Saturday, August 30, 2008

Inexperience -- the New Experience

The Washington Post reported:

"It (Palin) was a startling choice...that Democrats quickly criticized as not meeting McCain's stated goal of picking someone who would be ready to assume the presidency at a moment's notice."

Apparently the preceding was stated without regard for its extreme irony, which boils down to the Democratic hope of electing a president who lacks what it takes to assume the presidency on a moment's -- or an election's -- notice.

Americans have obsessed about the fiber and background of presidential candidates forever. We've sought leadership from former generals, like Eisenhower. From people descended from political dynasties, like the Kennedy's and Bushes. We witnessed the feeble attempts of a businessman to reach the top. Perot. More recently Mitt Romney, who embodies both business and political dynasticism. We rejected a pugnacious politician despite his success governing a city long characterized as ungovernable. Rudy. And we rejected a woman whose only meaningful qualification was her status as former First Lady.

Some qualifications come and go. Eisenhower was a popular war hero. It's unlikely he was elected president of the US due to his post-WWII stint as president of Columbia University.

It seemed as though America put the issue of military service among presidents to rest after draft-dodger Bill Clinton beat two decorated combat veterans of WWII. Every president since FDR has had military service on his resume except Clinton. Reagan, arguably, had no meaningful military experience, but he was part of the "war effort" in Hollywood. Clinton, in contrast, was a bona-fide draft dodger, yet another crime to add to his resume.

However, the issue of military service was revived in the last two elections. Gore, for reasons found only in his surreal mind, devalued his military service in Vietnam by making false claims about his activities while there. Despite honorable service as an Army journalist, he embellished his record to improve his chances with voters. Instead, some voters undoubtedly questioned his sanity. Since Gore's true military record was superior to Bushes', it's impossible to understand his need to fabricate. But he did.

Kerry had Bush beat on that basis too. Then again, maybe he didn't. Kerry's discharge status has never been revealed. After throwing his Navy medals away at a political rally at the start of his political career, it is likely the Navy gave him a dishonorable discharge. He was in the reserves at the time he spewed his contempt for the US at that rally. But Kerry's supporters were willing to overlook that issue. Nevertheless, on election day he found he had too few supporters.

What works in presidential elections. What do voters want? Obama thinks the magic word is "Change." Unfortunately, when his supporters chant that "The Line for Change Starts Here", too many others realize Obama is appealing to panhandlers everywhere. In his acceptance speech Thursday night, he promised handouts to everyone.

As an American who grew up benefiting from handouts, what else should people expect from Obama? He did make the most of the handouts he received, proving that some people can go places if they get a little help. But -- he acknowledged that the true key to his success was his mother and grandparents. After they formed and shaped his human clay into something good, Harvard took over. After Harvard transformed him into one of America's elite, he decided to become a helper of the less fortunate. Noble, yes, but hardly a warm-up position for the presidency. A community organizer, which means he was a social worker seeking handouts for the less fortunate. That's his experience. More accurately, it is his inexperience.

An idea was born. It has gathered strength since the early days of the primaries. Candidates criticized each other for lacking the right stuff, the right experience to serve as president. Someone in Obama's camp was clever enough to turn this weakness into a strenth. Rather than claim Obama had the "experience" to be president, he was defined as the best choice because he had none. His experience void was redefined as "Change." This time, the defining characteristic is inexperience. Which party can claim to have the least? Till Palin was named McCain's running mate, it was said that five years as a POW in North Vietnam was NOT an experience that qualified a candidate to run the country. Fair criticism. One could say the same of any person incarcerated for five years, including Nelson Mandela.

The idea was born. To hell with experience. Let's run a campaign in which candidates claim to have as little as possible. A Dutch Auction for experience. How little will voters accept? Do voters want a president with NO experience? Or will they hedge a little and accept only a vice president making the leap from obscurity to a top slot on the world stage?

When this idea got started, Dems were way out in front with Obama. The candidate with the least. A guy not far from high school class president. A guy who hopes to move from the minor league to the top of the big-league pyramid in one single leap. A guy who wants to become President Handout, because government helped him. He benefited from handouts in his early years, and was so taken by the concept that he wants a lifetime paycheck from taxpayers. Okay, that's most politicians. But in Obama's case, he's become a practitioner of the logical fallacy known as the Fallacy of Composition.

He believes that if something is good for one, it is good for all. However, things don't work that way. If you are in the stands at a football game and you stand up to get a better view of the game, you benefit. But if all the fans in front of you stand up too, you have gained nothing. Still, that's Obama's game plan. A Fallacy of Composition. If handouts to a few are good, then handouts to all are better. Sorry. Who will provide the handouts if everyone is receiving handouts?

