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Homeowner help remains elusive in $16.5bn Bank of America fine

In a deal with the Justice Department, the bank agreed about $7bn should go to homeowners. History reminds us not to hold our bre

The financial crisis created enough rage for the Occupy protests, which had police protecting bank ATMs all over the country. But are the mortgage reparations on the same scale as the banks’ offenses? David Dayen says no. Photograph: Natalie Behring/Getty Images

The Justice Department has inked yet another cash settlement for misconduct in the production of mortgage-backed securities, this time with Bank of America for $16.65bn.

Don’t expect a lot of that to be of any help to people who lost their homes.

While Bank of America is ostensibly devoting around $7bn of the money to consumers, homeowners will actually see very little money or help.

The JP Morgan precedent

Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, which signed a similar mortgage settlement with the Justice Department last year and has delivered under 1% of the money it has promised to help homeowners. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

We can look to the first settlement of this type with a bank – last November’s deal with JPMorgan Chase – and draw some conclusions.

Under that settlement, which the Justice Department called a template for future fines against the banks, JPMorgan is supposed to deliver $4bn in consumer relief, primarily through reducing interest rates or principal on mortgages.

But homeowners will have to wait. Like the other banks, JPMorgan has three years to make good on this relief. An initial report from Joseph Smith, who is overseeing JPMorgan’s consumer relief obligation, shows that the bank’s money is not exactly flying out the door to homeowners.

As of 31 March of this year, five months after the settlement, JPMorgan only claimed verifiable modifications on 100 loans, for a grand total of $6m in credited relief – a little under 1% of the total it has promised. Even though the settlement provides a bonus credit for relief delivered within the first year, JPMorgan has decided to stretch things out.

Community housing activists like the Home Defenders League have repeatedly questioned whether relief will ever materialize. The group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request in July, asking the Justice Department about how the JPMorgan settlement is being implemented.

“The bankers bought their way out of jail, but the money hasn’t actually arrived to help the families who need it,” said Kevin Whelan, National Campaign Director of the Home Defenders League, in a statement.

A punished bank is forced to lend

JPMorgan and its competitors don’t necessarily have to give relief directly to homeowners to pay their way out of their penalties. They can just sign more loans. Under the language of the settlements, banks can get credit for making new mortgages available to borrowers in hard-hit areas or Fema disaster zones, to first-time low- to moderate-income buyers, or to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosures and short sales.

Since making loans is the bank’s actual business, from which they profit, it’s odd that this is considered a penalty for misconduct.

Banks only get a flat $10,000 in credit for each loan made, as opposed to dollar-for-dollar relief on principal forgiveness.

And they can only use this trick to pay off a paltry $165m of the $4bn in relief they owe homeowners. But a smart bank would take the “penalty” of making a profitable loan over cutting principal any day.

Banks get more financial benefit from demolishing houses than for providing mortgage help to homeowners. Photograph: HAP/Quirky China News/Rex Feat

How to get credit: tear down the house

Banks also can get credit under the settlement for demolition of blighted properties, donations of homes, or funding for community development projects. These all may be worthy causes, but they don’t directly help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure. And JPMorgan can use these anti-blight measures to satisfy as much as $2bn, or half, of the penalty.

Finally, even if homeowners manage to secure relief for their mortgage debt, under current law they would have to pay taxes on it.

Want mortgage help? The $25,000 tax bill

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which would have protected homeowners from taxes on debt relief, expired last December, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will retroactively renew it. That means that any benefit from forgiveness of principal gets treated for tax purposes like earned income.

On a principal reduction of $100,000, the tax bill would be around $25,000 for the typical homeowner. Stressed families at risk of foreclosure don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to devote to taxes for phantom “income” they don’t actually see. So the “consumer relief” may actually harm them.

Clearly worried about the potential for hitting customers expecting help with a tax bill, on this settlement the Justice Department forced Bank of America to place $490 million in a “tax relief fund” to defray any tax liability arising from delivering debt relief. This was not a feature of other Justice Department settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, and shows the very real fear that the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act will not be renewed. JPMorgan and Citi customers will be out-of-luck victims of bad timing, but Bank of America borrowers will theoretically be more protected.

However, if $490 million in the settlement goes toward the unintended tax consequences, that much less will go to help borrowers stay in their homes. So fewer homeowners will get aid as a result. And Bank of America has four years, until August 2018, to comply with the relief terms.

Put aside the fact that no cash payment will suffice either as just compensation for the magnitude of the losses or as deterrent for the enormity of the crimes – at least not without executives seeing the inside of a jail cell. Put aside the fact that the crime described here is swindling investors, yet investors will reap virtually none of the benefits, with most of the cash penalty going to the Justice Department itself. Put aside that this normalizes slaps on the wrist: banks can pay their way out of trouble without even having to describe their wrongdoing in detail.

Homeowners have waited for years for aid from the toxic loans banks knowingly and fraudulently sold them. These Justice Department settlements haven’t sped relief to them either, and may only give them more headaches.


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Contaminating Our Drinking Water? Bad Idea!



Ask Your Members of Congress to Protect Our Water and Ban Fracking

We Can Put a Stop to Fracking

Tell Your Legislators:
Ban Fracking Now!

Fracking is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing. Politicians, from state governors all the way up to the White House, say that drilling for natural gas is the answer to our energy woes. But they’re ignoring the facts: fracking for gas pollutes our air and water, poisons nearby communities, and worsens climate change. All of that, and it doesn’t even address our real energy needs. That’s why I’m asking for your help to fight back.

Tell your members of Congress to ban fracking now.

