Saturday, January 30, 2010

Using Foreclosure Law to Save Your Home

 Now, before I get started, let me make some things clear. I am not, and have never been, in favor of programs designed to save buried home borrowers from the consequences of their folly nor do I support any of the array of "housing affordability" programs designed to line the pockets of all the players in the housing industry while keeping house prices levitated beyond affordability for legitimate buyers. Far be it from me to lend my support to anything that would re-inflate the housing bubble or reward buyers and lenders alike for extremely bad behavior.

However, I fully support the use of foreclosure law and securities regulations as they exist to help yourself financially and hold onto your house, and your credit rating. After all, business entities don't hesitate to use every tool in the box to legally escape debts they don't want to pay, as Morgan Stanley's decision to just "walk away" from five large commercial properties in San Francisco proves. It's humorous that Morgan Stanley refuses to refer to this as a "default"- "we're not defaulting, we're giving the properties back to the bank," said one Morgan spokesman. If it's not immoral for Morgan Stanley to "give back" their underwater properties to the bank, is it immoral for home borrowers to "strategically default" on a loan that way exceeds the value of the house?

I can't think of a better way to punish irresponsible lenders, and the bottom-feeding scum "servicing" companies who have recently bought all these crud mortgages for ten cents on the dollar, or maybe twenty cents, hoping to make a quick killing off of this mountain of misery by applying strong-armed collection techniques to extract payment, then for borrowers to make use of the laws as they exist to hand it to the greedy scum who make their living off the debt creation racket.

Troubled homeowners whose mortgages date from 2003 forward might be able to use existing foreclosure laws in order to keep their homes, says Ken "The Postman" Kappel, author of Use Foreclosure Law! Save Your Home.

In a related article, Is Obama Captured-The New... New.. Mortgage Scam, Kappel states that most loan modifications are not working and have a 58% re-default rate, as they usually result in higher payments and increased loan amounts.Worse, when you get your loan modified, you mostly lose all rights you may have to remediation if your original loan was fraudulent or otherwise in violation of applicable laws and regulations.

Kappel goes on to state that, according to Forensic Loan Auditors, over 80% of mortgages written since 2003 contain predatory lending and securities law violations which the borrower could use to have the loan rendered void altogether, but that home borrowers are giving up their rights under the applicable foreclosure and securities laws when they have their loans modified.

If you are a buried borrower, it might be worth your while to explore your possibilities under existing laws to see if your rights were violated and you were indeed defrauded as that is defined under the law, and what remedies might be available to you. I make no personal guarantee that you will be able to salvage your situation, but it's worth exploring. It is especially important to carefully consider whether a mortgage modification will really serve you, even if you are able to obtain one.

Whatever you do, tread very carefully and obtain really competent legal help, before you decide to default, or get a loan mod, or take other action, for you might be able to use existing laws to save your credit rating at least, even if you end up giving up the house after all. Good luck.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Death By Auto Dependency

Most people would chalk up the death by exposure of Mrs. Martil Jovanes, 80, of Minooka, IL, as just "one of those things", a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, under the wrong conditions, not to be helped. The hand of God, some might say.

The circumstances surrounding her death are sketchy. Her address is not provided, and no survivor offered a statement.It is known only that she was returning from a dialysis treatment, and that she had left her car stalled on the railroad tracks, and had walked away from it, presumably in search of help, for it was ascertained that the auto had burned before being struck by a train, and Mrs. Jovanes was found collapsed about a quarter mile away. A post-mortem examination determined that she'd succumbed to hypothermia, or exposure to the cold.

Readers in the Joliet-Minooka area posted a few comments online, and most posters were critical of local law enforcement for not responding to a report of a fire at the rail crossing. But no one remarking on the tragedy questioned the living arrangements that require an octogenarian resident of a small town to drive many miles on desolate roads in the bitter cold to fulfill a course-of-life errand, such as a necessary medical procedure or trip to the supermarket.

