Saturday, October 09, 2010

Sunshine Coast Gets Lots Of Rain

A surprising amount of rain north of Brisbane! Not staggering, or anything, but still, quite a bit.

Impressive rainfall totals can pile up in semi-tropical Australia, particularly like now, when La Niña is in full-swing.

Friday, October 08, 2010

"The Drowsy Chaperone" - Civic Theatre West

Adolpho (Ryan Adame). He is so R-O-M-A-N-T-I-C! And very funny!

- "I was laughing so hard several times during the show that my mouth was open and no sound was coming out." Katie Murphy

Indeed, it was an excellent show, as Ryan and long-time friends Kyle Hadley, Colby Salmon, T. Patrick Van, Bobby Grainger, plus all the other fine folks at Roseville did their comedic best.
Bows on Friday night at the Roseville Theatre.

Tatjana And The Piñata

Tatjana is heading to Nairobi to spend the next two or three years helping raise cattle in Kenya, so Thomas hosted a little farewell get-together in Davis Community Park. Judith made a piñata, and filled it with candy.

One less ear on the piñata!

I Sweat; Therefore I Am

I sweat more than almost anyone I know, so this news probably signifies that I'm almost the most-efficient laborer in the universe:
There may be an evolutionary reason why men sweat more easily than women, the study authors noted.

"Women generally have less body fluid than men and may become dehydrated more easily," Inoue said. "Therefore, the lower sweat loss in women may be an adaptation strategy that attaches importance to survival in a hot environment, while the higher sweat rate in men may be a strategy for greater efficiency of action or labor."

Obama = Reagan

Gabe uses a reasonable article describing similarities between the presidencies of Obama and Reagan as an occasion for partisan sniping. I snipe back:
Sound familiar? It should, because in terms of public perception, Mr. Obama’s presidency most closely resembles the Gipper’s. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at the numbers put together by the usually reliable Their research reveals that in terms of national opinion polling, Obama is not only tracking on the same general trajectory as Reagan, but in a month-to-month analysis, their numbers are in almost perfect synch. Though Reagan’s disapproval rating was actually two points lower than Obama’s at the same point in his presidency, his approval rating was almost four points lower than Obama’s.
Gabe: It seems as if all Jesuits love O-BAM-A.

Marc: All quite reasonable, but this time there doesn't seem to be the same urgency to engage in deficit spending (as there was with Reagan's defense buildup). So, history may not play out the same way.

Gabe: But, but, we all must worship the One. It must happen. It must!

Marc: We did. His name was Ronald.

Gabe: So, you worshipped him, too???

Marc: I stuck needles in my Gipper doll.

Gabe: That’s why he came out shining like a silver dollar.

Marc: It's true, zinc does not rust, and shines, no matter how dirty it is.

Gabe: Marc Valdez, the ZINC King!

New Computer

Wow! Jim installed a brand-new computer for me here at work! Whee!

I bet it has little software and is close to useless.

But it's new!

Newness reminds me of "Eraserhead":
Mr. X: I thought I heard a stranger. We've got chicken tonight. Strangest damn things. They're man made. Little damn things. Smaller than my fist. But they're new. Hi, I'm Bill.
Henry Spencer: Hello there. I'm Henry.
Mrs. X: Henry works at LaPelle's Factory.
Mr. X: Oh. Printing's your business? Plumbing's mine. For 30 years now. I've watched this neighborhood change from pastures to the hell-hole it is now!
Mary X: Dad!
Mrs. X: Bill!
Mr. X: I put every damn pipe in this neighborhood. People think that pipes grow in their homes. But they sure as hell don't! Look at my knees! Look at my knees!

Lou Dobbs Fires Back

Lou Dobbs swiftly shifts his position in the face of criticism, and maintains he is not responsible for the hiring practices of contractors he employs on his property.

So, it's back to the contractor dodge: the most-popular dodge since "The Grapes Of Wrath", and even before that, and now, more-popular than ever!

And just another illustration (as if we needed more) of why we have an illegal immigration problem in the first place.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"A Parallel Mortgage Universe"

Several years ago, I had to laugh when left-blogger Duncan Black labelled the mortgage mess "Big Shitpile", which evoked the image of lawyers and bankers running around in a panic trying to find a rug big enough to sweep it all under.

Today, the mess is still here, and it keeps threatening to destroy everything it touches. Today, MERS is in the uncomfortable spotlight.

