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Home Owners In Plight

A RADICAL SOLUTION TO SAVE HOMES FROM FORECLOSURE

by LAURA GOTTESDIENER

Found on Occupy.com, credited as originally appearing on AlterNet.

As the summer’s vicious campaign season rolls on, there’s one thing both sides agree on: the 2008 mortgage crisis is still frustratingly unresolved. Last week, Citigroup settled for nearly $600 million with its shareholders over allegations of deception, the latest in a continuous string of lawsuits that has implicated almost every single major banking institution since 2008, but not led to a single criminal conviction. Headlines throughout the summer alternated between declaring that the number of foreclosure filings are rising and decrying that banks had defrauded the government’s mortgage modification program in order to–you guessed it–turn a profit for themselves.

With various government agencies divided on the next steps and hundreds of thousands of homeowners receiving foreclosure filings each month, it’s clear the nation has reached an impasse. In August, a new player called Mortgage Resolution Partners stepping into the fray with a controversial new idea for local governments drowning in foreclosures: use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages and force down the loan. In other words, it’s time to ditch the carrot and take the stick to Wall Street.

Depending on how you look at it, Mortgage Resolution Partners, a collection of 50 Silicon Valley investors, is either a group of well-meaning one-percenters looking to ameliorate the foreclosure crisis, or a bunch of rich vultures hoping to turn struggling homeowners into an investment opportunity.

The group’s proposal is essential as follows: Counties would use eminent domain to seize the mortgages of homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth. The county would compensate the banks, using money lent by Mortgage Resolution Partners, at 80% of the house’s market value, a figure that is lower than the original mortgage but many argue is fair compensation because it calculates in the homeowner’s likelihood of future default. Once in possession of the mortgage, the county would allow a homeowner to refinance her mortgage into a new FHA-backed loan worth just under the house’s market value. The new loan would create enough to repay Mortgage Resolution Partners both the original investment and a fee.

Theoretically, everyone wins: The county would have fewer foreclosures, the banks are more likely to get their loans repaid, the homeowners stay in their homes, and the middlemen Mortgage Resolution Partners turn a profit.

Eminent domain gives the government the right to seize private property–both physical and intangible–under two conditions: that the seizure is for the public good and that the government pay just compensation to the property’s former owner. The power of eminent domain has occasionally been granted to community groups, such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, but is more often used by local governments to build interstates and schools, often on land where minorities once lived. Despite its often controversial and racist history, it is one of the few legal opportunities to break private property contracts, and therefore a powerful tool for the government–and a scary threat to property owners.

The fact that the use of eminent domain is on the table at all is a good indication that the conversation surrounding the continued foreclosure crisis has reached some level of sanity. For years foreclosure has been considered an individual issue that plagues only irresponsible homeowners, but the hard numbers prove displacement’s harsh systemic reality. Every single foreclosure in hard-hit areas can decrease the surrounding houses’ property values by up to 30 percent, according to the IMF, creating a downward property value spiral that has created Detroit’s infamous $1 homes.

Sharp property value reductions lead to billions of dollars of losses in household savings for families who have not missed a single mortgage payment. The foreclosures also reduce the local government’s tax revenues and jack up the city’s foreclosure-related expenditures. One study estimated that every single foreclosure costs the government $2,058 in lost property tax revenue and as much as $34,000 per foreclosure in costs like eviction procedures. Multiply these government losses by millions of foreclosures since 2008, and it’s not hard to see why many local governments are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Yet, despite the general applicability of eminent domain in this context, Mortgage Resolution Partner’s proposal has already generated some fierce backlash. Some, to be expected, comes from a freaked-out financial industry and its lackey news agency, Fox News.

One Fox “real estate expert” declared, “[Paying your mortgage] is about honor! The government needs to stay out of it!”

The VIP to the American Bankers Association, Joseph Pigg, told the Huffington Post that the “devastating” proposal could “completely destroy the securitization market.”

Any proposal that threatens to destroy the securitization market–which allowed lenders and Wall Street to package subprime mortgages and ultimately crash the global economy–sounds like something that the left should get behind. Ultimately, the power of the proposal is that it ramps up the pressure on the banks, an escalation the federal government has so far proved entirely unwilling to pursue. (In fact, Edward DeMarco, the notoriously anti-homeowner head of the government-controlled entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has threatened that he’d block cities attempting to use eminent domain, so the proposal only applies to loans in private trusts.)

