…and Who They’ve Decided to Help (2)

El Presidente‘s new “stimulus package” and the Democratic roll-over version of same is theoretically meant to stimulate the economy by giving money to people who really need it and will spend it on basic necessities to keep the economy humming. These are the people who haven’t seen a raise in 25 years or have been out of work, yes? Well, no, not exactly.

On Jan. 24, House leaders and the White House announced a preliminary deal that included stipends for all workers and breaks for business, but no money for extended unemployment or food-stamp assistance and no mention of permanent tax changes.

So who’s getting this bail out besides the banks? Guess what George W Bush’s idea of a “needy” consumer who deserves aid might be. Yup, you guessed it: the near-rich.

Elizabeth and Ben Kilgore are back in the real estate market. All it took was a little-publicized section of the economic stimulus package President Bush signed into law last week that lowered the borrowing cost of buying a more expensive home.

***

[I]f the limit on loans backed by a government-backed housing finance entity like Fannie Mae is raised from $417,000 to the full $729,750 she has been hearing about, Ms. Kilgore said, “we will be able to get a 30-year fixed mortgage for less than what we’re paying now plus our homeowner’s dues.”

Mr George “Silver-Spoon” Bush is less concerned with the people about to lose their homes (he’s offered virtually nothing to help them) than he is with making sure the well-off don’t have to scrimp and that they get a good deal on that Big New McMansion they’ve got their eye on. God forbid they should get stuck with a (yecch!) condo. *shudder*

Three years ago, when they bought their first home, they resigned themselves to buying a condominium because it meant taking out a mortgage they knew they could manage.

“This will push us into a price range that’s now financially possible,” said Ms. Kilgore, a real estate agent in Marin County.

Yay! The Kilgores are now Republican for life. Screw the rest of the country. THEY GOT THEIRS! Eyes on the prize, people.

The temporary change in the loan limits is not about to revive the housing market on its own. But in some of the higher-priced regions of the country that have been hit hardest by the flagging real estate market, it could make a big difference. For if anything is going to breathe new life into the local housing economy in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington and Boston, it is home buyers emboldened by the prospect of larger loans at lower interest rates.

(emphasis added)

There you go. Things are so bad the upscale markets are starting to weaken, and what does Silver Spoon key on? Hint: NOT the people on marginal incomes who got royally reamed by real estate scam artists and the banks who expected to make fortunes on their predatory practices. No sir. No relief for them. And no relief for housing markets in areas where they’re imploding because wages are low (the South, for instance). No no. We’re only concerned about the “flagging real estate market” in “higher-priced regions”.

Priorities, people. Priorities.

Daniel Billett, a mortgage broker in Seattle, where homes in the downtown area sell for a median price of around $400,000, said that he, like dozens of people he knows, is poised to refinance an existing jumbo loan at a lower interest rate.

“As soon as the loan limits are implemented and lenders are accepting applications. I’ll be the first in line,” said Mr. Billett, whose company, Response Mortgage Services, has been receiving a steady stream of inquiries from clients in recent weeks. “I’m going to save hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of dollars every month on my current jumbo loan, by switching to a conventional loan.”

That’s who Silver Spoon cares about. Not you. Are we clear?

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How the Mortgage Crisis Got to be a Crisis….(1)

There’s a certain irony in the mortgaghe crisis, and a certain justice, though that justice is about to become, as always, injustice in order to protect the Usual Suspects. The ironic justice of it was put succinctly today by one Edmund Andrews in one of the Grey Lady’s patented business stories. Whether he meant to or not is another question.

Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.”

But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion.

A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble.

I guess he did.

Yes, it’s that old Round Robin of Yesteryear:

Deregulation -> Speculation -> Collapse -> Govt Bail Out

I know. You said that would happen when the Dereg Boys came around selling their snake oil with high-falutin’ promises and their fingers hovering bare inches from the pocket you keep your money in. And you were right. So was I. Who could have predicted that business would use deregulation as an excuse to bring back all the old scams (along with a few new ones) that created the last economic collapse?

You could. So could I. In fact, WE DID.

Who could have predicted that when the shit hit the fan and the greed, the wild speculating, the lying, false annual reports, phony accounting tricks, and outright scamming of both customers and their own investors threatened to bring down the whole House O’ Cards, the very same con artists who’d created the mess would be banging on the Treasury’s doors with both fists and demanding our tax money, screaming, “Save us! Save us!”

Well, you could have. So could I. In fact, WE BOTH DID.

Despite our predictions (pretty easy, not-too-hard-to-figure-out kind of predictions, sort of like, you know, predicting that the sun will rise in the east), y’all just went ahead and listened to the Siren Song of Greed thinking they (The Great They) was gonna make y’all rich. Despite many warnings, signs, and signals that what they wuz gonna do wuz make theirselfs rich by skimming your money, y’all went ahead and decided that De-regulation wuz a Good Thang. And now they’re gonna make you – all of us – pay through the goddamn nose to save their sorry asses.

See, E Andrews misses something kind of key.