Fracking is a destructive process of extracting oil and gas from deep underground by fracturing layers of rock with a high-pressure blast of toxic chemicals, water and sand. Why is fracking so bad? The dangers are proven:

  • Fracking pollutes — a lot! It wastes millions of gallons of water, releases toxic fumes and leaves behind pools of radioactive wastewater that can’t be transported or disposed of safely. Even worse, oil and gas companies aren’t required to disclose the chemicals they use, but we know that fracking fluid includes carcinogens and endocrine disruptors — seriously nasty stuff.
  • Fracking hurts communities. We’re hearing more and more stories about families getting sick when they live near fracking wells. Often, fracked communities can no longer even drink the local water — instead, they rely on water that’s trucked in by the very companies that poisoned their groundwater.
  • Fracking affects everyone, no matter where you live, because water doesn’t stay put. Contaminated water and fracking waste are a serious threat to our precious, limited supply of fresh water on this planet. The same goes for air pollution caused by fracking.
  • Fracking worsens climate change. The methane released from fracking wells can be even more damaging to our climate than burning coal.

The only “benefit” of fracking is that it lines the pockets of the big oil and gas companies that are lobbying hard to expand their right to frack, without a care for what damage they’re causing in the process. Let’s put a stop to this. Take action for a ban on fracking.

The good news is that together we can stop fracking. As more and more people call for a ban on fracking, elected officials are starting to get the point. Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to call for a fracking ban, and since then our activists have worked tirelessly and pushed back against efforts to frack all across the country. We’ve held off fracking in New York longer than anyone thought possible. Communities that have already suffered from fracking, like Longmont, Colorado, are rising up to pass local bans. But we need to protect every community in the country by calling for a national ban on fracking: to slow or stop the process where it’s already happening, and elsewhere, to prevent it before it starts.

We can’t sacrifice our water, our climate and our communities to fracking. Ask your members of Congress to ban fracking now.

Thanks for taking action,

Miranda Carter
National Online Campaign Manager
Food & Water Watch

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School Violence Prevention – A Scenario


A beautiful autumn day.  The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and the laughter of young voices carries across the grass. They are all oblivious to the coming storm that is about to envelope them.

The class loser is walking towards them with an angry scowl. He’s wearing a long overcoat, but that is nothing unusual. He’s been in a sour mood since his sophomore year, when his parents got divorced and his dad moved to the east coast. His class attendance has slipped and he’s even been expelled once for bringing a knife to class and making threats.

Since then, he’s become a loner, and even started wearing Goth clothes although he doesn’t hang with or even like them. A recent fascination with all sorts of weapons has startled his mother, but she’s working 3 jobs to keep them fed and housed. And the neighbors seem to be losing their pets lately.

A few of his friends know that he’s been sick a lot to. But they don’t hang out much anymore because he rarely takes a bath or uses deodorant. And he gets defensive if you try to talk to him. He’s also been seen with the ‘druggies’ as of late.

And he’s been tripping and walking into stuff a lot. And on top of that, his grades are not consistent from week to week or even day to day.

He walks into the command and hunkers down, his scowling look making him a path. He walks into a group of students waiting for the bell to start class. Someone remarks that he stinks. He bellows a gut-wrenching yell, throws back his coat and unloads a stream of 9mm hollow points into the one who said it.

An instant of stunned silence falls before the depths of hell pounces its rage out on another high school. When it’s all over dozens lay dead and wounded, including the shooter.

The blood splatter on the wall and removing the carpet is easy. Restoring the sanity of students and parents will not be. And what do you tell those parents when they show up at the school or hospital?

Fortunately, this is a scenario that most of us as security professionals will never have to face. But it’s just as frightening even if the chances are remote.

As security professionals, we plan for such events on a daily basis. We train, read, organize, and attend seminars. We plan and meet with administrators. We try to encourage good security habits amongst the staff. Simply put, to do our jobs. And still it happens. In December 2007 Junior Achievement, in conjunction with Deloitte and Touché, released a survey with some startling statistics. The survey , which was intended for the workplace but translates well to our schools, stated the 39% of 13 to 18 year Old’s believe that that lying, stealing, and cheating were acceptable ways of getting ahead in life.

That’s startling enough, but 23% said that some level of violence against a co-worker is acceptable. If it is acceptable against a co-worker, what does that make it against another student?

Most of us would have seen the warning signs in the scenario I started with. But, over a period of a few years, would we just accept the fact that that student is who he is and leave him alone? I point them all out here and they are easy to see. The warning signs are always there no matter what anyone states or believes.

Does this mean that every kid that discovers an interest in Goth attire and make-up is a candidate for a Columbine style attack? No. Some kids are just in the process of discovering themselves and need a little latitude. Latitude yes, alone time and being a loner. NO!

Robert D. Sollars is a31 year veteran of the security field. He has been studying, researching, writing, & speaking about workplace/school violence for 23 years. He has a book on each topic. To read the remaining posts in this series, to be finished on Wednesday the 27th,  please go to the blog site, or follow me on tweeter @robertsollars2 to get the blog posts as they come out.



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Hacking Into Traffic Lights With a Plain Old Laptop Is Scary Simple

Hacking Into Traffic Lights With a Plain Old Laptop Is Scary Simple

The idea that our traffic data systems are vulnerable is not a new one. In fact, improving cyber security on our nation’s infrastructure is a huge priority right now. But a new study from the University of Michigan on the vulnerabilities of traffic lights is shocking proof that we need to make some major changes, and we need to make them now.

