The poor get poorer

Nick DiNardo is a fellow parent of Walnut Hills High School kids. Our sons played on the same junior high soccer team, and our daughter participated in the Ultimate Frisbee club that he leads/coaches.

(Photo: Jeff Dean/The Enquirer)

Nick’s day job is Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio. He was featured in a Cincinnati Enquirer special section a couple of Sundays ago. The Enquirer is doing a four-part series on the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and it’s well worth the reading investment. You quickly realize how the economic collapse of a decade ago created an even greater divide between the haves and the have nots, and how the cards are stacked against the poor.

The article that featured Nick is about payday lenders. After reading it, the term usury comes to mind.

The article is a great example of how hard it is for the poor (including the working poor) to keep their heads above water. All it takes is a single, solitary, unexpected expense — an urgent care visit or car breakdown — to crush you.

Most payday loan customers are poor, earning about $30,000 a year. Most pay exorbitant fees and interest rates that have run as high as 590%. And most don’t read the fine print, which can be unforgiving.

Cincinnati Enquirer article

Read the article to find out how a working single mom wound up paying $3,878 for an $800 loan. And she’d still be on the hamster wheel if not for Nick’s intervention.

Payday lending may not be illegal, but it sure as heck is unethical.

DiNardo hopes the new Ohio law regulating the loans will mean fewer cases like hers in the future, but he’s not sure. While mortgage rates go for 3.5% and car loans hover around 5%, poor people without access to credit will still turn to payday lenders for help.


And when they do, even under the new law, they’ll pay interest rates and fees as high as 60%.


In DiNardo’s world, this is progress. 
 

Cincinnati Enquirer article

It’s not “just business”…. and it’s not anywhere close to being just.

The Marty Party ends today

Marty Brennaman, who has been the Cincinnati Reds play-by-play radio announcer for the past 46 seasons, will step away from the mic following this afternoon’s “titanic struggle” (that’s a Marty-ism) with the Milwaukee Brewers.

When I was 6, my family moved from New Jersey to Arkansas… sparing me the ignominy of being one of those obnoxious fans of the Yankees or Mets. With no geographic allegiance to a particular team, I was an MLB free agent fan.

In those pre-cable dark ages of the early 70s, all we had was the NBC Game of the Week (Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola) and the radio. I quickly latched onto the Cincinnati Reds, also known as The Big Red Machine. Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Geronimo… they were my heroes.

The Reds flagship radio station was — and still is — 700 WLW-AM, a 50,000 clear channel station. The station’s signal covered dozens of states at night, including Arkansas. So I would tune in nearly every game. Marty joined in 1974 (replacing Al Michaels), teaming up with former teenage major league pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

Marty & Joe were the soundtrack to my baseball life. Marty’s signature victory cry of “… and this one belongs to the Reds!” has been the source of thousands of smiles over my lifetime.

Marty’s last call is today. They’re giving away transistor radios to kids who attend, which is certainly anachronistic in the streaming media/smartphone era, but it’s totally fitting for the generation that grew up with him.

Illustration: Clinton Reno (clintonreno.com) from this cool article from a fellow Reds fan

I can’t attend the game (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of play?), but I’ll be sure to tune in for one last party with Marty.

Source: Cincinnati Reds

Nature’s air conditioners

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree

Joyce Kilmer

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation has a great program that offers free trees to city residents if they plant them in their front yards. Pretty up your plot and suck more carbon dioxide out of the air… win-win.

It’s called the Fall ReLeaf program, and you can request a tree (or trees) online. They have several varieties available, from small trees such as Serviceberry and Royal Raindrops Crabapple to towering ones like the Dawn Redwood and Northern Red Oak. And you don’t get some tiny twig of a tree that has a slim chance of surviving. The trees they dole out are typically a few years old and approximately five feet tall. As long as you plant them in the right place, they’ll thrive.

Trees Without Hats

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation used to offer the program in the Spring, but realized that Fall is better for transplanting. Five of the trees in my own front yard are from this program – a Yoshino Cherry, a Black Plum, a Frontier Elm, a Queen Maple and a Kousa Dogwood.

There are so many environmental and social benefits to trees.