Nevertheless, Republicans challenged Dems on the Inexperience factor by naming a VP candidate who rivals Obama. Since Democrats nominated a candidate with no experience for the presidency, the field was open for Republicans to find someone similarly lacking. However, Palin IS governor of Alaska, which means she has far MORE political responsibility and experience than Obama. Moreover, she's the VP candidate. The person in the on-deck circle (baseball talk), which means she starts her VP tenure with training wheels, in the background, and she will have time to develop.

Obama, on the other hand, would jump into the game at the top with nothing but his Marxist instincts to guide him.

So it's come to this: Which party can claim to have the best inexperienced candidate?

By the way, has anyone noticed that Obama has no friends? Except for maybe Tony Rezko, Bill Ayres and Reverend Wright?

It's odd that no close personal friends of his have been quoted. No personal endorsements from anyone other than a couple of Democrats obliged to support a fellow party member.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I Don't Want to go to Rehab -- Part II

How much fornicating must a fornicater fornicate to fornicate himself into the club of over-fornicating fornicaters? When has a copulator reached the point of over-copulation? It seems that happens when pundits claim the world has reached a state of over-population.

'Californication' Star a Fornication Addict

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 29) - David Duchovny has entered a rehabilitation facility for sex addiction.

In a statement released Thursday by his lawyer, Stanton Stein, the actor said he did so voluntarily, adding: "I ask for respect and privacy for my wife and children as we deal with this situation as a family."

David Duchovny requests privacy for his family upon entering a rehab facility to treat sex addiction. The 'X-Files' star is married to actress Tea Leoni and plays a womanizer on Showtime's 'Californication' series.

The actor's publicist, Flo Grace, confirmed the rehab report, which first appeared on

She and Stein both declined to elaborate further.

Duchovny, 48, plays a sex-obsessed character on the Showtime series "Californication," which earned Emmy nominations for casting and cinematography. The show's second season begins Sept. 28.

"All of us at Showtime wish David and his family the best during this very private time," the network said in a statement.

The actor appeared in the film "The X Files: I Want to Believe" earlier this summer. He has been married to actress Tea Leoni since 1997. They have two children.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I Don't Want go to Rehab, no, no, no

Last year a woman from New York City was sent to rehab in Arizona. She died before getting there. The woman was a suicidal, drug-abusing alcoholic in such bad shape that she needed a month or two in a rehab facility that controls daily life as tightly as a prison.

This unstable woman was taken to the airport by her husband and sent on her way. She realized there was no alcohol or any of her other favorite recreation drugs at the Arizona rehab facility so she began buying drinks while flying across the country. She was headed to Tucson, which meant she had to switch to a second airplane after a layover in Phoenix. But she drank enough alcohol by the time she expected to board her connecting flight that she was impaired. Abusively impaired.

At the gate to her connecting flight to Tucson, she erupted and showered verbal abuse on an airline employee. Airport security was called and when the officers arrived she struggled with them and refused to cooperate. They hauled her to a security area, a job made more difficult by her efforts to sit down and dig her heels into the surface of the floor while the officers moved her forward.

She was yelling, shrieking and struggling while they hauled her along and the officers decided her actions threatened the safety of others as well as her own safety. They shackled her to a bench in a hilding area. Somehow she managed to entangle herself in the chain used to shackle her to the bench. She got the chain around her neck and ultimately strangled herself.

A Tragedy.

Here's the question. What was her husband thinking? He arranged for his seriously deranged wife to fly from New York to Tucson to get the treatment she obviously needed. Yet he put his obviously deranged wife -- who knew better than he? -- on a crosscountry flight ALONE.

This is stunning. She was person who had become so erratic that she was considered a danger to her children, yet he sent her off on a long flight to a rehab facility ALONE. Not a word to the airline that a difficult passenger was flying across the country. Not a word. But ALL airlines offer extra assistance to people who need it.

Why did he ignore the obvious potential for trouble? Why did he let her fly ALONE without alerting the airline to assist her?

Here's another question. Why did he send her from New York to a rehab facility in Arizona? There are plenty of top-notch rehab facilities in and around New York City. He could have DRIVEN her to the door of one of them and registered her himself, then returned home, completing the trip in a matter of hours.

Instead, he airmailed her to Arizona ALONE, sending her on a trip where airline employees are bartenders who market alcohol like beer vendors at baseball games.

If there is a culprit in this story, it is the husband. Through carelessness, thoughtlessness or desperation, he sent her off and she died.

Phoenix Officers Are Cleared in Death

Published: August 21, 2008

PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors reviewing the death of a New York City woman who died in police custody at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last year said on Thursday that they had cleared the officers involved of any criminal wrongdoing.

