Archive for March 17, 2008

Market Forcing Trailer Park Residents from Homes

As the residents of Palm Trailer Park empty their homes, readying for eviction this summer, they can look over the south fence at what Miami-Dade County considers affordable housing.

The drives there are freshly paved, not worn and gravelly. The buildings are painted in identical shades of cream, as opposed to the trailer park’s patchwork of rusting metal and tacked-up plywood. There is a swimming pool rather than concrete slabs marking the sites of demolished trailers.

The complex’s 204 units are set aside for low-income families, with rents as low as $625 a month.

And they are completely unaffordable for many of the residents at the trailer park, in unincorporated Miami-Dade near Northeast 16th Avenue and 112th Street.

”The people here are poor, so poor,” said Ana Lucia Morales, who pays $275 a month to rent the lot for her trailer, which her granddaughter bought her five years ago for $5,500. Light, phone and food bills for herself and her three dogs and eight cats consume the rest of her $535 monthly income.

Like many of her neighbors, Morales lives mostly on Social Security. By the end of June, they will be evicted from the homes that they own outright, bought out against their will for a few thousand dollars and sent away from some of South Florida’s last truly low-income housing.

As mobile home owners, they are victims of a wildcat real estate market, a complicated zoning code and a tanking economy — a fast-changing landscape that has left the owners of some of South Florida’s nearly 200 trailer parks caught between selling out and going under.

The region has no houses in these residents’ price range; they have struggled even to find apartments, and tens of thousands of people are ahead of them on public-housing waiting lists.

They own their homes but not their land, and when they are cast out they almost all share the same problem.

They have nowhere to go.

”The affordable housing we talk about is not affordable to the people we’re talking about,” said Subrata Basu, Miami-Dade’s director of planning and zoning.

ATTRACTIVE SITES

And even as the plummeting real estate market chills most speculators, some parks’ large size and ready-made zoning keeps them attractive.

”Mobile home parks are the low-hanging fruit for developers,” said Shirley Taylor-Prakelt, housing director in Davie, home to about 20 traditional parks.

More than 30,000 trailer lots are licensed in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Some owners have invested thousands of dollars in the homes and thousands more on improvements such as central air conditioning.

Eviction can cost them their life savings.

That’s because it’s illegal to relocate older trailers, which are not built to withstand hurricanes, and state law requires the park to pay only $1,300 for homes abandoned on site.

With the help of the nonprofit group Jobs With Justice and a pro bono lawyer enlisted by a neighboring church, the Palm residents were offered far more: $6,300 per trailer.

While that is more than enough to pay for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent on a new place, it is not enough to keep many residents afloat beyond a few months. Others cannot pass the credit check required for some apartments or cannot find a place for their pets.

”It’s really made a shambles of my life,” said Kenneth Foster, 72, who has lived in Palm for 20 years and said he cannot afford rent higher than $400. He fears he will be sleeping in his van.

Lawyers for the park’s owner, Alta Mira Apartments, did not return calls last week.

Read the rest of the story at:  Miami Herald

When the new laws were passed with stricter standards for mobile homes, I wondered at the time how people who could not afford a new mobile home and instead were living in 20+ year-old relics were supposed to afford it.  After all, mobile homes were supposed to be an alternative for the working poor to not having a roof over one’s head.  Unfortunately for those earning a low income or on a (very) fixed income, the laws designed to protect them will instead cause them to be homeless.

No, they can’t go to low-income housing; there isn’t enough of it to go around.  Even here in our less expensive housing market, an older trailer on an acre of land could cost over $100,000, a sum sadly out of reach for someone who can pay at most $400 a month for housing

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Venezuelans Send $19 Billion Out of Country

Capital flight out of Venezuela established a record during 2007, the Central Bank of Venezuela has reported, despite strict currency controls adopted in 2004 by President Hugo Chávez’s government to limit the outflow of money.

Much of the money landed in the United States and especially Florida, a former Central Bank official and a Miami academic said.