Because that is how most of us live these days, at least those of us who live beyond the most densely -populated precincts of the handful of American cities fortunate enough to have adequate public transportation. In all other places, including most of our larger cities, the transit is infrequent, unreliable, and either doesn't run where you need it to, or when you need it to. You might be able to get to work, but nowhere else, least of all the nearest supermarket that might be 10 miles away. You might be able to get to work, but not back home because the service stops at an early hour.

60 years ago, at the end of WW2, this tragedy might not have happened. At that time, our towns and cities were oriented to their central business districts, and in a town like Minooka, like most other small towns, businesses and residential development would have clustered around the rail stops.An elder most likely would have lived on a street not far from either the retail district nor relatives, friends, and neighbors, and if she needed help, she would have quickly gotten it. She would most likely have had relatives nearby, or at least neighbors she knew well, and the goods and services she needed would have been available within a few blocks of her residence.

However, the post-WW2 era with its frantic suburban development and super-highway building was no kinder to towns like Minooka, or for that matter, small cities like Joliet and Springfield, than it was to our larger cities, and these days, instead of cozy, stable residential neighborhoods close to a prosperous business district, what you see at the rail stops on the Amtrak lines these days are deserted retail buildings, and dirty, decrepitating residential areas made of formerly fine houses let to fall into ruin, while the town's newer neighborhoods are built like suburbs, far from the retail district and accessible only by automobiles. Like the residents of the outer suburbs of large cities - and Minooka is now considered to be an outer suburb of Chicago- the remaining residents of most small towns must drive many miles to shop for groceries, go to school, visit the dentist, or see a new film.

Worse, just as our auto dependence has caused the populations of our towns and cities, and the businesses and institutions that serve them, to disperse to low-density neighborhoods oriented to expressways rather than to local businesses and rail stops, it has also dispersed families and friends and, in rural places like Minooka, even neighbors far and wide enough that an elder might feel that she's imposing a real burden on her neighbors and loved ones by asking for a ride to the doctor on one of the coldest days of the year.

Thanks to our almost universal auto dependence, a lone elder living in a place like Minooka has the worst of both worlds, really- you have the anonymity and lack of neighborly relations of a large, bustling city without the amenity and convenience, such as a bus that stops at your door and runs 24/7, while at the same time you have the poverty of services and retail of a very small town that has been left behind by suburbanization and big box dominance, without the intimacy, neighborliness, and long-time neighborly associations and physical closeness to your relatives, that were once the saving graces of small-town life.

Well, oil has once more crossed back into $80/barrel territory, and a larger percentage of our increasingly impoverished population everday, especially those dwelling in distant auto suburbs and rural outlands, are finding themselves stranded by the side of the road, figuratively as well as literally, as the costs of car ownership collide with the escalating costs of everything else, to make their lives much more uncomfortable and perhaps downright dangerous, thanks to our heavy dependence on a dwindling resource and our refusal to consider how we could arrange our lives so that a person could at least live and perform the ordinary errands without driving a car.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nuclear Energy and Radiation Exposure:Depleted Cranium Blog on Reducing Exposure to Radiation

For those opponents of nuclear energy who believe that any exposure to any amount of radiation is life-threatening and that our authorities should pull every stop to reduce exposure to the minimum possible, check out the suggestions for accomplishing zero radioactive exposure over at Depleted Cranium.

