November 27, 2007
43-year-old Jorge Muñoz’s sister, Luz, says his brother has “got no life.” But what Luz really means by that comment is that Jorge’s life is dedicated to serving others, leaving little time to indulge in for himself.
The people he serves are undocumented immigrants — often homeless and always hungry — who seek jobs on the cold streets in Queens every morning. Folks in whom he likely sees himself only a few years ago reflected in.
Muñoz drives to the same location every night in his white pickup truck at 9:30 p.m. to feed these individuals in desperate states with a warm meal.
“Every single night, Jorge is here,” said one worker, his leathery face peering out from a hooded sweatshirt. “Doesn’t matter. Rain, thunderstorm, lightning. He do that from his good will, you know.
“He feeds everybody, make the stomach happy,” the worker added. “He’s an angel.” (NYT)
Ms. Zapata, Muñoz’s mother with whom he prepares the meal everyday in the small apartment they live in, said that his son displayed this altruistic trait since he was very young. She cites a time when Muñoz was only 7 and a stranger requested the family something to eat.
Ms. Zapata told the visitor they had none. “But Jorge gave him his plate,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Jorge, you have to eat for school.’ And he said, ‘No, I’ll just have bread.’”
Although his devotion to the welfare of others might seem selfish at the superficial, Muñoz claims he gets compensated more than appropriately with gratitude.
“I know these people are waiting for me,” he said. “And I worry about them. You have to see their smile, man. That’s the way I get paid.”
November 26, 2007
I swear that ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, must be the most unconstitutional federal agency ever created in the United States. They keep getting away with violating basic human rights everyone agrees we’re born with.
What’s worse is that local police assist them in doing so. When was border patrol added to their job description?
The latest of these unlawful violations in today’s Times. I was left with a knot in my stomach after reading the first paragraph.
It was still dark the morning of Sept. 27 when armed federal immigration agents, guided by local police officers, swept into this village on the East End of Long Island. Within hours, as the team rousted sleeping families, 11 men were added to a running government tally of arrests made in Operation Community Shield. (NYT)
The details of this ordeal is most horrifying. The agents arrested
Omar Lopez, 25, a Shelter Island landscaper, who had been asleep with his fiancée and infant son. Valentin Rudy Escobar Montenegro, a Guatemalan carpenter, also was with his wife and baby.
But first a little back ground on this “Operation Community Shields” from the official Web Site.
In February 2005, ICE began Operation Community Shield, a national law enforcement initiative that targets violent transnational street gangs through the use of ICE’s broad law enforcement powers, including the unique and powerful authority to remove (deport) criminal aliens, including illegal aliens and legal permanent resident aliens. (ICE)
“Broad law enforcement power?” Damn. ICE seems to me to be the most connected gang. I mean isn’t their tactics illegal? and the organization itself, too? Where do I go to report them? Then deport them?
“We’re not here stomping all over anybody’s rights,” said Peter J. Smith, the special agent in charge of the Long Island operation. “We’ve got immigration powers.”
Maybe I’m a bit harsh with my criticism. I know they are just doing their job. But wait…
Only one of the 11 men taken away that morning was suspected of a gang affiliation, according to the Southold Town police. The 10 others, while accused of immigration violations, were not gang associates and had no criminal records.
Possibly, the argument half of you reading this will back is that, “well those arrested were still breaking the law. They were here illegally.” Or something close to it. Am I in the ballpark?
I understand what you’re saying. But tell me something. Had they broken any other law, let’s say, dealing couple of kilos of cocaine, wouldn’t the government still need a warrant to enter their home? These folks’ “illegal activity” isn’t the least bit comparable to dealing hard drugs, but they’re treated worse.
If some of you still remain lost for compassion, I understand. I can’t change your mentality if you’re set on your beliefs. But you couldn’t possibly disagree that something is wrong when someone legally can break into a house in the middle of the night and break up families sleeping together.
November 24, 2007
This is Part 3 of an on going series called, “The complete guide to subprime for dummies.” In Part 1, I explained how an individual with poor credit gets wrongfully approved for a home mortgage. And Part 2 covered the other side of the subprime mess — investors who purchased these subprime mortgage-backed securities.
In this section I will hope to explain what the “crisis” is in this so called “Subprime mortgage financial crisis” that we are going through. This will probably be one of the hardest for me to cover. Not because of the complexity of the situation. Rather, I don’t want to leave out anyone that is affected by Johnny (from our example in Part1) defaulting on his monthly mortgage obligations.