According to recent Central Bank statistics, nearly $19 billion in private Venezuelan capital was transferred offshore during 2007 — a record since Chávez was first elected president in 1998.

Financial analysts said the capital flight was primarily stimulated by the issue of Venezuelan dollar bonds — designed to help countries such as Argentina and Ecuador lessen the burden of their foreign debts — that created a loophole through which Venezuelans could dodge the currency controls.

Experts said there’s also a sum of capital that could have left the country illegally but is impossible to trace.

”This is only the official figure,” said José Guerra, the Central Bank’s former chief economist. “There is an escape of capital investments that the Central Bank cannot account for.”

Guerra said the capital flight indicates that ”there is a strong mistrust of the national currency” and ”a great uncertainty” on the future of Venezuela under the leftist Chávez.

A significant percentage of the money went to the United States, and especially Florida, through various means such as bank accounts, financial investments and asset purchases, said Guerra and Antonio Jorge, an economics professor at Florida International University.

”Miami is a natural destination for the escape of Venezuelan capital,” said Jorge. He estimated that at least 60 percent of the $19 billion ended up in the United States, given that nearly 70 percent of Venezuela’s international commercial exchange is with the United States.

According to the Central Bank statistics, the most active months of offshore transfers in 2007 were April, May, and June, which coincided with five issuances of bonds destined to cover public debts and part of which were offered directly in dollars for international markets.

Another period of intense outflow occurred between July and September, due to the insecurity generated by the radical constitutional reforms proposed by Chávez. They were defeated in a Dec. 2 vote.

Source: Miami Herald

The Venezuelans with money do not seem enamored of the Hugo Chavez economic plans, particularly if they suspect that he will get around to nationalizing all profitable companies in Venezuela in time.

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Foodborne Disease Outbreaks from Leafy Greens on Rise

Foodborne Disease Outbreaks Associated with Leafy Greens, 1973–2006

K. M. Herman, T. L. Ayers, M. Lynch; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

Several recent large outbreaks have been associated with leafy green foods in the United States, such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections due to spinach; however, the characteristics of all reported outbreaks due to leafy greens have not been described.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks (FBDO) investigated by local and state health departments in the United States.

We reviewed data from the FBDO surveillance system for 1973-2006. A leafy green-associated FBDO is defined as two or more illnesses due to the consumption of a single leafy green food item (lettuce, cabbage, mesclun mix, spinach) or a salad item
containing one or more leafy greens. These data were compared with U.S. leafy greens per capita availability, a proxy for leafy green consumption.

Among 10,421 FBDO reported during 1973-2006, 502 (4.8%) outbreaks, 18,242 (6.5%) illnesses, and 15 (4.0%) deaths were associated with leafy greens. Among leafy green-associated FBDO with a confirmed etiology, Norovirus was responsible for
196 (58.3%) outbreaks, followed by Salmonella, 35 (10.4%) outbreaks, and Escherichia coli O157:H7, 30 (8.9%). The median size of leafy green-associated outbreaks (18 illnesses) was twice the median size of non-leafy green-associated outbreaks (9).

During 1986-1995, U.S. leafy green consumption increased 17.2% from the previous decade. During the same period, the proportion of all FBDO due to leafy greens increased 59.6%. Likewise, during 1996-2005 leafy green consumption increased 9.0% and leafy green associated outbreaks increased 38.6%. In 296 (69.4%) outbreaks, leafy greens were served at a restaurant; 11 (2.2%) involved cases in multiple states.

Conclusions: Leafy greens are an important cause of FBDO and may transmit pathogens with human or animal reservoirs. The proportion of FBDO due to leafy greens has increased, and cannot be accounted for completely by an increase in leafy green consumption. Contaminated leafy greens may cause restaurant-associated or widespread outbreaks.

Efforts by local, state, and federal agencies to control leafy green outbreaks should span from the point of harvest to the point of preparation.

