* PHOTOS DON’T LIE: SEE THE DRAMATIC EXPANSION OF CANADIAN TAR SANDS
By Stephen Lacey, Grist
Cross-posted from Climate Progress.
Extraction of Alberta’s energy-intensive tar sands has expanded steadily in recent years, with about 232 square miles now exposed by mining operations. That expansion is expected to double over the next decade, which could mean the destruction of 740,000 acres of boreal forest and a 30-percent increase in carbon emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector.
New satellite images show the dramatic expansion that has taken place from 2001 through 2011:
Photos: Robert Simmon, NASA/Landsat/USGS
So what’s the actual impact on the ground? Here’s what happens when you turn a carbon sink like the Boreal Forest into a carbon-spewing pit of tar sands:
Photos: Peter Essick, National Geographic
* CLOUDED TITLE: THE GROSS ILLEGALITY OF MERS
By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture
“What’s happened is that, almost overnight, we’ve switched from democracy in real-property recording to oligarchy in real-property recording. There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures. It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it.”
— Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, on the “wholesale transfer of mortgages to a privatized database” and why it’s no coincidence more Americans are being foreclosed upon than any time since the Great Depression.
The print edition is illustrated with the artwork of Amy Casey (Housing as a Recurring Dream (Nightmare), previously showcased here)
What makes the article so remarkable is it has one of the most powerful anti-MERS arguments I have ever read in the mainstream media. In addition to the quote above, there is this:
At the heart of the clouded-title problem is a Virginia-based company, recently much in the national news, called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. MERS was created in 1995 as a privately held venture of the major mortgage-finance operators, chief among them the government-sponsored mortgaging entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Its stated purpose was to manage a confidential electronic registry for the tracking of the sale of mortgage loans between lenders, which could now place loans under MERS’s name to avoid filing the paperwork normally required whenever mortgage assignments changed hands. No longer would the traffickers in mortgages have to document their transactions with county clerks, nor would they have to pay the many and varied courthouse fees for such transactions. Instead, MERS was listed in local recording offices as the “mortgagee of record,” the in-name-only owner, a so-called nominee for the lender, so that MERS would effectively “own” the loan where the public record was concerned, while the lenders traded it back and forth.
This centralized database facilitated the buying and selling of mortgage debt at great speed and greatly reduced cost. It was a key innovation in expediting the packaging of mortgage-backed securities. Soon after the registry launched, in 1999, the Wall Street ratings agencies pronounced the system sound. “The legal mechanism set up to put creditors on notice of a mortgage is valid,” as was “the ability to foreclose,” assured Moody’s. That same year, Lehman Brothers issued the first AAA-rated mortgage-backed security built out of MERS mortgages. By the end of 2002, MERS was registering itself as the owner of 21,000 loans every day. Five years later, at the peak of the housing bubble, MERS registered some two thirds of all home loans in the United States.
Without the efficiencies of MERS there probably would never have been a mortgage-finance bubble.
After the housing market collapsed, however, MERS found itself under attack in courts across the country. MERS had singlehandedly unraveled centuries of precedent in property titling and mortgage recordation, and judges in state appellate and federal bankruptcy courts in more than a dozen jurisdictions—the primary venues where real estate cases are decided— determined that the company did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgages it held.
In 2009, Kansas became one of the first states to have its supreme court rule against MERS. In Landmark National Bank v. Boyd A. Kesler, the court concluded that MERS failed to follow Kansas statute: the company had not publicly recorded the chain of title with the relevant registers of deeds in counties across the state. A mortgage contract, the justices wrote, consists of two documents: the deed of trust, which secures the house as collateral on a loan, and the promissory note, which indebts the borrower to the lender. The two documents were sometimes literally inseparable: under the rules of the paper recording system at county court-houses, they were tied together with a ribbon or seal to be undone only once the note had been paid off. “In the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity,” said the Kansas court, “the mortgage may become unenforceable.”