Coal-fired power plants, nuclear medicine, naturally occuring radon, and commonplace building materials including concrete, masonry, and granite, all generate more radiation than any nuclear power plant. Shall we eliminate these potent sources of radiation in our pursuit of zero radiation in our environment? What will we sacrifice not only economically, but in the way of health, comfort, and the basic decencies of life to eliminate low-level radiation, as well as other potential chemical hazards?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Community Meeting: Proposed New Restaurant and Bar at 1412 W. Morse

Wednesday, January 13, at 7:00 PM
United Church, third floor
1545 W. Morse (Morse & Ashland Aves.)
Chicago, IL 60626

The office of the 49th Ward Alderman, Joe Moore, will conduct a community meeting on a proposal to open a restaurant and bar at the new condo building at 1412 W. Morse. According to an email announcement from the alderman's office,the owner of the building , Alex Samrdzija, will be the proprietor of the proposed new business, which he says will be similar to Xippo, a restaurant and bar that Mr. Samrdzija owns in Lincoln Square at 3759 N Damen.

A zoning change, from the current B3.3, to C1.3, will be required and a special use permit will also be required for 7 additional off-site parking spaces.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Save the Uranium 233

Kirk Sorensen of Energy from Thorium has graciously granted me permission to post in its entirety his series of posts concerning the Department of Energy's planned destruction of its stockpile of Uranium 233, a material that is not only essential to the functioning of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, but is extremely valuable in nuclear medicine. The DOE plans to destroy the U-233 starting in 2012 as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce the amount of weapons-grade material. This is specious, for U-233 can only be used in nuclear weapons after undergoing an enrichment process vastly more complex than that for isotopes that are vastly more plentiful.

Please write to your elected representatives and urge them to take action to prevent the destruction of this valuable material.

From the EFT blog:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Save the Uranium-233!

The Department of Energy has been engaged in a terrible effort to destroy--permanently--what might be the most precious substance on Earth: Uranium-233.

Why is uranium-233 so precious? Because in a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, U-233 represents essentially unlimited energy. How can that be so? Because in a LFTR, U-233 "catalyses" the consumption of thorium, which is natural and abundant. Every kilogram of U-233 represents roughly a megawatt of power in a LFTR--forever.

This might sound like some kind of "perpetual motion" machine, but it's very much grounded in nuclear reality. U-233 is what thorium turns into when exposed to neutrons. U-233 is fissile, thorium is not. But thorium can capture the neutrons from fissioned U-233 and then replace the U-233 consumed.

So a LFTR, started on U-233, will burn through its original "start charge" fairly quickly, but will continue to form new U-233 at the same rate it's consumed. So after 1, 10, or 100 years, the same amount of U-233 is there as was there when the reactor got started.

That's how U-233 "catalyses" unlimited energy production from thorium.

Here's some images describing the inventory of U-233 that the DOE currently has at Oak Ridge National Lab.

One kilo of U-233 in a LFTR for a year: one megawatt*year (8,760,000 kilowatt*hours)

One kilo of U-233 in a LFTR for 10 years: ten megawatt*years (87,600,000 kilowatt*hours)

One kilo of U-233 in a LFTR for 100 years: 100 megawatt*years (876,000,000 kilowatt*hours)

The longer you use U-233, the more it's worth. Let's say electricity sells for a nickel per kW*hr.

One kilo, one year: half a million dollars.

One kilo, ten years: 5 million dollars.

One kilo, one hundred years: 50 million dollars.

Anyone else know of something worth $50M per kg?

But the DOE is determined to destroy this precious resource (and we have about 1000 kg of U-233) by mixing it with U-238 and making it worthless for future use. What's worse, they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make this precious resource into waste!

Why are we sabotaging our future by destroying U-233?

Call your congressman (especially if you live in Tennessee) and beg them to intervene!

Further discussion on the thorium-forum on this topic.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Good Riddance: The Wild 2000s in Review

Well, we can kiss off the first decade of the Third Millenium. Never have so many people been so damned glad to wrap up a decade, and at no time in the history of written civilization have so many people spent so much money and racked up so much debt with so little to show for it, and never have we had a period in which just about every asset lost so much values.

