Nieuw curriculum Journalistiek in Ede

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 10:57
De opleiding Journalistiek en Communicatie van de Christelijke Hogeschool Ede (CHE) gaat vernieuwen. Het curriculum moet beter aansluiten bij de huidige beroepspraktijk. De studenten journalistiek worden opgeleid als ondernemende journalisten. Academiedirecteur…
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Actie tegen bezuinigingen VRT

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 10:04
Volgens de uitgelekte begrotingsnota’s moet de Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie VRT de komende vijf jaar 27 miljoen euro besparen. De vakbonden zijn het hier niet mee eens en hebben…
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Actie tegen bezuinigingen VRT

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 10:04
Volgens de uitgelekte begrotingsnota’s moet de Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie VRT de komende vijf jaar 27 miljoen euro besparen. De vakbonden zijn het hier niet mee eens en hebben…
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De treurigheid van IBC

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 09:51
Erik van Heeswijk bracht een bezoek aan de IBC, maar werd daar niet vrolijk van. “Na een paar uur steeds sneller lopen, ontkwam ik niet aan de conclusie: in de RAI hing de geur van rottend oud geld,” schrijft Van Heeswijk in…
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Apache.be - ma, 15/09/2014 - 09:30
Onder aan de ladder verdien je een dagloon van exact eenenvijftig euro en drieënvijftig cent. Meer dan wat gemoedsrust koop je er niet voor, stelt Herman Loos vast. 'Beslissingen over een dagloon van eenenvijftig euro en drieënvijftig cent, en dat daar perfect van te leven valt, worden genomen door mensen die voor dat bedrag niet eens een telefoon opnemen.'
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Elle bestaat 25 jaar

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 09:28
Met een jubileumnummer en een groot feest viert Elle het 25-jarig bestaan van de Nederlandse editie. Hilmar Mulder: “Vijfentwintig jaar is een hele mooie leeftijd, je bent oud genoeg om serieus genomen te worden en jong genoeg om de hele wereld…
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Lees Ook

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:55
Google laat stukken uit NRC ‘verdwijnen’ - maar waarom? De…
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Lees Ook

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:55
Google laat stukken uit NRC ‘verdwijnen’ - maar waarom? De…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Mapping the World’s Digital Media

Global Investigative Journalism Network - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:45

Editor's Note: GIJN is pleased to present the first of a three-part series excerpted from Digital Journalism: Making News, Breaking News, a new report by the Open Society Foundation's Independent Journalism and Information programs. The report summarizes the findings of OSF's Mapping Digital Media project, the most extensive investigation of today’s media landscapes by any non-governmental organization, with more than 50 country reports since 2011. Its findings on the impact of digitization on media freedom and access to quality news are essential reading. 

The Project

Over the course of the past decade, digital television and internet have brought about radical changes for media businesses, journalists, and citizens at large. Platforms distributing journalistic content have proliferated, technological advances have driven media companies to revamp their operations in the sometimes desperate attempt to remain lucrative and relevant, while journalists operate in an ever faster-paced industry, and citizens have access to a cornucopia of sources of news and information.

By the end of 2013, over 55 percent of households worldwide had a television set receiving digital signal, some 25 percentage points more than in 2008. In the developed world that figure stood at more than 81 percent. By the end of 2014, the world is forecast to number almost three billion internet users, two thirds of them in the developing world. With mobile phone saturation standing at nearly 100 percent of the global population, consumption on mobile platforms has surged dramatically as well. Mobile broadband subscriptions are predicted to reach 2.3 billion by the end of 2014.

The digital switch-over has produced an unprecedented crisis in the supply of public interest journalism— in journalism that is independent, contextual, accountable, and relevant to citizenship.

But is this ever-more-connected world a better place for independent journalism? This is one of the questions that the Mapping Digital Media (MDM) project sought to answer.

The Program on Independent Journalism (PIJ), formerly the Media Program, and the Information Program at the Open Society Foundations launched MDM in 2011 as a global research and advocacy project that would assess the global opportunities and risks for journalism and media created by the switch from analog to digital broadcasting, the emergence of new media platforms—particularly online—and the convergence between internet, broadcasting, and telecommunications.

During 2011 and 2014, the project generated a total of 56 country reports authored by almost 200 local researchers coming chiefly from academia, journalism and civil society sector. The reports were based on a methodology common for the entire project. (See the Project Information.) The country reports were supplemented by 20 expert papers on specific new trends such as mobile television, net neutrality and online advertising.

The countries included in the project are diverse in terms of technological and economic development, media systems, and social background. They range from small nations with under one million souls such as Montenegro to giants like China and India, from heavily rural Chile and India to the city-state Singapore, from low GDP Kenya with under US$ 1,000 per capita to rich Sweden, Canada, Netherlands or the U.S. steadily advancing towards the US$ 50,000 threshold. They include overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey, the largely atheist Czech Republic, and many religiously diverse countries. The total combined population of all 56 countries included in the study surpasses 5.1 billion, almost three quarters of the globe’s people today. In total, Mapping Digital Media generated 5,575 pages of analysis. This publication gathers the main findings of the project.

Journalism in Digital Times The Profession

Digitization has been one of the main drivers behind the changing nature of journalism as it affected news values, professional ethics, workflows, working conditions and newsroom management. On the positive side, it tremendously improved access to information and dissemination channels, but at the same time it has unleashed a spate of unethical practices, the most worrying being plagiarism and lack of verification.

Vancouver Pride Parade 2009. Will digital media reflect a diversity of voices? Credit: Creative Commons photo c/o M Sew (Flickr)

Investigative journalists in particular have gained access to a flurry of new platforms to put out their stories, particularly on the internet. However, in most countries, the social impact of journalistic investigations remains limited. As never before, citizens engage in investigations and reporting and post their write-ups on the internet, but in many cases the quality of these stories has come under critical scrutiny.

The biggest gain from digitization is the growing space for free expression by minority groups, particularly ethnic and sexual minorities. More than ever before, marginalized groups have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Paradoxically, however, traditional media have not significantly reduced their bias, marginalizing practices, or sensational coverage of minorities and other sensitive issues. Secondly, digitization has boosted more than ever before the space for political expression. Candidates in elections almost everywhere in the world use the internet and social media to reach voters. This has created more vibrant political debates and dialog, but it has not often translated into an increased number of political actors.

Overall, with all these ups and downs, journalism entered an era of opportunities that it has never had before. But how the environment journalists operate in has changed in the past years is a different story.

The Environment

With few exceptions (mostly in Europe), governments have bungled the policies and regulation governing digital switch-over. Coupled with the disarray of an industry hit by economic crisis, changing audiences and technology challenges, it did little to improve the environment in which journalism operates. Political wrangling and special interests and/or lack of vision and interest in the policy-making process have defeated the hopes that digitization would deliver a more diversified media. We have more channels, but not more owners—and sometimes fewer than before.

Public interest is rarely at the core of national digital switch-over policies. Public consultations are wholly lacking or, in some cases, a charade. Public media continue to suffer from political interference and funding cuts, as well as demoralization and uncertainty. Public service obligations outside public service media are rarely present. On the business side, media operators increasingly cut back funding for in-depth journalism as this content does not bring healthy returns. State advertising and advertorials compromising editorial independence are rife.

The outcome is an unprecedented crisis in the supply of public interest journalism— meaning journalism that is, independent, contextual, accountable, and relevant to citizenship.

Brave New Digital World: A Myth and A Waste

Although it was expected to create space for more players and voices, digitization has been almost everywhere an engine for faster consolidation and vertical integration, reinforcing the familiar problems of media markets. Thanks to the more efficient use of frequencies, digitization has freed transmission frequencies that were occupied by the old analog transmission and has thus made room for a much higher number of broadcasters than before. Practically, there are more frequencies available for broadcasters today in any given place than any functioning and robust market in the world can ever accommodate.