MERS purported to be the independent entity holding the deed of trust. The note of indebtedness, however, was sold within the MERS system, or “assigned” among various lenders. This was in keeping with MERS’s policy: it was not a bank, made no loans, had no money to lend, and did not collect loan payments. It had no interest in the loan, only in the deed of trust. The company—along with the lenders that had used it to assign ownership of notes—had thus entered into a vexing legal bind. “There is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority [to] assign the note,” the Kansas court found, quoting a decision from a district court in California. Not only did MERS fail to legally assign the notes, the company presented “no evidence as to who owns the note.”
Similar cases were brought before courts in Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Utah, and other states. “It appears that every MERS mortgage,” a New York State Supreme Court judge recently told me, “is defective, a piece of crap.” The language in the judgments against MERS became increasingly denunciatory. MERS’s arguments for standing in foreclosure were described as “absurd,” forcing courts to move through “a syntactical fog into an impassable swamp.”
(emphasis added) […]
* 99% CHOIR FORCLOSES ON BANK OF AMERICA
* SNAPSHOTS OF WASHINGTON’S ESSENCE
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon
[…] There is a new Washington Post article which contains three short passages that I really want to highlight because they so vividly capture the essence of so much. The article, by Greg Miller, is being promoted by the Post this way: “In 3 years, the Obama administration has built a vast drone/killing operation”; it describes the complete secrecy behind which this is all being carried out and notes: “no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.” Here is the first beautifully revealing passage:
Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.
In sum: the President can kill whomever he wants anywhere in the world (including U.S. citizens) without a shred of check or oversight, and has massively escalated these killings since taking office (at the time of Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. used drone attacks in only one country (Pakistan); under Obama, these attacks have occurred in at least six Muslim countries). Because it’s a Democrat (rather than big, bad George W. Bush) doing this, virtually no members of that Party utter a peep of objection (a few are willing to express only the most tepid, abstract “concerns” about the possibility of future abuse). And even though these systematic, covert killings are widely known and discussed in newspapers all over the world — particularly in the places where they continue to extinguish the lives of innocent people by the dozens, including children — Obama designates even the existence of the program a secret, which means our democratic representatives and all of official Washington are barred by the force of law from commenting on it or even acknowledging that a CIA drone program exists (a prohibition enforced by an administration that has prosecuted leaks it dislikes more harshly than any other prior administration). Then we have this:
Another reason for the lack of extensive debate is secrecy. The White House has refused to divulge details about the structure of the drone program or, with rare exceptions, who has been killed. White House and CIA officials declined to speak for attribution for this article.
Inside the White House, according to officials who would discuss the drone program only on the condition of anonymity, the drone is seen as a critical tool whose evolution was accelerating even before Obama was elected.
The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ not only prevents public debate by shrouding the entire program in secrecy — including who they’re killing and why, and even including their claimed legal basis for these killings (what Democratic lawyers decried during the Bush years as the tyranny of “secret law”) — but they then dispatch their own officials to defend what they’re doing solely under the cover of anonymity so there is no accountability. And, of course, the Post (in an otherwise good though imperfect article) dutifully allows them to do this. In other words: if you ask us about our systematic killing operation, we’ll refuse to answer or even acknowledge it exists and we will legally bar critics from talking about it in public; nobody in government can comment on any of this except us, which we’ll do only by issuing anonymous decrees declaring it Good and Right. Finally, we have this:
Key members of Obama’s national security team came into office more inclined to endorse drone strikes than were their counterparts under Bush, current and former officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator . . .
The only member of Obama’s team known to have formally raised objections to the expanding drone campaign is Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence.
During a National Security Council meeting in November 2009, Blair sought to override the agenda and force a debate on the use of drones, according to two participants.
Blair has since articulated his concerns publicly, calling for a suspension of unilateral drone strikes in Pakistan, which he argues damage relations with that country and kill mainly mid-level militants. But he now speaks as a private citizen. His opinion contributed to his isolation from Obama’s inner circle, and he was fired last year.