A team led by computer scientist J. Alex Halderman recently conducted a study on the security of traffic lights in an unnamed Michigan town and found them to be ridiculously easy to hack. Three major weaknesses—unencrypted wireless connections, the use of default usernames and passwords, and vulnerable dubugging ports—meant that the researchers were able to take control over the lights with a normal laptop. As long as the wireless card in the hacker’s computer can communicate at the same frequency that the traffic lights use, it can break into the wireless network that powers the entire system.

It’s pretty mind-boggling actually. A hacker can find the default usernames and passwords needed for unfettered access and take over a whole city’s traffic system with one dinky exploit. And it really is a systemic problem. As the Michigan research team wrote in their paper on the experiment, “The vulnerabilities we discover in the infrastructure are not a fault of any one device or design choice, but rather show a systemic lack of security consciousness.”

The really scary thing in this conclusion is the simple fact that we’re making more and more machines internet-connected with taking the necessary cyber security measures. If it’s freakishly easy to hack into our traffic lights, it’s probably freakishly easy to hack into some electronic voting machines, medical devices, and possibly even power grids.

Don’t freak out too too much, though. The government’s taking the threat pretty dang seriously. In fact, they’re ready to go to war over it. [Univ. of Michigan via Tech Review]


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7 Cardinal Rules to Retirement Planning


An onslaught of retiring baby boomers; the uncertain duration of Social Security funding; difficulty with workplace retirement accounts like 401(k)s – even if these factors were stronger than they are now, you’d still have a heavy burden in managing your finances during retirement, says financial planner Carl Edwards.

“Many advisors and clients rely too much on single product lines.  This misuse often gives products and the financial industry in general a bad name.  Advisors who are restricted in the types of financial products they can offer or understand may not provide the best advice. Independent and credentialed planners, on the other hand, don’t have their hands tied in what they can offer clients and may provide better advice.”

•  Avoid trying to time the market. Markets often move in cycles and some investors believe that they can boost their investment returns by buying at the bottom and selling at the top. The problem is that investors are terrible at correctly predicting market movements and multiple studies have shown that market timers usually end up with significantly smaller retirement savings than buy-and-hold investors. While it can be stressful to see your portfolio plummet during a market correction, it’s important to stay calm and focus on your long-term strategy.

•  Use risk-appropriate financial vehicles. Retiring can be a risky business. The days of relying on employer-provided pension plans are largely over and retirees now have to deal with risks including investment, inflation, healthcare, longevity and others. Though the total elimination of risk isn’t possible, we can manage many of them through competent retirement planning and a clear understanding of factors like your goals, time horizon and financial circumstances.

•  Invest in the most tax-efficient manner. Taxes can take a big bite out of investment returns, which is why we stress tax-efficient planning with our clients. While taxes are just one piece of the overall financial puzzle, it’s important to structure your investments so that you are able to keep what you earn.

•  Complete a cash flow analysis. Retirement will involve major changes to your finances. Sources and timing of income will change and financial priorities may shift as you start generating income from retirement savings. A cash flow analysis will identify spending patterns and help ensure that you have enough income to support your retirement lifestyle.

•  Guarantee your required income. For many retirees, having income that is not subject to market fluctuations is an important part of their retirement plan. Many will have at least some level of guaranteed income from Social Security or defined benefit pension plans. However, if you are worried that your expenses exceed your guaranteed income, a financial advisor can help you explore options for additional streams of income for life.  Guarantees are subject to the paying ability of the income provider.

•  Utilize longevity planning. Today’s retirees are living longer than ever and many worry about outliving their assets. Longevity planning is about preparing for a happy, comfortable and independent retirement and can help ensure that your wealth lasts as long as you need it to.

•  Consider the effects of inflation. Inflation is one of the biggest issues facing retirees because they are disproportionately affected by rising prices. Escalating food, fuel and medical costs can devastate a retirement portfolio unless these costs have been factored into your planning. Positioning your retirement portfolio to fight inflation is critical to ensuring adequate income in retirement.

About Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards, MBA, ChFC®, is a Chartered Financial Consultant® and is the owner of C.E. Wealth Group, ( He has passed the Series 7, Series 66 and Series 63 securities industry exams. In addition, he has passed the Series 24 principal exam. He represents High Street Asset Management as an Investment Adviser Representative and Calton & Associates, Inc. as a Registered Representative. Edwards is also a licensed insurance agent in Life, Health, Medicare Supplement and Long Term Care insurances. Edwards received a master’s degree in business administration and is currently completing a second master’s degree in finance from Penn State University. He also is a member of the American MENSA.

Securities offered through Calton & Associates, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.  Advisory services offered through High Street Asset Management.  C.E. Wealth Group, LLC, High Street Asset Management and Calton & Associates, Inc. are separate entities. Insurance or insurance related products are offered through C.E. Insurances, LLC. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Calton & Associates, Inc. or High Street Asset Management.  Individuals should consult their tax/legal advisors before making tax/legal-related investment decisions as Calton & Associates, Inc. and its Registered Representatives do not offer tax/legal advice.


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Martins Beach access bill moves closer to victory – WE NEED YOUR HELP!

There is no public access to Martin’s Beach in Unincorporated San Mateo County, Calif., photographed on Thursday, July 19, 2012.

to find your state assemblyman 


SACRAMENTO — A proposed law to allow public access to Martins Beach passed one of its last major obstacles Thursday in the state Legislature, overcoming intense lobbying by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, the property’s owner.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would ask the State Lands Commission to consider using its power of eminent domain to purchase access to the beach. The bill squeezed past a key chokepoint Thursday, clearing the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote. It heads to the Assembly floor next week.

There is no public access to Martin’s Beach in Unincorporated San Mateo County, Calif., photographed on Thursday, July 19, 2012. (JOHN GREEN)

The legislation, SB 968, is one of four lines of attack on Khosla’s controversial decision to block the public from reaching the isolated cove south of Half Moon Bay. Khosla is fighting two lawsuits seeking to restore access, and the California Coastal Commission this month launched its own investigation into providing beach visitation.