First layer: subprime borrower
This certainly is the most obvious victim. Johnny, from our example in Part 1, has probably barely been able to keep up with his two monthly mortgage payments. It’s very likely that once the rate on his ARM mortgage has risen, he would be obligated to default (stop making payments altogether).
So when Johnny’s house is foreclosed on, his plight isn’t simply that he is suddenly homeless, he must now worry, too, about being able to afford to live anywhere else. Since almost all of his paycheck was going towards the mortgage, Johnny might not have enough saved in his bank account to even afford advance payment to be able to rent.
Additionally, the foreclosure will ruin his credit score enough to never get approved for future loans again.
As if that wasn’t enough, If Johnny’s mortgage company is anything like those that specialize in these type of subprime loan, then they deceptively haven’t been paying his property taxes. Which despite foreclosure, is Johnny’s responsibility.
Second layer: subprime securities investor
“A sure thing,” is what these investors were essentially told. Since the credit rating agencies’ approval was the only indication of these securities’ worth all that one could go by, no one suspected enough to investigate further.
In retrospect, these certainly weren’t high grade securities, as they were declared, but the very opposite — junk bonds.
Third layer: you, your community, United States
When a house forecloses, all properties lose value within a given mile-radius, depending on the region. Which presents two problem.
First, in your community,
lower property values translate into less revenue to fund schools, hospitals and other government-funded programs. (SFBizJournal)
Secondly, Americans have the habit of spending money taken from the equity in their homes. The equity changes proportionately to the property value. So the housing slump is bound to have a negative effect on this trend. Note: 2/3 of the country’s economy is generated by consumer spending.
I could add a fifth and six layer too — how the banks are suffering, and how the whole world lost its faith in the face of always shiny American economy. Or I could’ve explained other aspects in further detail– why exactly the dollar lost its value or how hedge funds leveraged to buy these securities (essentially buying borrowed money with borrowed money). But all above stated, I believe, conveys the message: “There must be immediate actions taken to address the crisis.”
We must take that action with extreme caution, too, though. Because although there is enough blame to go around — home buyers, loan officers, mortgage banks, credit rating agencies, investors, Alan Greenspan — implementing constraint regulations onto them could cause undesired results beyond the current.
November 21, 2007
This is Part 2 of an on going series called, “The complete guide to subprime for dummies.” In the first part, I explained how an individual with poor credit gets wrongfully approved for a home mortgage.
But “wrongfully” is a subjective remark, and is currently up for debate. Many argue that subprime mortgage allowed homeownership to minority families that otherwise would not have had the privilege. But let’s save that discussion for later.
The other side of subprime: mortgage-backed securities
When Johnny, from our example in Part 1, purchases a house for $350,000 with a loan and added interest, he is actually agreeing to pay that loan multiple times over for a period of 30 years. Depending on the specifics of the contract, Johnny could potentially end up paying up to $800,000 over 30-year period. This is where banks make the bulk of their money — in the long-term.
But sometime banks do not want to wait 30 years for a contract to mature. So they seek investors who would buy these contracts and collect dividends as time progresses.
These contracts are not sold in its entirety to just one individual investor. It is divided into pieces and sold to multiple investors. These pieces are what is referred to as securities — in this case, mortgage-backed securities.
Most of the time, investors buying these securities have no idea who Johnny is and what house he is purchasing. There is not any transparency between the investors and the home buyer.
The investors can only go by the word of a credit rating agency that determine the quality of these securities.
Many of these subprime mortgage-backed securities were rated top quality by the credit rating agencies. Which consequently mislead investors into buying these securities they would otherwise think twice before purchasing.
November 21, 2007
You notice how when you type the word “subprime” on MS Word, a squiggly red line shows up below it indicating a misspelled word? That’s because its a recent word. But it’s been gaining popularity in the news pretty quickly.
As is appropriate. Since this issue concerns all of us. Which is why I am going to try my best to give a comprehensive explanation of this crisis in simple terms for everyone to understand. I am going to do so in parts, since although the complete picture must be understood, their are many aspects to the story.
Hopefully this explanation in some way influences avoiding the trend to occur again.
What is subprime?
Properly referred to as “B-paper,” “near-prime,” or “second chance lending,” subprime in laymen terms refers to “giving out big loans to those with poor credit.”
