Saturday, January 31, 2015

Whitney Houston’s Daughter Found Limp in Tub

from nytimes

The daughter of the singer Whitney Houston was found unresponsive in a bathtub at her home outside Atlanta on Saturday morning and taken to a hospital, officials said.
Bobbi Kristina Brown, 21, the daughter of Ms. Houston and the singer Bobby Brown, was found around 10:20 a.m. by her husband and a friend at Ms. Brown’s home in Roswell, Ga., the police said. They called 911 and began to perform CPR on her.
A police officer took over “lifesaving measures,” and an ambulance took Ms. Brown to North Fulton Hospital in Roswell, said Lisa Holland, a spokeswoman for the Roswell police. She said she did not know Ms. Brown’s condition or whether she would survive.
“Please keep her and the family in your thoughts and prayers,” the policesaid in a Facebook post.
Ms. Brown’s home is in a gated community about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta, Ms. Holland said.
Ms. Houston, the Grammy Award-winning singer, died on Feb. 11, 2012, at the age of 48. She was found submerged in a bathtub in a suite at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

She and Mr. Brown had had a turbulent marriage.

California Regulators Seek Independent Auditor for Ocwen

from nationalmortgagenews

JAN 30, 2015 3:28pm ET

California regulators are looking for an independent, third-party auditor to monitor Ocwen Loan Servicing's compliance with a recent settlement.

Last month, the mortgage servicer's embattled parent, Atlanta-based Ocwen Financial, agreed to pay $2.5 million to California regulators for failing to provide documents showing it was in compliance with state mortgage lending laws. As part of the settlement, Ocwen agreed to pay for an independent auditor chosen by the state.

The California Department of Business Oversight is accepting applications until Feb. 20 from firms or individuals with experience with the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act and California Homeowner Bill of Rights.

To avoid any perceived conflict of interest, applicants must disclose any previous contacts with Ocwen, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Firefighters Rescue Dog Floating in Rain-Swollen LA River

from nbc

A dog struggling to keep its head above water in the roiling Los Angeles river was hoisted to safety in a heroic aerial rescue Friday afternoon.
The dog was spotted in the water at 3:45 p.m. Friday in Toluca Lake near the Barham Boulevard overpass of the river, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. 
It was swept miles downriver and saved in Glendale, near the 5 Freeway overpass.
The dog was in the river after a sudden thunderstorm in the San Fernando Valley flooded the river.
Preliminary reports say the dog is a yellow labrador retriever, fire officials said.

Click on this link for updates on this developing story.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Newly Passed Bill May Impact Dodd-Frank Act

from natlawreview

The House of Representatives passed legislation that could loosen some of the restrictions imposed by Dodd-Frank on big banks. The bill, Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Businesses Burden Actpassed by a margin of 271-154, and contained the following measures:
  1. Delay implementation of the “Volcker Rule” until 2019.
  2. Exempt some private equity firms from registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  3. Loosen regulations on derivatives.
  4. Permit some small, publicly traded companies to omit historical financial data from their financial filings.
Delaying implementation of the Volcker Rule until 2019 is one of the biggest reforms contained in this legislation. The Volcker Rule is named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and prohibits big banks from having relationships with or ownership in hedge funds or private equity firms. The Volcker Rules also requires big banks to sell off collateralized loan obligations (CLO’s), which are interests in bundles of loans that are sold to individual investors.
Another aspect of the bill exempts certain private equity firms from SEC registration. Securities law requires that firms that receive fees for banking activities, such as providing advice on mergers or selling debt securities, must register with the SEC. However, private equity firms typically only register as investment advisers and thereby escape many of the SEC’s rules and regulations. If private equity firms have to register as broker-dealers with the SEC, then greater compliance obligations will be imposed on them.
The bill also reduces regulations on derivatives by allowing firms that own commercial businesses to trade derivatives privately, thus escaping some of the oversight that comes with trading derivatives though central clearinghouses. Moreover, the bill prohibits regulators from requiring banks to take collateral from companies that buy derivatives.
29 of 188 Democrats joined the near-unanimous 242 Republicans who voted for the measure. The Senate has not voted on it yet, and may not be able to get the 60 Democratic votes that will be needed in order for it to pass there. If it does pass the Senate, the White House has threatened to veto the bill, saying that it “would weaken and undermine” Dodd-Frank. 
© 2015 Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