Astonishingly, after five or even ten years of transition to digital, there is no country in this project where a new television entrant has become the most popular channel.

But despite this staggering resource opportunity, the number of players in most of the countries that have reached an advanced stage of the digital switch-over has not increased significantly as expected. Instead, you have the handful of old, dominant broadcasters running more channels than before and in many cases struggling to fill out the newly gained space and to pull in cash to cover this channel frenzy.

In most countries in the world, television remains the most popular medium in terms of audience size, followed by radio. There are exceptions such as Kenya (and other African countries) where radio and cell phones beat that. On the other hand, the increased use of other devices and platforms has not dented the television viewership. On the contrary, people increasingly watch television on multiple devices. In Europe, where television is the most used source of news, viewing time has spiked in recent years precisely thanks to new platforms and devices.

However, more means rather less in our times.

Astonishingly, after five or even ten years of transition to digital, there is no country in this project where a new television entrant has become the most popular channel. On the contrary: in all countries in Europe that have completed the digital transition, incumbent players have strengthened their position. Even worse, in some former members of the Soviet Union, there is a danger that the number of broadcasters may reduce, unable to keep up with the digital transition.

The world gets wired: An office building in Seoul. Credit: Creative Commons photo c/o Trey Ratcliff (Flickr).

Public service media are not faring better despite new opportunities created by digitization to expand their reach and capacity. In Europe, public service media are granted privileges in exchange for the responsibilities upon them. They receive funding to pay for upgrading production and transmission facilities as well as extra frequencies for which they do not had to pay or compete. However, for some public service media, particularly in countries where they struggle financially and are grappling with audience declines, the award of more frequencies is rather a burden as they lack the capacity, money, and in some cases also the vision to fill extra channels.

In countries where broadcast content offering has increased, this has not meant more quality and not at all more diversity either. What newly-licensed television channels often do is to recycle or replicate content on more channels at staggered hours.

This failure to inject fresh blood into media markets has been the result of badly planned digital licensing strategies, political barriers and governments and regulators that retain a discretionary power in awarding broadcast licenses, or the lack of interest in investing in new media outlets (this has happened in most of Latin America because digital television is a hefty and risky investment in poorer markets).

Generally, the attitude of regulators in disbursing digital frequencies is to sell them to the highest bidders, which favors incumbent actors and disadvantages local and community media. Government favoritism towards well-established broadcasters continues to guide the licensing policies in all of the countries outside north-western Europe, perpetuating habits from the old times when governments give licenses to media mostly to secure obedient and loyal coverage.

A major problem that the media sector has faced is the lack of transparency of media ownership and funding sources.

Policy-making on digital switch-over has mostly been led by industry and government, taking little account of public interest issues, and rarely involving civil society in any way. No public interest provisions were adopted in digital switch-over policies in almost two thirds of the MDM countries from Bulgaria and Georgia to Japan and Kazakhstan. In most of the countries, there is no civil society group able to engage in this debate or even to show interest in this issue.

In some countries, public consultation was bogus. In Hungary, the government called for public consultations on the digital switch-over strategy, but it did not use a word of the contributions received. In many places, such as Pakistan, Egypt or some in Southeast Asia, there is not even a plan for the digital switch-off. Procrastination has become a tactic for certain governments to minimize and conceal the opportunities created by digital switch-over, in order to deter new entrants and voices. So far, only a few countries, particularly those with strong public service media, have made diversity of channels a principle of their licensing policy. These countries are mostly Western and Northern European. Elsewhere, public service and state-administered broadcasters are undergoing profound crises. Their audiences are tumbling and they grapple with severe financial downturns.

Digitization has often been used by media companies to reinforce the argument for media consolidation. The argument goes that traditional media have to consolidate their operations under one roof to be able to remain lucrative in the digital market. Several countries have imposed tighter ceilings on concentration; ranging from Chile and Argentina in Latin America to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and the Czech Republic in Europe, and South Africa, most of these exceptional outcomes were the result of a long political struggle for media pluralism.

A major problem that the media sector has faced is the lack of transparency of media ownership and funding sources. Generally, there is little information on media owners and figureheads are often used to hide the actual entities that own media. Where legal provisions on transparency are in place, they are seldom enforced.

Thanks to reduced entry costs, new media ventures were launched mostly on the internet. They include commercial news portals as well as new forms of media such as hyper-local citizen media, media run by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media funded by political and religious groups. However, only a few business models in this sector have been successful commercially and no pure-player (online-only) media outlet has yet taken the lead in audience-size over the biggest television, radio and press outlets. In many countries, the most trusted and visited websites among news providers are run by traditional media. This does not mean that traditional media have not been hit. Print newspapers have, with major exceptions, suffered the most.

In television, the growth in the number of channels (not owners) has not been matched by a surge in funding. At the same time, funding for media has become increasingly fragmented among more players and platforms. This has forced many media outlets to make cuts, affecting first of all and mostly in-depth journalism, a costly business that brings low (or no) returns. Instead, media focus increasingly on sensational content, which captures eyeballs and revenue. Moreover, the sector is in a desperate quest for new sources of money, some of which threaten journalistic independence. Advertorials not labeled as such or involvement of advertisers in shaping and framing content are common place in a number of countries ranging from Russia to Bosnia and Herzegovina to Mexico. In others such as Estonia, Chile or Latvia, product placement disguised as editorial content has been on the rise. In India, “private treaties” between media and advertisers are an industry norm, forcing journalists to refrain from criticizing advertisers.

But probably the most detrimental effect on independent journalism in recent years has been state advertising. With ad money shrinking or insufficient to support media markets and no new major sources of funding, state advertising money is often the lifebuoy for media companies in dire financial straits. Unfortunately, state ad money comes almost always with strings attached and is widely used to discriminate against independent, critical journalism. Examples abound from Pakistan to Georgia to South Africa to Colombia to Hungary to Spain.

Who Is Afraid of Telecoms?

TV Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. Creative Commons photo c/o Joao Almeida (Flickr)

The major novelty introduced by digitization is the increased importance of the transmission sector in the media market. Transmission companies have a major say in content production, program sale, distribution, transmission and access to content, and in equipment choice. Problems related to the gatekeeping role of the transmission providers are not widespread as yet. However, this is a contentious area as it offers a significant and cheap potential to bar access of media outlets to audiences (or vice versa).

As expected, telecommunications businesses have become a major player in this field. In most of the countries where digital switch-over has made progress, telcos became the natural player in digital transmission as they have the technical capability to run digital multiplexes (transmission facilities fit for distributing digital channels) or to deploy television over broadband, which is likely to become the most feasible form of carrying television content in the near future. With convergence of technologies and services leading to bundling of television, data and voice services in one package, telecoms and cable companies are increasingly operating in the same market and overall have become key players in distributing content.

However, when it comes to the actual impact of these new arrangements on media and journalists, fears that telecoms will emerge as a new pressure factor for news providers have proved groundless. There is not much evidence that these companies use their growing say in the media markets to make pressures on news providers to influence coverage. Moreover, the interest of telcos in entering media businesses has been frail to date; this is partly because telcos function according to a totally different business logic than that of media content providers, and partly because of the high level of risk that the media industry, more ravaged than other industries by the economic crisis, presents.

Nevertheless, in some countries, particularly developing states and countries undergoing democratization where flagship telcos are still state-controlled or have close links to state authorities, telcos are able to exert pressures on news providers and journalists on behalf of the authorities. Secondly, telcos, particularly mobile operators, are among the largest ad spenders everywhere in the world and are thus in a position to use their financial muscles to gag news providers and journalists. This has so far only happened in a few cases.