Hill’s legislation must pass the full Assembly and return to the Senate floor before it can reach Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I think we’ve got a good chance now,” Hill said Thursday as he drove home from the state capital.

The previous owners of the property allowed the public to cross their private land and visit sandy Martin Beach for a fee. Khosla continued that practice for two years after buying the land in 2008. But in 2010 his property manager locked the gate leading from Highway 1 to the coast.

SB 968 would require the State Lands Commission to negotiate with Khosla to acquire access. If those talks did not yield a compromise by Jan. 1, 2016, the bill would authorize the commission to use its power of eminent domain to buy an easement, likely along Martins Beach Road. Though the commission regularly purchases land for public use, it has never resorted to eminent domain to seize property in its 76-year history. The State Lands Commission oversees roughly 4 million acres of land that the state holds in trust for use by the public. These sovereign lands include tidelands, or the portion of a beach that is seaward of the mean high tide line. They also include the beds of navigable lakes and rivers and thousands of miles of land that is submerged off the coast of California.

The commission has a staff of about 240 people and various responsibilities, including managing the state’s offshore oil and gas leases. It has three voting members: the lieutenant governor, the state finance director and the state controller.

As it stands now, the decision whether to use eminent domain would fall to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Finance Director Michael Cohen, and the winner of the race for state controller between state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

The commission would conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of buying a right of way. The agency has a fund of roughly $6 million that could be used for that purpose.

Legislative analysts for the Appropriations Committee estimated the price could run into the tens of millions of dollars. But others, including the county of San Mateo, predict the price would be much lower, between $1 million and $2 million. They note the easement would amount to a sliver of the 89-acre property that Khosla purchased for $32.5 million.

Khosla hired influential lobbyist Rusty Areias of California Strategies to battle SB 968. He has succeeded in watering the bill down — the original version would have required, not asked, the State Lands Commission to use eminent domain — but has yet to snuff it out. Areias did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Coastal advocate Warner Chabot said it’s too soon to predict victory for SB 968. He anticipates Areias will work furiously to peel away Democratic votes in the Assembly.

“It’s always easier to kill a bill than pass it,” Chabot said. “That’s a fundamental rule of Sacramento.”

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at


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Farewell to Candlestick: Paul McCartney delivers touching goodbye concert to famed venue

By Jim Harrington

Paul McCartney wanted to savor the moment.

“This is such a cool event,” he said to the 50,000 fans assembled before him at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Thursday. “I’m just going to take a minute for myself just to drink it all in.”

There was certainly much to absorb, most notably the undeniable sense that we were witnessing history. For this was not just another concert, but rather thefinal one to ever be performed at the equally storied and maligned venue.

McCartney’s “Farewell to Candlestick” concert was a beautiful way to say goodbye to an old friend, one that had provided so many chills (literally speaking) and thrills during its 54-year history. The Rock and Roll Hall ofFamer delivered some 40 songs during thefinal public event at the famously cold and windy stadium, taking fans on a magical musical tour of his Beatles, Wings and solo catalogs.

Paul McCartney performs the final concert and public event at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.

Of course, McCartney was the perfect candidate to turn out the lights, returning to the scene of the Beatlesfinal concert, which happened 48 years ago to the month — on Aug. 29, 1966. No wonder he said he felt a bit of “déjà vu” as he stood onstage at the soon-to-be-demolished former home of San Francisco’s 49ers and Giants.

“It’s sad to see the old place close down,” he said. “But we are going to close it down in style.

Mission accomplished — and then some. McCartney and his band sounded fantastic as they performed anapproximately 2½-hour set built from dozens of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history. The troupe opened with a stellar version of “Eight Days a Week,” from 1964’s “Beatles for Sale,” and was still going strong come encore time.

The evening was thick with nostalgia, but only part of it had to do with the music.The wind whispered ghostlike throughout the night, reviving memories from the stadium’s mighty sports history. Fans, clad in Giants hats and 49ers sweatshirts, seemed well aware that they were standing in this house of past champions for the final time. Thus, for some, this “Farewell to Candlestick” was as much about reconnecting with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Willie Mays, Steve Young and Willie McCovey as it was about reliving the tunes of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The mood was a mix of joy and sadness. For decades, people have complained about this venue’s shortcomings, which include the bad traffic, the cold weather, the crowded concourses and the outdated facilities, all of which were on full display on Thursday. In the end, however, many also seemed sorry to see it go. (They might get over that feeling the minute they get a look at the 49ers fancy new digs at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.)

Yet, the joy clearly triumphed on this night. McCartney made sure of that.

The 72-year-old Liverpool native hasn’t changed his show all that much in recent years. He’s still telling many of the same stories and offering up similar set lists to what fans witnessed on his prior trips through the Bay Area, such as at last year’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

But why monkey with something that works? He simply plays the hits — and plays them well — while exhibiting an amazing amount of energy and charisma. He does more to give the fans their money’s worth than just about any other entertainer in the game. He’s the rare performer with really nothing left to prove, who still handles each and every song as if his legacy depends on it.

McCartney thrilled at basically every turn, whether he was crooning such touching ballads as “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road” or rocking through up-tempo offerings like “Lovely Rita” and “Paperback Writer.” The main set climaxed with a fabulous “Live and Let Die,” which came complete with a fireworks show, and the ultimate singalong favorite, “Hey Jude.” He’d then return for two lengthy encores.

It was a potent swan song for Candlestick, sending this historic venue out in style.