30 Years Ago Today

from youtube

Ocwen Rejects ‘Baseless Allegations’ of Mortgage Investors


Group Wants Company Removed as Servicer of Billions in Securities

Ocwen Financial Corp. rejected efforts by a group of large investors to remove the firm as servicer of billions of dollars of residential mortgage-backed securities.
In a letter, an Ocwen lawyer said the investors had made baseless allegations. The lawyer said the letter from the investors late Friday had “an inflammatory tone, with misleading content.”
The Ocwen letter didn’t address the specific claims in the investors’ letter. The investors, who hold 25% of the mortgage securities, include asset managers Pacific Investment Management Co., Kore Capital LP, MetLife Inc. and BlackRock Inc.
After falling sharply Friday, Ocwen’s shares rose 8.8%, to $6.91, on Monday.
The securities involved in the dispute had an original principal balance of $82 billion, but an Ocwen spokeswoman said they now have a balance of $9 billion. Ocwen said it services a total of about $400 billion in mortgages.
Ocwen’s stock soared after the financial crisis as the company started acquiring business from big banks that were getting out of the mortgage-servicing business.
As a mortgage servicer, Ocwen collects payments from homeowners and distributes that money to investors who own the loans through mortgage securities.
The back-and-forth is the latest fracas for Ocwen, which also has had a string of regulatory problems in the past year.
After a series of claims by New York state’s Department of Financial Services that Ocwen had engaged in improper servicing practices for distressed-mortgage borrowers and had questionable dealings with affiliated companies, the company agreed in December to pay $150 million, and William Erbey, its executive chairman and largest shareholder, agreed to step down.
On Friday, Ocwen agreed to pay $2.5 million and retain an auditor to review its mortgage-servicing practices in a settlement with California’s Department of Business Oversight.
In Ocwen’s letter on Monday, Richard Jacobsen, an attorney with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, said the investor group didn’t represent the interests of all investors in the securities. He said the investors objected to Ocwen’s legitimate efforts to modify loans of distressed borrowers so they could remain in their homes, and that the investors were on a “pro-foreclosure campaign.”
The investors responded later on Monday that Ocwen’s claims were inaccurate.
“Ocwen’s suggestion that our clients oppose loan modifications is false,” said Kathy Patrick, an attorney with Gibbs & Bruns LLP, in a letter. She said the investors had been working to improve loan servicing in a number of different mortgage-securities trusts and that they “encourage modifications that work, because those modifications benefit both investors and borrowers.”
The letter said the issue was that Ocwen’s practices worked against the investors and borrowers.
The investors said in the letter that they had conducted a lengthy investigation and alleged that Ocwen had improperly enriched itself, made imprudent loan modifications and failed to maintain adequate records or account for all the funds it was handling for the investors.
The trustees for the securities have 60 days to consider the claims and then decide whether to remove Ocwen as the servicer.
Write to James Sterngold at

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Google Fiber: Here's What the Hype Is All About


Jan 27, 2015, 4:24 PM ET

When Google announced today it is bringing its high-speed Internet service to a handful of cities in the southeastern United States, residents of the areas went into full-on celebration mode.
Google's gigabit Internet service is coming to the Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham metro areas, covering a total of 18 cities.
While Google did not immediately say when the service would be ready for customers in the newly announced areas, it didn't stop people from salivating over the idea of Internet service that Google claims is up to 100 times faster than basic broadband.
Movies can be downloaded in as fast as two minutes, while Google said the high-speed service could help make advances in science and business.