The only way the housing mess will be solved is if people finally accept that they permanently lost their investments. It's a slow process, however. Like they say: anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. People are still in the denial phase, and will remain so for years, and will resist that final, final reckoning to the bitter, bitter end:
Millions of U.S. mortgages have been shuttled around the global financial system - sold and resold by firms - without the documents that traditionally prove who legally owns the loans.

Now, as many of these loans have fallen into default and banks have sought to seize homes, judges around the country have increasingly ruled that lenders had no right to foreclose, because they lacked clear title.

...For big banks, "there's a possible nightmare scenario here that no foreclosure is valid," said Nancy Bush, a banking analyst from NAB Research. If millions of foreclosures past and present were invalidated because of the way the hurried securitization process muddied the chain of ownership, banks could face lawsuits from homeowners and from investors who bought stakes in the mortgage securities - an expensive and potentially crippling proposition.

...At the core of the fights over the legal standing of banks in foreclosure cases is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, based in Reston.

The company, known as MERS, was created more than a decade ago by the mortgage industry, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, GMAC, and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

MERS allowed big financial firms to trade mortgages at lightning speed while largely bypassing local property laws throughout the country that required new forms and filing fees each time a loan changed hands, lawyers say.

The idea behind it was to build a centralized registry to track loans electronically as they were traded by big financial firms. Without this system, the business of creating massive securities made of thousands of mortgages would likely have never taken off. The company's role caused few objections until millions of homes began to fall into foreclosure.

...Kentucky lawyer Heather Boone McKeever has filed a state class-action suit and a federal civil racketeering class-action suit on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, alleging that MERS and financial firms that did business with it have tried to foreclose on homes without holding proper titles.

"They have no legal standing and no right to foreclose," McKeever said. "If you or I did this one time, we'd be in jail."

...In August, the Maine Supreme Court threw out a foreclosure case because "MERS did not have a stake in the proceedings and therefore had no standing to initiate the foreclosure action."

In May, a New York judge dismissed another case because the assignment of the loan by MERS to the bank HSBC was "defective," he said. The plaintiff's counsel seemed to be "operating in a parallel mortgage universe," the judge wrote.

Also in May, a California judge said MERS could not foreclose on a home, because it was merely a representative for Citibank and did not own the loan.

..."Assertions that somehow MERS creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by the facts," a company spokeswoman said.

But that's precisely what lawyers are arguing with more frequency throughout the country. If such an argument gains traction in the wake of recent foreclosure moratoriums, the consequences for banks could be enormous.

"It's an issue of the whole process of foreclosure having been so muddied by the [securitization] process," said Bush, the banking analyst. "It is no longer a straightforward legalistic process, which is what foreclosures are supposed to be."

...Referring to the federal government's $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program for banks, she added, "This problem could cost the banks significantly more money, which could mean TARP II."
Felix Salmon looks at some of the consequences:
[B]ut put them all together, and it becomes clear that the mother of all legal messes has already emerged from the foreclosure crisis, and threatens not only a large chunk of the financial system but also venerable civic institutions, like the courts, which have thus far emerged from the crisis largely unscathed.

While there’s some evidence that Congress is willing to find a bank-friendly way out of this mess, I don’t think that’s going to fly, not when state AGs are already filing lawsuits against the likes of GMAC.

Argentina’s sovereign default has been called “the slowest trainwreck in history”, but this one might turn out to be slower, bigger, and much less fair. Millions of people have already lost their houses to lenders who didn’t have the proper paperwork, and it’s unlikely they will ever get any redress. For people who haven’t yet been foreclosed upon, however, it could now be a very long time before they lose their house.

The big-picture consequences here are by their nature unpredictable, as no one has a clue how this might all play out. But I can think of a few themes:

  • Bond investors, who have seen the value of their mortgage-backed debt rise impressively over the past 18 months, could find themselves unable to find any kind of bid at all. The paper will still be cashflowing, but those cashflows will be surrounded by enormous uncertainty, and no one’s going to want to buy them except at extremely deep discounts until the mess is cleared up.
  • Mortgage servicers will go from being assets to being liabilities, and banks which own mortgage servicers could find themselves on the hook for substantial losses.
  • The time from default to foreclosure will become indefinite, and as a result there will be a significant uptick in strategic defaults, especially in states with judicial foreclosures.
  • The “shadow inventory” of houses which aren’t on the market but will eventually be sold once the bank gets around to foreclosing will grow substantially from its already-enormous level.
    • All of this is going to be very costly and very unpleasant for all concerned; the only winners I see here are the lawyers. Add in possible securities-fraud charges against investment banks which underwrote a lot of these bonds, and the end result is a level of legal chaos I can barely imagine, in both the civil and criminal courts. And I see no easy way out at all.