The woman, Carol Anne Gotbaum, the stepdaughter-in-law of Betsy Gotbaum, New York City’s public advocate, accidentally asphyxiated herself after being chained to a bench in a police holding room after her Sept. 28 arrest, according to the authorities.

The police said Ms. Gotbaum, 45, was intoxicated and unruly after missing her connecting flight while on the way to a substance-abuse rehabilitation clinic.

The Maricopa County attorney, Andrew Thomas, said officers did not know that Ms. Gotbaum suffered from alcoholism and depression.

“Mrs. Gotbaum’s death, while tragic, does not warrant criminal charges against police officers who were simply trying to carry out their duties,” Mr. Thomas said. “They committed no crime.”

The announcement did not surprise the Gotbaum family’s lawyer, Michael Manning.

“We never believed that the officers intentionally killed her,” Mr. Manning said. “From what we know at this stage, they may have been grossly negligent in how they treated her. But they certainly were not acting criminally.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Liar, Liar, House on Fire

Borrowers made their choice when they picked "ninja" loans over traditional financing. The "low-documentation" and "no-documentation" loans that are a chief source of trouble today were chosen by home-buyers for some obvious reasons. Many felt they would sell their highly leveraged properties if they needed to free themselves from their debt burdens. They figured a worst-case scenario would amount to a break-even sale of their properties. Apparently that expectation was too optimistic.

Who is to blame? First, the borrowers. They stuck their necks out, and they lost. Lenders bear some of the guilt, however. The lenders enabled the risk-taking. It's easy to fault lenders for offering something close to free money to people willing to use it for speculative purposes. But reckless borrowers are the chief culprits.

'Liar loans' threaten to prolong mortgage crisis

Monday August 18, 2008

'Liar loans' threaten to prolong mortgage crisis for 2 more years in some parts of US

In the mortgage industry, they are called "liar loans" -- mortgages approved without requiring proof of the borrower's income or assets. The worst of them earn the nickname "ninja loans," short for "no income, no job, and (no) assets."

The nation's struggling housing market, already awash in subprime foreclosures, is now getting hit with a second wave of losses as homeowners with liar loans default in record numbers. In some parts of the country, the loans are threatening to drag out the mortgage crisis for another two years.

"Those loans are going to perform very badly," said Thomas Lawler, a Virginia housing economist. "They're heavily concentrated in states where home prices are plummeting" such as California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

Many homeowners with liar loans are stuck. They can't refinance because housing prices in those markets have nose-dived, and lenders are now demanding full documentation of income and assets.

Losses on liar loans could total $100 billion, according to Moody's That's on top of the $400 billion in expected losses from subprime loans.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's largest buyers and backers of mortgages, lost a combined $3.1 billion between April and June. Half of their credit losses came from sour liar loans, which are officially called Alternative-A loans (Alt-A for short) because they are seen as a step below A-credit, or prime, borrowers.

Many of the lenders that specialized in such loans are now defunct -- banks such as American Home Mortgage, Bear Stearns and IndyMac Bank. More lenders may follow.

The mortgage bankers and brokers who survived were more cautious, but acknowledge they too were swept up in the housing hysteria to some extent.

"Everybody drank the Kool-Aid" said David Zugheri, co-founder of Texas-based lender First Houston Mortgage. They knew if they didn't give the borrower the loan they wanted, the borrower "could go down the street and get that loan somewhere else."

The loans were also immensely profitable for the mortgage industry because they carried higher fees and higher interest rates. A broker who signed up a borrower for a liar loan could reap as much as $15,000 in fees for a $300,000 loan. Traditional lending is far less lucrative, netting brokers around $2,000 to $4,000 in fees for a fixed-rate loan.

During the housing boom, liar loans were especially popular among investors seeking to flip properties quickly. They were also commonly paired with "interest only" features that allowed borrowers to pay just the interest on the debt and none of the principal for the first several years.

Even riskier were "pick-a-payment" or option ARM loans -- adjustable-rate mortgages that gave borrowers the choice to defer some of their interest payments and add them to the principal.

While some borrowers were aware of their risky features and used them to gamble on their home's value or pull out money for vacations, others like Salvatore Fucile insist they were victims of predatory lending.

Fucile, who is 82, and his wife, Clara, wound up in an option ARM from IndyMac after consolidating two mortgages on their suburban Philadelphia home. Fucile was attracted by the low monthly payments, but says the mortgage broker who signed him up for the loan didn't tell him the principal balance could increase. It has risen about $24,000 to $276,000.

"He put me in a bad position," said Fucile, who fears he will be forced into foreclosure. "He misled me."