The decade saw a major terrorist attack on an American city that killed over 3,000 people. We entered two losing wars that will probably not end in our lifetimes and that are less likely every day to achieve their objectives. We elected two spectacularly inept presidents in turn who have each colluded with the country's financial kingpins to strip the population of not only the wealth it possessed but that of the next three generations going forward, by offloading the trillions of dollars of unrepayable private debt generated by the most egregious financial fraud ever perpetrated onto the backs of the public.  Our incomes declined while our cost of living rose nearly 35%, and we managed to promulgate the biggest financial fraud ever perpetrated on Planet Earth, whose creation involved racking up the largest load of private and public debt relative to a nation's GDP in the history of civilization. The disparity in incomes has never been wider, and we have at last managed to sell ourselves lock, stock, and barrel to a country run by a thug government dominated by an ideology we are officially opposed to.

It's hard to say what comes next, and while I've made some accurate calls here and there, I wouldn't presume to forecast the coming decade. I can only say that we're not exactly off to a promising start. One octegenarian commentator, at the High Plains Reader, reflected on the comparisons between his first decade of life during the Depression of the 30s, and his 8th decade, and mordantly remarks that we're headed for worse times now and that "I doubt even the grapes will grow in 2010."  It is not encouraging that our leadership continues to toss trillions of dollars at the housing industry to make housing more expensive for people whose incomes are dropping, and billions at the obsolete American auto industry, thus siphoning off the capital that is badly needed to rebuild our frayed electrical grid, let alone the power plants and railroads we will need, or to develop promising new technologies that could mitigate our slide down the slope of fossil fuel depletion and perhaps improve our lives while offering careers with a future, and the potential for economic growth from something other than swapping fraudulent financial products and selling overpriced houses. Or building redundant highways and purveying goods made by semi-slave labor in communist countries.

Our hope lies in the willingness of our middle classes to accept that new externalities have drastically changed the game forever, and their creativity and adaptability in crafting appropriate and rational responses to new and vastly more difficult conditions. Traditionally, the middle classes have been our most dynamic and adaptable populations, and are generally the first to embrace necessary changes and are usually in the vanguard of innovation. The middle, and often, the better-off working classes have given us our entrepreneurs, inventors, scholars, philosophers, and artists, but our middle classes have been financially weakened and greatly demoralized by the losses they have taken in the past 10 years, not to mention the past 30.

On the plus side, our population has become, at least for the time being, more frugal and cautious, and the population in general seems to accept that the high-flying lifestyles of the past couple of decades are out of reach, probably forever, and that they never were underpinned by reality. We are at least still able to eat regularly and the grocery stores are amply supplied. The power flows through the lines and goods are in the stores and the city is repairing the streets, and the trains and buses are running.

Let's just hope that we've seen the worst that thirty years of dying productivity, increasing financial fraud, and reckless spending and debt creation can do, at least for the time being. Most of us have an ugly inkling in the gut that the future has worse things in store for us, and we can only hope we can meet them with courage and the willingness to let go of what no longer serves us, and with the same spirit that inspired the achievements of the past century that have given us so much.

The Hidden Reserves of Gull Island and Other Cornucopian Legends

Stressful times have a way of infusing new life into old superstitions and legends, and sure enough, now that oil prices are making a choppy path back to triple digits and existing elephant fields are showing symptoms of exhaustion, the conspiracy theorists are reviving rumors of vast, untapped supplies of oil, "enough to last two hundred years", or is "bigger than Saudi Arabia".

