the law is more ambiguous: it’s officially dry, but alcohol can be consumed on private property and sold to foreigners in hotels and nightclubs in Sana’a and Aden. These restrictions leave ample room for smugglers in a black market to flourish. 
In Kairouan, Tunisia, no shops are authorized to sell alcohol, but young people can choose from over 100 shops that sell methanol. 
There have been several alcohol poisonings in the region. The deadliest was in 2013 in Libya, when 101 people died and 1066 were poisoned, with dozens suffering irreversible brain damage or blindness, after drinking methanol-filled homemade brew. After this tragic incident, the government attempted to crack down on alcohol dealers. But this kind of repression alone does not stop young people from drinking. 
“The government should legalize alcohol because Libyans will keep drinking anyway and at least legalizing it will ensure that what they drink is safe,” said Mohammed, a small-batch homebrew producer who spoke in 2014 with The World, a US-based radio program. 
When large-scale alcohol poisoning outbreaks occur, they make the news. But the political will to tackle this sensitive and controversial issue remains silent in comparison. 
This issue affects mostly deprived youth often forgotten by authorities. For youth to thrive in the Middle East, governments can restore a sense of purpose and hope in the future by creating more opportunities. 

February 23, 2020

These People Work But Have Problems Buying The Food Most People Buy

Corin picks up food at the food pantry
 "Rent has jumped so dramatically you can't even stay on your two feet," says Corin

Corin Kealoha and Shaun Karagory both work full time - but cannot afford food without the help of a food bank.

"We can't even live off our wages," says Corin, 46, who works as a hotel receptionist. "That's why we come here."

The couple is at St Vincent's Food Pantry, in Reno, Nevada, where they have picked up cardboard boxes containing cereals, bread, milk, peanut butter, and some meat. 
And their story offers a glimpse into the complicated reality behind the economic recovery lauded by President Donald Trump.

In his January State of the Union, President Trump hailed the "great American comeback", stating: "Jobs are booming. Incomes are soaring. Poverty is plummeting… the years of economic decay are over." 

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It's a narrative he hopes will help him win November's presidential race - including in Nevada, a swing state that supported Hillary Clinton by a margin of just 2% in 2016. 

The western state, home to Las Vegas, was one of the worst-hit by the 2008 financial crisis. House prices dropped up to 60%, unemployment soared to 14%, and the state had the highest number of home foreclosures nationwide. 

More than a decade on, Nevada's home values have recovered, the state came first for job growth in the US in 2018, and unemployment now hovers at a 20-year low of 3.8%.
But to get a sense of some of the limits of the recovery, you only have to take a walk in downtown Reno.

Down North Virginia Street, there are glittery high-rise hotels and casinos, river walkways, and tourists taking selfies at the iconic Reno Arch, which proudly welcomes visitors to "the biggest little city in the world"

Yet if you take a different turn, and walk down East Fourth Street, the city looks very different. Instead of high-rises, there are smaller, weekly motels, and instead of tourists, you can see queues outside shelters and soup kitchens, and homeless people sitting, chatting, or doing push-ups near the railway tracks.

"Unemployment is low, but unfortunately unemployment is not a great indicator of how many people are hungry," says Jocelyn Lantrip, from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, which supplies charities, including St Vincent's Food Pantry.

And often, those going hungry - or temporarily homeless - are people who already have jobs.
"We have anything from 350 to 450 new families per month," says Carlos Carrillo, program director at the St Vincent's food pantry, in between packing boxes with food.
"We used to have a lot of clients who were unemployed or on social security, but nowadays most of our clients are working families."

The food bank has even started offering dog and cat food to 1,500 families a month - a practical step after they realized that clients would often go hungry in order to feed their pets.
A majority of clients say they are forced to use the food bank because rents have soared.
"They take money out of their food budget to pay for rent, so that's where we come in, to provide a bit of the food that they're not buying anymore," Mr. Carrillo says.

Carlos Carrillo
 Carlos says St Vincent's Food Pantry serves about 300 families in Reno each day

Carlos says St Vincent's Food Pantry serves about 300 families in Reno each day
Elliott Parker, chair of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, argues that "recovery is in the eye of the beholder"

The latest data from the Census Bureau suggests that median household income is still just below 2008 levels, he adds.

"We are finally at the end of a very long recovery - but wages have risen nowhere near as fast as housing and rental prices."