Digital Champions

Western and Northern Europe have the most progressive and fast-developing digital states in the world, thanks to the right kind of involvement by governments, supporting rather than reducing media independence. Finland is a leading force, with one of the highest levels of public support for the media per head and a broadcast licensing policy strongly favoring plurality and diversity.

Elsewhere, such examples are rare. In South-east Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been praised for establishing a robust broadcast and telecom regulator, admittedly an institution that was imposed—and continues to be protected—by the international community. In the former Soviet Union, the picture outside the Baltic countries is rather grim. However, Georgia stands out for the creative use of internet tools in strengthening democracy and stirring debate. In Latin America, Uruguay received kudos for promoting transparency and staving off arbitrariness in licensing new broadcasters, a process intended to increase the number of voices in the television market, including community media for which the law reserves a third of the country’s frequencies. In South-east Asia, Singapore was authoritarian before digital technology and is more open today because of it, but it remains a laggard when it comes to freedom of expression. Indonesia is applauded for its open digital policy-making process. In the Arab world, Tunisia may be the country with the most promising prospects of using the switch-over to increase diversity in the media. But this promise has yet to be fulfilled.

What To Watch Next

Most of Europe has completed the digital switch-over. Latin America and Africa come next along with a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia that are waking up to the challenge. But overall, technology is advancing at a very rapid pace in this industry and broadband is increasingly emerging as the most feasible, economical and supple technology to carry television, likely to soon outperform terrestrial multiplex operators in many countries. Decisions on the choice of transmission have been generally random as no cost effectiveness or feasibility studies are ever conducted. As a result, governments made massive investments in distribution facilities that are not and are unlikely to be ever used.

In the longer term, internet and mobile are—given the convergent nature of technology—the platforms most likely to be folded into a more inclusive media and communications policy.

In the short- to medium-term, policy debates in this field are likely to focus largely on the distribution of licenses and on ownership. There are few indications that anything will change in the pattern of regulating these issues as this process continues to be government- and industry-led as and civil society is little involved. Access to licenses for new entrants, including community media, a fair, transparent and open policy decision-making process, independent regulators and balanced ownership control in all digital media market segments are the factors that would help to create a healthier environment for journalism to operate. Standards and rules on all these issues should be central to the future media policies.

In the longer term, internet and mobile are—given the convergent nature of technology—the platforms most likely to be folded into a more inclusive media and communications policy. Online news is already governed by a set of growing set of laws and regulatory rules, mostly related to defamation, discrimination, or incitement to violence or hatred. In some countries, there are rules that badly hurt independent journalism. In others, government regulation infringes crassly on freedom of expression. In Africa, mobile is already a major communication tool. Elsewhere, content on mobile platforms is rapidly growing. Relaxed regulation of journalistic content on these platforms, along with obligations or incentives to carry public interest content and—as the third element—legislation to ensure balanced and diverse ownership: this combination should lie at the heart of a progressive media policy for the digitized media sector.

Reprinted with permission from the Open Society Foundations. The full report can be found here. Note: OSF is a donor to the Global Investigative Journalism Network. 

Marius Dragomir is senior manager and publications editor for the OSF Program on Independent Journalism. Previously, he worked for 17 years for Romanian and international media. He was a media critic with the Prague Business Journal, a columnist for the Czech Business Weekly, and field trainer for Transitions Online. In 2002, he was a fellow at the Wash., D.C.-based Atlantic Council, where he completed a thesis on media reform in post-communist Europe. 

Mark Thompson edits the www.mediapolicy.org website and research reports produced by the OSF Program on Independent Journalism. He has worked as a consultant for various governmental organizations and NGOs, a political officer for a UN peacekeeping mission, and a journalist, historian, and translator. Publications include Forging War (1999), Forging Peace (2002), The White War (2008), and Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis (2013).

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Protest tegen BBC in Glasgow

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:31
Bij het Schotse kantoor van de BBC in Glasgow hebben afgelopen zondag duizenden Schotse nationalisten geprotesteerd. Volgens de nationalisten verspreidt BBC…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Protest tegen BBC in Glasgow

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:31
Bij het Schotse kantoor van de BBC in Glasgow hebben afgelopen zondag duizenden Schotse nationalisten geprotesteerd. Volgens de nationalisten verspreidt BBC…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Opnieuw een onthoofding door IS

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:24
Terreurbeweging IS heeft opnieuw een gijzelaar onthoofd, ditmaal de Britse hulpverlener David Haines. IS heeft een video van de onthoofding online gezet. Eerder al werden…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Opnieuw een onthoofding door IS

Villamedia Nieuws - ma, 15/09/2014 - 08:24
Terreurbeweging IS heeft opnieuw een gijzelaar onthoofd, ditmaal de Britse hulpverlener David Haines. IS heeft een video van de onthoofding online gezet. Eerder al werden…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Activists say gun debate overlooks gun-related deaths of children

Public Integrity - zo, 14/09/2014 - 00:43

This project was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University

For every U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan during 11 years of war, at least 13 children were shot and killed in America.

More than 450 kids didn’t make it to kindergarten.

Another 2,700 or more were killed by a firearm before they could sit behind the wheel of a car.

Every day, on average, seven children were shot dead.

A News21 investigation of child and youth deaths in America between 2002 and 2012 found that at least 28,000 children and teens 19-years-old and younger were killed with guns. Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 made up over two-thirds of all youth gun deaths in America.

The News21 findings are compiled in the most complete database to date from records obtained from 49 state health departments and FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports.

“It’s an unacceptable number and it should be regardless of where you stand on gun-owning ideology,” said Colette Martin, a member of Parents Against Gun Violence. “The numbers are that high and we are as a country ignoring them.”

Most of those killed by firearms, 62 percent, were murdered and the majority of victims were black children and teens. Suicides resulted in 25 percent of the firearm deaths of young people: The majority of them were white. More than 1,100 children and teens were killed by a gun that accidentally discharged.

An Epidemic of Violence

Zeke Cohen, executive director of The Intersection, a Baltimore youth advocacy group, said the dialogue on guns only seems to pierce the national consciousness when it’s a mass shooting in an affluent white suburban community, such as the one where he grew up.

The American gun debate, he said, rarely takes into account the number of black youth who are murdered every day.

“We as a country tolerate violence when it is in low-income black communities,” Cohen said. “Because we’ve come to accept that the acceptable face of gun deaths is black, we allow it to continue to happen.”

Dawnya Johnson was 11 years old when her already broken life was shattered further. Her mom was addicted to drugs, her dad was in prison, and she was tossed from foster home to foster home. She found solace in her older cousin, but that protection was left on a bloody sidewalk. Johnson’s cousin was shot six times in the back and he bled to death before the ambulance got to the scene. He was 17.

“He had taken on the role of two people who were unable to take care of me at that time,” Johnson said. “This beam of support had been ripped from under me.”

Her cousin had lost his job and started selling drugs to make ends meet. When Johnson’s foster families wouldn’t give her food or buy her clothes, he always found a way to get her what she needed.

“My cousin made sure that I had the basic stuff and that I had Nikes and looked fresh every day,” Johnson said. “No kid would ever know if we were homeless or I was hungry walking in the door.”

A young black girl growing up on her own in inner-city Baltimore, in a state with one of the highest percentage of black youth gun deaths in the nation, she said she doesn’t live in fear.

“I’ve become desensitized to fear,” Johnson said. “Once something happens so many times and it repeats itself it becomes something that you don’t fear.”

Jennifer Rauhouse, executive director of Peer Solutions, an Arizona-based organization that looks to prevent violence from occurring, said gun violence was a manifestation of other issues, such as child abuse, sexual abuse and bullying.