Johnny wants to purchases a home worth $350,000. He must put down $80,000. And take out a loan for $270,000.
At his $32,000 a year job, a below average credit score of 600, and nothing to show for in his savings account, no banks in their right mind will give out a loan to Johnny, or others like him. Normally, the story should stop here since Johnny can’t even afford the down payment ($80,000). But the subprime story has only begun.
Since Johnny’s loan officer, Mindy, stands to make a little percentage from this transaction (getting Johnny the loan), she ‘modifies’ his information to get Johnny approved. She also gets Johnny a second loan for the money down.
The credit score can’t be altered. But in the loan application papers, Johnny is shown to make a yearly salary of $45,000, he has $10,000 in his savings account, and has no other major debts or monthly obligations.
Bank 1 gives Johnny a fixed mortgage rate for the money down ($80,000) at 9.75% . His monthly payments for the small loan is $700.
Bank 2 gives Johnny a 2/1 Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) for the $270,000 at 7.25% — with the understanding that this rate will rise in two years. His monthly payment for the big loan (at the moment) is $1500.
Click here to view a New York Times interactive graphic showing where such subprime mortgages were most prevalent.
November 18, 2007
Someone somewhere is doing their job. Someone somewhere isn’t. WaPo and 60 minutes did a little investigative journalism to find out that FBI’s technique of matching bullets in crime-scenes with those found in the suspect’s possession is faulty.
Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences said that decades of FBI statements to jurors linking a particular bullet to those found in a suspect’s gun or cartridge box were so overstated that such testimony should be considered “misleading under federal rules of evidence.”(WaPo)
And this fact was actually stated by scientists back in 2004. Meaning high ranking official must’ve deliberately discarded experts analysis, sending potentially innocent individuals to prison.
In at least two cases, the bureau has tried to help state prosecutors defend past convictions by using court filings that experts say are still misleading. The government has fought releasing the list of the estimated 2,500 cases over three decades in which it performed the analysis.
Folks like my man (pictured) Lee Wayne Hunt, are now challenging the court rulings against them. Hunt was convicted of a double murder 22 years ago based on this baseless technique. He has a 2 to 4 year window to appeal.
But you know, had anyone asked me if this way of determining the guilty criminal was a sure thing or not, I would’ve given you the same answer that we recently learned from the credible experts. I would’ve actually told you so back in 1963.
The science, known as comparative bullet-lead analysis, was first used after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
I wrote my English paper in college about the JFK assassination. It is arguably the most disputed case in recent history. It’s backed by hundreds of conspiracy theories. Remember the magic bullet theory as one? And this is what we base the outcome for 2,500 lives on.
I urge you to read the complete article available here. It gets worse by the paragraph.
Documents show that the FBI’s concerns about the science dated to 1991 and came to light only because a former FBI lab scientist began challenging it.
November 18, 2007
“I have never seen such a catastrophe in my 20 years as a government administrator,” said Harisprasad Pal, a local official in the hard-hit southern district of Jhalokati. (ABC)
On eve of Thursday, Nov. 15, The tropical Cyclone Sidr has devastated much of southern Bangladesh with its 140 miles per hour wind, claiming over 2000 lives, destroying entire communities, and displacing over 650,000 people from their homes, said Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official.
In one district, called Shatkhira, according to local journalists, roughly 5,000 mud homes collapsed back into the ground. Local relief workers for Caritas, the Catholic relief agency, reported that an entire island in Barisal district was submerged under at least six feet of water and houses were blown away by winds. (IHT)
Over a million had evacuated their homes for nearby safe shelters. Upon their return, a few have, if at all, have found a place to return to. Realizing so, foreign countries and concerned organization rush to provide aid.
U.S. government has provided an initial $2.1 million in emergency relief aide. (AP)
Direct Relief International Reaching Out to Partners in Bangladesh, Releases $280,000 in Medical Aid. (DR)
Action Aid team is carrying emergency relief items which include 2000kg of beaten rise, molasses, oral re-hydration salts, clothes and water purification tablets. ActionAid intends to reach over 5000 families with these supplies. (AA)
The U.N.’s humanitarian chief on Friday said the world body has made several millions of dollars available for aid to Bangladesh (IHT)
Of course, similar to Hurricane Katrina and the flood in Tabasco, Mexico, all were aware beforehand that this part of Bangladesh was dangerously prone to such devastating storm.
And as is the custom, nothing was done about it.