Nevada has the nation's worst shortage of affordable housing for low-income families, according to an advocacy group, only 19 homes for every 100 low-income renter households.
There are various reasons for the house prices - including stalled construction from the 2008 financial crisis that has been slow to pick up.

And Reno residents complain about the "Tesla effect" - as tech workers and retirees from the more expensive neighboring state of California cross the border into Nevada, they push up rental prices for locals.

"Fifty percent of people in Nevada rent, and half of them are rent-burdened - meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing," says state Senator Julia Ratti, whose district covers the Reno-Sparks area.

"This means they become very vulnerable to anything happening in their life - if you get a flat tire, or your child needs medical care, you'll be late on your rent."
"Rent has jumped so dramatically you can't even stay on your two feet," says Corin
It's something Corin and Shaun, 39, experienced last year, after Shaun, who works as a security guard, developed fibromyalgia and had to take some time off work.
"We became homeless because I couldn't afford to pay the rent," says Corin. "We basically ended up living in our car."

They have since moved into a studio apartment - although the rent, which is $900 a month, takes a significant bite out of their wages - they both earn $10 per hour.
"We're not stable yet - we're not even sure what's going to happen," Corin says with a laugh. "We just live day by day for now."

John Restrepo, an analyst at RCG Economics in Las Vegas, says it is both true that the economy overall has grown - and that many working families are still suffering.
Those with equities in the stock market and small businesses have come out as winners from the economic recovery, he says, but wage earners have lost out.
Las Vegas is experiencing record unemployment

"About 60% of our households are not invested in the stock market - they depend on wages - and a large percentage of those folks, particularly lower-income workers, haven't benefited from the recovery at all," says Mr. Restrepo. "The challenge is that wages have been pretty stagnant after you adjust for inflation."

He believes that many companies, "as a result of the great recession, decided to do business differently" - hiring more contractors and gig workers.

Nevada was also coming out of a particularly deep recession, which means "we've been growing for 10 years now, but it's also one of the slowest recoveries in terms of the rate of recovery".
The other issue that comes up again and again when you speak to Nevadans is the cost of healthcare.
Jim Eaglesmith spent four years caring for his mother, who had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and eventually lost his job in a physical therapy clinic after he had to reduce his hours to look after her.

"The expenses of rent, home, healthcare, hospice, and prescription needs meant I depleted my savings… in the last three years, I used up her savings and my 401K. I spent everything I had thinking she was going to have some money left over, but I ended up having to spend almost all of it," he says.

Jim lives at the Village on Sage Street, in a dormitory in a modular unit
After that, he says he was effectively homeless for two months, couch surfing with different friends until he was able to move into Village on Sage Street - a dormitory built by a community foundation, which is designed to help working poor individuals and offers single rooms for as little as $400 a month.

"I can't afford a lot of things, but I'm not here to make money," says Jim, who now works part-time as a performance artist. "My value isn't based on my economic worth."
US healthcare costs are amongst the highest in the world - which means even middle-income families can feel vulnerable.

Adrielle Hammon, 35, works in a pre-school, making $9 an hour. Last year, she and her husband qualified for Medicaid, a public healthcare scheme for poor Americans - which meant when her son had a medical emergency, the $40,000 hospital bill was covered.

This year, her family's income has grown - Adrielle believes they are now "roughly middle class" - but it means they no longer qualify for Medicaid, and neither of them receives health insurance through work.

"We can afford food, gas, and bills now," she says. "But you throw in things like hospital bills, and that's something worrisome... I don't go to the doctor for anything unless someone's literally dying."

Adrielle and her children
"I don't see it ever being the case that we can afford to buy a house" - Adrielle Hammon
And the American dream of owning their own home seems like a remote possibility, which she admits bothers her because "we always figured that by the time we were this age, we'd be able to afford to buy a house."

For many lower-income families, housing and healthcare costs can combine, to make them more vulnerable to unexpected emergencies.
Angel Mcceig-Escalante, 44, says most of her family's income is spent on rent, and dealing with problems with their car.

"We've not been able to save any money at all - we have really been struggling," she says.
She lives with her husband, her mother, and one of her three children in a two-bedroom apartment costing $1,270 a month - "and one person doesn't have a bedroom, - my mother sleeps on the couch."
"I only use the system when I need it" - Angel Mcceig-Escalante
She visits St Vincent's Food Pantry for fresh and canned fruit and vegetables and visits several other food banks for help as well - particularly because, as a diabetic, she has to have a low-carbohydrate diet.