“If we don’t get to the heart of the question of gun violence, we’re doomed,” said Rauhouse, who founded the organization.

It’s not enough to react after a shooting, she said. Steps have to be taken to prevent that sort of violence from occurring in the first place.

Eli Chevalier, a high school senior and member of Peer Solutions, said the group works to prevent violence by teaching middle- and high-school students that respect and equality are the norm, not violence.

“People won’t turn to drugs and violence if they have respect and equality in their lives and in their relationships,” Chevalier said.

Cohen started The Intersection, a Baltimore youth advocacy group, after he was held at gunpoint in his Maryland apartment and realized how many kids live with gun violence in their neighborhoods. Johnson, an active member and student leader of The Intersection, lives with it every day.

For my students, it’s having hope and feeling like they are playing a constructive role in bettering their communities,” Cohen said. “One of the challenges when you’re dealing with communities is that the victims of the gun violence often have a feeling of disenfranchisement.”

All of the students at The Intersection have been affected by gun violence. They’ve lost family or friends, been shot at or caught in shootouts.

“Our students are attempting to change that narrative and dismantle the amount of violence in our city,” Cohen said.

The state of Maryland had one of the highest percentages of black youth gun deaths from 2002 to 2012. In 11 years, more than 600 black kids were shot and killed in their homes or on the street.

“Kids are getting killed, but the reality is America has played such a role in shaping these communities, there is a responsibility that we have to solve this problem,”  Cohen said.

The conversation can’t be just about guns, it’s more about racism and poverty, he said.

“There is too much access. It’s easier for a child to buy a firearm in Baltimore than it is to buy a pack of cigarettes,” Cohen said. “The less guns that are available, the less gun deaths we are going to have, but that doesn’t solve the problem.”

“This is not a Maryland problem, this is an American problem.”

One gun, one moment

Suicides by gunfire, on the other hand, made up the majority of gun deaths among white youth, accounting for an average of 653 every year.

“A gun doesn’t cause the suicidality, but a suicidal person with access to a gun is far more likely to die from an attempt than someone using another method,” said Elaine Frank, the director of Counseling on Access to Lethal Means. “It’s the combination of accessibility, familiarity, lethality and really short time frame that’s offered by a firearm.”

In New Hampshire, where CALM is based, more than 95 percent of all young people killed by guns were white youths and 70 percent of them committed suicide, News21 found.

As a former program director of the injury prevention center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, Frank helped develop a state plan on suicide prevention, from which the state developed a suicide prevention council. According to Frank it’s not the gun laws that are going to prevent suicide - it has to be more of a family, community and cultural change.

“We are not anti-gun, we aren’t saying that gun use is a problem or gun ownership is a problem,” Frank said. “What we are opposed to is gun misuse and we do consider the ill-attempt by a child misuse.”

With a fairly rural culture, New Hampshire kids grow up with guns and are taught gun safety. They are familiar with firearms and most teenagers know where the guns are kept.

“If someone is suicidal and if they have easy access to highly lethal means, specifically firearms, it greatly increases the risk that if they do make an attempt it will be a lethal attempt,” Frank said.

Vermont, another rural New England state, also is facing the problem of youth suicides, with 73 percent of its youth gun deaths being suicides.

“Particularly in young people, the time of risk is often very short,” Frank said. “The time from making the decision to make an attempt, to actually making an attempt can be very, very short. There’s not enough time to say I don’t want to do this.”

Unintentional bullets are just as destructive

Accidents involving guns are the third-largest cause of firearm deaths for youths, after murder and suicide. More than 1,100 kids have been killed by a gun that accidentally discharged, the News21 analysis showed.

James Parker was 12 years old when he was accidentally shot and killed by a family member. He was hunting with his dad, uncle and step brother in Wake Forest, North Carolina, when a shotgun blast took his life.

Sincere Tymere Smith was 2 when he fatally shot himself with his father’s gun on Christmas in Conway, South Carolina. His father, who bought the gun after a previous break-in, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the toddler grabbed the gun as it was lying on the table and shot himself in the chest.

Ryder Rozier was 3 when he stumbled across a gun in his uncle’s bedroom and shot himself in the head in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The gun belonged to his uncle, a state trooper.

Neegnco Xiong was 2 when he was shot by his 4-year-old brother, who found a gun under their father’s pillow in Minneapolis. The gun did not have a safety on it. The father was charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangerment of a child.

William Rees was 14 when he shot himself at his grandparent’s house in Fremont County, Idaho. He was shooting targets when his pistol went off and pierced his abdomen.

All were killed in 2012.

“Any gun that ends up in the hands of a child is first passed through the hands of an adult,” said Colette Martin, a member of Parents Against Gun Violence. “We have a lot of responsibility and accountability when it comes to legal gun owners who allow children to access their guns unsupervised.”

Teens between 15 and 19 were the most likely to be killed by the unintentional pull of a trigger, accounting for half of such deaths.

“These are the cases that keep me up at night because they are 100 percent preventable,” said Martin, a gun owner and stay-at-home mom, “and I will not be swayed from that belief.”

America’s Kids

Whether homicide, suicide or accident, every four hours a child’s life was taken by a bullet during the 11-year period from 2002 to 2012. That’s the equivalent of the Sandy Hook massacre every three days.

More than 19,000 high school-aged students never got to walk across the stage and get a diploma.

“No gun law is going to change anything at this point,” Rauhouse said. “We make it about the guns and we’re not worried about our kids. People should be focusing on why gun violence exists and trying to prevent it from occurring.”

Other gun-control activists argue that gun-storage laws need to be implemented.

“Gun-storage laws with teeth behind them would stop some of the gun deaths that happen in homes,” said Martin, of Parents Against Gun Violence. “It’s a really important piece of federal law that’s missing. Responsible gun owners do it already, it’s not an infringement of a Second Amendment right.”

There are currently 28 states and Washington D.C. with a child access prevention law, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. These laws impose criminal liability on adults who do not properly store their guns when children are in the house.

“The gun lobby is very powerful. Elected officials are out of step with what the general public wants,” said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety. “Americans are not serious about protecting youths and preventing gun violence.”

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Investigating Florida's parallel legal system for foreclosures

Public Integrity - za, 13/09/2014 - 06:46

Defense motions that disappear after 60 days, unelected judges meant to rule on a quarter of a million cases a year, original documents gone missing — these are the realities facing families caught in a year-old initiative intended to accelerate Florida's foreclosure process. As Florida tries to clear its courts of hundreds of thousands of pending foreclosure cases, a lingering reminder of the 2008 financial meltdown, homeowners trying to save their houses feel their rights come second in a state-sponsored, breathless rush to foreclose. 

Senior Finance Reporter Alison Fitzgerald spent months investigating the underlying causes of Florida's foreclosure frenzy, and we wanted to know more about the story behind that effort.

Your investigation found a foreclosure system riddled with red flags — what in your mind is the most egregious outcome of Florida’s foreclosure initiative?

What I saw is that the initiative tilts the legal system in favor of banks. For that small fraction of homeowners who are defending their homes, they are now fighting not only banks, but also the state. When a court or judge tries to move a case forward, they are by default working on behalf of the bank which brought the case. And they are giving the banks leeway in terms of evidence they would never give to a homeowner.

I reviewed dozens of trial transcripts, talked to more lawyers than I can count and at least a half dozen homeowners fighting foreclosure and then I went down there to see for myself. It all pointed to this conclusion.