Source: International Conference of Emerging Infectious Diseases 2008

Hmmmm. About the only greens I remember eating as a kid were boiled. Salads, which we did not have often, were anemic affairs of iceberg lettuce, ‘maters, some radishes, onions, and cucumbers. Raw spinach leaves did not comprise a part of our diet. Neither did “organic” veggies grown and packaged a thousand miles away; these were pulled out of the garden.

On the other hand, we had botulism deaths from careless home canning, and “food poisoning” from letting the stuffing sit in the turkey at room temperature for long periods of time. Various digestive maladies were blamed on tainted mayonnaise at church socials and the like.

Perhaps it isn’t so much that leafy greens are more contaminated than before but that contaminated foods are not limited to one family’s garden, but are instead disseminated throughout the United States via shipping to nationwide grocery stores and restaurants.

I also believe that there is a strong likelihood that the various bacterial diseases were not recognized and/or tracked earlier for what they were but were instead blamed on a viral “stomach flu”.

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Bird Flu Kills 11-Year-Old Vietnamese Boy

HANOI, March 17 (Reuters) – Bird flu has killed a 11-year-old boy in northern Vietnam, the fifth casualty from the H5N1 virus this year, a health official said on Monday.

The boy died last Friday at a Hanoi hospital, more than a week after he had fallen sick, and tests confirmed he was infected by the H5N1 virus, said Nguyen Lap Quyet, Health Department Director in Ha Nam province.

“Controlling bird flu has been difficult because poultry raising is not on a large scale but still on a family basis,” Quyet said by telephone from Ha Nam, about 60 km (37 miles) south of Hanoi.

He said animal health workers have slaughtered all the poultry in the boy’s neighbourhood to prevent the virus from spreading.

“Even after vaccination has been completed locally, farmers buy poultry to add to their stocks and that could help spread the virus if the new birds are not vaccinated,” he said.

Chickens raised at the boy’s house in Liem Tiet commune in Ha Nam died in late February and he got sick on March 5.

The Animal Health Department said on Monday that Ha Nam was on the government’s bird flu watch list of 10 provinces and the capital, Hanoi.

In June 2007 bird flu infected and killed a 28-year-old woman in the same commune of Liem Tiet in Ha Nam province.

Five people have died of bird flu in Vietnam so far this year out of six reported H5N1 infections.

Source: Reuters

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Florida Democrats Abandon Plans for Second Primary

TALLAHASSEE, FL (AP) — Facing strong opposition, Florida Democrats on Monday abandoned plans to hold a do-over presidential primary with a mail-in vote and threw the delegate dispute into the lap of the national party.

While the decision by Florida Democrats left the state’s 210 delegates in limbo, Democrats in Michigan moved closer to holding another contest on June 3. Legislative leaders reviewed a measure Monday that would set up a privately funded, state-administered do-over primary, The Associated Press learned.

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen L. Thurman sent a letter announcing the decision.

“A party-run primary or caucus has been ruled out, and it’s simply not possible for the state to hold another election, even if the party were to pay for it,” Thurman said. “… This doesn’t mean that Democrats are giving up on Florida voters. It means that a solution will have to come from the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee, which is scheduled to meet again in April.”

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation unanimously opposed the plan, and Barack Obama expressed concern about the security of a mail-in vote organized so quickly.

The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates to the party’s national convention this summer in Denver. All the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, and Obama was not even on the Michigan ballot.

Hillary Rodham Clinton won both primaries. As her race with Obama has tightened, she has argued the delegates should be seated or new primaries held.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who backs Clinton, has suggested one option — seating all Florida delegates already chosen but only giving them half a vote each. Nelson discussed this idea with Clinton and Obama on the Senate floor last week.

Based on the Jan. 29 results, Clinton would have won 105, Obama 67 and John Edwards 13. Instead they would get half those delegate votes.

Republicans stripped Florida and Michigan of half their delegates as a penalty for early primaries.

The draft Michigan legislation included language that would approve spending privately raised funds for the election, according to a Democratic leader who spoke on condition of anonymity because lawmakers and the campaigns are still considering the proposal.