The two most enduring legends are Gull Island and the Bakken Formation.These two fields were discovered decades ago, and any hopes that these fields could approach the production of Gwaihir or Cantarell have been dashed many times over. The vast reserves simply are not there, but the myth dies hard. A Google search brought up hundreds of articles on each field, and in the case of Gull Island, the conspiracy hacks claim that the U.S. government has conspired to cap these wells and keep secret their existence in order to drive up oil prices. There are many plausible explanations for the shutting in of productive wells by the producer, and it's not difficult to imagine that a producer might wish to put a floor under oil prices, since a temporary glut can drive prices to points below profitability, but it is difficult to imagine a vast government conspiracy to raise oil prices in view of the fact that oil production is heavily subsidized in the U.S. with a vast variety of tax favors and incentives, in order to keep prices artificially low, and current prices are still low enough to render offshore drills and extraction from the Calgary sands prohibitively expensive and risky. Wells are shut in when the energy required to work them exceeds the energy that can be extracted from them, that simple, which is why the tar sands projects have been shut in and the offshore drills are not being done- the cheap, easy sweet crude is mostly gone, and what remains is the stuff that is difficult and expensive to get out of the ground. This means that price of oil must be at a certain level to justify the development of these sources, and when it isn't, they will go untapped.

Every report of fabulous reserves at Gull Island and government conspiracies to keep them from being exploited trace their roots back to Lindsey Williams, a Baptist missionary who published a book in 1980 called The Energy Non-Crisis, which describes the Gull Island field and speculates that it might contain enough oil to supply the U.S. for 200 years; in other words, that it is another "elephant" field. That there are thousands of websites echoing Williams' amazing claims is testament to the resilience of cornucopian myths, for Gull Island has indeed been explored and drilled, but it is not producing anything like the 2 million barrels a day that he claims it is capable of, but more like 4,000 barrels a day at the most from Gull no. 1 and Gull no.2. Gull Island State no. 3, drilled in 1992, was a dry hole. According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC), and by the words of ARCO geologists working at the site, “both the geologic evidence and the small area not yet developed into oil fields around the Gull Island wells preclude the possibility of a giant oil accumulation.”(Petroleum News)

According to Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas, the largest pool at Gull Island has thus far produced 396 million barrels of oil, and has perhaps 164 million remaining- and that is the largest of the pools. Therefore, we are probably talking about 1 billion barrels of oil at the most to be had from this legendary field, which, while respectable, is piddling relative to the truly large fields containing 5 billion barrels or more, let alone the supergiants of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It's difficult to believe that any consortium of industry players or government bureaucrats could keep such a find a secret for longer than it takes to file for the drilling permits. Perhaps it's a matter of public perception; to most people out here, 164M sounds like a lot of oil, and 5 billion is staggering, for most people do not realize that the U.S. rips through 7 billion barrels a year. Nor do they realize that while we once found much greater quantities of oil than the world used, that now the finds are very small relative to global demand, which is growing while new discoveries are smaller and smaller. A recent white paper authored by Dr. Robert Hirsch, Giant Oil Field Decline Rates and Their Influence on World Production,  makes it clear that the world's giant fields are in decline and that the decline rate vastly outpaces the rate of new discoveries.

The Bakken Formation, a gigantic formation that is nearly 200,000 square miles in size, was first discovered in 1951 and then abandoned for decades as impossible to work because the petroleum is encased in layers of impermeable dolomite,and is a truly tantalizing find. The formation stretches across three states and provinces, and some geologists speculated that as much as 400 billion barrels of oil might reside in the layers of  impermeable shale and dolomite. However, it turns out that, based on current production, that the most the formation can be expected to yield, given current levels of knowledge and technology, is about 4.1 billion barrels. While that is a pretty respectable number, it won't come near meeting our ongoing demand, let alone that of rapidly developing economies in Asia such as China, India, and Indonesia with their huge populations of a billion people or more and rapidly devoping industrial economies.