      Credit Card Use Drops

      It feels like breaking every finger on our cold, dead hands, however:
      Consumer borrowing fell again in August as consumers cut back on credit card use for the 24th consecutive month, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

      Lou Dobbs And His Illegals

      Anywhere you find hard work at little pay, you'll find illegals:
      But Dobbs reserved a special venom for the employers who hire them, railing against "the employer who is so shamelessly exploiting the illegal alien and so shamelessly flouting US law" and even proposing, on one April 2006 show, that "illegal employers who hire illegal aliens" should face felony charges.

      Since he left CNN last November, after Latino groups mounted a protest campaign against his inflammatory rhetoric, Dobbs has continued to advocate an enforcement-first approach to immigration, emphasizing, as he did in a March 2010 interview on Univision, that "the illegal employer is the central issue in this entire mess!"

      ...Dobbs lives in a sprawling white mansion on his 300-acre estate in Sussex, New Jersey, where he and his family run a horse farm. In 2005 he acquired another house—a spacious multimillion-dollar winter holiday home in Eagle Isle, the most exclusive enclave of the Ibis Golf and Country Club, a gated community in West Palm Beach, Florida. It offers his daughter a place to stay during her competitions at the Wellington Winter Equestrian Festival, one of the most important events in the horse show world.

      ...The upkeep of Dobbs's multiple properties creates no small demand for labor in two sectors where undocumented immigrants are known to be particularly prevalent. Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, the horse industry's main lobby group, suggested in 2009 that more than half of the workers in his industry are likely undocumented. Likewise, studies have found that undocumented workers make up an estimated 28 percent of workers in landscaping. In both of these sectors, the use of contractors is commonplace, so it is not surprising that Dobbs has relied on third parties to supply the labor he needs. Vicky Moon, author of A Sunday Horse: Inside the Grand Prix Show-Jumping Circuit, explained that contracting out the care of one's horses "alleviates the time involved in coordinating the horses' care, transport, and management but it also removes the responsibility of hiring competent grooms, providing housing and meals, possibly paying Social Security taxes, health insurance and, most important, making extra sure they are legal."

      Dobbs has heaped scorn on the government for using contractors that hire undocumented immigrants. On CNN in 2007, he called private firms that oppose verification requirements for their contractors' employees "ridiculous." Yet interviews with several such employees show that Dobbs has been far from vigilant about the status of workers laboring on his own properties.

      ...Several hours later, when he finished his ten-hour workday, Salinas recounted how he had come to the United States five years ago for a job. Seated on an outdoor bench near the stable, the Mexico City native told the story of how he had crossed the Yuma Desert on foot, from the Mexican city of San Luis Río Colorado and into the United States, eluding the border patrol.

      Salinas said he braved the journey for one reason—because he had the promise of a job on the other end. An old friend of Salinas's worked as a groom with some of the horses owned by Dobbs, and he had sent word that Salinas could be hired on as a groom at the Vermont stable contracted to care for the Dobbs Group horses.

      Salinas got the job, he said, and worked at it for more than two years without documents until he was finally able to obtain a guest-worker visa designed for seasonal foreign workers (the same kind of visa denounced as a form of "indentured servitude" on Dobbs's CNN show).

      Some Squabbles I Prefer To Duck

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Flagstaff Early-Morning Oct. 6th Sounding

      Well, that's instructive!

      Flagstaff's early-morning sounding of Oct. 6th was quite humid almost all the way up, but not so humid as to bar conditional instability (nice hydrolapse there)!

      CAPE of around 300 J/kg, at this time, with an equivalent CAPE at lower elevation Tucson of about 1,150 J/kg, which is less than some of the numbers like 5,000 or 6,000 you sometimes see in Oklahoma. You see, you really do need that extra layer of warm, moist air near the surface to get the massive, killer tornadoes, but maybe CAPE of 300 is good enough to kick around an unprepared place like Bellemont, Arizona.

      Level of free convection was about 680 mb, with an equilibrium level of about 330 mb - nice, deep convection there!

      Ha! Can't calculate K-index because the lowest-reporting level is 786 mb, and 850 mb is required.