Follow Jim Harrington at



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‘This is our home’ The plight of the flight into Texas

By Melissa del Bosque-

Presnall Cage was driving the outskirts of his ranch when he saw the black tennis shoes. The sight of them up ahead, neatly arranged in a rut of the sandy road, filled him with dread. Several vultures perched in a sprawling live oak tree near the road, and two more flew in lazy circles. He already knew what he would find underneath the tree.

This time it was a young man – what was left of him – his body already decomposing in the heat. In his pockets were US credit cards and an ID. It was always a sad thing to witness, yet another life lost on his land. Like hundreds of others in the past decade, the man had died in Brooks County, Texas, trying to circumvent an immigration checkpoint two miles south of Cage’s ranch. He called the sheriff’s department. By now he had the phone number memorized.

Signs of life, as well as death, can be found on many Brooks County ranches. Migrants leave behind water bottles, food, clothes, and other personal items as they make their way across the hot, rugged terrain.

Two years later, Cage, now 69, remembers the young man – and all the others. His ranch has one of the highest death counts in Brooks County, because it is so vast at 46,000 acres and close to the immigration checkpoint. The US Border Patrol established the permanent checkpoint on US Highway 281 outside the town of Falfurrias – 70 miles north of the border – in 1994 to search for undocumented immigrants and for drugs. It’s the Border Patrol’s last line of defense. Many migrants leave the road and hike through the rugged ranchland, hoping to reconnect with the highway north of the checkpoint. Hundreds die every year on the ranches, most from the heat.

In the past decade, Cage estimates, he’s found at least 100 bodies – enough to make him anxious anytime he sees vultures circling on the horizon. The man with the black tennis shoes was one of 16 bodies he’d discovered in 2012. It was a brutal, unrelenting summer, with temperatures in the triple digits, and it became the worst year for deaths in Brooks County. Sheriff’s deputies recovered 129 bodies in Brooks County, and Texas surpassed Arizona as the deadliest state in the nation for undocumented immigrants. The next year, 2013, the weather had been more merciful, and he’d discovered seven of the county’s 87 bodies. But as of May, Cage had already found four bodies and the hottest months hadn’t even begun yet. “I expect I’ll find more than last year,” he says.

Rancher Presnall Cage has come across numerous migrants on his land in need of help. “Last Thanksgiving we had a very pregnant woman knock on my daughter-in-law’s door. She’d been left behind by the smuggler,” he says.

Not counting his time in the air force, Cage has, like his father before him and his grandfather before that, lived his entire life on his family’s sprawling south Texas ranch. He’s seen migration through his land ebb and flow, but he’s never seen so much desperate humanity coming through as in the past few years.

Like many ranchers in Brooks County, Cage’s political views are conservative, and he takes a hard-line stance on immigration. “The illegals broke the law when they decided to come here,” he says. “But the politicians can’t be honest about it.”

Cage believes the Obama administration is allowing the current influx of unaccompanied children and families from Central America to come across the border to help the Democratic party. “They need new recruits who will vote Democratic,” he says. But while his feelings about illegal immigration frustrate and even anger him at times, when he encounters people on his ranch who need help, he can’t help but feel sympathy for them.

“Last Thanksgiving, we had a very pregnant woman knock on my daughter-in-law’s door. She’d been left behind by the smuggler,” Cage says. “We helped another woman – all she had was a T-shirt wrapped around her like a skirt. She’d been raped in the brush. And we had a baby born on the ranch. When you see a pregnant woman or a lost 14-year-old, your first instinct is to help. I may be a conservative, but I’m a human being, too.”

Most of the people who knock on his door these days come from Central America, a significant change from just five years ago, when 90% of the migrants passing through south Texas were from Mexico, according to Border Patrol apprehension figures. In 2012, US government data showed that for the first time in 40 years, net migration from Mexico had reached zero. But apprehensions of Central Americans coming across the south Texas border have tripled since 2011. The southernmost tip of the Texas-Mexico border is the shortest distance from Central America to the United States and the most traveled route.

Very few of the migrants come through his land without a guide, Cage says. Everyone must pay the cartels and organized crime at some point to make the journey. Most tell Cage they’ve paid anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000 to get to Houston from Central America. “They think the lights of Falfurrias are Houston,” he says. “That’s what the guides tell them – that they’ll only have to walk a couple of hours to get to Houston. When I tell them it’s a four-hour drive they get very disappointed.”

It’s been tough to adjust to the influx, he says, and hard not to feel resentment. In Texas, private property rights are sacrosanct, and they are fiercely protected in Brooks County, where nearly all the land is privately owned. What Cage wants most is a return to the days when people didn’t routinely venture across his land, he says. Ranchers covet their quiet way of life, governed by a set of rules they call “ranch etiquette,” he says. “You don’t ask a man how many acres he owns because it’s like asking to look at his bank account. You don’t enter someone’s land without asking permission first.” That way of life is slipping away.

It’s not just the trespassing migrants who are exerting pressure on traditional ranch life. Now many of Cage’s neighbors are absentee landowners – hedge fund managers or oil and gas millionaires who live in Houston or California. Cage is one of the last members of the old ranching families in Brooks County still living and working on his own land. “Women don’t want to live out here,” he says. “And it’s a tough place to raise your kids.” His children, now grown, have moved to Dallas and San Antonio. But Cage won’t leave, he says. “I love every acre.”