"We could buy food, just not the sort of food I should be eating. I'm supposed to be low carb, but that's the stuff that is the cheapest."
She also chooses the food carefully, hoping that this will help ensure her teenage son doesn't develop diabetes when he's older.

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In politics, and in the media, it can be tempting to generalize - whether it is about the economic recovery or the plight of lower-income families.

But the reality is often more nuanced - especially as the working class doesn't necessarily want to see themselves as poor.

I met Kayshoun Grajeda, 33, at the Culinary Academy in Las Vegas - a training center that has built-in kitchens, a restaurant, and bedrooms for hospitality staff in training.

She's beaming with pride as she explains it's her last day on the guestroom attendant course, and as she demonstrates how to make a bed in five minutes while keeping the sheets perfectly smooth.
"If you really want something, and put your best foot forward, you can accomplish it," she adds. "There's help - you've just gotta want it. You can't put the blame on somebody else." 

Kayshoun says her three children are extremely proud that she is about to graduate from the Culinary Academy
The single mother of three has just been offered a job with a hotel and believes it will be a significant step up from her previous job as a hairdresser.

"I want things for my kids, so this is definitely a good start, you know? I'm starting at $15.35, but it's a start! It's above minimum wage," she says with a grin.
It's a sense of positivity that is partly shared by Deidre Hammon, who lives with her daughter Brianna in a mobile home in a trailer park in southern Reno.

Deidre (who is also Adrielle's mother) works three jobs - as a contractor at a law firm, as an advocate at a center for children with disabilities, and as a carer for Brianna, 36, who lives with cerebral palsy.
"We're all very optimistic about our lives, we don't want to see ourselves as poor people who can't afford anything," she says.

But she adds that the difficulties that working families face are very real. Her car just broke down, so she's been forced to spend $250 per week on a rental car since she needs to drive for work and to transport Brianna around.
Brianna and Deidre Hammon

While she would rather work in a full-time role with benefits, "it's easier to have low-wage jobs I can quite easily, and then find another low-wage job" - because she sometimes needs time off at short notice to care for her daughter.
She also can't afford a wheelchair van - which means she has to manually help Brianna in and out of the car.

"I have to swing the wheelchair into the back of the car, break it down, put it together, and transfer Brianna into the car, two to three times a day. I have amazing upper body strength right now, but who knows how long that's going to last? I'm almost 60!"
She says she has to look after Brianna herself because there aren't enough service providers in northern Nevada.

She says she meets other mothers caring for adult children with disabilities, and they all find the prospect of their children living without them "terrifying".
"We all feel like we can't die, ever - because who's going to take your place?"
Chris says he plans to vote Republican: "I prefer to go by my standards - I'm pro-life"
Meanwhile, Christopher Ripke lives with epilepsy and works full time as a dishwasher at the University of Nevada, Reno - sometimes working seven days a week, as he often offers to work overtime. He also leads People First, a non-profit that helps people with disabilities.

He makes $9.30 an hour - sometimes making $13.50 per hour for overtime - and also received some rental assistance and food stamp assistance, but says he still falls below the poverty level.
Despite that, he feels pleased to have medical coverage in his job - and says he "absolutely" feels optimistic about his future. "I'm setting money aside for future plans - I plan to move to Texas because the healthcare's better."

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)   

At Wednesday's Democratic debate, several candidates made overt appeals to the working class
Nevada is third in the Democratic primary race - and the state bills itself as more ethnically diverse, and more working-class, than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

At Wednesday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar all made specific appeals to working families or talked about the need to raise wages.

But voting patterns can be personal - and unpredictable - and politicians take the working-class vote for granted at their peril.

Deidre, Brianna, and Adrielle all support Bernie Sanders because of his Medicare for All proposals - and do not want to see President Trump win. Brianna says bluntly: "If Trump gets re-elected I'm probably dead. He plans to cut all the programs that make my life possible."

Meanwhile, Christopher and Angel both support President Trump - Christopher because he disagrees with the Democratic candidates' stance on abortion, and Angel because "when he says something, he does it".