Microsoft’s Cloudier Future

from wsj

Most honeymoons don’t last an entire year. And most don’t leave their participants wealthier for the experience.
On that score, Satya Nadella should count himself lucky. It has been nearly a year since he was named chief executive of Microsoft , and its shares have rallied almost 30% in that time—or at least that was the case before Tuesday. The stock tumbled by 9% Tuesday afternoon, on pace for its worst single-day drop in 18 months, following Monday’s release of fiscal second-quarter results and the company’s accompanying outlook.
Even if this honeymoon was bound to end at some point, the comedown is harsh. The midpoint of Microsoft’s revenue outlook for the current fiscal quarter is nearly $3 billion short of Wall Street’s consensus forecast. Some of that relates to currency effects and struggles in China and Japan.
But some reflects the fact that Microsoft is transitioning a rather large business to a new model, and not getting any uplift from a stagnant personal computer market in the meantime.
So investors are left with a quandary: Is Microsoft an aging tech giant that is scrambling rather late in the game? Or is it a fast-growing cloud business that also generates sizable profits in a legacy business?
It is worth noting that the latter is a rarity in that particular sector.
Mr. Nadella has been leading Microsoft’s efforts to shift more business to the cloud, and Monday’s results contained some strong data points to this end. The company added more than two million net new subscribers to its Office 365 service during the December quarter. And its total commercial cloud business now generates about $5.5 billion of revenue at an annual rate, on par with
But that is barely 5% of Microsoft’s overall revenue. Meanwhile, the stock had been trading at 16 times forward earnings, nearly 40% above its five-year average. So investors are wise to hit the reset button now. The company is still early in its game.

Robert Reich Reality Checks GOP's Absurd Ideas About Addressing Income Inequality


You have to go pretty far back in history to find a Republican president who brought broad-based prosperity.

Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are zeroing in on inequality as America’s fundamental economic problem.
Bush’s new Political Action Committee, called “The Right to Rise,” declares “the income gap is real” but that “only conservative principles can solve it.”
Mitt Romney likewise promised last week that if he runs for president he’ll change the strategy that led to his 2012 loss to President Obama (remember the “makers” versus the “takers?”) and focus instead on income inequality, poverty, and “opportunity for all people.”
The Republican establishment’s leading presidential hopefuls know the current upbeat economy isn’t trickling down to most Americans.
But they’ve got a whopping credibility problem, starting with trickle-down economics.
Since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, Republican policies have widened inequality.
Neither party deserves a medal for reversing the trend, but evidence shows that middle-class and poor Americans have faired better under Democratic presidents.
Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more with Democrats in the White House than Republicans.
Under Bill Clinton, in whose administration I am proud to have served, even the wages of the poorest fifth rose.
According to research by economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, more jobs have been created under Democratic presidents as well.
These broad-based job and wage gains haven’t hampered economic growth. To the contrary, they’ve fueled it by putting more money into the pockets of people who spend it — thereby boosting business profits and hiring.
Which is why the economy has grown faster when Democrats have occupied the Oval Office.
I’m not saying Democrats have always had it right or done everything they should. The lion’s share of economic gains over the past thirty-five years has gone to the top regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans inhabit the White House.
The most recent recovery has been particularly lopsided, President Obama’s intentions notwithstanding.
Nor can presidents alone determine how the economy performs. At best they orchestrate a set of policies that nudge the economy in one direction or another.
But that’s exactly the point: Since Reagan, Republican policies have nudged it toward big gains at the top and stagnation for everyone else.
The last Republican president to deliver broad-based prosperity was Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the 1950s.
Then, the gains from growth were so widely shared that the incomes of the poorest fifth actually grew faster than the incomes of the top fifth. As a result, America became more equal than ever before or since.
Under Ike, the marginal tax rate on the richest Americans reached 91 percent.
Eisenhower also presided over the creation of the interstate highway system – the largest infrastructure project in American history — as well as the nation’s biggest expansion of public schools.
It’s no coincidence that when Eisenhower was president, over a third of all private sector workers were unionized. Ike can’t be credited for this but at least he didn’t try to stop it or legitimize firing striking workers, as did Ronald Reagan.
Under Reagan, Republican policy lurched in the opposite direction: Lower taxes on top incomes and big wealth, less public investment, and efforts to destroy labor unions.
Not surprisingly, that’s when America took its big U-turn toward inequality.
These Reaganomic principles are by now so deeply embedded in the modern Republican Party they’ve come to define it.
As a matter of fact, they’re just about all that unite the warring factions of the GOP – libertarians, tea partiers, and big corporations and Wall Street.
Yet because these very principles have contributed to the stagnation of American incomes and the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, Republican aspirants who says they want to reverse widening inequality are faced with an awkward dilemma.
How can they be credible on the issue while embracing these principles? Yet if they want to be nominated, how can they not embrace them?
When Jeb Bush admits that the income gap is real but that “only conservative principles can solve it,” one has to wonder what principles he’s talking about if not these.
And when Mitt Romney promises to run a different campaign than he did in 2012 and focus on “opportunity for all people,” the real question is whether he’ll run on different economic principles.
That the leading Republican hopefuls recognize the economy has to work for everyone and not just a few is progress.
But unless they disavow the legacy of Ronald Reagan and adopt the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower, their words are nothing more than soothing rhetoric — akin to George W. Bush’s meaningless “compassionate conservatism.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ocwen and Bondholders Clash Over Mortgage Services

from nytimes

A foreclosed house in McLean, Va., in 2009.
A foreclosed house in McLean, Va., in 2009.Credit Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency

Updated, 2:17 p.m. |
The embattled subprime mortgage servicer Ocwen Financial is accusing a group of mortgage-bond investors of pushing for fast foreclosure and objecting to principal reductions on billions of dollars in mortgages.
The criticism comes after the bondholders released a statement late on Friday complaining that Ocwen had failed to adequately service mortgages. The statement suggested that the bondholders would take some form of legal action against the company
In a letter to the bondholders’ lawyer, Ocwen’s lawyer Richard A. Jacobsen said the group’s “ultimate objective” was to “stop servicers from modifying loans and force them to foreclose on and evict as many homeowners as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Jacobsen, of the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said the investors, including “certain hedge funds,” also continue to object to the use of principal reductions in the national mortgage settlement that federal authorities had reached with multiple banks and financial firms. Mr. Jacobsen said Ocwen’s national mortgage settlement allows for principal reductions, which are often the most effective way to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.
But Kathy Patrick, a lawyer for the bondholders said in a statement on Monday that “Ocwen’s claim that investors are seeking to accelerate foreclosures is false.” She added, “For several years, these investors have been advocates for prudent, prompt, and competent modifications and were industry leaders in establishing modification protocols — that predated the National Mortgage Settlement — to ensure prudent modifications could and would be done.”
Underlying the dispute is a simmering tension between bondholders and the companies, like Ocwen, that service the mortgages bundled into the bonds. Servicers are supposed to help the investors realize the greatest value from the bond, which can be achieved through foreclosure in some cases or modifications in others.

Rarely does such tension boil over into public. But on Friday, the law firm Gibbs & Bruns, which represents investors in 119 mortgage bonds serviced by Ocwen, released a statement accusing the company of failing to perform its duties.

Ocwen Rejects ‘Baseless Allegations’ of Mortgage Investors


Group Wants Company Removed as Servicer of Billions in Securities

2 small planes ditch into sea off Hawaii; all aboard survive


Published January 26, 2015

Two small planes ran out of fuel and crash-landed into the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii, but the five people aboard both aircraft survived, authorities said.
The Coast Guard says the separate incidents Sunday involved a single-engine plane carrying a solo pilot about 250 miles off the island of Maui, and another with four people aboard several miles off the island of Oahu.
A pilot traveling from Tracy, California, to Maui radioed authorities at 12:30 p.m. about plans to ditch a Cirrus SR-22 aircraft because of dwindling fuel.
The Coast Guard directed the plane to go down near a cruise ship, and the pilot deployed a parachute system around 4:45 p.m. and safely got into a life raft. Amid 9- to 12-foot seas and winds of 25 to 28 mph, the cruise-ship crew rescued the pilot, who was in good condition, authorities said.
Coast Guard video shows the plane releasing its parachute and briefly dropping nose-first before leveling out and plopping into the sea. The pilot escapes out the top of the aircraft and drifts away in a small raft from the plane before it rolls over on its top.
In a second crash Sunday, a single-engine Cessna flying from Kauai to Oahu with four aboard declared an emergency at 6:18 p.m., saying fuel was running low and the plane may need to ditch, the Coast Guard said.
It crash-landed about 11 miles west of Oahu, and a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted three adults and one child. All four received emergency treatment, but their conditions weren't immediately available.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pediatric Academy Now Says Medical Marijuana May Help Some Ill Kids

from nbcnews


Image:  Nicole Gross uses an oral syringe to give her son Chase his daily dose of a medical marijuana oil, known as Charlotte's Web, at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Marijuana use should be decriminalized and federal officials should reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug to spur vital medical research, the leading group of U.S. pediatricians recommended Monday.
In an update to its 2004 policy statement on pot, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recognized marijuana may be a treatment option for kids "with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions for whom current therapies are inadequate."
That new stance is welcome news to some 200 families with ill children who recently moved to Colorado — where marijuana is legal for adults — in searches for last-ditch cures. Those remedies include the pot strain called Charlotte's Web, which anecdotally has been shown to control seizures in some kids.
"We don't want to marginalize families who feel like this is the only option for their child because of crisis," said Dr. Sharon Levy, chair of AAP's committee on substance abuse and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She was one of the statement's co-authors.