Source: the great 30 second video embedded below

And they’re fun too… well, after the raking is over.

It’s a program I really dig. You will too!

Saved by the sun

Kudos to Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank for committing to renewable energy in a “yuuuge” way. As in 350,000 solar panels on 1,400 acres at a solar facility in North Carolina. (Read more here.)

(Photo: The Aulander Holloman Solar Facility. Credit: Fifth Third Bancorp)

This will allow Fifth Third to reach 100% renewable power, as part of RE100.

Companies in the commercial and industrial sector account for approximately two thirds of the world’s end-of-use of electricity. Switching this demand to renewables is transforming the global energy market and accelerating the transition to a clean economy.

I hope more companies get on board, and fast, as the glaciers melt and hurricanes, “100 year floods”, droughts and extreme temperatures increase across this globe we all share.

Solar isn’t just for corporations either. We have 23 panels on the roof of our house. Here’s how much juice we grabbed for free last month:

That’s roughly half of our electric usage. We installed the panels in September of 2017… we should reach full payback seven to ten years from now. We got an Ohio “green” loan with an interest rate of 1.35%. There’s a 30% tax credit on the cost of solar installation projects, too. (Hurry, it starts phasing out at the end of this year… thanks Agent Orange!)

few presidential administrations have been as antagonistic to clean energy as the Trump White House

Source: this Wired article – https://www.wired.com/story/a-tax-credit-fueled-the-solar-energy-boom-now-its-in-limbo/

There are a lot of empty spots across this country, where silver solar panels can co-exist with amber waves of grain under spacious skies. Let’s boost renewable energy projects, before we all get burned.

They grow up so fast…

In case you missed it: a youth football/cheer squad organization in a town just a few miles from Cincinnati was requiring kids as young as age seven to sell tickets in a gun raffle as a fundraiser. (Full story from cincinnati.com is here. All excerpts below are from that article.)

Absurd is absolutely right. Asinine.

Because the brave mom questioned the “wisdom” of such an event, the organization’s leaders allowed kids to opt out of selling tickets. However, the youth org is still raffling off the type of semi-automatic weapon of war that has been used in several mass shootings/killings. The Junior Lions need to raise funds to… wait for it… pay their insurance bill. Because youth football can be a bit dangerous, don’t ya know?

Kudos to Heather Chilton for trying to provide a sanity check in a country that desperately needs more of it.

Off the beaten path…

I like to zig when everyone else is zagging. I also like to zig when everyone else is Zumba-ing. (Don’t try this at home, you might pull a hamstring.) If there’s a mainstream, I like to swim the other way. I don’t follow fashion (ask my wife, she’ll gladly attest to this). I like my music weird. I like weird in general.

I like my businesses that way too… the quiet coffee shop on a desolate corner, the hole-in-the-wall bar in a forgotten part of town, the mom-and-pop shop in a sea of corporate sameness. Landlocked Social House was all of those: quaint, quiet coffee shop by day, hole-in-the-wall bar by night, run by a husband and wife who became a mom and pop about a year after opening up.

The reasons I loved it are probably the reasons it’s closing down. It was tucked away on a street that was a one-way street for eons… and a lot of Cincinnatians probably don’t realize that part of it has changed to two-way. Landlocked was right on the corner where the street changes from two-way to one-way, and right by the interstate… hence the “Landlocked” name. Easy to love once you experienced it, but tough to get to, and nowhere near top of mind or “in crowd” status.

I was a huge fan, but I only made it there a handful of times… usually dragging along some other folks who’d never been, for a happy hour or nightcap. I’d sing Landlock Social House’s praises to anyone and everyone, but I’m a middle aged suburban dude, not a social influencer. (I should change my last name to Kardashian, that might help.)

Photo credit: Brittany Thornton, from CityBeat article linked above

The “mom” (Anne Decker) was the coffee expert, and the “pop” (Andrew Decker) was a craft beer pro. They and their staff were super-friendly. They hosted trivia nights, and chef pop-ups that were quite popular. No reason was given for the closing, but running an independent business is an uphill battle in the best of locations, much less when you’re under the radar and off the beaten path. Opening at 6:30 a.m. for the coffee crowd and staying open until midnight for the beer gang, six days a week, isn’t very family-friendly either, especially for a couple with a young child.