      Getting Closer To An Explanation

      Colony-collapse disorder is a direct threat to civilization as we know it, and any progress on that problem is welcome:
      Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

      Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

      A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

      Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

      ...But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defense machinery of the post-Sept. 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.

      ...One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.

      Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.

      ...Research at the University of California, San Francisco, had already identified the fungus as part of the problem. And several RNA-based viruses had been detected as well. But the Army/Montana team, using a new software system developed by the military for analyzing proteins, uncovered a new DNA-based virus, and established a linkage to the fungus, called N. ceranae.

      “Our mission is to have detection capability to protect the people in the field from anything biological,” said Charles H. Wick, a microbiologist at Edgewood. Bees, Dr. Wick said, proved to be a perfect opportunity to see what the Army’s analytic software tool could do. “We brought it to bear on this bee question, which is how we field-tested it,” he said.

      The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defense is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for.

      ...The first steps were awkward, partly because the Army lab was not used to testing bees, or more specifically, to extracting bee proteins. “I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”

      ...Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role.

      They said that combination attacks in nature, like the virus and fungus involved in bee deaths, are quite common, and that one answer in protecting bee colonies might be to focus on the fungus — controllable with antifungal agents — especially when the virus is detected.

      Still unsolved is what makes the bees fly off into the wild yonder at the point of death. One theory, Dr. Bromenshenk said, is that the viral-fungal combination disrupts memory or navigating skills and the bees simply get lost. Another possibility, he said, is a kind of insect insanity.

      What's New In New Zealand?

      Just the usual ... (image by Brian O'Blivion at b3ta).

      New Zealand’s low budget nemesis, Kiwizilla, barbequing the capital city, Wellington.

      Yeah, Who Are They Anyway?

      Amusing Google searches that somehow end up at my Web Site:
      WHo are the Wa Tan Ye indians in Music Man?

      (If I had to hazard an explanation, I'd say that there likely isn't any such tribal group. What Meredith Willson was trying to do was evoke a theme of pageantry that was popular with schools and civic groups in 1912. The frontier had closed only quite recently, the Indians had only recently been confined to reservations, and there was lots of nostalgia for the days of the open prairie - still within living memory of oldtimers, but receding rapidly. These were the days of Teddy Roosevelt's vigor, of "Call of the Wild", of the Boy Scouts, and persistent fears that America had gone soft and corrupt, as the song 'Ya Got Trouble' gives evidence.

      More here.)

      Scaredy-Cats? Or Some Deeper Explanation?

      This Texas "Lake Pirates" story gets stranger every day. Something's not right about it: it smells like a "Lake Pirate":
      The family of the man reportedly killed on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake on the Texas border has been publicly pleading that American officials be allowed to cross over the border to search for his body. But the Sheriff leading the investigation on the U.S. side told Today this morning that Mexican officials invited his office to participate in the search last night, but that he declined the offer "because it's dangerous."

      ...When host Meredith Vieira asked if he thought Mexican authorities were hindering the investigation, the border hawkish Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said, "Well, it's a custom, I guess you could say, to some extent, to hinder the investigation." But he said he had spoken to a Mexican state police official last night, who told him that Mexican authorities had been out on Friday and Saturday searching for David Hartley's body. Gonzalez said the same official told him that "today, starting around 10 o'clock this morning they're going to have several boats, helicopters, ski jets, looking in that area all over again. And they're not going to stop until they find something, or until all efforts have been exhausted." Gonzalez also said a "very high ranking" official from the attorney general's office in Mexico would be flying to area today by noon today.

      Then Vieira asked the sheriff if he'd prefer for his staff to be included in the search. Gonzalez said that, actually, he'd turned down an offer to cross the border to assist.

      "Well, it's not necessarily that we're being left out," Gonzalez said. "We have been invited to participate, just last night, to actually go to Mexico and participate. We have chosen, however, to remain here, simply because it's dangerous. It's not that we don't want to go, or we cannot protect ourselves, I'm sure that we can get the assets to go to Mexico. But, I think if we go out there and we end up getting into a gun battle, it's definitely an international incident that would have some repercussions."

      URL Shorteners

      The growth of Twitter is imposing a strain on that danged old Internet. I suppose even terrorists can gain world-wide swagger if they operate a suitably-short Internet domain. I wonder who runs the .aq domain?:
      After the Libyan government shut down a "sex-positive" .ly site, probable presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) says he is switching his PAC web site to more friendly domains.

      "We're learning about this for the first time and taking steps to change the domain for our site," a spokesman told Politico's Ben Smith.