IndyMac was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. last month.

FDIC spokesman David Barr declined to discuss the Fuciles' case, but said the agency has temporarily frozen all IndyMac foreclosures and is working on a broad plan to modify mortgages held by the Pasadena, Calif-based bank.

The low monthly payments of liar loans helped many home buyers afford to purchase in areas of the country where prices were skyrocketing. But they also helped drive up prices by allowing people to buy more than they could truly afford. Case in point: about 40 percent of loans made in California and Nevada in 2005 and 2006 were either interest-only or option ARMs, according to First American CoreLogic.

"It was pretty evident that the only thing that was supporting these loans was higher home prices" said Tom LaMalfa, managing director at Wholesale Access, a Columbia, Md.-based mortgage research firm.

Now that prices have fallen, almost 13 percent of borrowers with liar loans were at least two months behind on their payments in May, nearly four times higher than a year earlier, according to First American CoreLogic.

Countrywide Financial Corp., now part of Bank of America Corp., was one of the top providers of liar loans. The company is now is paying the price. More than 12 percent of Countrywide's $25.4 billion in pick-a-payment loans are in default, and 83 percent had little or no documentation, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week.

Critics say Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which bought or guaranteed liar loans from lenders including Countrywide and IndyMac, should have stuck with traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages.

"I personally think that they ventured beyond their mission," said Richard Smith, a mortgage broker in Chattanooga, Tenn. Because of their decision to back shakier loans, he said, "the home-buying public is going to have to pay."

Fannie and Freddie entered the market for risky loans just as they emerged from accounting scandals. At the time, Wall Street giants such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. were backing a growing share of ever-riskier loans, and both government-sponsored companies felt pressure to compete.

Freddie Mac wanted "to stay competitive in the market and take steps to preserve market share," spokesman Michael Cosgrove said.

Fannie Mae increased its purchases of liar mortgages "at the requests of many of our customers," according to spokesman Brian Faith.

Both companies also were able to use subprime and liar-loan investments to meet government-set affordable housing goals.

Now Fannie, Freddie and other mortgage investors are reviewing defaulted loans to see if lenders committed fraud. If they find enough evidence, they could force lenders to assume responsibility for losses.

But it's unclear how much money they might recover, especially from lenders that have gone under or been seized by the government.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dying to Ride -- Harley Worth It

Does anyone see the irony of mandating seatbelts and airbags for passenger vehicles while allowing the most reckless among us to sit on the outside of an enormously powerful vehicle to which the driver is connected by nothing more than his hands?

The handlebars of a motorcycle look much like the base of a slingshot, which is what a motorcycle becomes when it strikes anything with its front wheel. As the last sentence in the following article details, a lot of people die riding them. How have they remained legal on US highways when it is not possible to add any crash-survival equipment to them? Why do insurance companies continue to insure motorcycles and the people who ride them?

Highway crashes kill more than 41,000 in 2007

Aug 14, 2008

WASHINGTON - Traffic deaths in the United States declined last year, reaching the lowest level in more than a decade.

Some 41,059 people were killed in highway crashes, down by more than 1,000 from 2006.

The fatality rate of 1.37 deaths for every 100 million miles traveled in 2007 was the lowest on record, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in its report Thursday.

California had the largest decline, 266 fewer fatalities than the previous year. The largest percentage decreases were in South Dakota and Vermont.

North Carolina's death toll increased the most in the nation, up 121 over the previous year. The District of Columbia and Alaska had the highest percentage increases.

Motorcycle deaths increased for the 10th straight year. There were 5,154 motorcycle deaths last year, compared with 4,837 in 2006.

The Sickness of Islam

As if there had not been enough proof already -- decades of slaughtering innocents -- the Taliban has once again reiterated its utter, complete, muderous hate for anyone who is not a muslim.


August 14, 2008

PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan - Taliban gunmen shredded a New York-based aid group's SUV with dozens of bullets yesterday, killing three Western women and their Afghan driver amid an escalating terrorist onslaught against humanitarian workers.

The assault-rifle ambush of two clearly marked aid vehicles on the main road south of Kabul was the latest in a record number of attacks on aid groups this year - atrocities that have workers questioning whether they can safely provide services.

The group whose workers were slain, the International Rescue Committee, announced it was suspending its Afghan humanitarian programs indefinitely.

The aid group said the three women killed in Logar province were a dual Trinidadian-American citizen, a Canadian and a dual national British-Canadian.

The Taliban said it attacked two vehicles of "the foreign invader forces."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Investment Words from the Wisest

There are many investment books and many investors. But only one Warren Buffett. He learned his craft by applying the contents of Security Analysis, written by Graham and Dodd. However, many other students have read the same book and applied its principles in their own ways. Not one has matched Buffett's performance as a stock picker. With the publication of Alice Schroeder's book, investors will learn something about Buffett's uniqueness. It will undoubtedly set a sales record for a book about investing.