Thank you to everyone who made this place special. We will never forget you, we will never forget our time together. We will be open this week. Come pay your respects to this thing we built together. Landlocked Social House is Dead, Long Live Landlocked Social House. #landlockedsocialhouse

It’s just another independent business that didn’t make it to the five year mark. You can find dozens of examples in every city. But this one really stings, and it’ll sting even more with every Starbucks cup I see.

The space race is over

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Now, there are plans afoot to send astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972, and even plant a U.S. flag on Mars.

I hear you can grow hot potatoes there.

But it might be tough for NASA to find a U.S. space crew.

It’s about time we headed back to space. In fact, according to the world’s greatest author (sez me), it’s overdue.

We could certainly use more peace and exploration and wonder and beauty in our world… er, I mean solar system.

But as we’re pumping billions into space exploration, let’s not forget about another “universe” and “final frontier” worth exploring right here in the good old U.S. of A. Here’s my boy Billy Bragg with more:

A space race is fine. But the only arms race worth pursuing is the race to embrace our fellow human beings. Peace. Wonder. Beauty. Here and out there.

The struggle is real… for some

I’m a bit tardy on this (been a busy few weeks) but the folks behind the SAT have added an “adversity score” to the kids who take the test. It doesn’t affect your test score, and isn’t even shared with test-takers — it’s provided to college admissions officials to add more background/context about the student. It takes into account factors such as family stability, housing stability, family income, and the education level of parents. And it’s worth noting that it doesn’t consider race. Here’s a great excerpt from this article:

“The goal of this is to be used by admissions officers at higher-ed institutions to evaluate the context from which a student is coming from—so the community, the school, et cetera. An SAT score of 1400 in East L.A. is not the same as a 1400 in Greenwich, Connecticut. And so, if we can get environmental factors that the student could have overcome or thrived on, and take into context…”

Jeremy Singer, president of the College Board

I wholeheartedly agree with this move. Here’s a sample of how it would look.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the kid in a single-parent family who has to walk to school in the scary part of town, dodging bullets, avoiding gangs, go without breakfast and/or dinner because they can’t afford it, work after school to help with the family budget, go to the library for internet access, sleep in sweatshirts because the heat got cut off in their roach-infested apartment…. that kid is starting out at a disadvantage compared to the suburban kid whose mom drops him/her off every day and works the PTA bake sale. One kid volunteers at the food bank; the other kid gets his meals there. For the latter, school truly is uphill both ways.

Yes, it’s not a perfect system… there are kids from the right side of the tracks that are dealing with challenges as well. But not nearly as often. And I think kids should get a bit of credit for overcoming obstacles. Admissions counselors should be able to see more of the factors that might affect academic performance on standardized tests. After all, those tests can’t measure grit, determination, and the ability to overcome adversity… qualities that will translate well on the college campus.

Good news: new is good

Here’s a nice “glass half full” editorial from Michael Long in USA Today. Actually, it’s less like a glass and more like a well. And it isn’t just half full, it’s overflowing with goodness. We don’t truly appreciate how good we’ve got it very often. Here’s an excerpt:

Since the founding of this country, life expectancy has more than doubled, with nearly all of the increase coming since the outset of the 20th century. We can traverse the continent in less than the duration of a workday, a workday considerably shorter than it was a century ago. We can speak with and see anyone, anywhere and in real time, on the black mirror in our pocket. We have temperature-controlled homes, private and protected and our very own, with reliable indoor plumbing, light to extend productivity into the dark, and entertainment at our command to amuse us with worlds we would otherwise never see, or that exist solely in imagination. We work only five of seven days, eight of 24 hours, 50 of 52 weeks. Sometimes not even that.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Looking on the bright side takes a bit more work. But if you pause for a moment and look around, you’ll realize how good we’ve got it.

And speaking of good news, two of my favorite singer-songwriters have teamed up for a new album! Lucinda Williams is producing the upcoming release from Jesse Malin.

Photo credit: John Sciulli/WireImage

Here’s the first track from the LP.

Have a great day… and remember, chances are pretty good that it’s already great even if something “great” doesn’t happen. That’s the modern world for you.