      The spokesman said, a personalized URL shortener which links to Romney's Free & Strong America PAC, will likely be replaced with

      The .tt domain is based in Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean archipelago.

      The .ly extension, popular with URL shorteners like, is hosted by Libya. Earlier today, two bloggers announced their "sex-positive" shortening service,, was shut down. The bloggers had created the service in order to allow sexual, adult and NSFW links to be shortened -- something the bigger services, like, prohibit.

      The Libyan government also prohibits adult content, and shut down the site, saying it violated "Islamic morality."

      Flagstaff Tornadoes

      Wow, this NEVER happens! (Except that it just did...):
      At least two tornadoes struck Wednesday near Flagstaff, Arizona, injuring seven people, derailing a train and damaging more than 100 homes, authorities said.

      One tornado caused "about a mile of destruction," said Sheriff Bill Pribil of Coconino County. It damaged at least 30 mobile homes, blew the windows out of about 100 homes and caused a train derailment, he said.

      At least seven people were injured, the National Weather Service's Flagstaff office said. None of the injuries in Coconino County were believed to be serious, Pribil said.

      Both tornadoes touched down in the town of Bellemont, the National Weather Service reported.

      Lena Kent, spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, said 28 train cars were derailed and that the track itself suffered minor damages.

      "It was stopped (in Bellemont) because of the tornado warning, but unfortunately, the tornado came through and actually hit the train, derailing 28 cars," she said.

      No one was injured in the derailment, she said. The company hoped to get the rail lines reopened by midnight.

      Radar continued to show several thunderstorms in central and north-central Arizona capable of producing tornadoes with little or no advance notice, CNN Meteorologist Sean Morris said. A tornado watch continues for central and north-central Arizona until 5 p.m. (8 p.m. ET).
      [UPDATE: Wow! It's difficult to get tornadoes at these high elevations - you really need that depth of moist air to get the strong updrafts and you just don't have it - particularly not on the Colorado Plateau. But there you go: sometimes the conditions are just right anyway!]:
      After one tornado rumbled through Bellemont around 5:30 with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, residents armed with flashlights emerged from their homes to check on the damage -- a house splintered, windows smashed, garage doors twisted, but no major injuries.

      "Running through the house, all the Kansas movies go through your head telling you: 'Move to the basement,'" Breanna Hunt said. "But we don't have a basement."

      Another tornado struck minutes later east of the small town of a few hundred people nestled in the Ponderosa pines just west of Flagstaff. Weather forecasters confirmed a total of four twisters, including one reported around noon along Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.

      National Weather Service meteorologist George Howard said 22 tornado warnings were issued Wednesday. The radar showed many more twisters likely formed but weren't confirmed.

      ...The storm system moved across the West over the last few days, dropping record-setting rain in northern Nevada, pounding Phoenix with hail and dumping enough snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains to close a highway pass.

      In Utah, two teenagers were struck by lightning outside their school Tuesday. They were airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital, where one regained consciousness Wednesday and a trauma surgeon predicted the other would recover but suffer major scarring.

      The extreme weather came from a low-pressure system that has been parked over Central and Southern California. The system was expected to weaken as it drifts northward.

      Arizona, however, was the hardest hit. On Tuesday, storms ripped out trees and broke windows in metropolitan Phoenix, flooded roadways, shut airports and dented cars and shattered windows with hail bigger than golf balls in some places.

      On Wednesday, semitrailers were sitting along the side of Interstate 40. High winds cast dozens of cars of a freight train off the tracks in Bellemont around 6:30 a.m. No one was injured and the cars did not contain any hazardous materials.

      About 30 homes were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable and the people who lived in them were evacuated, authorities said. A shelter was set up for them.

      Minutes before the first tornado in Bellemont touched down, Jeff Cox was standing in his garage, his children nestled in bed. Rain and hail pounded hard against the windows and a fierce wind made it look like houses were swaying.

      Then Cox heard a deafening sound and ducked beneath a flatbed trailer carrying two all-terrain vehicles.

      The tornado struck, pushing the trailer two feet, tearing off the roof of nearly his entire home and throwing it and other debris into the nearby forest.

      "It was so loud, it sounded like a big boom," his wife, Jennifer, said through tears, wiping water from collectables she was trying to salvage.

      It was directly in the path of the tornado and the most damaged.

      Rain later drenched nearly everything inside.

      A Menace To The Public Welfare

      Well, from the distance, they do sort of look alike:
      Police last month raided an Española-area school looking for marijuana growing in a greenhouse, but all they found there were tomatoes.

