Monthly Archives: July 2008

Postville’s Somalis – Two Views

I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m Postville-obsessed, but I found the differences between these two takes on Somalis now moving into town fascinating.

One is from the Des Moines Register and the other is from the Associated Press.

The big difference is that The Register quotes immigrants who have worked at Agriprocessors and the AP talks to Somalis preparing to start work. 

Before starting work, from the AP piece:

Aydurus Farah, a 21-year-old who immigrated from Somalia in 2004, set out for work in meatpacking plants to make money for his family back home in Somalia.

He planned to begin work at Agriprocessors this week, drawn from Minneapolis to Postville by the promised wages.

“They said over there they pay like 13 dollars an hour, very good money,” Farah said as he stood outside Sabor Latino, a popular Mexican restaurant.

He said he also appreciates the city’s small-town charms.

“I did not like Minneapolis – too many people, too many cars,” he said. “I like small towns. I am small town guy, so this is nice place. Maybe I can raise family here.”

 After, from The Register piece:

Hassan Yusuf, 22, said he and others were promised a bonus and a free month’s rent if they came to work at the plant. “We never got it,” he said. “They’re just trying to grab us here.”

Yusuf showed a paycheck stub from Jacobson Cos., a Des Moines-based firm that has been hiring workers to fill jobs at Agriprocessors. The check was for his first week’s work, with deductions for rent and a loan he said he never took out. After the deductions, Yusuf netted $8.61.

The paperwork showed that he was supposed to make $10 an hour, and that he’d been paid for 34.5 hours. He said he actually worked 48 hours.

Yusuf showed another paycheck stub, from his cousin, who netted nothing for a week’s work.

Yusuf said he quit the job this weekend and wanted the recruiting company to pay for a bus ticket back to Texas, where he last lived.

So is it small town charm or greed? In Postville, you get both.



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Postville Rally Coverage from Elsewhere

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

The New York Times

Associated Press

CBS News:

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Beer Back on Top

As I prepare to to leave for a couple weeks of R&R, I leave you with some good news.

From a new Gallup Poll:

PRINCETON, NJ — Beer has regained a comfortable margin over wine when U.S. drinkers are asked to name which alcoholic beverage they most often drink. In recent years, wine had narrowed the gap, including pulling slightly ahead in 2005 (though not by a significant margin), but for the first time since 2002, beer enjoys a better-than-double-digit advantage over wine.

There are pints and pints of interesting data on the link, including charts and graphs. Enjoy.


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Mold Wars — The Bureaucracy Strikes Out

Not Actual Size

Not Actual Size

Did anyone else almost spit out their coffee this morning upon reading that some families moved out of mold-tainted mobile homes will now get squeezed into smaller “park” trailers? Unbelieveable. We’re moving into fiasco territory, folks.

After Lt. Gov. Patty Judge directed FEMA to immediately remove 232 mold-bearing mobile homes, I thought it was an overreaction that would needlessly disrupt lives. Then, after Judge and FEMA explained their decision to us this week, I revised my assessment and assumed the issue was settled. But this morning, I’m back in the overreaction camp.

It’s a simple threat vs. consequences equation, in my view.

The health threat from some mold stains in an external water heater compartment is real, but, by all accounts, minor. And I just don’t buy the notion that health threat outweighs the consequences of moving displaced families yet again, and now making some of them live in Hot Wheels trailers.

Indiana chose remediation, a.k.a cleaning, rather than evacuation for its moldy trailers. So why did Iowa go overboard? It’s starting to look like the wrong call.

I mean, if kids in an Iowa public school get influenza, the state doesn’t close the school and evacuate students to another facility. The flu can be a serious illness, but the state doesn’t overreact. It gives the power to parents to decide whether or not they want to keep kids home. 

Why is this mobile home mess any different? The families should have had the final call.

Frankly, I’m spooked. This morning, I pulled a bag of hot dog buns out of our bread drawer, only to find abundant mold. No word on whether the Lt. Gov. will make us live in the back yard.


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Blame it on the Arkansas Rain

So how did that infamous mold get into FEMA trailers, the ones being pulled out of Eastern Iowa at the stern request of Lt. Gov. Patty Judge? Blame it on Arkansas rain, according to William Vogel, FEMA’s top man in Iowa. He visited The Gazette today along with Judge and other officials.

It’s really very simple. While the mobile homes sat in Hope, Ark., rainwater gathered in a trough formed by a rubber seal that was supposed to protect an external compartment holding a water heater. That rainwater “wicked” up through porous fiberboard, Vodel said. With little or no ventilation in the sealed compartment, viola, you have a perfect place for mold.

Glad that’s settled. But a few other issues are still a little fuzzy.

First, after enduring a five-alarm public firestorm engulfing faulty, contaminated FEMA trailers sent to Katrina victims, how is it that the feds’ still have a sloppy “standard” inspection process that did not include the moldy water heater compartment? Vogel couldn’t say, but how many more embarrassments have to make headlines before someone requisitions fine-toothed combs?