Chris Ripke
 Chris says he plans to vote Republican: "I prefer to go by my standards - I'm pro-life"

Christopher uses food stamps and is not convinced by reports that Mr. Trump's proposed budget would cut food stamps and the safety net. "That's one thing I don't believe - if I see it, I see it, but I've heard nothing about that." ("You heard it now stupid!".. Adam)

Meanwhile, Angel believes Mr. Trump's proposal to reduce the safety net is a good idea. "I've been working since I was 13, and… I only used the system when I needed it. People don't do that anymore, now they use it because there's free stuff."

And while Kayshoun's "best foot forward" attitude chimes in with how the Republicans say they help working families, she's actually unimpressed with both Mr. Trump and the Democratic candidates.
"We need a new president and not the one we've got," she says, adding that she plans to vote independent this year "because I'm not really feeling nobody". 

April 16, 2018

60-80% of Income For Rent Without Help Results on The EVICTION

 For many poor families in America, eviction is a real and ongoing threat. Sociologist Matthew Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016 — a rate of four every minute.

"Eviction isn't just a condition of poverty; it's a cause of poverty," Desmond says. "Eviction is a direct cause of homelessness, but it also is a cause of residential instability, school instability [and] community instability."

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Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. His latest project is The Eviction Lab, a team of researchers and students at Princeton University dedicated to amassing the nation's first-ever database of eviction. To date, the Lab had collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

"We're in the middle of a housing crisis, and that means more and more people are giving more and more of their income to rent and utilities," Desmond says. "Our hope is that we can take this problem that's been in the dark and bring it into the light."

On why eviction rates are so high

Incomes have remained flat for many Americans over the last two decades, but housing costs have soared. So between 1995 and today, median asking rents have increased by 70 percent, adjusting for inflation. So there's a shrinking gap between what families are bringing [in] and what they have to pay for basic shelter.

And then we might ask ourselves: Wait a minute, where's public housing here? Where's housing vouchers? Doesn't the government help? And the answer is, it does help, but only for a small percentage of families. Only about 1 in 4 families who qualify for housing assistance get anything. So when we picture the typical low-income American today, we shouldn't think of them living in public housing or getting any kind [of] housing assistance for the government, we should think of folks who are paying 60, 70, 80 percent of their income and living unassisted in the private rental market. That's our typical case today.

On the effects of eviction

The eviction comes with a mark that goes on your record, and that can bar you from moving into a good house in a safe neighborhood, but could also prevent you from moving into public housing, because we often count that as a mark against your application. So we push families who get evicted into slum housing and dangerous neighborhoods.

We have studies that show that eviction is linked to job loss. ... It's such a consuming, stressful event, it causes you to make mistakes at work, lose your footing there, and then there's just the trauma of it — the effect that eviction has on your dignity and your mental health and your physical health. We have a study for example that shows that moms who get evicted experience high rates of depression two years later.

On how landlords go about evicting tenants

It varies a lot from city to city. In some places, you can evict someone for being a penny short and a day late and the process is very efficient and quick. In other cities, it's a lot longer and laborious and it's much more work. We're only also talking about formal evictions, too. These are evictions that go through the court and there are 101 ways for landlords to get a family out. Sometimes landlords pay a family to leave. Sometimes they change their locks or take their door off, as I witnessed one time in Milwaukee. So those evictions aren't even captured in these numbers that we have — which means the estimates that we have are stunning, but they're also too low. 


In A High-Rent World, Affordable And Safe Housing Is Hard To Come By
On the benefits of stabilizing families and decreasing evictions

The more I think about this issue, the more I think that we've really had a failure of our imagination — and maybe it's linked to a failure of our compassion. ... When we ask, What can be done if a tenant doesn't pay rent? Doesn't that tenant have to be evicted? A thousand things can be done. There are so much better ways of dealing with this issue than we currently do. ...

Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family. The kid gets to finish school. The neighborhood doesn't lose a crucial neighbor. The family gets to root down and get to understand the value of a home and avoid homelessness. And for all of us, I think [we] have to recognize that we're paying the cost of eviction because whatever our issue is, whatever keeps us up at night, the lack of affordable housing sits at the root of that issue. ...

Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family.
Matthew Desmond:

We know that neighborhoods that have more evictions have higher violent crime rates the following year. You can understand why — it rips apart the fabric of a community. We pay for that. The top 5 percent of hospital users consume 50 percent of the health care costs. Guess who those people are? They're the homeless and unstably housed. And so I think we can spend smart or we can spend stupid, and so I think addressing the affordable housing crisis is a win for families, for landlords and for the taxpayer.