Long-awaited Buffett book due out in September

Monday August 11, 2008

Long-awaited book about billionaire investor Warren Buffett is due out in September

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The first book about billionaire investor Warren Buffett that he cooperated with is due out next month.

The Bantam Dell Publishing Group says it plans to release Alice Schroeder's book on Sept. 29. It is tentatively titled "The Snowball: How Warren Buffett Collected Friends, Wisdom and Wealth."

Schroeder met Buffett when she worked as an insurance analyst at Morgan Stanley and wrote a report about Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett spent thousands of hours talking with Schroeder, and he gave her access to his files and friends.

Schroeder has been working on the book at least since 2005, when she signed the deal with Bantam Dell.

The book had originally been scheduled to be released before this year's Berkshire meeting in May, but the release was delayed until September.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Well, Well, Well

One price of dictatorship is economic collapse. Iraq under Saddam had been declining, and the decline was accelerating as he diverted dwindling oil revenue to the buy the weapons his paranoia drove him to buy. Rather than become an economic powerhouse through top-notch development of Iraq's oil reserves, Iraq became a nation on the way down while its leader barricaded himself against his enemies, both real and imaginary. That's what happens when one man has total control for a few decades.

It now appears that some sane people are making sane decisions that will do wonders for the Iraqi economy. The goal is to increase Iraqi oil production to 4.5 million barrels a day. At $100 a barrel, that $450 million a day for Iraq. At that price, a year of production would bring in $165 BILLION.

That much revenue is enough to fund a dramatic -- stunning -- advance of a country that has been a muslim backwater since its creation roughly 75 years ago. The only obstacle to success is the essentially self-defeating nature of too many muslims. But there's no shortage of capital to build a modern country. Thus, Iraq will fund its own Marshall Plan.

Iraq resumes oil exploration after 20-year break

Aug 8, 2008

Iraq said on Friday it was resuming exploration of its immense oil reserves after a break of nearly 20 years due to crippling UN sanctions, saying it hopes to double its proven deposits of crude.

"Today the Iraqi oil ministry celebrates a return to work by Iraqi oil exploration teams after 20 years of interruption," ministry spokesman Assim Jihad told AFP.

Oil Minister Hussein Hussein al-Shahristani was to attend a ceremony to mark the event at the Al-Garraf field near Nasiriyah, 350 kilometres (220 miles) south of Baghdad, Jihad said.

He said the ministry would deploy three exploration teams trained abroad in the latest techniques.

OPEC member Iraq hopes the squads will uncover deposits that will enable it to double its proven oil reserves, currently standing at 115 billion barrels of crude.

With the dollar strengthening on Friday, crude prices in London slumped below 116 dollars a barrel amid concerns about slower energy demand and as Iraq resumed exploration.

Brent North Sea crude for September delivery shed two dollars to 115.86 dollars per barrel in electronic deals.

After the regime of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the United Nations imposed a strict oil embargo on Iraq, forcing it to cease exploration and cut back drastically on exports.

A UN "oil-for-food" programme between 1996 and 2003 allowed Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods it lacked because of the sanctions.

However Saddam's government allegedly embezzled millions of dollars from the scheme, sparking a scandal that caused major embarrassment to the United Nations.

Iraq now wants to ramp up output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the current average production of 2.5 million bpd, about equal to the amount being pumped before the US-led invasion of March 2003.

Exports of 2.11 million bpd currently form the bulk of the war-torn nation's revenues, and the oil ministry is keen to raise capacity over the next five years to 4.5 million bpd.

On Tuesday, a US government report said Iraq was amassing a huge budget surplus of soaring oil export revenues but spending little on reconstruction, leaving the financial burden on the United States.

Counting Baghdad's actual budget balance for 2005 to 2007, and the projected budget of 2008, Iraq would have amassed a surplus of up to 79.3 billion dollars on the back of high prices, the Government Accounting Office said.

But little of that money is going toward maintaining and rebuilding key civil infrastructure, it said.

The report said Iraq's capital spending has been hampered by the lack of trained personnel, weak budgeting and procurement processes, and ongoing violence across the country.

At the end of June, the oil ministry threw open six oilfields and two gas fields for international bidding by 41 companies, the contracts for which are expected to be signed in June next year. The deals, which are service contracts only, pave the way for energy firms based abroad to return to Iraq 36 years after Saddam threw them out.

The International Energy Agency, in a report released in mid-2006, said only 10 percent of Iraq has been explored for oil and 60 percent of proven reserves are in undeveloped fields.