      Patricia Pantano, education director of the Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Cuarteles, between Española and Chimayó on N.M. 76, said the raid occurred Sept. 21 during the lunch hour.

      "We were all as a group eating outside as we usually do, and this unmarked drab-green helicopter kept flying over and dropping lower," she said. "Of course, the kids got all excited. They were telling me that they could see gun barrels outside the helicopter. I was telling them they were exaggerating."

      After 15 minutes, Pantano said, the helicopter left, then five minutes later a state police officer parked a van in the school's driveway. Pantano said she asked the officer what was happening, but he only would say he was there as a law-enforcement representative.

      Then other vehicles arrived and four men wearing bullet-proof vests, but without any visible insignias or uniforms, got out and said they wanted to inspect the school's greenhouses. Pantano said she then turned the men over to the farm director, Greg Nussbaum.

      "As we have nothing to hide, you know, they did the tour and they went in the greenhouses and they found it was tomato plants and so that was the story," she said.
      ...The nine-acre Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm in Cuarteles is about eight years old and this year has 12 students, ages 11 to 14, who participate in farming as a context for learning mathematics and science.

      ...Pantano said she did not want to make too big an issue out of the raid, but questioned why such a commotion was necessary when anyone who asked would have been given a tour of the greenhouses.

      "We're sitting here as a teaching staff, always short on money, and we're thinking, 'Gosh, all the money it takes to fly that helicopter and hire all those people, it would be great to have this for education.' "

      Tuesday, October 05, 2010

      "Singin' In The Rain" - DMTC - Final Sunday

      Output Gap, And The Long Wait Ahead

      Kevin Drum notes the following (GDP on the y-axis, in units of trillions of dollars):
      The financial crash of 2008 has produced lots of grim looking charts, and Neil Irwin has another one today. It shows our current output gap: the difference between where the economy is and where it would be if growth had been normal. At the far left you can see the positive output gap of the late 90s followed by a negative output gap during the ensuing recession. That's fairly normal.

      What we have now isn't. The economy didn't overheat during the aughts. It was running at its usual historical rate. So the financial crash opened up a huge gap, and it's one we're not closing. If the economy grows at 6% a year — far higher than its current rate — unemployment wouldn't reach normal levels until 2012. If growth averages 3% a year, unemployment won't reach normal levels until 2020.

      Cold OC

      Chilly on the coast:
      Daily records for low temperatures were recorded along the Orange County coast Tuesday as a low-pressure area continued to bring clouds and traces of rain to Southern California, the National Weather Service said.

      At Laguna Beach, the temperature bottomed out at 63 degrees, breaking a record 68 degrees set in 1928, the weather service said. Newport Beach recorded a 62-degree reading, which broke the previous low of 65 degrees set in 1929. At Oceanside Harbor, the low was 64 degrees, which beat the previous record of 65 degrees set in 1914.

      Clumsy Headline

      I was puzzled why Cancun, and not some other place, but it's just poor-editing:
      Five Lawmakers Call for Establishment of Climate Fund in Cancun

      Five House lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling for the Obama administration to push for the establishment at climate talks in Cancun at the end of the year of a climate fund to help poor nations adapt to the impacts of climate change.

      Packing Plastic

      As it retreats from the USA, the good life finally reaches Brazilians:
      I met a 19 year-old girl in a mall in São Paulo who had financed nearly every item she was wearing.

      Célia de Resende paid for her red t-shirt in 3 monthly installments. Her sneakers were on a six-installment plan. She couldn’t remember how many more payments she owed on her black pants but she’s sure they were bought on credit.

      This is the way Brazilians now shop. Consumer credit is a brand new concept and it’s wildly popular. Three Brazilian banks are among the world’s top 10 credit card issuers.

      ...Until about 20 years ago Brazil suffered from chronic high inflation. There was no such thing credit cards. People spent their money as soon as they earned it and not a single shop would take an I.O.U. on payment.

      Like Bruce Maiman Says

      Bruce Maiman has a perceptive article in today's Bee:
      Asked by reporters if she fired Diaz Santillan because she worried it might damage her campaign, Whitman said, "I didn't think it would be a problem." Really? You sure were prepared with a double-barreled press conference and response the minute the story broke.

      You say you didn't report Diaz Santillan to authorities because you cared for her like a member of the family and you didn't want to make an example of her.