The cornucopian tales of vast, unlimited resources and conspiracies to price them out of reach to the needy population are matched by the myths of "green" Perpetual Motion machines spun by the fantasists of the Green movement, and the current liberal political regime has bought into them hook, line, and sinker. Environmentalists Amory Lovins and Al Gore, who are the most prominent propagators of the alt-energy myths, have attained almost God-like status among the Green contingent, as well as considerable influence within the Obama administration. The plot line of green fantasies of the unlimited energy that could be realized from solar, wind, and geothermal power is similar to that of the fossil fuel cornucopians. We could, they say, run our cities and transportation entirely on wind, solar, and geothermal were it not for government coddling of the fossil fuel industries and deliberate obstruction of alternative technologies. "Whole cities are run on wind power!" exclaim the fantasists, and they point to such "cities" as tiny Rock Port, Missouri, pop.1300,  as examples of the superiority of "renewable" energy. The little hamlet near the Nebraska border has achieved energy independence by means of four wind turbines that cost $90 Million and  that generate 5 megawatts a power per day.  A closer look reveals that not only is this expensive power -it translates to a minimum .20 cents per kilowatt hour under the best circumstances, but that the system must be tied to the nation-wide grid for backup power when the wind is not blowing. In other words, like solar power, it is reliant upon fossil fuel backups to assure reliable, uninterrupted power generation, thus blasting away fantasies of energy independence from "renewables". Additionally, the Rock Port project is one node of a much larger project in the area, which meant that the turbines cost much less than they would as a "stand alone" project, and the town was, under its previous arrangement, paying a substantial premium for power transmitted from distant places, known as a "wheeling charge", for the line loss involved in transmitting electricity over vast distances, which elevated its power costs significantly. In other words, Rock Port is a special situation, a tiny community in a remote location that has benefited from a convergence of unusual circumstances: the high cost of importing power from remote sources, the loss of other alternatives such as the hydro that used to supply the town, and proximity to a large wind farm and the existence of ideal weather for wind generation, along with a tiny population and copious federal subsidies. Such a combination of factors doesn't set up often, and even so, the town is ultimately reliant upon fossil fuel for its power given the intermittant nature of wind power and the difficulty of storing it.

But no matter how often and convincingly these myths are debunked, they retain their life and their power over a frightened population traumatized by the loss of the industries that made this country, for a time, the wealthiest and most productive nation ever to exist; blindsided by the vicious reversal and revealed fraud of the "growth" economy that seemed invincible just a few years ago, and now confronted with steep, irreversible financial losses and, worse, the permanent loss of our high level of comfort and the terminal depletion of the resources that have made it possible. Right now, we are in denial, which is the first stage of the grieving process, and that denial is manifest in the cornucopian fantasies of government coverups of giant oil finds and suppression of alternative energy sources that could, people believe, make it possible to continue our current obscenely wasteful consumption of resources. Such denial is utterly human and completely understandable.

But it won't help us in the task of reorganizing our economy and communities in keeping with reduced energy imputs and the contraction and eventual loss of industries reliant upon cheap, plentiful lifestyles. We will soon progress to the second stage of the grieving process, which is anger, and millions of people consumed with pain and rage will target the usual scapegoats, which would include our political leaders, who will pay a steep price for pandering to the wish-based fantasies of a population steeped in denial.

However, the steepest price of all will be paid by the 290 million or so "ordinary people", whose failure to reconcile their desires with emerging conditions  will set them on a collision course with unpalatable realities, and who will thus be driven into corners defined by no-win choices and who will not have the alternatives available to our financial and political elites.Most of us will not be able to fly off to pristine little communities buried in remote spots, or accumulate vast stockpiles of provisions and ammo in gated compounds guarded by private armies.

And at that point, the "bargaining" stage of the process, we will not be the ones setting the terms of the deal. The hard facts of resource scarcity in combination with a population utterly unprepared to cope with life on terms vastly different than those of the past 70 years will set the terms, and we will have to cope however we can, minus the skills and mentality that could make the difference between life with a certain minimal level of tech amenity in solid communities in an honest, productive economy; and the chaos, scarcity, and rampant violence of a society rapidly devolving into savagery and civil breakdown as its fantasy-driven denizens wander witlessly from place to place in search of illusionary prosperity and safety, and of leaders who will tell them exactly what they want so badly to believe, which is that we can flout the laws of nature and continue to consume vastly more than we produce, whether energy or the goods the energy makes possible.