The Business of Pot Leads to Medical Marijuana Refugees

Media accounts of medical-marijuana refugees in Colorado have given doctors "reason to suspect" that cannabinoids — the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers — might have anticonvulsant properties, Levy said.
Charlotte's Web, for example, is selectively bred to contain low levels of the cannabinoid THC, which causes people to feel high, but elevated levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not have psychoactive effects. In one medical trial, CBD was shown to be possibly effective in treating people with Parkinson's disease, though more study is needed, scientists have said.
"We understand why a desperate parent might say, 'Look it's going to take 10 years to do this research.' We think that kind of compassionate use should be limited to children who are truly debilitated or at the end of life," Levy said in an interview with NBC News. Asked to list those debilitating illnesses, Levy cited severe seizure disorders.
The AAP remains otherwise opposed to marijuana use among children and adolescents through the age of 21, and it continues to stand against the broader legalization of pot.
"The black market dealer will sell to anyone. We don't. While we can agree with the academy that marijuana may be harmful to children, (cannabis) prohibition has failed to keep our children safe." — Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.
But the pediatricians' group will now suggest that the federal government change marijuana from a Schedule I illegal drug (where it's classified along side heroin) to a Schedule II controlled substance, Levy said. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists Adderall or Ritalin as examples of Schedule II drugs.
That change would facilitate a needed, new wave of cannabinoid research, the academy contends.
"There's never been a study of cannabinoids in any form that has included children. With that in mind, the AAP cannot endorse use of cannabinoid medication with children," Levy said. "We do note, though, there have been anecdotal cases that look promising. And that suggests there's a need for study.
"We support reducing the barriers to do that."
Image:  Nichole Gross plays with her son Chase, who is autistic and epileptic, at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chase was moved from Chicago to Colorado so he could legally access a medical marijuana oil known as Charlotte's Web. BRENNAN LINSLEY / AP
Nichole Gross plays with her son Chase, who is autistic and epileptic, at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chase was moved from Chicago to Colorado so he could legally access a medical marijuana oil known as Charlotte's Web.
In addition, the academy said it now "strongly supports" the decriminalization of marijuana use — and encourages pediatricians "to advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana."
The group's revised policies will be published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.
In 18 states, the punishments for marijuana possession have been made far less punitive, though pot use remains illegal. While those shifts are not applicable to adolescents, they "are intended to address and reduce the long-term effects that felony charges can have on youth and young adults," the academy noted.
Meanwhile, with medical-marijuana dispensaries operating legally in 23 states and the District of Columbia, the academy remains concerned that the shops are "very lightly regulated, and are run and staffed by people who don't necessarily have a lot of medical training," Levy said.
And the academy is aware of a slight increase in the number of U.S. kids who find and eat pot-infused candies and other treats sold at dispensaries.
During the first half of 2014 in Colorado, 14 children aged 3 to 7 were brought to emergency rooms to be treated for accidental ingestions of marijuana — compared to eight such cases during 2013 and an annual average of four cases from 2008 to 2012, reports the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
"A lot of that is quote-unquote medical marijuana that people are buying from medical marijuana shops in the form of cookies and candies, and kids are getting into that," Levy said.
"We've even been seeing some lookalikes to popular products that are very attractive to kids — for example, instead of a Klondike Bar, there's a Krondike Bar," Levy said.
Dispensary employees do check the identifications of patrons to ensure they are 21 or older, and they routinely teach parents and other adults how to properly keep pot and cannabis-infused edibles out of the hands of children, said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association.
"Our industry doesn't sell to those who shouldn't have this product. Our industry is involved in numerous public education campaigns and we talk to our customers about responsible use and storage," Elliott said.
"The black market dealer will sell to anyone. We don't. While we can agree with the academy that marijuana may be harmful to children, (cannabis) prohibition has failed to keep our children safe," Elliott added. "Alcohol and cigarettes are also harmful to children, but legal for adults to consume."

Medical refugees: Families leave homes to get medicines