Bank of America suggested creating a Federal Homeowner Preservation Corporation that would buy up billions of dollars in troubled mortgages at a deep discount, forgive debt above the current market value of the homes and use federal loan guarantees to refinance the borrowers at lower rates.

“We believe that any intervention by the federal government will be acceptable only if it is not perceived as a bailout of the bond market,” the financial institution noted.

In practice, taxpayers would almost certainly view such a move as a bailout. If lawmakers and the Bush administration agreed to this step, it could be on a scale similar to the government’s $200 billion bailout of the savings and loan industry in the 1990s.

(emphasis added)

Not really. Unfortunately, more than $$$200BIL$$$ has been thrown at the banks to solve this problem already, more than half from the govt and it ain’t done shit except buy the investor class and the financial class a li’l more time before it all caves in, like propping up a sagging, rotten roof with toothpicks – A LOT of toothpicks. Another $200BIL$$$ wouldn’t fix it, either, but if such a package does get aimed at aiding the borrowers (the victims) rather than the lenders (or “perps”), it would actually do more to limit the damage than the so-far followed policy of having banks and govts “lend” $$$BILLIONS$$$ to, you know, each other.

It would mostly benefit banks and Wall Street firms that earned huge fees by packaging trillions of dollars in risky mortgages, often without documenting the incomes of borrowers and often turning a blind eye to clear fraud by borrowers or mortgage brokers.

A rescue would also create a “moral hazard,” many experts contend, by encouraging banks…to take outsize risks in the future, in the expectation of another government bailout if things go wrong again.

If the government pays too much for the mortgages or the market declines even more than it has already, Washington — read, taxpayers — could be stuck with hundreds of billions of dollars in defaulted loans.

Uh, yeah. And where have we heard that before?

Oh yeah: every time deregulation goes smash, here come the perps and the con men and the bankers and their lobbyists with their hands out.

Will we EVER, you know, learn? These people haven’t changed since Cato was a Roman slumlord. Enough is never enough and they don’t care who pays for their folly and greed as long as it isn’t them. (Which means it’s always, you know, us.) Can we just stop believing their lies now, please? Pretty please?

Oy.

The Charlotte Observer Investigates the Poultry Business

[Jordan Barab may have abandoned his outstanding blog, Confined Spaces, to take a position on Rep George Miller’s House Committee on Education and Labor but he hasn’t used that as an excuse to abandon his faithful readers. Once a month or so he sends out an email to his Confined Spaces Google Group on what the committee is doing or the media is reporting. This week he sent out 3 emails linking to a groundbreaking series in the Charlotte Observer on the way workers in the poultry industry in the South – many of them illegals – are being mistreated. Below are the emails, complete with links to the entire series. I urge you to read them. – MA]

1) Attached are excerpts and links to the first of an amazing six part Charlotte Observer series on health and safety hazards in the poultry industry

The cover page is here: http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/ (Note: you may have to disable your popup protector.

Individual articles:

The cruelest cuts

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487187.html

 

In an industry rife with danger, House of Raeford Farms depicts itself as a safe place to work. Company records suggest relatively few workers are injured each year as they kill, cut and package millions of chickens and turkeys.

But an Observer investigation shows the N.C. poultry giant has masked the extent of injuries behind its plant walls.

The company has compiled misleading injury reports and has defied regulators as it satisfies a growing appetite for America’s most popular meat. And employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job.

An epidemic of pain

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487186.html

Like black lung in the coal industry and brown lung in textiles, the hands of the poultry industry suffer a long-neglected threat. Two decades ago, musculoskeletal disorders at poultry and meatpacking plants prompted a public outcry. Legislators and government officials vowed change.

Now, an Observer investigation shows, the hands of poultry workers are more threatened than ever.

He says his agency is at fault

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487188.html

Bob Whitmore is doing what few career government employees dare — publicly criticizing his own agency.

Whitmore, an expert in record-keeping requirements for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said OSHA is allowing employers to vastly underreport the number of injuries and illnesses their workers suffer.

The true rate for some industries — including poultry processors — is likely two to three times higher than government numbers suggest, he said.

The perils of processing

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487189.html

About 100 U.S. poultry workers have died on the job during the past decade, and more than 300,000 have been injured. The industry’s death and injury rates are higher than those for manufacturing as a whole. For many workers — including those who suffer amputations, chemical burns and debilitating hand or wrist ailments — on-the-job injuries have left a lasting mark. Poultry plants are typically divided into two functions. At one end, birds are slaughtered, scalded and plucked. At the other end, tightly clustered workers cut and package meat.

From the Editor: Poultry series exposes a new, silent subclass

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487184.html

Today we ask you to join us for a six-day series on the plight of Carolinas workers who put America’s most popular meat on the table.

These workers — about 28,000 of them in the Carolinas — process chicken and turkey in all its forms. Whole birds, fillets, nuggets, slices, cubes, sausage and even hot dogs.

It may surprise you to learn that most of the workers speak Spanish. Many of them entered the country illegally.

Should that matter as you consider the working conditions you will read about?

I say yes, but maybe not for the most obvious reason.

