Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

image1Matthew Desmond deep dives into the lives of some of the most wretched people in America and produces findings that are an affront to any civilized society, let alone the world’s richest

Tracking eight families through Milwaukee’s dumpiest neighborhoods we get a first-hand account of the misery and the grinding poverty of their existence.

The reasons why they are there and why they can’t break out are mired in complexity but their prospects are unremittingly grim. Nationwide, according to Desmond, there are millions more like them.

Lack of affordable housing with subsequent evictions, exploitation and ghettoization is the core problem and one Desmond believes should be at the top of America’s domestic policy agenda.

He makes a good case: Not having a roof over your head clearly perpetuates the cycle of suffering and hopelessness.

Had the book given more detailed attention to possible solutions I’d have given it five stars. As it is, there are a scant few pages in the epilogue vaguely outlining a universal housing voucher system and the need for greater legal help for tenants taken to court by landlords.

For anything to really change however, a massive shift in societal attitudes (to this largely black underclass)  is required and that’s a tall order. Still, it’s a start.

There’s a dark side to all technology if it’s truly powerful and there are legion examples of how it can be used for good or for ill depending on how it is deployed.

A new mobile application called the Patriotapp “deputizes your iPhone or iPad” and is either a responsible citizen’s tool to aiding agencies of law and enforcement or a step towards a Stasi-like society of informers; it depends on your perspective.

The app was built by Florida software and services company Citizen Concepts to empower people “to create safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities by leveraging social networking and mobile technology.”

It shows the National Security Threat Level and has integrated points of contact to federal agencies like the FBI, including its Most Wanted list, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Government Accountability Office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Icons lead to templates where you can report suspicious activity, crime, government waste – even a pandemic.

The app explicitly aims to encourage “active citizen participation in the War on Terror and in protecting their families and surrounding communities”.

The company states: “This app was founded on the belief that citizens can provide the most sophisticated and broad network of eyes and ears necessary to prevent terrorism, crime, environmental negligence, or other malicious behaviour.”

Crimestoppers on steroids? The march of Big Brother? An elaborate spoof? You tell me.

The Sunlight Foundation recently picked up a $10,000 Knight Batten Award for its real-time coverage of February’s US health care summit.

Much of it mirrors the kind of Live Event coverage that is routinely used on the BBC News website, but I was especially taken by the addition of visualisations to aid understanding of the debates.

One example they used shows links between health care lobbyists and Senator Charles Grassley, one of the summit speakers. You can see at a glance that several are former members of his staff.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s interesting to note.

Channel 4 has also been exploring these kind of relationship connections with Who Knows Who spider maps.

It’s easy to see how televised coverage of House of Commons debates might benefit from instantly available supplementary information delivered to second screens like  smartphones or tablets as MPs stand up to speak.

On-screen Astons showing an MP’s name could trigger a second screen template showing a bio of his or her parliamentary career, what their interests are, what committees they sit on, their voting record, key speeches they have made, what their business interests are, who sponsors them,  even what expenses they have claimed.

Characterizing the depth and strength of relationships needs more work and is a matter for careful appraisal, but much of that kind of information is already available within newsrooms, especially amongst political and business staff.

On the basis of six degrees of separation almost everybody can be connected to anybody and that carries with it  the potential for mischief and misrepresentation.

As ever it’s a matter of sound editorial judgment.