I was actually a bit skeptical about what I was hearing from the defense lawyers about how judges were pushing cases through the system. However, after spending two days sitting in different foreclosure courtrooms in two different counties, I was convinced. I saw judge after judge ruling on case after case with little more than a glance at the docket. What stunned me was how often the judges — each one I watched — would say no when a lender and homeowner would together ask for a delay of a foreclosure trial or home sale because they wanted to work out a deal. I still don't understand why a judge would rule against such a request, but it happened in every courtroom I visited.

As part of your reporting, you interviewed some of the defense lawyers working on behalf of homeowners. What lawyer willingly signs up for this kind of gig?

I wonder that myself, especially because I'm pretty sure there's not much money in foreclosure defense. These lawyers were very angry about what was happening, however.

This photo is of the lawyer who is featured at the top of the story, Matt Weidner, sitting in a courtroom waiting for a hearing. The photo shows that he’s in that courthouse, and that specific courtroom, so much that it’s a bit like his living room. What’s interesting is that he’s kicking back in the photo, but when it came time to argue for Ricardo Lopez, he was so serious, and so angry that he wasn’t being heard. 

When I was first reporting the story, [Weidner] was so passionate about the issue, and what it meant not just for his clients, but broadly about how the state was governing itself and caring for its citizens that I considered focusing the story on him. 

Are any other foreclosure court systems in the U.S. similar to Florida’s?

There are 21 states that have judicial foreclosure systems, meaning the case goes through the courts instead of through an administrative process which is much quicker. The advantage of judicial foreclosure is that there is a higher burden on a financial institution that wants to take away a person’s home. During the recent financial crisis, it became clear how many things can go wrong if it’s too easy for a bank to foreclose.

What has Florida done to speed up the foreclosure system in its courts?

There are a number of things that have happened over the years as the state has struggled to keep up. The biggest problem for the state has been that its rules of evidence require that when a lender forecloses, they must prove they have the right to the money and the home. That means they have to have an original promissory note, signed by the borrower. They must also, traditionally, document exactly what they are claiming the homeowner owes, which includes all the payments, taxes, insurance and fees over the life of the loan.

That became problematic because the banks kept buying and selling the loans, and they didn’t keep the paperwork in order. So now the courts are giving the banks a series of shortcuts to allow them to go ahead and foreclose without that paper trail.

What is the role of a “robo-testifier”?

Robo-testifiers are a key to establishing the paper trail. They attest in court that the documents the bank is offering to prove a borrower owes a certain amount of money are accurate. These could be records from previous banks showing how many payments the borrower made or missed. The issue some lawyers have is that many of these people don’t actually know firsthand how the banks work — they are on the witness stand telling a judge what their bosses told them to say. In other areas of law, evidence rules are more strict.

Can you tell us more about this photo you took in a Florida courtroom? Because at first glance, it looks like a script.

It is, honestly. This has become so routine, almost like parking court, that there are sample procedures and systems for everything. In one courtroom that I observed in Pinellas county there was a sign taped to the front of the bench that said “Foreclosure Sale: 45 days, Sept. 16, 2014.” It was like those signs in a liquor store that read: “You have to have been born before this date … to buy alcohol.” I realized they must replace that sign every morning. 

What surprised you the most?

Like many people, I was under the impression that most people in foreclosure bought expensive houses they couldn’t afford and that the problems were largely behind us.

What I learned was how many people were driven into foreclosure by their lenders, people like the Abdos who were unjustly charged thousands of dollars for insurance they didn’t need. I heard stories of people who hit hard times and asked their banks for modified payment plans, and were told they had to go into default to get help. When they followed those instructions, the banks foreclosed. There were so many crazy and sad stories.

You have another story on “zombie” foreclosures in Florida — can you give us a taste of what that piece will cover?

That story is almost the flip side of what we’ve been discussing. It looks at the problem of homes that no one wants, homes that were in foreclosure and abandoned. When foreclosures never go through, these zombies continue to haunt their owners who can’t afford to fix them and become a blight on their cities. It’s a huge problem in low-income areas of Florida and across the country.

Do you have any questions for Alison about her investigation? Please leave them in the comments below.  

Check back Monday to read Alison's piece on "zombie" foreclosures, or follow her on Twitter to get updates on her ongoing foreclosure reporting.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Homeowners steamrolled as Florida courts clear foreclosure backlog

Public Integrity - za, 13/09/2014 - 06:46

Florida Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis was in a hurry. She had 93 foreclosure cases before her in the next two hours and she made it clear that she wasn’t going to let anything slow them down.

“This is a 2009 case. You’ve had years to negotiate,” she told one lawyer trying to delay a foreclosure judgment because his client and the lender were working out a deal.

Later, she agreed to an extension on a foreclosure sale but admonished the defense lawyer. “I’ll give you 30 days. That’s it. Don’t come back. I don’t want to see your face back here.”

At least twice that morning at the Palm Beach County Courthouse she refused to delay foreclosure trials in cases where the banks and homeowners together requested extra time.

Lewis’ manner may be brusque, but her actions aren’t unusual among foreclosure judges in Florida, who in the last year have been working under explicit directions from the state Legislature and Supreme Court to get rid of old cases and clear the court dockets, largely by awarding tens of thousands of homes to banks.

“The state’s entire court system has been compromised,” says Matt Weidner, an outspoken foreclosure defense lawyer who practices in Tampa and St. Petersburg and blogs about the system. “They’re stripping away private property rights and transferring billions of dollars in assets from individuals to large entities.”

A year into its latest effort to clear the wreckage left from the housing crash and subsequent recession that left hundreds of thousands of Floridians facing foreclosure, the state’s so-called foreclosure initiative is laser-focused on clearing the court system of cases and cutting the time it takes a bank to foreclose.

What began as an effort by the Florida Legislature and judicial leaders to help the state’s economy by moving properties out of foreclosure and back into the market has turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare for people struggling to hang on to their homes.

State legislative and judicial leaders have largely ignored the ramifications of throwing thousands of families out of houses and turning the foreclosed properties over to banks and mortgage servicers to maintain and sell into an already swamped market.

“They dealt with it as a court system problem,” said Mike Fasano, a former Republican lawmaker from New Port Richey who opposed the two bills passed last year to clear the foreclosure backlog. “It was, ‘How can we speed up forcing people out of their homes?’ ”

Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples who sponsored a bill to streamline foreclosures that passed last year, said borrowers, banks and homeowner associations want to get the foreclosures behind them.

“Lots of people just want to get it over with and get on with their life,” she said.

To accomplish its goal of eliminating the backlog of foreclosures, the state has set up a parallel legal system in which judges hear only foreclosure cases — often more than a hundred motions a day — in courtrooms set up solely for that purpose, under rules that differ from those that guide civil law in other types of cases in Florida and across the country.

The state set an express goal of disposing of 256,000 cases in each of the three years of the effort.  

Homeowners and the lawyers that advocate for them say they aren’t getting a fair hearing in a legal system tilted toward banks from start to finish.

“They just slam the defendants,” said Margery Golant, a lawyer in Palm Beach and Broward counties. “They deny them their rights, have hearings in absentia and just flush them down the garbage disposal.”

‘How can this happen?’

Ricardo Lopez could barely contain his fury as he walked from the St. Petersburg courtroom in late July after Judge Karl Grube for the second time in five months set a date to sell his family home.

“How can this happen? He didn’t even listen to you. This is a total fraud!” the 12-year St. Pete police officer fumed as he paced around Weidner, his lawyer, in the courthouse hallway while his wife sat rigidly behind sunglasses on a nearby bench and his two small kids’ wide eyes took in the scene.

“I could go in and arrest that lawyer. I can call the economic crimes unit right now,” he offered, brandishing his cell phone.