Friday, August 08, 2008

It Depends on the Meaning of "Father"

It seems that John Edwards cannot stop lying. Thus, there's little reason to believe anything he reveals in tonight's broadcast other than the fact that he had an affair with Rielle Hunter, the mother of his latest child.

Edwards Admits Sexual Affair; Lied as Presidential Candidate

In ABC News Interview, Edwards Says He Cheated, but Did Not Father Child

August 8, 2008

John Edwards repeatedly lied during his Presidential campaign about an extramarital affair with a novice filmmaker, the former Senator admitted to ABC News today.

In an interview for broadcast tonight on Nightline, Edwards told ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff he did have an affair with 44-year old Rielle Hunter, but said that he did not love her.
Edwards also denied he was the father of Hunter's baby girl, Frances Quinn, although the one-time Democratic Presidential candidate said he has not taken a paternity test.

Edwards said he knew he was not the father based on timing of the baby's birth on February 27, 2008. He said his affair ended too soon for him to have been the father.

A former campaign aide, Andrew Young, has said he was the father of the child.

Low-Down Mo-Town Mayor

The soon-to-be-ex-mayor of Detroit may be the only person remaining in town if the current auto industry problems last much longer. The mayor may find himself in the local house of detention for a while, and when he gets out, he might find himself in a ghost town.

Detroit Mayor Charged With Assaulting Officer

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in court during an emergency bond appeal hearing on Friday in Detroit.
Published: August 8, 2008

DETROIT — Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick, already fighting eight felony charges including perjury, was charged Friday with two felony counts of assaulting or obstructing a police officer. The officer, a sheriff’s deputy, was attempting to serve a subpoena.

Michigan’s attorney general, Mike Cox, announced the new charges one day after Mr. Kilpatrick was sent to jail for violating the terms of his bond by traveling to Canada in July on city business. Each count carries a penalty of up to two years in prison or a $2,000 fine upon a conviction.

“It’s a very straightforward, simple case,” Mr. Cox said. “I cannot recall ever seeing — let alone hearing of — a situation where a police officer trying to serve a subpoena was assaulted.”

Moments before Mr. Cox’s announcement, a circuit court judge, Thomas E. Jackson, allowed the mayor to be released from jail after posting a $50,000 cash bond. He also took away the mayor’s travel privileges and ordered him to wear a global-positioning tether.

But Mr. Kilpatrick, 38, who is in his second term as mayor, could soon be headed back to jail, as assault charges would be another bond violation.

The incident that prompted the new charges happened July 24, a day after Mr. Kilpatrick traveled across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, on city business without court approval, a violation of the terms of his bond in the perjury case. That violation is what prompted Judge Ronald Giles of the 36th District Court in Detroit to have Mr. Kilpatrick sent to the county jail Thursday.

Mr. Cox, a Republican who called for Mr. Kilpatrick to resign in March and who is widely expected to run for governor in 2010, decided to bring the assault charges after reviewing a report from the state police, who investigated the Democratic mayor’s run-in with the deputy sheriff, Brian White.

Mr. White, testified that he suffered a fractured hip after being shoved into his partner by Mr. Kilpatrick, who played football in college. Mr. White also said that Mr. Kilpatrick, who is black, had criticized his partner for working on the case and told her that as a black woman, “You shouldn’t even be riding in a car with a guy named White.”

On Thursday, Mr. Kilpatrick, 38, admitted to Judge Giles that he traveled in violation of his bond and apologized, promising to not make such a mistake again. He also noted that he had asked his young sons to watch the hearing so they could see their father admit wrongdoing.

But the judge responded that he must treat the mayor as he would any other defendant and revoked Mr. Kilpatrick’s bond.

“If it was not Kwame Kilpatrick sitting in that seat — if it was John Six-Pack sitting in the seat — what would I do?” Judge Giles said. “And the answer is simple.”

Mr. Kilpatrick’s office released a statement saying that his chief of staff, Kandia Milton, would serve as acting mayor. “Residents can be assured government will continue to operate as usual,” the statement said.

Mr. Kilpatrick’s trip to Windsor was related to his effort to sell Detroit’s half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. He has said the city needs the money to avoid significant layoffs, but the City Council rejected the deal.

Mr. Kilpatrick, who is in his second term as mayor, told Judge Giles that he was acting in the city’s interest, and blamed his failure to seek court approval on the “tremendous strain and scrutiny” he is under while continuing to govern while fighting the charges against him.