Roberta Shorrock and Seth Kelley produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz and Molly Seavy-Nesper adapted it for the Web.
Published first on NPR

August 23, 2014

Cutting Edge Built from the ground up from the poorest Young guys in S.I.,NY’s hood

A node in the bell tower of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church (left window at bottom).CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

Robert Smith, a 19-year-old in a gray T-shirt and camouflage pants, climbed the stairwell of the Joseph Miccio Community Center in Red Hook, scaled a ladder at the top floor and jumped onto the roof. He soon found what he was looking for: bright, white plastic boxes, each about the size of a brick, some with little antennas sticking out. Mr. Smith pulled a laptop from his backpack and got to work, tending to the nodes of the Red Hook mesh, an ambitious plan to link up a local wireless digital network across the neighborhood.

With the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway just ahead and the Lower Manhattan skyline in the distance, Mr. Smith worked on keeping the digital conversation going. He was examining two devices on the roof while wirelessly conversing with a minicomputer a few hundred feet away on the roof of a school that had a high-speed Internet connection.

Though these white boxes, spread across various rooftops in Red Hook, may appear haphazard, or guerrilla even, the Red Hook mesh is actually in the vanguard of wireless networking. Unlike the Internet available at work or at home, which typically arrives through a wire and follows a carefully plotted path from Internet provider to user, a mesh network is improvised — and remarkably resilient.


Members of Red Hook Initiative at work this month maintaining the Brooklyn neighborhood’s mesh network. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Because the devices speak to one another, they are more than a series of “hot spots” with Internet access; the mesh remains a network whether or not it is connected to the Internet. And that independence is its main attraction — in Berlin, where a tech collective shares Internet access to save money; in rural Spain, where one of the largest mesh networks covers areas ignored by telecoms; in Tunisia, where the State Department has spent millions establishing a mesh network to experiment with a local network impervious to government censorship.

Red Hook, which juts out of Brooklyn into New York Bay and is cut off from the rest of the borough by the B.Q.E., has similar reasons for hosting a mesh. The 11,000 or so residents can feel at the whim of nature, as well as government and corporate bureaucracies. There is no subway service; there are few Internet hot spots; close to 70 percent of the population lives in New York City housing projects.

When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, Red Hook was especially exposed. Cellphone service was down and Internet service was spotty. The lights were out. Water rushed through the streets.

After the storm, the divisions between the homeowners and the housing project residents were irrelevant, said Anthony Schloss, who helped create the mesh network through his work at Red Hook Initiative, a nonprofit group. The initiative trains young residents like Mr. Smith to become “digital stewards.” Each steward works 20 hours a week (and is paid $8.75 an hour) as part of a yearlong program that teaches skills including mesh networking, video production and web design, culminating in an internship. One steward now works at Sky-Packets, a mesh networking company on Long Island; another is with Pioneer Works, a Red Hook arts center.

Continue reading the main story
Though the mesh was in the works before Hurricane Sandy struck, it gained added relevance after the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency boosted the Red Hook Initiative’s broadband connection, so where the regular Internet was unavailable, residents and government workers could log on to the mesh to quickly find out where to pick up supplies or find government officials.

Although the Red Hook mesh promises a free web connection, its potential for intensely local communication also appeals to Mr. Schloss and Mr. Smith. “That’s our hope, that the network is used as a source of communication throughout the neighborhood,” Mr. Smith said, adding, “We want to have both, that second layer, so if the Internet goes down we can still connect with each other through the mesh.”

Robert Smith climbing to the roof of the Joseph Miccio Community Center to check on the network nodes stored there. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times
Joshua Breitbart, a senior fellow at New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, which created the software that helps the Red Hook mesh operate, said digital culture was too focused on the global, as opposed to the local. “The general narrative of Silicon Valley is, build an app and change the world,” Mr. Breitbart said. “There should be room to say, ‘Build an app and change my neighborhood.’ ”

Mr. Smith, who grew up and lives in the Red Hook Houses, is a very different kind of network administrator. Last year, he was one of 10 or so digital stewards. While other stewards left for jobs with a tech bent, Mr. Smith, a soft-spoken young man seemingly happy with his head bent over a laptop reading technical protocols, stayed to train the next class. He is now in charge of maintaining the mesh.