Lopez got to this point because he was injured in 2009, missed two months of work and got behind on his payments to JPMorgan Chase. As he recovered and began paying, he says, the bank allocated the money to his past due debt, late fees and other charges. He tried to send something extra each month, but no matter what, he remained more than 90 days late.

“It was never an issue of can we afford the house,” he said. “They wouldn’t make anything current. It was constantly past due.”

Finally, he stopped paying, and asked for a loan modification. JPMorgan foreclosed.

At the trial in March, Weidner argued that JPMorgan couldn’t foreclose because it didn’t have an original promissory note, the only original document required in a foreclosure trial.  

Whoever has a promissory note can demand payment. So if JPMorgan didn’t have Lopez’s note, maybe someone else did.

JPMorgan’s lawyer claimed she had the original note, then realized it was a copy, according to the trial transcript. She then told the judge the bank had lost the note. Then she changed her mind again and announced she had found it.

The document she produced wasn’t the original, Lopez said. His signature was in black ink, while it was blue on every other document, and the paper was a different size.

Grube disregarded the discrepancies and allowed the document into evidence.

“So we’re making a factual determination that this is, in fact, the original?” Weidner asked.

“Overruled, sir,” Grube responded.

Weidner also argued that new federal regulations barred JPMorgan from foreclosing because Lopez had asked for a loan modification. Grube said the rules may not apply in Florida.

“This is a federal regulation,” the judge said. “Whether or not it applies to this court, being a state court as opposed to a federal court, is a question.”

He said that he as a state judge might not have the authority to enforce the federal regulations.

Lynn Drysdale of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid said she and many other lawyers have reported such incidents to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but the agency declined to comment.

What’s lost in the technicalities is the fact that Grube was deciding whether Lopez, his wife Christine and their two young children would be kicked out of the home they have lived in for more than 12 years.

The police officer was willing to pay the principal and interest due on his mortgage, but now, five years later, with all the added fees, he’s so far behind he can’t catch up. He’s made six requests for loan modifications since April 2010, according to the piles of records he keeps on the case.

Grube was unmoved. He ruled for the bank in April and scheduled the Lopez home for sale on Sept. 3.

Two days after the trial Lopez got a letter from a company called Bayview Loan Servicing saying it now owned the loan. JPMorgan had sold it a full month before the foreclosure trial to the U.S. office of Housing and Urban Development, which in turn sold it to Bayview.

So JPMorgan foreclosed on a mortgage that it didn’t own. JPMorgan spokesman Jason Lobo declined to comment because the loan was transferred to Bayview.

Lopez went back to court on July 29, armed with the Bayview letter, document experts and the notary from the 2008 loan closing to ask Grube to retry the case. The judge refused. Lopez’s case had been pending since 2010 and Grube made it clear in several hearings that day that he was looking to get aging cases resolved. He signed a second, conflicting, order to sell the house on Sept. 29.

Lopez contacted Bayview, which agreed to consider a loan modification. The two parties went to court on August 28 to ask that the sale be canceled and circuit judge Thomas Minkoff agreed.  Judge Grube stepped in however, and reversed that decision, and reinstated the original sale date of Sept. 3.

The day before the sale, Lopez went back to Minkoff and got the sale order reversed.

Settlement funds used to speed foreclosures

Grube was working under explicit orders to get rid of old foreclosure cases. Florida’s so-called foreclosure initiative was launched in July 2013, when the state Legislature and budget commission together allocated $36 million of the $334 million the state won when it settled previous allegations of foreclosure fraud against the five biggest banks. It was part of a 49-state settlement.

The money was allocated specifically to “expedite foreclosure cases through the judicial process.”

The state Supreme Court set a target of disposing of 256,000 foreclosure cases each year for three years. That works out to about 700 cases per day — if everyone works weekends and vacation days. The courts have hired retired judges solely to hear foreclosures and case managers to move cases forward. These clerks and judges schedule hearings and trials even if the parties don’t want them.

“I often feel like the biggest adversary is not the bank or its counsel, but the judge, the court system,” said Mark Stopa, who practices foreclosure defense in Orlando. “When the court is moving cases along so quickly, the court is saying, ‘Hey banks, come to court. Get your justice.’ ”

In Miami-Dade County, Chief Administrative Judge Jennifer Bailey has issued a series of policies designed to get pending cases to trial and judgment.

One requires judges to deem any pending motion abandoned if it hasn’t been acted upon in 60 days, and then schedule a trial. The result: A bank can ignore a legitimate defense motion, and it will disappear.

In a series of internal emails obtained by the Center, Bailey has begged circuit judges not to continue cases that should be in the hands of senior judges, urged them to reject hearing requests, and suggested that legal maneuvers are delay tactics.

“Please oh please do not continue these cases. For those of you who have been continuing cases, please stop and at least come talk to those of us working on the project to let us know what the problem is,” she said in one email.

In another, with the subject line “Danger! Danger!” Bailey warned that lawyers are trying to delay cases by going to circuit judges rather than foreclosure-only senior judges.

“This end run is happening ALL THE TIME. Any weakness is exploited. Please help us stop this abuse of process,” she wrote. She did not respond to an email request for an interview.

Lewis in Palm Beach lost her retention election on August 26, perhaps due to her actions in foreclosure cases.  The Sun Sentinel newspaper, based in Ft. Lauderdale, said when it endorsed her opponent that “Lewis’ reputation for rudeness stopped being a forgivable quirk and became an embarrassment to the judiciary.”

But senior judges like Grube cannot be voted off the bench because they are there only as temporary appointees to hear foreclosures.  

“These judges are qualitatively different than elected judges who must face voters,” Weidner said. 

Foreclosure ‘rocket docket’

It’s not the first time Florida’s courts have tried to speed up foreclosures. In fiscal 2010-2011, the state spent $9.6 million to hire senior judges and clerks to push through foreclosures in what became known as “rocket dockets.” The state cleared 250,000 cases that year. When that money ran out, the “rocket dockets” went away.

In the first three months of the latest push, the clearance rate of foreclosure cases — a ratio of cases closed to new cases filed — jumped in every district. In the 17th Judicial Circuit, for example, the clearance rate rose to 405 percent from 148 percent in the prior three months.

One judge in Broward County, Sandra Perlman, closed 786 cases in a single day, according to data collected by the state.

Overall, Florida judges disposed of 193,922 foreclosure cases in the first nine months. The overwhelming majority of those were judgments against homeowners.

In statements from the bench and other public forums, judge after judge has made it clear that speed is their priority. The rights of homeowners come, at best, second.

“We're under a mandate from court administration, Supreme Court, to get the older cases out. Because we might lose funding for that,” Lewis, the judge in a hurry, told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in August.

Judge Terence Perkins, chief judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit, which includes Daytona Beach, congratulated his colleagues in a spring 2014 newsletter on their progress eliminating foreclosure cases.

“Last year, we challenged each other to roll up our collective sleeves and dispose of these cases,” the chief judge wrote. “We knew that the rest of the branch and our fellow trial judges were ALL watching and we were told our political credibility hung in the balance.”

Most foreclosures uncontested

However, Judge Robert Roundtree, chief judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit, which spans six counties in north central Florida, said homeowners are getting a fair hearing in his district.

“No cases ever close without having the defendant being able to pursue their cases,” he said.

He said the courts are obligated to ensure cases don’t drag on too long. And the state Supreme Court has guidelines as to how long it should take for a case to conclude.

“If a lawsuit’s been filed, people need closure,” Roundtree said.

To be sure, most pending cases involve homeowners who cannot pay and aren’t fighting the foreclosure. Many have already moved out of their homes.