Obama officials love secret, targeted killing far more even than Bush officials did. They’re “always ready to step on the accelerator” (and, of course, they went further than Bush by even targeting U.S. citizens far from any battlefield). Only Admiral Blair raised objections, and was fired for them, and is now reduced to explaining in Op-Eds that these killings at this point do relatively little to harm Al Qaeda but rather do the opposite: they increase the risk of Terrorism by fueling anti-American hatred, predictably left in the wake of the corpses of innocent men, woman and children throughout the Muslim world piled up by the Obama program.
Americans love to think that they are so very informed as a result of the robust, free press they enjoy, while those primitive, benighted Muslims are tragically manipulated and propagandized by their governments. Yet here we have an extraordinarily consequential “vast drone/killing operation,” and while those in the Muslim world are well aware of what it is and what it does and debate all of that openly and vigorously, Americans are largely kept in the dark about it. That’s because: (a) the U.S. Government shields it all in secrecy (hiding it from nobody except their own citizens); (b) the U.S. media generally avoid highlighting the innocent victims of American violence; and — most of all — (c) this is all now enshrined as bipartisan consensus, with the GOP consistently approving of any covert government aggression that kills foreigners, and Democrats remaining mute because it is their leader doing it. That’s why this Post article provides such a vivid snapshot of what Washington is and how it works. […]
* DITHERING AT THE TOP TURNED EU CRISIS TO GLOBAL THREAT
By Charles Forelle and Marcus Walker, WSJ
At a closed-door meeting in Washington on April 14, Europe’s effort to contain its debt crisis began to unravel.
Inside the French ambassador’s 19-bedroom mansion, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s largest economies heard Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the International Monetary Fund, deliver an ultimatum.
Greece, the country that triggered the euro-zone debt crisis, would need a much bigger bailout than planned, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said. Unless Europe coughed up extra cash, the IMF, which a year earlier had agreed to share the burden with European countries, wouldn’t release any more aid for Athens.
The warning prompted a split among the euro zone’s representatives over who should pay to save Greece from the biggest sovereign bankruptcy in history. European taxpayers alone? Or should the banks that had lent Greece too much during the global credit bubble also suffer?
The IMF didn’t mind how Europe proceeded, as long as there was clarity by summer. “We need a decision,” said Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
It was to be Europe’s fateful spring. A Wall Street Journal investigation, based on more than two dozen interviews with euro-zone policy makers, revealed how the currency union floundered in indecision—failing to address either the immediate concerns of investors or the fundamental weaknesses undermining the euro. The consequence was that a crisis in a few small economies turned into a threat to the survival of Europe’s common currency and a menace to the global economy. […]
* KABUKI FINANCIAL THEATRE – CONGRESS NET WORTH UP 15 PERCENT FROM 2004 TO 2010 WHILE THE AVERAGE AMERICAN SEES THEIR NET WORTH DECLINE BY 8 PERCENT IN THE SAME TIMEFRAME. WELCOME TO PLUTOCRAT USA
We truly have the best government money can buy. From 2004 to 2010 members of Congress increased their median net worth by 15 percent while the average American saw it fall by 8 percent. Yet this fall in net worth does little justice to the rising cost of food, energy, healthcare, and college expenses that have eaten away any iota of progress families try to achieve in a prosperous nation. The fact that Congress presided over a Wall Street pilfering of the middle class and income inequality never seen in the history of the United States, we are starting to get a full understanding of what it is to live in a full-fledged plutocracy. The reason people are frustrated with government is that it no longer looks out for their own interests and is narrowly focused on promoting the aggregation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. […]
* REVEALED: US SPY OPERATION THAT MANIPULATES SOCIAL MEDIA
Military’s ‘sock puppet’ software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda
By Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Guardian UK
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”. […]