Every morning, Cage steers his white Chevy truck around the ranch, taking stock of what needs to be repaired or replaced. He employs a dozen cowboys and ranch hands to help him. “I keep things in pretty neat shape,” he says. When he was young, he remembers, hardy men from Mexico walking alone or in pairs would stop at the ranch to ask for work and a place to stay. “We would give them work and they’d live at the ranch. It wasn’t illegal back then to hire them,” he says. “They worked hard.” These days, Cage says, he doesn’t hire anyone who isn’t a US citizen, and it’s a struggle to find workers he can rely on. “We’re almost always looking for someone. It’s tough to find anyone who isn’t on probation.”

In the springtime, his ranch is verdant with cactus blooming with vibrant yellow flowers. Heart’s delight, a rich fuchsia-colored flower that grows only in this region, dots the green pastures where his cattle graze. Cage points to an old live oak tree, which he calls “Will’s tree,” after his youngest son. “He was 12, and we let him go out hunting by himself. But he got lost after tracking a deer and then the sun set. He couldn’t find his way back in the dark. We were worried sick about him all night and set up search parties. We found him in that tree there the next morning.” Cage laughs about it now. “He’d spent the whole night in that tree.”

Farther down the road is a small pond. A white egret poised on its stilt-like legs surveys the shallows. “This pond is named after my son Grady,” Cage says. It had always been his eldest son’s dream and his dream too that Grady take over the ranch when Cage retired. “That was the plan since he was little,” Cage says. But Grady died in 2012 at the age of 34, from cancer. “He fought it for 13 years,” he says, looking out at the pond.

Cage, a third generation rancher in south Texas, says ranchers protect their privacy through “ranch etiquette.” “You don’t ask a man how many acres he owns because it’s like asking to look at his bank account. You don’t enter someone’s land without asking permission first,” he says.

After a moment he puts the truck in drive and heads toward a wire fence that marks his property’s boundary. A pink and black backpack hangs from the barbed wire at the top of the fence. Beneath it the wire is bent upward and the sand dug away where people have crawled underneath. “I’d say I spend about $20,000 a year repairing the damage that’s been done,” Cage says. “At least they didn’t cut the wire this time.”

Cage has had the flotation devices that trigger the water pumps for his cattle troughs ripped out by people looking for water, and sometimes migrants leave the gates open and cattle get lost. Then there are the hundreds of pounds of litter left behind every year on his ranch – everything from discarded water bottles and cans to backpacks, toothbrushes and cell phones. In the winter months, his cowboys do trash duty, scouring popular hiding places and migrant drop-off points for the detritus left behind.

Cage blames the checkpoint for all of the traffic on his land. “That’s the squeeze point,” he says. “The McAllen ranch south of here doesn’t have the same problems we do.” The US government built the checkpoint without any consultation with local ranchers or townspeople, he says. In the next decade, the US government plans to double the checkpoint’s size from four to eight lanes and add several more agents.

But none of the growth will help Brooks County, or the town of Falfurrias, where most of the county’s 7,200 residents live. As the checkpoint expanded over the years, becoming the second busiest on the southern border for narcotic seizures and immigrant apprehensions, Falfurrias declined in population. Prospectors had struck oil and gas but, as in so many other Texas towns, the bounty flowed for only a couple of decades before becoming tapped out. The last of the town’s heyday was the 1960s. Now at least 40% of the population lives in poverty. “The town’s become pretty pathetic,” Cage says. When he was young, the town had five car dealerships, a hospital and two or three tractor dealerships, but now they’re all gone. In the past two decades, the number of Border Patrol agents stationed in Brooks County has grown from nine to more than 250, but it’s rare that any of them live in town. “Twenty years ago I knew every one of the agents,” Cage says. “Now I don’t know any of them, and none of them live here.”

Though many of those who pass through Brooks County are undocumented migrants, drug smugglers also pass through the ranches. A Border Patrol bust on Cage’s ranch this June brought in seven large bales of marijuana. Five men were detained; two escaped.

Migrants aren’t the only traffic Cage sees on his ranch. “A few months ago we were building a fence and saw a bunch of dopers drop 250lbs of marijuana,” he says. Some of the drug smugglers are migrants coerced by the cartels into carrying backpacks of marijuana, while others are members of the Gulf Cartel, which runs the Mexican side of the border in that region. In the past, Cage says, the ranch had always felt like a refuge for his family. There was no need even for locked doors. But last Christmas he gave his wife, Stephanie, a pistol because she no longer felt safe on her daily walks. “I never carried a gun in my life,” she says. “But now I do. The other day I was walking the dogs on our private roadway and saw a Border Patrol helicopter flying overhead and suddenly a car came speeding toward me. I was five miles from nowhere on our property, and I’m in the middle of a raid.”

Some ranchers have taken up arms. Dr Mike Vickers, a rancher and local veterinarian, formed a citizens’ militia in 2006. Called the Texas Border Volunteers, it patrols the county, rounding up undocumented migrants and handing them over to Border Patrol. Members of the group, which consists of ranchers, retired military and other volunteers from across the US wear military fatigues. They go out heavily armed. Cage hasn’t joined Vickers’ group, but he allows it to patrol his land.

A number of politicians have come to Brooks County for meetings and photo ops, especially since President Obama declared that the thousands of unaccompanied children coming across the border from Central America constitute a humanitarian crisis.

“They keep coming down to look at the situation but nothing here has changed,” he says. “I don’t really know what the solution is, but I would like to see it stop. I saw enough dead bodies fighting in Vietnam.”

What especially angers Cage and other landowners is a wrongful death lawsuit filed against a neighbor. In 2007, a security guard on the ranch stopped a carload of undocumented migrants being driven through the property to circumvent the checkpoint. The vehicle fled and was pursued by the security guard. The chase ended in a rollover, and a Mexican couple and their seven-year-old daughter died. Relatives of the deceased in Mexico filed the wrongful death suit against the landowner. The case reached the Texas supreme court, which recently sided with the landowner, a result that hasn’t calmed Cage’s fears. “The biggest fear I have these days is litigation,” he says. “Whether it’s warranted or not.”