      Well, are you tough on illegal immigration or not? Yes, you were legally required to fire Diaz Santillan once you learned she was here illegally, but can you campaign for crackdowns on employers while not turning in your own illegal employee to authorities? Forget the legal obligation; that's a moral one.

      You knew the story was out there; you told consultants about Diaz Santillan in 2009. So why did you play dumb about the Social Security Administration letter and then, after one was produced, claim you and your husband never saw it, or that Diaz Santillan hid it from you? Funny how someone goes from dear family member you wouldn't turn in to a liar and a thief engaged in smear tactics.

      You could've brought up the matter yourself, preemptively, and used it to reinforce your campaign message by explaining how easily one can be fooled by false documents and how inconsistencies in the law handcuff honest employers who'd like to enforce immigration policy.

      Instead, your consultants told you to say nothing, or you decided to say nothing, and rather than admitting you used bad judgment by saying nothing, you blamed everybody else when someone else finally said something.

      Monday, October 04, 2010

      Nicky Diaz Died For Your Sins

      Sounds like the Fresno gubernatorial debate was fun:

      FRESNO – The California governor's race turned bitterly personal at a debate held Saturday for Spanish-speaking audiences, as Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Democratic rival Jerry Brown slashed at each other over Whitman's hiring of an illegal immigrant housekeeper.

      Questions about Nicky Diaz Santillan, who revealed Wednesday that she had worked for the Republican for nine years despite being undocumented, produced the sharpest exchange of the 60-minute debate held at Fresno State.

      In the most explosive moment, Whitman faced Brown on stage and said, "Jerry, you know you should be ashamed. You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk. You put her out there. You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz at the altar of your political ambitions."

      Whitman's campaign has not produced evidence that Brown collaborated with Diaz Santillan's attorney, Gloria Allred, on the case.

      Brown hit back by accusing Whitman of not taking responsibility for hiring Diaz Santillan in the first place.

      "Don't run for governor if you can't stand up on your own two feet and say, 'Hey I made a mistake. I'm sorry. Let's go on from here,' " Brown said. "You blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blamed the unions, but you don't take accountability."
      For myself, I'm impressed at the way Gloria Allred has pitched these revelations directly at the Latino electorate; pitched nice and slow right over home plate, to make a sports analogy. First there was Allred's spectacular press conference with Nicky Diaz. Then Allred waited for Meg Whitman to respond with incorrect statements and only then did she reveal the 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration. Quite damaging!

      Who is this Allred?:
      She was the woman who challenged the all-male membership rules of the Beverly Hills Friars Club by striding into a steam room full of naked men, holding a tape measure and singing Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?"

      She successfully sued Saks Fifth Avenue for charging women more for alterations than men. She took on the Boy Scouts of America for excluding an 11-year-old girl.

      And now Gloria Allred has inserted herself into the spotlight again, this time orchestrating an attack on Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman that has sparked accusations that she is doing the dirty work of Whitman's Democratic rival.

      While Jerry Brown's campaign has denied involvement in the celebrity attorney's latest production, Allred is a Democratic Party partisan.

      She was a delegate for Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. She has donated to candidates, including Brown, California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

      In 2003, during California's recall campaign, Allred represented a Hollywood stuntwoman who charged that she was groped by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger back in his acting days. The case was later dropped.

      In putting on news conferences this week featuring the illegal immigrant who for years worked as Whitman's housekeeper, attorney Allred demonstrated she remains a master at creating a media event.

      "There are two narratives about her," said Martin Kaplan, a University of Southern California professor of media, entertainment and society. "One is that she is a champion for wronged and vulnerable women, a kind of feminist Spider-Man. The other is that she is a genius at getting attention and building her brand.

      " ... You have to admire somebody who is so good at it."

      ...She was in classic form this week when she turned out – in pearls and red blazer – for an emotional Los Angeles news conference that gave voice to Whitman's suddenly well-known housekeeper.

      On Wednesday, a tearful Nicky Diaz Santillan said Whitman laughed at her when she asked for help in obtaining legal status and "treated me as if I were not a human being."

      The choreographed event came a day after Whitman's tough talk on illegal immigration in Tuesday's gubernatorial debate.

      In a second press conference Thursday, Allred produced a letter from the Social Security Administration that she claimed proved Whitman knowingly employed an illegal worker.

      Whitman has said the woman used falsified documents in the hiring process. Her campaign Thursday accused Allred of orchestrating a "political stunt" on behalf of Brown.

      The wealthy lawyer, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, lives regally on the Malibu oceanfront.