It should matter because the neglect of these workers exposes an ugly dimension to a new subclass in our society. A disturbing subclass of compliant workers with few, if any, rights.

Editorial: Spoiled meat

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/487185.html

What happened to Karina Zorita just isn’t decent. Yet it’s commonplace in pain factories such as the ones in the Carolinas where thousands of poultry workers clean and debone America’s best-selling meat.

Ms. Zorita, 32, is a former line worker for House of Raeford, a poultry processor in Eastern North Carolina. Her painful, crippled hands don’t show up on any government injury report. But an Observer investigation has documented her plight — and the injuries suffered by other workers like her.

The shameful truth? Feeble rules and lax oversight have made it easy for a dangerous industry to exploit illegal workers, underreport injuries and manipulate a regulatory system that essentially lets companies police themselves.

The Observer’s report begins today, and continues for six days. It focuses heavily on Ms. Zorita’s former employer

House of Raeford responds

Excerpts from a Jan. 14 letter to the Observer

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/484515.html

2) On September 3, 1991, a fire broke out at the Imperial Poultry Processing plant in Hamlet, NC. Workers tried to escape, but managers had locked the fire doors to prevent workers from stealing chicken nuggets 25 worker died. This powerful video is part of the Charlotte Observer’s series on the poultry processing industry which continues today: http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/poultry_video2/

Misery on the line

Illegal immigrants say it’s easy to get a job at House of Raeford Farms.

Of 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.

Company officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don’t knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

But five current and former House of Raeford supervisors and human resource administrators, including two who were involved in hiring, said some of the company’s managers know they employ undocumented workers.

“If immigration came and looked at our files, they’d take half the plant,” said Caitlyn Davis, a former Greenville, S.C., plant human resources employee.

Former Greenville supervisors said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

.

A boss’s view: Keep them working

The production lines rarely stopped.

An endless stream of raw chickens — thousands an hour — had to be sliced and cut into pieces for family dinner tables.

It was Enrique Pagan’s job to keep his part of the line running.

He paced and often screamed at Mexicans and Guatemalans cutting chicken thighs. He demanded they move faster and scolded them when they left too much meat on the bone.

Pagan said most of his 90 workers in 2002 suffered hand and wrist pains. But he had production goals to meet. And he knew that workers wouldn’t complain because many were in the country illegally.

Editorial: Throwaway workers

You may not like the fact illegal immigrants break the law to come to this country for jobs. Yet they do come, and Americans want the low-priced products and services their cheap labor provides. But we should be appalled by what’s happening to thousands of immigrant workers who do dangerous, dirty work in pain factories in the Carolinas.

They are being exploited, abused, then thrown away when they are injured or when they speak up. Companies can get away with it, in part, because politicians in Washington don’t have the conscience or will to fix failed immigration policies.

3) Yet another stomach churning read from today’s Charlotte Observer:

Workers say they’re denied proper medical care

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/490858.html

Mike Flowers is a powerful gatekeeper. He often decides whether to send poultry workers to a doctor when they get hurt on the job or complain of chronic pain.

“I think we do a pretty good job of taking care of these folks,” said Flowers, who treats workers at the House of Raeford Farms plant in West Columbia, S.C.

Ernestina Ruiz thinks otherwise.

In 2006, after months of de-boning thousands of chicken breasts each day, her hands and wrists began to hurt. She complained to Flowers at least three times, she said, but each time he gave her pain relievers or a bandage and sent her back to work.

” `You’re going to be fine,’ ” she recalled him saying.

A large lump grew on her left wrist. The pain got so bad, she said, she went to a private doctor and had surgery.

Day after day, poultry workers are cut by knives, burned by chemicals or hurt by repetitive work, according to dozens of injury logs compiled by plants across the South.

Because many workers are illegal immigrants and can’t afford private care, their health rests largely with company medical workers.

Those in-house attendants are supposed to help workers heal. Instead, some have prevented workers from receiving medical care that would cost the company money, an Observer investigation has found. And in some instances, the treatments they provide can do more harm than good.

Judge criticized Tyson guidelines

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/490859.html

A judge sharply criticized policies at one large poultry company that encouraged nurses to delay medical treatment for some injured workers.

Tyson Foods, in a manual once issued to company nurses, provided the following guidance on how to handle workers with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful hand ailment: Treat them in-house and “if not improving after 4 weeks, refer to a physician.”

Administrative Law Judge Murphy Miller concluded in 2002 the policy left Georgia worker Carolyn Johnson with permanent injuries.

“An employer that … requires four weeks of in-house treatment before a physician referral charts a collision course with medical disaster,” the judge wrote. “The employee’s permanent nerve damage is the foreseeable result.”

A worker’s grueling day

http://www.charlotte.com/poultry/story/490857.html

Celia Lopez felt lucky when she was hired at the House of Raeford Farms turkey plant in Raeford. But after six years, the 44-year-old mother of three said she feared the “hands that take care of my family” are ruined. Last February, Fayetteville Dr. Stanley Gilbert performed carpal tunnel surgery on her left hand. In June, he performed surgery on her right hand. At the Observer’s request, Lopez recounted a typical day: