Photos Washed to Sea by Sandy Find a Home on Facebook
A neighborhood group, lead by Jeannette Van Houton and Mary Danielson, has organized with one goal: to scour the beaches in their local areas, rescuing photos which have washed ashore. The group then scans the photos in the hopes of eventually finding their owners.
Union Beach, a one square mile area, was “completely impacted” by the hurricane, and Danielson says that “the one thing I continue to hear from residents is ‘all I want to find are my photos.’” Danielson’s interest in the project is also professional, she says, as a “case study” in “how to rescue an entire town’s photo collection.”
Once they collect and clean off the photos, they’re scanned using small scanners, then uploaded to Facebook. There are already more than 3,000 images on Facebook, organized in small albums with names like “found on Third St towards the bend that merges w/ 2nd” and, “Dropped at Keller’s.” Found photos are a common time suck on the internet, but looking through these albums, seeing the debris still attached to many of the badly damaged photos, is quite a visceral experience.
The group, working in Union Beach, New Jersey, is called Restoring Union Beach Memories and has raised over $2000.
Image: via The Verge.
Skateboarding through a ghost town — A group of lucky skaters live every kid’s dream of tearing their way through an eerie ghost town unchecked by authorities. This short takes place in Ordos, a northern China city that’s nearly completely deserted thanks to soaring property taxes.
More awesomeness can be found in our list of this week’s best of the internet
It’s Friday. Soaring property taxes = empty places. We’re covering foreclosure and underwater borrowing in America all month over on Firsthand.
Artist Olga Koumoundouros’ takeover of the abandoned property at 3411 Holyoke Drive in Glassell Park began as an act of desperation. She and her partner, who live across the street, were having trouble paying their mortgage and were trying to think of ways to avoid defaulting on their house. Their neighborhood, an old working-class settlement known for gang activity, was riddled with foreclosures, and they didn’t want their home to fall victim to the same fate. Koumoundouros considered squatting in the abandoned house and renting her own place out to tenants. Once inside the other house, however, Koumoundouros found herself entering into a thought-provoking relationship with the space, the belongings that had been left behind, the history of the tenants who had lived there, and the hot-button socioeconomic issues that surround the current foreclosure crisis. (via LAWeekly)
Five years ago when the economy was on the verge of collapse and the housing crisis was in its infancy stages, I worked for a large mortgage company called Countrywide Home Loans. I didn’t just work with CHL loans though. I worked in insurance and foreclosure tracking for multiple lenders, including IndyMac Bank (now known as IndyMac Federal) and Aurora Loan Services (a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers Holdings). When my company collapsed, my job and way of life was saved when a large multinational bank named Bank of America stepped in to purchase Countrywide. After watching the value of our 401k and employee stock accounts collapse, my colleagues and I were relieved to be given the opportunity to continue working and providing for our families by the Bank of Opportunity themselves.
My enthusiasm did not last long, however. While working for Countrywide, my job was to fix problems, and being an ethical and moral person, I lacked the ability to distinguish between problems that saved/made the bank money and problems that saved borrowers money. A problem is a problem and a discrepancy is a discrepancy. I have been asked to perform many duties during my tenure with Countrywide that violated my personal code of ethics, and I assumed that with the transition to Bank of America, this would stop. I assumed my concerns would be investigated and corrected. I assumed wrong.
Instead I got demoted and was retaliated against to the point where I was forced to quit my job to escape the harsh working conditions. They didn’t just let me walk away. They made an example out of me for everyone at the bank to see. On my final day working with the bank, Bank of America’s corporate security went so far as to call in a false bomb threat as a way to scare my former colleagues and friends from having any contact with me. These employees were kept in a building they were told was in danger of exploding. They were taken into bank offices, shown my picture, and told to confess and turn in any communications they’ve ever had with me, whether email, text, IM, or otherwise. Pictures of me were distributed to ensure every employee knew what happens to people who dare speak up against the bank. I have never been charged with any crime in connection with this incident, but my reputation was effectively ruined. People I once considered to be friends turned their backs on me for fear of being fired. Up until that point, I viewed myself simply as an honest man doing my job. I now realize that I am a whistleblower.
Life as a whistleblower is difficult. Nobody teaches you what to do. Everyone around you calls you crazy or treats you like you have a disease. I’ve faced many challenges, but I’ve learned a lot throughout my journey. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that Dodd-Frank is a vital piece of legislation. The whistleblower provisions in this act go a long way in protecting other whistleblowers from going through the pain and struggles I experienced. If you’re a bank employee and want to take a shot at receiving a whistleblower payout for being an honest person, here are a few tips I’ve learned:
Be Aware - The banks are so compartmentalized that you may not even realize you’re a part of a fraudulent system. From your perspective, you may just be putting a 3 in a field on a system. These are real people’s accounts you’re dealing with. That 3 does something. Find out what it is.
Search The Internet - Think of all the terms you use every day. Do an internet search for these words. Find out what they mean. Contact the journalists writing about them. You may know more than you think, but the only way you’ll ever find out is by talking to someone.
If You See Something Wrong, Document It - Blowing the whistle isn’t about telling the truth, it’s about proving the truth. Nobody knows how your section of the bank works except you. The more examples you have, the better.
Don’t Be Afraid - Intimidation is a common tactic used against whistleblowers. Stand up for what you believe in and never back down. Everyone around you will tell you it’s not worth the fight. I’ve walked that path, and I can assure you that it is.
Be Patient and Persistent - People may not listen when you first blow the whistle. It’s not that you’re wrong. No matter what position you work in a bank, you are an expert in a specific corner of finance that nobody understands except you and your coworkers. When I started nearly 2 years ago, I couldn’t find anyone who knew what Force-Placed Insurance was. I kept pushing, and now it’s a popular buzzword amongst mortgage regulators and journalists.
Act Immediately - The cafeterias and break rooms at the banks are filled with people complaining about issues that aren’t being fixed. You’re all waiting for someone else to fix this problem. That knight in shining armor is never coming. You are the only person who can fix this situation.
I used to work alongside you. Many of you know me and know that I was once just like you. Now there’s not a financial regulator, class action attorney, mortgage servicing executive, or journalist in this country that works with Force-Placed Insurance and doesn’t know my name. I may not have gotten a whistleblower bonus yet. I may never get one. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a guy like me to offer guidance. I am, however, a respected expert with a sought after opinion in my field. Most importantly I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. If you feel like there’s something missing in your life, it may just be the guilt of working for a company we both know is committing fraud. Call someone who cares. You know where to find me…