      But she casts herself as a champion of people "treated as second-class citizens."
      To me, the most damaging thing has been Allred's use of religious symbolism to deliver extra punch to Diaz' story. Latinos are largely-religious: most are Catholic, and most of the ones that aren't still follow Protestant faiths. Allred is casting Meg Whitman as Pontius Pilate, with Diaz cast as Christ. The story is easy to follow and arrestingly irresistible.

      This may be one of those situations where every 'fact' may work out to Meg Whitman's benefit, but where she still loses. In a year when many Republican candidates are asking the electorate to believe President Obama is a Kenyan terrorist sympathizer, they are hoping California's Latino electorate will accept a coldly-legalistic explanation of Meg Whitman's behavior towards her longtime housekeeper. For all I know, Latinos may accept Whitman's explanation - Latinos will at least listen - but, then again, they may not. Whitman may join other 'hand-washers' in history, like our good friend Pontius Pilate. After all, as far as I can tell, Pontius Pilate did nothing wrong either, yet he is among the most-hated people in Christian tradition.

      State Senator Gil Cedillo identifies the problem:

      "Meg Whitman is not you or me. She is eBay," said Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who is outspoken on behalf of illegal immigrants. "She could have hired a dream team of immigration lawyers. Instead, she turns her back and says, 'I don't know you and you don't know me.'
      The thing to do would have been for Meg Whitman to offer to pay for whatever kind of legal assistance Nicky Diaz needed, plus a separation allowance of some sort. I'm sure Whitman's lawyers would have screamed that Whitman would have been entangling herself even more in an untenable situation, but the fact was that Whitman was already entangled. Lawyers can sometimes offer bad advice to people who need to operate in a political environment. A graceful, not necessarily a correct, exit had to be found. Cast aside, Nicky Diaz turned to Gloria Allred. Not the best of outcomes.

      The Old Confederates, the Southern aristocrats who started the Civil War, identified this problem a long time ago. They asserted that industrialization and the growth of large work forces would inevitably lead to "wage slavery", with no sense of obligation between the classes. Barbarism would surely result from the way Yankees were going. In the Old South, things were done differently: tradition and family were all important. In the Old South, someone like Diaz could appeal to their patron, in this case Whitman, and Whitman would have to do all she could to render aid. To do otherwise would be shameful to her and her family's tradition.

      The Old Southerners had their own problems, of course (slavery is more barbaric than wage slavery). Still, the Old Confederates had a point. When there is such a vast gulf between the status of employer (billionaire Whitman) and employee (illegal alien Diaz), the presumption of equality breaks down, and social relations regress to an aristocratic mode. For Whitman not to render aid is shameful from an aristocratic viewpoint. The lack of aid forced Diaz to find a new patron (Allred). And since Allred is a member of her own elite, she knew exactly how Whitman would respond, and will respond in the immediate future. What did Sun Tzu say? "Know your enemy." Allred knows her enemy.

      I would hate to have to fight Gloria Allred in any kind of battle. If Allred and I squabbled over a parking space, for example, twelve ninja stars (one for each of the twelve Apostles) would mysteriously appear, all of them plunging deeply into my back with a deadly hiss: thpp! thpp! thpp! I'd be dead before I could do a face plant on the pavement.

      Keeping The Customer Satisfied

      At Subway Restaurant this afternoon, I took away the plastic tray from the clerk before she had a chance to place food on it. I returned the tray and joked that she would have to serve the hot personal pizza either in her open palms or would have to fold it up and throw it to me to avoid getting burned.

      She replied that she already had a regular customer who insisted that his chicken-with-avocado submarine sandwich be thrown to him like a football. He stands by the door and she throws a 'Hail Mary' pass from the opposite corner of the restaurant. The first time she did it, she threw it with the open end of the plastic bag towards the customer. That was a mistake - the bag inflated, spilled the sandwich, and made a big mess - but she has since learned the proper technique.

      Rain Dance

      Yesterday, after the final performance of DMTC's "Singin' In The Rain", at the very end of strike, the cast (particularly Mary Young) asked for a favor.

      The opportunity to sing and dance in the rain had been denied to everyone (but Rand Martin, who played the lead, Don Lockwood) in the show itself. Before the rain apparatus was dismantled, could they finally get that opportunity?

      (which reminds me, I think we forgot all about dismantling the apparatus, so it's up there still, where it can really 'rain on prom night', if desired, for the YPT's closing weekend of "Grease").