Still, Cage doesn’t want outsiders to think that he and other ranchers are heartless. When he first started finding bodies more than a decade ago, he installed faucets along his water lines, marked with bright blue railroad ties so they can be spotted from a distance. Recently, he was approached by Eddie Canales, who opened the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias last year, about installing 55-gallon barrels filled with jugs of water on his ranch. Canales, a newcomer from Corpus Christi, 80 miles away, has had difficulty making inroads with local landowners, who are suspicious of an outsider. “You have to be careful about who you allow on your property, because it’s a liability,” Cage says. “You can get in trouble if you’re too sympathetic.” Even so, he’s allowed Canales to install two of the water stations on his land, which helped Canales gain credibility in the eyes of other landowners, so he could install more water stations and save lives.

Some days now it all feels like it’s too much to handle. “Pretty soon I’ll be 70,” Cage says, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m getting too old to keep up the place.” But he says he’ll keep the ranch in the family somehow. “This is our life,” he says. “This is our home.”


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Ocean Energy Turbine project aims to harness energy from the ocean

Ocean Energy Turbine project aims to harness energy from the ocean | Investing in Renewable Energy |

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing wind turbines peppered across open patches of land, but researchers working under Crowd Energy are eyeing a different location for generating energy: the depths of the ocean. Ifsuccessful, a single 100-foot turbine could generate 13.5 megawatts of power.

The project was detailed to the folks at Livescience, with the goal being to create turbines deep in the ocean that use currents to generate power. Crowd Energy was founded by Todd Janca, who came up with the idea and discussed it in detail recently.

The turbine developed by Crowd Energy is a slowly-rotating unit with three large blades that have center-most parts composed of shutters. Depending on water flow, these shutter sections will open or close, resulting in a current rotating the blades in much the same way air works with wind turbines.

Crowdfunding is being used to fund the project, with the goal being to build a turbine with a 100-foot wingspan that could, says the developers, result in 13.5 megawatts of energy. This would greatly outpace the energy produced by wind turbines, and would power thousands of homes.


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Apple iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy Alpha: 2014’s Biggest Smartphone Fight

Welcome to the biggest smartphone battle of 2014. In the blue corner the Apple AAPL +0.05% iPhone 6 and in the red corner the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
This isn’t the head-to-head many were anticipating. The four month old Galaxy S5 was expected to be the natural challenger, but following disappointing sales Samsung has had a rethink and the newly announced Alpha is a like-for-like metal handset which throws down the gauntlet to the heavily leaked iPhone 6 in every area.

So let’s break down these rivals ahead of what promises to be two of the biggest advertising campaigns in smartphone history.


Display: iPhone 6 4.7-inches – Galaxy Alpha 4.7-inches
For Apple the new iPhone represents a big step up in screen size from the 4-inch display seen since the iPhone 5 and an even bigger 5.5-inch model is expected to launch soon after. For Samsung the Alpha actually represents a step down from the 5.2-inch display on the Galaxy S5 and demonstrates how determined it is to make a phone which directly trades blows with the new iPhone.

But the first blows here will go to Apple. It’s widely reported 1704 x 960 pixel display creates a pixel density of 416ppi (pixels per inch) compared to the Alpha whose screen surprisingly is just 1280 x 720 pixels for a 320ppi.

Given how close both pixel densities are to Apple’s claim that a ‘Retina Display’ (the point where your eyes cannot distinguish individual pixels) starts at 326ppi it remains to be seen how much difference there will be in reality, but it is odd that Samsung has stepped down from the Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel displays it has used in flagship phones for the last few years.

In turn Samsung will be hoping the head turning (though arguably garish) AMOLED technology it uses in the Alpha and S5 will be enough to catch the eye compared to Apple’s more subtle IPS screens.


Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Materials: iPhone 6 Metal and Sapphire – Galaxy Alpha Metal, Plastic And Gorilla Glass
The second blow Apple lands will be the materials of the iPhone 6. Samsung has taken direct cues from the HTC One M8 and the iPhone 6 in finally producing a phone which uses metal in its chassis, but this only extends to the edges while rear remains plastic and the screen is the familiar Corning GLW -0.15% Gorilla Glass 3.

By contrast the iPhone 6 will ditch its glass back in favour of an all metal chassis and the screen is heavily tipped to be sapphire-based. Doubts still remain after the ‘proof’ offered by several leaks was undermined, but if Apple does go with sapphire it is expected to be layered with glass. As such the durability may not be as indestructible as many hope but it should still represent a step up from Gorilla Glass 3.

Read more: iPhone 6 Sapphire Display: Everything You Need To Know


Alleged iPhone 6 fascia with sapphire display

Size and Weight
Despite this being one of the few aspects of the iPhone 6 not to leak, here Samsung appears to hold all the aces. At 0.26-inchs (6.7mm) thick the Galaxy Alpha is the slimmest mass market smartphone ever made and with a footprint of 5.21 x 2.58 inches (132.4 x 65.5mm) and weight of just 4.06 oz (115g) it should remain usable with one hand.

By contrast dummy units of the iPhone 6 have shown it to be almost the same footprint as the Samsung Galaxy S5 – 5.59 x 2.85 inches (142 x 72.5 mm) – despite the S5 packing a 5.2 inch display. This is due to Apple retaining thicker top and bottom bezels which add to the height. Meanwhile the only other all metal 4.7 inch handset is the HTC One M7 which tips the scales at 5.04 oz (143g). Apple should beat that as the iPhone 6 is also expected to be very thin, but it does look like one handed use will be tough for most.