The mayor’s jailing came nearly seven months after text messages between Mr. Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, were published by The Detroit Free Press. The messages appeared to contradict testimony by Ms. Beatty and Mr. Kilpatrick in a lawsuit against the city denying that they were having an affair. In March, the Wayne County prosecutor charged Mr. Kilpatrick with eight felonies, and Ms. Beatty, who resigned after the scandal broke, with seven.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty agreed to waive their right to a preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for September. Experts who have been following the case believe the move was intended to prevent more damaging text messages and other evidence from surfacing before trial.

If Mr. Kilpatrick is convicted on any of the felonies he is charged with, he would lose his job as mayor under the city charter. The Detroit City Council has begun several other processes aimed at getting him out of office, however.

Council members are preparing to hold hearings into whether the charter allows them to remove Mr. Kilpatrick on grounds other than a felony conviction, and they also have asked Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to invoke that gives her the power to oust city officials with sufficient cause.

Ms. Granholm has set Sept. 3 as the date to hear a defense from Mr. Kilpatrick before making a decision.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Battle of the Books

Random House, the place to find cowardly editors and publishers. Apparently everyone at this shop run by pusillanimous proofreaders believes the sword is mightier than the pen after all. It is my hope that Sherry Jones is able to find a publisher that is unfazed by the fear of muslims that has so easily intimidated Random House.

You Still Can't Write About Muhammad

Starting in 2002, Spokane, Wash., journalist Sherry Jones toiled weekends on a racy historical novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Ms. Jones learned Arabic, studied scholarly works about Aisha's life, and came to admire her protagonist as a woman of courage. When Random House bought her novel last year in a $100,000, two-book deal, she was ecstatic. This past spring, she began plans for an eight-city book tour after the Aug. 12 publication date of "The Jewel of Medina" -- a tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet's harem.

It's not going to happen: In May, Random House abruptly called off publication of the book. The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world.

Random House feared the book would become a new "Satanic Verses," the Salman Rushdie novel of 1988 that led to death threats, riots and the murder of the book's Japanese translator, among other horrors. In an interview about Ms. Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr. Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."

This saga upsets me as a Muslim -- and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way. "I'm devastated," Ms. Jones told me after the book got spiked, adding, "I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored -- silenced -- by historians." Last month, Ms. Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, so her literary agent could shop the book to other publishers.

This time, the instigator of the trouble wasn't a radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg's book, "Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr."

But Ms. Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms. Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.

In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: "the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life." Says Ms. Spellberg: "I walked through a metal detector to see 'Last Temptation of Christ,'" the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. "I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didn't "know anything about it [the book]," but telling them, "Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, 'Jewel of Medina' -- she said she found it incredibly offensive." He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullah's email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims -- "Hussaini Youth" -- under a headline, "upcoming book, 'Jewel of Medina': A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam." Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure "the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world."

Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House's Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an.")

"She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence," Ms. Garrett wrote. "Denise says it is 'a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue.' Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP." ("The Jewel of Medina" was to be published by Random House's Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Jones's agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

On a May 21 conference call, Random House executive Elizabeth McGuire told the author and her agent that the publishing house had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of the novel for "fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims" and concern for "the safety and security of the Random House building and employees."

All this saddens me. Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception. There is in fact a tradition of historical fiction in Islam, including such works as "The Adventures of Amir Hamza," an epic on the life of Muhammad's uncle. Last year a 948-page English translation was published, ironically, by Random House. And, for all those who believe the life of the prophet Muhammad can't include stories of lust, anger and doubt, we need only read the Quran (18:110) where, it's said, God instructed Muhammad to tell others: "I am only a mortal like you."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Priming the Oil Pump of Prosperity

Declining violence and increasing oil production have combined to put a lot of fresh cash in the hands of the Iraqi government. As expected, Iraq has begun to head in the right direction. Economic improvement can be counted on to follow the arrival of democracy and capitalism, which are now two of Iraq's guiding principles.

High oil prices giving Iraq up to $79 billion in surplus cash

Published: August 5, 2008

The soaring price of oil will leave the Iraqi government with a cumulative budget surplus of as much as $79 billion by the end of this year, a U.S. oversight agency has concluded in an analysis released Tuesday.

The unspent windfall, which covers surpluses from oil sales from 2005 through 2008, appears likely to put a new focus on the approximately $48 billion in U.S. taxpayer money devoted to rebuilding Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.

The report from the oversight agency, the Government Accountability Office, estimates that Iraqi oil revenue from 2005 through the end of this year will amount to at least $156 billion. And in an odd financial twist, large amounts of that surplus money is sitting in a U.S. bank in New York - nearly $10 billion at the end of 2007, with more expected this year, when the accountability office estimates a skyrocketing surplus.