“Most of the time in my experience it really was that the debtor, oftentimes through no fault of their own, they owed the money,” said Magistrate Paul Silverman, who hears foreclosure cases in Alachua County. “I’ve never had anyone walk in to a foreclosure who said, ‘Judge, the bank is wrong. I’ve made my payments.’ ”

It remains a mystery why state officials determined that a bunch of foreclosure files sitting on the court dockets amounted to an emergency.

If banks wanted to pursue their foreclosures they were free to do so. And Florida judges are empowered to dismiss cases if the parties don’t take action for a year.

But banks and loan servicers don’t have a great incentive to take ownership of a home, and the maintenance costs and liability risk that goes with it, in a stagnant real estate market.

However, in 2012 and 2013, a series of policy changes from the Federal Housing Finance Administration and from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provided some motivation to speed the process.

FHFA oversees Fannie and Freddie, the two housing finance giants that buy most mortgages from banks to bundle into securities and sell on the secondary market. The agencies, which charge fees to lenders to buy and guarantee the loans, together are the center of power in the mortgage market.

In September 2012, the FHFA proposed new fees that would increase the costs of mortgages in Florida and four other states because it takes so long in those places to foreclose.

The proposal was withdrawn after enormous opposition, including from Florida’s chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, who said in a comment letter to FHFA the plan would “raise the lifetime cost of mortgages by potentially thousands of dollars.”

“This consequence is especially troublesome for Florida, where the housing and construction sectors have suffered enormous losses in recent years,” Atwater said in the letter.

In June 2013, Freddie Mac issued new guidelines that encouraged loan servicers to “use the bulk trial foreclosure method” in Florida by which the servicer schedules numerous foreclosure cases for the same court session to clear out the backlog of cases, and offered a direct financial reward for doing so.

The company offered to reimburse servicers $1,750 for their legal fees for each case and pointed out that quick resolutions to cases would reduce the $30-per-day fee it charges for delayed foreclosures.

Freddie Mac spokesman Brad German said the guidelines are designed to prevent abandoned homes from languishing in limbo, and to save money for taxpayers, who are currently footing the bill for the agency because it’s operating under government conservatorship.

Fannie Mae has similar fees for delays beyond 660 days to foreclose and sell a home in Florida. The company includes “Florida Bulk Trials” as an expense category in its servicer guidelines, according to notices on its website.

And early this year, the FHFA dropped a $5.95 a month per loan fee to lenders in most states but left it in place in Florida because of the state’s slow foreclosure process.  

Backlog and bad paperwork

In launching the foreclosure initiative, state court officials laid blame for the backlog of cases squarely in the laps of mortgage lenders, saying they weren’t pursuing cases and they often didn’t have the proper paperwork to prove they had the right to foreclose.

Florida was a center of the financial crisis that started slowly in 2007 with house prices stalling and homeowners falling behind on their payments. The crisis spread across the rest of the country in 2008, when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt, setting off a cascade of giant bank failures and leading the government to bail out the entire financial system.

As residents fell behind, banks filed thousands of foreclosure complaints in Florida courthouses then let them languish as stagnant court files. When they did have hearings or trials, the lenders often couldn’t come up with the proper paperwork to prove they were the owners of the loan.

That paperwork mess, and indeed the entire financial crisis, was the direct result of creative investors’ turning mortgage debt into a tradable commodity. Mortgages were placed in pools and securitized. Very often the deeds to the homes, promissory notes or other key mortgage documents, got lost.

When the market collapsed and homeowners stopped paying, many banks couldn’t come up with the records they needed to prove they had a right to foreclose.

“They were rushing around so much to securitize that the paperwork they were supposed to keep was never kept,” said Thomas Ice, a Palm Beach County lawyer.

Banks and their lawyers turned to so-called robo-signers, employees whose sole job was to sign fraudulent documents the banks created to establish a paper trail to allow them to foreclose. Some of these people signed thousands of documents a day.

When the massive fraud was revealed, the Justice Department and 49 states sued the five largest mortgage servicers, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Ally Financial (formerly GMAC), Citigroup, and Wells Fargo.

That was the case that led to the massive settlement that now is helping those same banks speed up their foreclosures on Florida’s homeowners.

“The robo-signing scandal was all about banks cutting corners and getting hand-slapped,” Ice said. “The money is being used to get them what they wanted anyway.”

Even though it was the banks that came to the courts with forged documents, it’s almost impossible to find an example of a Florida judge ruling against a bank and granting a home to a family.

“That doesn’t occur very often,” said Kris Slayden, who oversees foreclosures for the Office of the State Courts Administrator. “That’s why those cases make news.”

While robo-signers have largely disappeared, judges are now allowing so-called robo-testifiers to appear in their courtrooms to attest to the validity of the documents the banks are using to justify foreclosures.

Many “robo-testifiers” never worked in the bank departments for which they’re testifying. Some never worked for the banks at all before being hired and trained in what to say on the witness stand. Still, they travel from courtroom to courtroom explaining to judges how banks track payments and keep mortgage records.

“That goes against every rule of evidence since the beginning of time,” said Ice, the Palm Beach County foreclosure lawyer. Ice said that for someone to authenticate business records, they would normally be required to have firsthand knowledge of how a company functions.

Losing faith

Many homeowners struggling to save their homes have lost faith in Florida’s legal system, among them Carmen and David Abdo.

The Palm Beach County couple is facing simultaneous foreclosures on three homes. They got into this mess not because they couldn’t make their monthly mortgage payments, but because all three of their lenders added expensive and unnecessary insurance policies to their loans three years in a row. One of the policies cost more than $16,000.

The Abdos — David is a retired firefighter and Carmen is an interior designer — had insurance on all their houses, and informed the banks each year that they didn’t need the expensive policies. It would take months to straighten out the problem and in the meantime all three banks were charging them thousands of dollars extra each month. Then the cycle would repeat the following year.

The payment on one of their loans went from $1,800 to $2,500, to $4,800 and reached $7,800 when they finally cried uncle and stopped writing checks.

“We just couldn’t pay anymore,” said Carmen, who sat in her shop filled from floor to ceiling with vintage dining sets, second-hand ball gowns and collectibles like monkey-shaped plant holders.

Her meticulous records, punctuated with hot pink sticky notes that match the lipstick she favors, include stacks of correspondence with the lenders, copies of insurance policies and ever increasing demands for payment.

She never had a chance to show her records to a judge. In December, the Abdos went to court in Volusia County to ask Judge Raul Zambrano to rule against the bank because they never should have been charged for the unneeded insurance. Zambrano declined and scheduled a trial for the following week.

“This judge has never ruled in favor of a homeowner,” Carmen Abdo claimed, in explaining why she didn’t want to risk a trial.

Afraid they’d lose everything before an unsympathetic judge, the Abdos instead filed for bankruptcy in federal court the morning they were supposed to go to trial. Now they’re hoping a federal judge will listen to their story.

“It was horrible for us to have to do that,” Carmen said. “That’s not the kind of people we are.”

Needing banks to listen

Many believe that those who lost their homes in the financial crisis were simply greedy people who bought houses they couldn’t afford. Certainly there were many whose ambitions were bigger than their incomes and took out loans they could never pay back.

However, thousands were driven into foreclosure because of the recession — they lost their jobs, their tenants moved out, they couldn’t sell. Many others defaulted because of bank incompetence, or perhaps outright fraud. They could have made their payments, or made slightly smaller payments if the banks would have worked with them.

“Most of the cases I’ve taken on are just people who wanted someone to sit down and talk to them about a work-out,” Golant said.

Today, Carmen and David Abdo remain in limbo as their bankruptcy petition winds its way through federal court.

And Ricardo Lopez is racing the calendar while negotiating with Bayview mortgage in hopes of keeping his home.  There’s still an order in the St. Petersburg courthouse to sell his home on Sept. 29.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

'Ready for Warren' to change name

Public Integrity - vr, 12/09/2014 - 19:47

Under pressure from federal regulators, an upstart super PAC attempting to convince Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to seek the presidency has agreed to change its name.