But the details of Mortgage Resolution Partner’s proposal have given many left-leaning economists pause. Some worry that 80% of the house’s market value wouldn’t hold up in court as “fair compensation,” and others worry that if the plan fails, the local governments will end up having to pay the price, a risk the bankrupt counties considering the plan cannot afford to take. Still more are skeptical of a plan that offers to help underwater homeowners while ignoring those most at risk of foreclosure: homeowners who are already in default.

Instead of helping homeowners who are still current on their mortgages, eminent domain could be used to help in-default homeowners avoid eviction. This idea would be less popular politically due to the stigma of foreclosure, but it makes more sense from a systemic economic analysis. Both the stakes and the reward are higher. First off, there is a much greater chance that, without intervention, the family will suffer eviction and the government will have to pay the subsequent costs. Secondly, the local governments would have a much better chance of negotiating a cheaper compensation price on in-default mortgages.

Another alternative, as attorney Ellen Brown proposes, is to target the mortgages on the houses where the chain of ownership has been broken by the use of the electronic database Mortgage Electronic Registration System. More often called MERS, the registry was a central tracking system, or a dumping ground, for the title of millions of home loans. U.S. law requires physical ownership records for the transfer and sale of private property, but during the dizzying shuffle, packaging and securitizing of mortgages in the 2000s, the banks really couldn’t be bothered to dot their I’s and cross their T’s. So instead, they created MERS.

The registry’s legality has been under increasing scrutiny. In mid-August, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that lenders couldn’t use MERS to initiate foreclosure because it didn’t constitute a legal beneficiary of the mortgage note. Last week, an Oregon Court of Appeals deemed the registry an incomplete means of proving ownership, and that lenders who used MERS will have to go to court to prove ownership before initiating a foreclosure.

In one such ruling, the Circuit Court of Russell County, Alabama, stated: “[T]he court is surprised to the point of astonishment that the defendant trust (LaSalle Bank National Association) did not comply with New York Law in attempting to obtain assignment of plaintiff Horace’s note and mortgage.”

Local government wielding eminent domain can step this ownership gray zone to acquire houses free and clear, Brown argues, because once the county announces its plan to use eminent domain, it’s up to the owner to prove ownership. And if MERS claims to be the mortgage title holder, there’s a good chance the ownership won’t be held up in court.

If Brown’s plan sounds like an obscure, small proposition, it’s not. MERS claims to hold the title to 60 million loans, approximately half of the home mortgages in the entire country. Hers is a much further reaching proposal than Mortgage Resolution Partners’, which only applies to underwater homeowners that are not yet in default. Moreover, Brown’s plan threatens to actually hold the banks accountable for their blatant disregard for centuries of U.S. property law, making a powerful case that breaking today’s mortgages is not a violation of private property rights, but actually a reassertion of them.

If a local government adopts either of these two eminent domain proposals, the model will be replicated in hard-hit communities across the country, meaning that the time to vet these proposals for feasibility and long-term impact is now. But one thing is for certain: using eminent domain–if correctly applied–is a step in the right direction, a move away from settlements and pro-industry subsidies and towards actual government action.

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Nobu Sushi Restaurant review

Nobu, Website, 207 Fifth Avenue, 619-814-4124.
[Food Review]

Nobu

by Gwenniepenny

Nobu is world-famous for its fresh sushi, and loved by many, many celebs and high rollers for the luxury of having fresh sushi from Japan flown over and expertly prepared right in the US. I have some problems ethically with importing sushi this way, but I cast aside my high horse for the evening. I admit it: I wanted to see if Nobu lived up to the hype.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had lots of sushi in Japan, both cheap and pricy. I’d like to think that I know good sushi when I taste it. But tastes vary, so I’m by no means an expert. With Nobu, I knew that the sushi would be expensive, and so we decided to hit up the happy hour on a random Friday. I can gamble a happy hour, right?

We each ordered one of the signature cocktails, having found memories of the fruity cocktails of Tokyo. When I saw that they served a lychee cocktail, I jumped at it. And it had a lychee fruit in it! I was excited.

However, my excitement was short-lived when I tasted the concoction. It tastes like cheap, drinking-out-of-a-paper-bag vodka mixed with a weak lychee Crystal Lite. Bleah. It probably was made with cheap rail vodka, but I was expecting a bit more from a place like this.

However, it wasn’t the drinks that concerned us. I was anxious to try some of the famous sushi. After finally getting the bartender’s attention, we ordered the spicy tuna deconstructed, the ceviche taco, and tuna tataki. The items came out one at a time, which was really not a problem, and allowed us to enjoy each thing separately. First out was the spicy tuna, served as separate pieces with sauce in the middle.

The tuna was served in much the same way as normal spicy tuna, but the “spicy” part of the spicy tuna was pretty lacking. The crispy rice was the real star of this dish, adding an unexpected texture and flavor to this standard roll. I liked the assembly aspect of the dish, which gave a typical dish a new flair.