Samsung-Galaxy-Alpha-3Power: iPhone 6 Apple A8 Chipset – Galaxy Alpha Exynos 5 Octa 5430
Here both handsets should be a real treat. The power of the A8 remains unknown, but Apple has doubled the power of its A series of ARM-based chips with each generation so the dual-core 1.3GHz CPU and quad-core GPU in the already fast iPhone 5S A7 chipset should see major gains and there is also talk of a step up to 2GB of RAM.

But the Galaxy Alpha should be able to match anything the iPhone 6 throws at it. The Alpha will come with 2GB of RAM and Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chipset which the company claims will outpace the Snapdragon 805, ARM’s latest and greatest chip which is expected to appear in the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6.

For reference the Snapdragon 800 chipset was seen to be largely on a par with Apple’s A7 and since then the 801 has added more power and battery optimisation while the 805 is a major leap forward in both.

Sony Exmor IMX220 sensor

Camera: iPhone 6 13 Megapixels – Galaxy Alpha 12 Megapixels
Megapixels a poor guide to camera quality, but it is noticeable that Apple is set to step up from the 8 megapixel lens in the last three iPhones reportedly to Sony ’s 13 megapixel Exmor IMX220 camera sensor. This makes sense given previous iPhones have all used previous generations of this Sony line and it brings a 1/2.3′ sensor which would be a notable jump from the 1/3.2” sensor in the iPhone 5S. Video recording will remain at 1080p while optical image stabilisation (OIS) is expected to be exclusive to the monstrous 5.5-inch iPhone 6 variant.

As for the Galaxy Alpha, Samsung has curiously taken a step down to 12 megapixels from the 16 megapixel sensor in the Galaxy S5. The sensor has yet to be revealed and while it also lacks OIS it offers real-time HDR (High Dynamic Range) so you can see the light balancing on the screen before taking a photo. Samsung has also fitted the Alpha with a selfie-friendly 2.1 megapixel front facing camera, something Apple should match.

ios-7-charging-featuredMemory: iPhone 6 Up to 64GB – Galaxy Alpha 32GB
Rumours once suggested the iPhone 6 would be the first 128GB smartphone, but having seen those dry up I will stick to what we know: up to 64GB of non-expandable storage is guaranteed. Consequently the Galaxy Alpha has two surprises in stock: neither of them good.

The first is that the handset does not have a 64GB version (at least not yet) and second is Samsung has ditched the microSD expansion slot that almost every Galaxy smartphone (and certainly every high end Galaxy smartphone) ships with. The logic may be to mimic Apple and keep storage options simple, but it could be a potential deal breaker for some.

Battery Life: iPhone 6 1800mAh – Galaxy Alpha 1860mAh
Like megapixels, battery capacities don’t tell the whole story but here the handsets appear to be very well matched. It has been suggested the iPhone 6 may see a last minute bump to a 2100mAh battery, but regardless Apple will be leaning heavily on the efficiency of the A8 chip and iOS 8 to compensate for the larger screen and its higher resolution. Apple will need to produce some magic here as the iPhone 5S has mediocre battery life at best and that sported a 1560mAh battery.

It is a similar story for Samsung. The 1860mAh battery in the Alpha is a big drop from the 2800mAh battery in the S5, but Samsung will also hope the greater efficiencies in its Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chip make a difference. Where it may hold an advantage, however, is the 720p screen as driving less pixels greatly lessens the workload and may explain Samsung’s decision to shy away from 1080p. If Samsung can significantly top the iPhone 6’s battery life few may care about the lost pixels.


Read more: New iPhone 6 Leak Reveals Weak Battery

Miscellaneous: Sensor overload
Both handsets will pack fingerprint sensors (though the iPhone 5S has shown slicker integration compared to the S5) while the Galaxy Alpha will carry over the heart rate sensor seen in the Galaxy S5. With fitness having played a major part in Samsung’s Galaxy S5 software, the same will again happen here and with Apple HealthKit formally launching with the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 this will be a major battle ground for these handsets.

That said the Galaxy Alpha loses the S5’s water resistant coating and no leaks have indicated the iPhone 6 will have it either so while both handsets have tough exteriors they won’t be happy being used in the rain.

iPhone 5S current pricing
iPhone 5S current pricing

Release Date And Price
Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 6 on September 9th while Samsung has signalled its deliberate clash by confirming the Galaxy Alpha will go on sale in ‘early September’. Given the potential for a small gap between announcement and release this may give the Alpha a slight head start.

While the cost for the iPhone 6 remains unknown, Apple is famed for releasing each new iPhone at roughly the same price point as the last. That should mean from $199 on contract and $649 contract-free. Samsung has yet to reveal the cost of the Alpha, but it would be surprising if the company doesn’t try to marginally undercut this.

Sales projection
It is widely reported that the iPhone 6 launch will be the largest in Apple history with 50-60 million units expected to be sold before the end of the year. As such I’d expect the iPhone 6 to easily outsell the Galaxy Alpha, even though these figures will include the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6.

Then again that isn’t really the point. The point is for years now Apple rivals have been wasting their opportunity to meet the iPhone 6 head-on. So called ‘mini’ handsets have been of a similar size to the iPhone 6, but come in at midrange prices often with lower midrange components. A trend only bucked by Sony and its relatively unknown Xperia Compact series.

With Samsung finally stepping up to the plate, however, this depressing trend looks to be coming to an end. Apple knows the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 will already face a tough fight and now it can expect one in the 4.7-inch bracket as well.

The smartphone war just got even tougher and that’s good news for all of us.



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