The campaigns of the Democratic presidential contenders also received copies of the bill Monday.

“A re-vote is the only way Michigan can be assured its delegation will be seated, and vote in Denver at the party’s national convention this summer, Clinton campaign aide Harold Ickes said Monday. “If the Obama campaign thwarts a fair election process for the people of Michigan, it will jeopardize the Democratic nominee’s ability to carry the state in the general election.”

Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said, “It’s pretty apparent that the Clinton campaign’s views on voting are dependent on their own political interest. Hillary Clinton herself said in January that the Michigan primary ‘didn’t count for anything.’ Now, she is cynically trying to change the rules at the eleventh hour for her own benefit. We received a very complex proposal for Michigan re-vote legislation today and are reviewing it to make sure that any solution for Michigan is fair and practical. We continue to believe a fair seating of the delegation deserves strong consideration.”

The Democrat-led House is scheduled to leave for a two-week vacation Thursday, so any bills to set up the do-over primary need to be brought up quickly. The measure also would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled state Senate. To be given immediate effect, the measure would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

To go forward, any plan also would require the approval of the two campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, state party leaders and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is backing Clinton.

The contest must be held by June 10 for the results to count under DNC rules. The draft measure would set up the a fund within the state Treasury to receive up to $12 million in cash and other assets from private donors to cover the cost of the election.

On Monday in Atlanta, federal appeals judges skeptically questioned a lawyer who argued that the national party’s decision to strip Florida of its 210 convention delegates was unconstitutional.

Michael Steinberg, a lawyer for Victor DiMaio, a Democratic Party activist from Tampa, said Florida’s Democratic voters are being disenfranchised by not being permitted to have their say in the selection of their party’s nominee. The action violates DiMaio’s constitutional right to equal protection, he argued.

“The citizens of the state of Florida are not being treated equally,” Steinberg told the judges.

But Joe Sandler, a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, said the party has the right to set its own the rules and not seat delegates who refuse to follow them.

“It goes to the heart of the constitutional right of the DNC to determine the best means of selecting delegates to the convention,” Sandler said.

Sounding skeptical of Steinberg’s equal protection argument, the judges noted in their questions that states select their presidential picks in different ways — some use caucuses and others primaries — and on different days. Judge Stanley Marcus suggested at one point that the only way to treat all the states equally, under Steinberg’s theory, was for them to all hold their primaries on the same day.

Not so, Steinberg said. He said one solution might be to rotate the states so that each gets a shot at being in the first round.

Source: First Coast News

Exactly right. We already had the primary.

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Adults Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Watch YouTube, Either

I watched a video on YouTube this weekend about swinging up on your horse.  I dimly remember being able to vault onto the horse with some semblance of grace some 20 to 30 years and 50 lbs. ago. 

As I was explaining to a friend this morning, it seemed like a good idea at the time to go out there and spring on the hell bitch mare’s back, even though no alcohol was involved. 

“Well, did it work?” she said, incredulously.

“Well, half way.  I got my heel up over her back, but she had that sparse Appaloosa mane and no saddle, so I really didn’t have anything to grip and so utilize my upper body.”

“So then what?”

“I just slid down off the mare, while she turned around and looked at me like I’d gone slap outta my mind.  It was only when I’d gotten off that I realized had I gotten my heel over her back a little farther, the only way I’d have dismounted would have been on top of my head on the concrete, particularly if she’d decided to jump away from me.  Can you imagine the reaction of the coroner doing an autopsy to find the cause of death, and the police taking SwampMan into custody because there’s no way I could have accidentally tripped and fallen on top of my skull?”

“So, basically you want me to go testify on SwampMan’s behalf in case you fall on top of your head and die the next time you try it, right?”

“Right!”

I think the grandkids would think it was way cool that MeeMaw could leap onto the back of the hell bitch mare and ride off into the sunset (or be pitched about 10 feet into the air before making a spectacular fall).

What can I say, my job is going to be cut at the beginning of June, so I’ll have insurance coverage until then.  Might as well get some use out of it!

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