Next was the ceviche tacos, which featured squid as the seafood. I love ceviche, with all of the citrus flavors and the texture of the “cooked” fish. However, this was just…chewy. Oddly chewy. Maybe because it was squid, but these tacos were just off to me. Other than the cilanto-infused squid, there was not a lot of flavor.

Our final course was one of my favorites, tuna tataki. The presentation was wonderful, and the flavor of the sauce was a terrific combination of ginger, soy, and just a bit of lemongrass. However, the portion size was so tiny, I couldn’t help but feel a little ripped off. I get that it’s a nicer spot, and you pay more for the quality, but this was just a taste.

The verdict for Nobu: overhyped. The food was good, but not enough to warrant a return visit. Next time I’m in the mood for good sushi, I’ll be a little more green (flying sushi from Tokyo? Come on, that’s wasteful!) and a little more pennywise and hit up one of the many other great sushi spots in San Diego.

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AI surveillance cameras installed throughout the country

AI Cameras???

Smile for the Surveillance Society

opinion and observation by Lex Six

A few years ago at the FOSE trade show in downtown D.C., I was able to get a look at some neat new technology where artificial intelligence was being added to cameras designed to protect federal installations.

Back then the cameras were not terribly smart…

Things have changed. To protect the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, the city spent $2 million to install highly intelligent behavior recognition cameras in 30 locations downtown and near the convention center. BRS Labs, which makes the AISight cameras, says the latest models are leagues ahead of where they were back when I first saw them.

The new cameras can watch over an area and learn the behaviors of people who travel up and down a street. If someone’s behavior is inconsistent with the baseline, the camera can zoom in, record that behavior and then alert the police.

That ability to learn, remember and forget lets AISight adjust to its environment and increases the ways in which it can be applied. “It adapts to moving vegetation, lighting changes, repositioning of furniture, weather patterns and myriad other environmental aspects that challenge video analytic systems,” the company said.

The system uses several types of memories, including long-term memories of repeated events, mid-term episodic memory of events in the recent past and perceptual associative memory, short-term recall of recent events.

AISight can distinguish such things as the types of objects common in an area, whether people are loitering, takes note of the trajectory of any moving object, and even recognizes trash in an unexpected location, the company said.

It can be set not just for specific types of alerts, based on observing specific types of behavior, but also to send alerts only at certain times of day. It also can be monitored live by operators who can be alerted by a sound or pop-up and who would have the ability to add comments to the alerts.

source: Lev’s Facebook, where he credits gcn.com/articles/2012/08/31/artificial-intelligence-surveillance-cameras.aspx

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the communication of dissent: Pussyriot’s “Putin Lights Up the Fires”

Chloe Sevigny reading Pussyriot

Pussyriot’s verdict may be in, but the world has not forgotten their bravery.

Photos by Mark Kendall from the Liberty Hall Ace Hotel reading on August 16 in NYC.

Below are song lyrics and text of a new letter from the incarcerated Pussy Riot members,

Pussy Riot shares new song, “Putin Lights Up the Fires” with the world HERE. This is the group’s first musical piece since the “Virgin Mary, Please Drive Putin Away” for which three members were found guilty of hooliganism driven by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in jail. The Guardian has edited the new song to a montage of Pussy Riot members and their supporters.

Eileen Myles

The song was revealed previously and it’s been published at a lot of places, but the lyrics are brand new, just received from their team. We want to be sure that people know their lyrics, what they sing about; their statements and philosophies are at the core. Would you be interested to add the lyrics to your Pussy Riot coverage?

Below is the first look at the new song’s lyrics in Russian. Use Google translation for now if you want to see a version in your preferred language.

Pussy Riot “Putin Lights Up the Fires”

Государство в тюрьме сильнее времени
Чем больше арестов – тем больше счастья
А каждый арест – с любовью к сексисту
Качнувшему щеки, как грудь и живот

Но нас нельзя закупорить в ящик
Свергай чекистов лучше и чаще

Путин зажигает костры революций
Ему скучно и страшно с людьми в тишине
Что ни казнь у него – то гнилая рябина,
Что ни срок в много лет – то предмет для поллюций

Johanna Fateman

Припев.
Страна идет, страна идет на улицы с дерзостью
Страна идет, страна идет прощаться с режимом,
Страна идет, страна идет феминистским клином
А Путин идет, Путин идет, прощаться скотом

Арестуй по 6 мая весь город
7 лет нам мало, дай 18
Запрети кричать, клеветать и гулять,
Возьми себе в жены батьку Лукашенка

Припев 2 раза.