Second, whose bright idea was it to build trailers with this external compartment? Vogel didn’t know. FEMA buys a lot of trailers from a lot of contractors.

Third, was it really necessary to move families yet again, pull out the trailers and replace them with new ones? Or could they have been cleaned on the spot? My first instinct on this was that Judge overreacted, but I’ve changed my mind, somewhat.

Vogel contends that cleaning, a.k.a “remediation” in gov-speak, would have been just as disruptive for families as replacement. If that’s truly the case, I say , fine, yank out the moldy trailers and bring in new ones. But there’s a skeptical part of me that thinks he’s overstating the impact of cleaning. Regardless, the trailers are gone and new ones are on the way. Case closed.

Lastly, how much has all this trailer-shuffling cost taxpayers? We’re still waiting for an estimate. Judge insists that doesn’t matter. “The primary concern has to be the health and safety of the people in Linn County,” she said. 

“We had a hiccup here. I’m sorry that happened,” Judge said. But it’s clearly more than a hiccup for the families getting jerked around.

That said, I have to give Judge credit for standing firm and making a swift decision without forming a task force and dithering for days. And other than this mold incident, FEMA’s response in Iowa has been remarkably problem-free, so far.

Still, could FEMA start parking its trailers in Arizona or someplace dry? We’d like to avoid being sent more misery from a rainy place called Hope.

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Overreaction — Underreaction

Overreaction — Mold Wars – I understand Lt. Gov. Patty Judge’s concern about mold found in exterior water heater compartments on FEMA mobile homes. But there had to be a better way to handle this other than pulling out the homes and shaking up the lives of their occupants yet again.

Would it have at least been possible for the families to stay put until new units arrived? I’m just not sure the low-grade health threat warranted such a strong reaction.

Underreaction — U of I Assault Debacle — News flash for the brain trust at the University of Iowa Athletic department: there’s only one call to make when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, and that’s 911.

Overreaction — Obama World Tour — All three network anchors and a legion of reporters join Barack’s foreign “fact-finding” tour.

Underreaction — McCain Arrives in New Hampshire — From the Manchester Union-Leader:

In Manchester last night, there was just one reporter and one photographer waiting for McCain as his plane — a white, blue and gold Boeing 737-400 emblazoned with his campaign slogan, “Reform, Prosperity, Peace” — touched down on the Wiggins Airways tarmac.

The Vietnam War veteran limped as he made his way down the metal stairway, a leather briefcase in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and walked straight into an awaiting Chevy Suburban.

 Overreaction — Newspapers are Dead — You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a commentator predicting the end of newspapers.

Underreaction — News for Sale  — From the Las Vegas Sun:

Two cups of McDonald’s iced coffee (BUY!) sit on the Fox 5 TV news desk, a punch-you-in-the-face product placement (BUY!) to chase down your morning news.

They’ve been on the Las Vegas station set for about two weeks, following the lead of a few TV stations across the country, and they’re still looking every bit as frosty and tantalizing (BUY!) as they were the first day you laid your eyes on them.

But wait, here’s the best part: They’re not real. Fake coffee on the real news, two plastic cups permanently filled with some kind of bogus drink. The anchors aren’t even supposed to acknowledge them, McDonald’s reps explain. That’s part of their genius, my little lambs! They get into your mind without you knowing it. So they just sit there, two logo-emblazoned plastic cups, percolating into the psyche. Made-to-scale models that weigh something like seven pounds each – refreshing, and bottom-line boosting!

Fox is starting its day with a “nontraditional revenue source,” KVVU news director Adam P. Bradshaw says.

 I’m now taking offers for prime product placements on my desk. It’s pretty messy, but for the right offer, I can make room.


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Weather Word of the Day — Derechos

I like unusual words, and I’m a weather geek, so this item about rough weather overnight and this morning in the Quad-City Times caught my eye:

The system created a 60-mile-wide path of destruction, starting out in Omaha and pushing through to Chicago, said Linda Engebretson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It’s something we call a ‘derecho,’ which is a Spanish word for straight ahead,” she said.

The most severe damage appears to be on the Illinois side of the river, she said. Muscatine, Iowa, also had significant damage.

“You can see very tornado-like damage. But because of the damage pattern, it’s straight-line winds. It’s a very extreme system that causes a lot of damage,” she said.

I’ve never heard of a derecho, until today. Wikipedia has this to sayabout derechos:

A derecho (from Spanish: “derecho” meaning “straight”) is a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms usually taking the form of a bow echo.

Derechos blow in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to a gust front, except that the wind is sustained and generally increases in strength behind the “gust” front. A warm weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially July in the northern hemisphere. They can occur at any time of the year and occur as frequently at night as in the daylight hours.

 The photo shown above is from NOAA’s derecho page, where you can find lists of infamous storms. Just proves you can learn something new every day. Although I’m suddenly craving Doritos.

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