Mr. Smith has a complicated set of responsibilities, requiring technical, installation and political skills — after all, these nodes are on somebody’s roof. Add in that the Red Hook mesh is using very cheap equipment, and it is the rare day when the entire network is humming in sync. When Mr. Smith was on the roof of the Miccio center, some nodes were working, some were not. Which is the way it usually goes.

“We need to get one area where the Internet is great,” he said, “and have people talking about it — like FiOS.”

A crucial point in the Red Hook mesh is Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church — particularly its bell tower, which looms over the neighborhood and Coffey Park below it. The church, which is more than 150 years old and began by serving Irish and Italian dockworkers, has three mesh nodes, two high up, and one inside for internal use.

That internal node has helped the church play videos during its religious education classes and host a radio station that broadcasts its Sunday Mass, said Robert Berrios, the sacristan of the church, who has lived in Red Hook for 45 years.

A node in the bell tower of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church (left window at bottom). Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
But the outward-facing nodes have also drawn a crowd, he said. “I see people outside to get free Wi-Fi,” he said. “Either with an iPad, a tablet or a phone — people sitting in their cars writing emails.”

This summer, the Red Hook mesh has been fighting to remain relevant, hurt by spotty service and lack of awareness. The Red Hook Initiative is completing an upgrade of the equipment and software, and is working on raising awareness in the community.

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To that end, the group is a finalist for an Economic Development Corporation grant for nearly $1 million. The group hopes to uses the money to buy more sophisticated nodes to support the network.

The local content at the mesh appears on a splash page after you log in. Among the early experiments was a stop-and-frisk app, which would allow Red Hook residents to easily report their experiences with the police. But three weeks after the app was introduced, Mr. Schloss said, the Police Department discontinued the policy.

The protests in Ferguson, Mo., have engaged the digital stewards, said Jaebi Bussey, 34, a trainer at the initiative.

Staying with the idea of monitoring law enforcement, the group has plans to meet with the creators of an online project, Copwatch, to see how their skills — in using social media, in creating and uploading videos — could be used to track police conduct in the neighborhood. With more reliable Wi-Fi service, introducing new local apps should become easier. But Mr. Schloss counts the benefits already in place. Digital expertise coming from the stewards, all residents of the Red Hook Houses, sends an important message.

“If this works,” he said, “you have this virtual platform, this virtual community that everyone can be interacting with, devoid of all the cultural assumptions. And if you flip it, and the people who build it and are maintaining it are young people from public housing, that totally changes the way people think about each other and what technology can be.”

New York Times

March 21, 2014

Obscene Wealth “85 Individual’s Have as Much as 3.5 Billion People"

The world’s 85 wealthiest people have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet – half the Earth’s population. That’s according to Oxfam’s latest report on the risks of the widening gap between the super-rich and the poor.
The report, titled “Working for the Few,” was released Monday, and was compiled by Oxfam – an international organization looking for solutions against poverty and injustice.
The document focuses on the extent of global economic inequality caused by rapidly increasing wealth of the richest people that poses the threat to the “human progress.”
A total of 210 people became billionaires last year, joining the existing 1,426 billionaires with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion.
"Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown," the report stated.
Also, according to the Oxfam data, the richest 1 percent of people across the globe have $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the planet’s population – which effectively “presents significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems.”
“It is staggering that, in the 21st century, half of the world’s population — that’s three and a half billion people — own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus,” Oxfam chief executive Winnie Byanyima told a news conference.
And the number of the rich is steadily growing: for example, in India the number of billionaires skyrocketed from six to 61 in the past 10 years, and their combined net worth is currently $250 billion.
The report comes ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos which begins later this week, and urges the world leaders to discuss how to tackle this pressing issue.
Among the solutions presented by Oxfam are measures to avoid tax dodging and using economic wealth to pressure governments, looking for political benefits. Also, the organization calls for “making public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners,”as well as “challenging governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection for citizens.”
Oxfam also said that there are many laws that favor the rich, which were lobbied for in a “power grab” by the world’s wealthiest people.
Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, according to Oxfam.
"A survey in six countries (the US, UK, Spain, Brazil, India and South Africa) showed that a majority of people believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich," the report said.
For instance, almost 80 percent of the Spanish and the Indians, as well as over 60 per cent of the US and the UK residents, either agree or strongly agree that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed.”

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