Pussy Riot “Putin Lights Up the Fires” VIDEO:


VIDEO: http://youtu.be/HsrOsuqJB9A (video credit: Kashi Mai Somers)



About Pussy Riot:

Pussy Riot is an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011. Through a series of peaceful performances in highly visible places, the group has given voice to basic rights under threat in Russia today, while expressing the values and principles of gender equality, democracy and freedom of expression contained in the Russian constitution and other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the CEDAW Convention.
Detained members of the art group Pussy Riot

Maria Alekhina, 24. Poet and Student at the Institute of Journalism and Creative writing. Mother of 5 year-old boy.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23. Visual Artist and 4th year Philosophy Student. Mother of 4 year-old girl.

Ekaterina Samucevich, 29. Visual Artist, degree from The Alexander Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia. Moscow

About freepussyriot.org – HERE:

An international team advocating for the release of Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich, whom we would like to see reunited with their children, families, and supportive community.

http://www.freepussyriot.org


#FreePussyRiot

#PussyRiot
#LetOurSistersGo

The 6th letter from detention by Nadia written on the eve of the verdict

Original publication in Russian HERE.

By Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot

My imprisonment does not anger me. I do not keep grudges, not personal grudges [at least]. I do, however, keep political grudges. Our imprisonment is a clear sign that the freedom is taken away from [all of us] — from the entire country. This threat of destruction of Russian liberating and emancipatory forces is what makes me angry. [We all must see] the big picture in small events, a tendency in a [constellation of seemingly random] signs, and a common trend in specific occurrences.

The second-wave feminists said: “The private is political.” This is true. The Pussy Riot case is showing how problems of three particular people who are charged with disorderly conduct, can give life to a political movement. This special case of suppression and persecution of those who dared to Speak Up in an authoritarian country, stirred up the entire world: activists, punks, pop stars, government members, comedians, environmentalists, feminists, masculinist, Islamic theologians, and Christians – all of them pray for Pussy Riot. These private problems have become a truly political matter.

The Pussy Riot case is bringing together very diverse and multi-directional forces, and I still have a hard time believing that this is not a dream. The unbelievable happens in the modern Russian politics: the demanding, persistent, powerful, and consistent pressure of society on the government authorities.

I am grateful to everyone who said: “Free Pussy Riot!» We all are now making [history] — a large and important political event, — and Putin’s system will find it harder and harder to control it. Whatever Pussy Riot’s verdict is, we all are already winning. This is because we have learned how to be angry and vocal politically.

All Pussy Riot [members] are happy that we have been able to raise our fellow citizens to a truly communal action; we are happy that your political passion is so strong that it was able [to unite people] of different languages, cultures, ways of life, and economic and political statuses. Kant would have said he did not see any other reason for this Miracle than the moral foundations of a human being. Thank you for the Miracle.

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Odd Future’s Camp Flog Gnaw 10/2

First Annual Camp Flog Gnaw 10/12

ODD FUTURE ANNOUNCES CARNIVAL IN ASSOCIATION WITH INCASE
TO TAKE PLACE SEPTEMBER 30TH IN LOS ANGELES

Odd Carnival’s Camp Flow Gnaw Carnival
From Heathcliff Berru

Odd Future’s first annual Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival and show, presented in association with Incase, will take place on September 30th at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles. The carnival will feature games, rides, prizes, and food hand-picked by Odd Future. There will be performances by Odd Future, The Internet, Trash Talk and other special guests still to be announced. Tickets and special packages are available now at campfloggnaw.com.

Mellowhype’s Numbers is set for release on October 2nd. Trash Talk’s new album 119 is set to be released on October 9th. Domo Genesis’ No Idols mixtape with Alchemist is out now – grab it at limelinx.com here.

CAMP FLOG GNAW TOUR DATES

8/31 Norfolk, VA
9/01 Baltimore, MD
9/02 Philadelphia, PA
9/04 Huntington, NY
9/05 Portland, ME
9/07 Providence, RI
9/08 Wallingford, CT
9/09 Buffalo, NY
9/11 Cleveland, OH
9/12 Columbus, OH
9/14 Saint Louis, MO
9/15 Milwaukee, WI
9/16 Chicago, IL
9/18 Columbia, MO
9/19 Lawrence, KS
9/21 Boulder, CO
9/22 Boulder, CO
9/25 Vancouver, BC
9/26 Portland, OR
9/28 Santa Cruz, CA
9/29 Ventura, CA
9/30 Los Angeles, CA (Odd Future Carnival)

Tickets available through CAMPFLOGGNAW.COM.