Friday, September 19, 2008

Cleaning up (after the hurricane, and after the markets)

Off shortly to the second day of Harris County's logic and accuracy testing of the Hart InterCivic e-Slates for November's election. More on that this weekend. Two excerpts from stories highlighting the twin messes that need mopping up; first Ike, Houston, and the immigration paradox, from Reuters:

The men gather early on street corners here in storm-battered Houston, ready for the jobs they know will come their way, sweeping up broken glass and clearing downed trees and debris from city streets.

They speak mostly Spanish, while looking warily at strangers. And these undocumented, also called illegal, immigrants worry that instead of a job and a day's wages, they might instead find themselves arrested and deported.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which left a trail of destruction across southeast Texas, America's ongoing debate over U.S. immigration policy is again aflame.

On the one hand, the undocumented in the United States -- an estimated 12 million mostly Hispanic individuals -- are seen by some as a needed labor source, particularly after disasters like Ike turn communities to ruin. But many see the group as a drag on government resources who take jobs from Americans and deserve no assistance.

"They don't have resources and they don't have legal status, and we are concerned that they might not ... have water or electricity," said Fernando Garcia, the director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"People are afraid to reach out for help as they don't know if immigration (police) will detain them or not," he said.

There are more than one million undocumented workers in Texas, with many living in Houston and surrounding areas hit by the hurricane, according to the Border Network.

With drivers' licenses and Social Security numbers as the keys to unlocking government aid, assistance such as emergency food stamps and help with temporary housing are largely unavailable for this population.

"If you are an undocumented worker you are barred from these resources," said Texas Health and Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman.

What?!? But what about all that pissing and moaning I hear from conservatives all the time? It's not just more BS from the Republick elitists, is it?

Armed with shovels and rakes, undocumented workers have played a role in clearing away the rubble of many of America's natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the wildfires that ravaged southern California in 2007.

That factor, combined with evidence that many in the Hispanic population have trouble tapping post-disaster aid, needs reform, advocates said.

"The question of benefits and who can apply after a disaster is a big issue," said The National Council of La Raza spokeswoman Sara Benitez. "That has been a really big issue in the Gulf Coast."

Go to the link to get more about the "both sides of the story".

Amid the debate, with thousands of flooded and wind-battered homes and businesses in need of clean-up and repair across southeast Texas and Louisiana, manual laborers, including undocumented workers, are in high demand.

Laborers are needed everywhere from Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, to Galveston Island, a seaside community that once housed 60,000 but now is a deemed so storm-damaged that everyone has been asked to evacuate.

"Everyone went to work yesterday," said Mark Zwick, founder of Casa Juan Diego, an assistance organization that houses, feeds and provides medical care for undocumented immigrants in Houston. "Work had been down, but now there is plenty for them."

And this, on the bailout of the money markets accounts inside mutual funds:

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced it will use $50 billion to back money market mutual funds whose asset values fall below $1 in another step to contain raging financial turmoil.

"For the next year, the U.S. Treasury will insure the holdings of any publicly offered eligible money market mutual fund -- both retail and institutional -- that pays a fee to participate in the program," the Treasury said in a statement.

A reaction from analyst David Kotok of New Jersey-based Cumberland Advisors: "Like it or not, we're going to get it. Massive government intervention is re-writing the financial markets playbook."

Update: What's going on locally that is affecting the oil markets post-Ike:

ExxonMobil said in a storm update late Thursday that its 349,000 barrel per day oil refinery in Beaumont, Texas, sustained "some water damage" from Hurricane Ike. The company also said it continued to make progress restarting its 567,000 bpd Baytown refinery and chemical plants.
And the Statesman, via Capitol Annex:

At least 49 offshore oil platforms, all with production of fewer than 1,000 barrels a day, were destroyed by Hurricane Ike as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and some may not be rebuilt, the Interior Department said Thursday.

The agency said in its latest hurricane damage assessment that the platforms accounted for 13,000 barrels of oil and 84 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.

There are more than 3,800 production platforms in the Gulf producing 1.3 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of gas each day.

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