"Ready for Warren PAC" will amend its registration paperwork and officially become the "Ready for Warren Presidential Draft Campaign," super PAC treasurer Erica Sagrans today told the Center for Public Integrity.

The switch comes after the Federal Election Commission demanded the group ditch its original name because only committees authorized by a federal political candidate may use the candidate's name.

There's an exception, however: A draft committee may refer to an active candidate in its organization's own name "provided the committee's name clearly indicates that it is a draft committee."

Sagrans noted that "we'll still call ourselves Ready for Warren in most of our communications, but we want to comply with what [the FEC] is asking, and we should be clear on what our intentions are." She also praised FEC officials for being "incredibly helpful."

 Several other political committees that seemingly incorporate candidates' names have effectively told the FEC to take a hike, citing free speech considerations.

And Ready for Hillary, a hybrid PAC that's raised millions of dollars to promote a Hillary Clinton presidential bid may keep its name because Clinton isn't a declared political candidate.

"The law ... it is what it is," Sagrans said, offering no additional comment one way or another.

As for Warren, she's disassociated herself from any presidential draft effort and said she won't run for the White House in 2016.



Categorieën: Extern nieuws

FEC not 'Ready for Warren'

Public Integrity - vr, 12/09/2014 - 19:21

Ditch your name — or else, federal election regulators are telling an upstart super PAC that's urging Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to seek the presidency.

In a letter Sunday, the Federal Election Commission explained to Chicago-based "Ready for Warren PAC" that only committees authorized by a federal political candidate may use the candidate's name.

If not — and Ready for Warren PAC isn't — "you must amend your statement of organization to change the name of your political committee so that it does not include the candidate's name and/or provide further clarification regarding the nature of your committee," FEC campaign finance analyst Romy Adame-Wilson told the super PAC.

Failure to comply with the law may "result in an enforcement action against the committee" or an audit, the FEC wrote in its letter.

The Ready for Warren PAC officially formed Aug. 7. Erica Sagrans, Ready for Warren PAC's treasurer, confirmed that "the goal of our campaign is to draft Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2016." 

Sagrans noted that candidate draft committees aren't subject to federal political committee naming rules and, by law, may use a federal candidate's name as part of its own.

Federal rules also note, however, that draft committees may use a candidate's name "provided the committee's name clearly indicates that it is a draft committee."

Sagrans declined to comment on whether she believes the name “Ready for Warren PAC” adequately indicates it's a draft committee.

Warren has repeatedly said she won't run for president in 2016, and last month, her election attorney, Marc Elias, disavowed the Ready for Warren effort in a statement to the FEC.

The FEC asking Ready for Warren PAC to change its name is only the latest in a string of similar demands.

PACs ostensibly incorporating the names of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rank among the FEC's other recent targets.

But Ready for Hillary, a nearly two-year-old hybrid PAC that's raised millions of dollars to urge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for president, doesn't violate federal political committee naming rules because Clinton isn't yet an active federal candidate.

The FEC gives Ready for Warren PAC until Oct. 14 to respond to its letter.

Since the super PAC is so new, it has yet to reveal who has donated to the committee, or how the committee has spent any money it's raised. It will be required to file such a disclosure next month.

Warren won her U.S. Senate office in 2012, defeating then-Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who's now attempting to win a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Bolivia - Cochabamba police chief threatens TV reporter

Reporters Without Borders - vr, 12/09/2014 - 17:52

Alberto Suárez, the police chief of the central city of Cochabamba, threatened Escarley Pacheco, a reporter for regional TV station ATB Cochabamba, on 9 September after she asked him about his ex-wife's claims that he had subjected her to physical and psychological violence.

After the interview was over, Police Chief Suárez told Pacheco: “I'm going to be following you, watch out for yourself.”

Reacting to the ensuing outcry, Suárez denied threatening Pacheco and said he was just warning her that he intended to take legal measures in response to her investigations into his private life.

Pacheco told Reporters Without Borders that she received calls from the police intelligence department the next day requesting the video reports about the interview and threats that ATB Cochabamba had broadcast.

Instead of intimidating and threatening journalists, public authorities are supposed to protect all citizens,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “Pacheco was just doing her job as a journalist, and this should not result in her being the target of reprisals.”

Interior minister Jorge Perez has announced his support for the police chief, while national and local journalists' unions have voiced their support for Pacheco and condemned the police chief.

Bolivia is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

From Nieman Reports: Where are the women in leadership at news organizations?

Editor’s note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its new issue (and new website). Its cover package focuses on a single issue: the status of women in media. Here’s the lead story, by The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin.

At a time when women head fewer major U.S. newspapers than they did 10 years ago, there is a place where women run not only some of the nation’s leading papers but the major public TV station and private TV and radio stations, too. In fact, some media leaders and members of the public even feel journalism here needs more men.

This land of female empowerment is not Sweden, Finland, or Norway, home to some of the world’s parent-friendliest policies regarding childcare and maternity leave.

No. When it comes to the state of women in media leadership today, the best place in the world to be a female looking to rise in management is … Bulgaria.

Elsewhere, women aren’t in charge in large numbers because they’ve been discriminated against in ways both explicit and unintentional, because they’ve been labeled too brusque or too weak, because they’ve opted out to raise children. In Bulgaria, women are in charge because journalism has never been taken all that seriously. Under Communist rule, the press was heavily censored and journalism jobs paid little. Today, the mainstream media focuses on tabloid-ish content: entertainment, celebrity news, and scandal.

In Bulgaria, journalism is a low-status profession. Worldwide, though, even in places where the Fourth Estate is considered a vital part of public discourse, the statistics tell a troubling story, one of progress halted and even eroded. Despite making up half the population, and more than half of communication school graduates each year, women represent just 35 percent of newspaper supervisors, according to the 2014 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) newsroom census. They run just three of the nation’s 25 largest titles, eight of the 25 biggest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the 25 biggest with circulations under 50,000. Only one of the top 25 international titles is run by a woman.

The numbers also are skewed in radio and TV. In a 2014 Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) survey, women made up just 31 percent of TV news directors and 20 percent of general managers, despite making up more than 40 percent of the TV workforce. The same survey found that women accounted for just 23 percent of radio news directors and 18 percent of general managers.

It’s the same bad news around most of the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media surveyed more than 500 media companies in almost 60 countries, and found that men occupied 73 percent of the top management jobs.

The ouster of The New York Times’s Jill Abramson and Natalie Nougayrède’s resignation from Le Monde — which both took place on May 14 — made news, and prompted a quick, hot industry-wide conversation about the state of women in journalism. These very public departures were merely the latest sign that, with a few notable exceptions and in spite of years of work toward more diversity, men still run the industry.

As they do most. The Fortune 500 lists just 24 female CEOs. The Financial Post 500, Canada’s version, includes 26.

The results of this gender disparity in leadership are especially pernicious in journalism. To best serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers, news organizations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Plus, content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader’s gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.

Yet, despite overall historic gains and pockets of progress, women lag when it comes to leading. That has many senior female leaders as concerned and pessimistic as they have ever been, and worried that the new generation of digital start-ups is recreating many of the same gender imbalances that characterized old media. “What we’re seeing in media is part of a larger phenomenon for women in leadership in all sorts of fields,” says Melanie Sill, former editor at The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer and The Sacramento Bee and now vice president of content at the public radio station KPCC in Southern California. “We’re slipping, as an industry and maybe as a society, back to a place where women didn’t get the same opportunities and didn’t have the same influence.”

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »
Categorieën: Extern nieuws