The report was requested by two senior senators, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John Warner, Republican of Virginia, who were quick to express strong dissatisfaction Tuesday over the contrast between U.S. spending on reconstruction and the weak record of spending by Iraq itself, in spite of the colossal surpluses.

The senators pointed out in a statement that in 2007, for example, Iraq actually spent only 28 percent of its $12 billion dollar reconstruction budget, according to the report by the accountability office.

Even that number could overstate the success rate in most of Iraq, as $2 billion of the spending took place in relatively peaceful confines of the northern Kurdish region.

"The Iraqi government now has tens of billions of dollars at its disposal to fund large-scale reconstruction projects," Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in the statement.

"It is inexcusable for U.S. taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for projects the Iraqis are fully capable of funding themselves. We should not be paying for Iraqi projects, while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank," Levin said.

Like many statistical measures from Iraq, the ones in the report issued Tuesday are likely to be used to support diametrically opposite positions on how much the United States should continue spending in Iraq and how long its forces should stay in the country, Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington, said.

The figures could be used to argue that because the Iraqi ministries still do not have the capacity to spend their own money, further assistance from the United States is called for, Alexander said.

Or, the huge oil revenue surpluses could be seen as proof that Iraq has the resources to solve its own problems if it would only use the money.

But one finding that may raise questions all around is the enormous pileup of cash in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well as several Iraqi banks, Alexander said. The money in New York is a legacy of a system set up to handle Iraqi oil revenue when the country had no capacity to do so on its own.

The purpose of the money was to rebuild Iraq, not draw interest in a bank, Alexander said. "I don't know what function that serves right now. In my mind it raises another set of questions - which is, 'Who's minding the store?"' she said.

"There may have been people who said this is going to be harder than you think, this is going to take a long time, but nobody said what we should do is collect a lot of money and let it sit there," Alexander said.

The overall estimates of Iraqi surpluses would come down somewhat if the Iraqi Parliament passed stalled legislation that included a $22 billion supplemental budget for 2008. As of Tuesday, that bill had not been passed, as it is mired in wider negotiations over provincial elections and several other contentious issues being debated among Iraqi political leaders.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Grenade Tossing -- Newest Olympic Sport

Is there any form of life muslims hate more than humans? They hate Westerners, Christians and Jews. They even hate each other. However, it appears they've recently added the Chinese to their list of hate victims. If space aliens land in the middle east, there is no doubt muslims will force them to convert or chop off their heads, if the aliens have heads.

Do muslims understand the motivations that drive them to attack and kill? It seems they do not. Have their battles led to gains? Have they thrown out oppressive governments? Have improved their world? Sadly, the answer is No.

Chinese border assault kills 16

Sixteen Chinese policemen have been killed in an attack on a border post in the restive Muslim region of Xinjiang, state media say.

Two attackers reportedly drove up to the post in a rubbish truck and threw two grenades, before moving in to attack the policemen with knives.

The attack came four days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
Both attackers were captured during the raid near the city of Kashgar, Xinhua state news agency reported.

Kashgar, known as Kashi in Chinese, is some 2,500 miles (4,000km) from Beijing, near the border with Tajikistan.

Xinhua said the attack happened at about 0800 (0000 GMT), as the policemen were jogging outside the compound.

Although the episode happened a long way away from Beijing, the very fact that it happened, and the fact that it happened this week, will make the organisers of the Beijing Olympics nervous, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Xinjiang.

Uighur suppression

Fourteen policemen died at the scene of the attack and two on the way to hospital. Another 16 policemen were hurt.

One of the attackers was reported to have been injured in the leg.

Xinjiang, in the north-west of the country, is home to the Muslim Uighur people. Uighur separatists have waged a low-level campaign against Chinese rule for decades.
Human rights groups say Beijing is suppressing the rights of Uighurs.

China has spoken in the past of what it calls a terrorist threat from Muslim militants in Xinjiang, but it has provided little evidence to back up its claims, says the BBC's Daniel Griffiths in Beijing.
A spokesman for the Beijing Games Organising Committee told Xinhua he was confident that Olympic participants and spectators would be safe.

"China has focused on strengthening security and protection around Olympic venues and at the Olympics Village, so Beijing is already prepared to respond to any threat," Sun Weide was quoted as saying.


Last week, a senior Chinese army officer warned that Islamic separatists were the biggest danger to the Olympics.

The term is used by the government to refer to Islamist separatists in Xinjiang.

Late last month a group called the Turkestan Islamic Party said it had blown up buses in Shanghai and Yunnan, killing five people.

But China denied that the explosions were acts of terrorism.

The Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said the Turkestan Islamic Party had released a video entitled Our Blessed Jihad in Yunnan.

In it, the group's leader, Commander Seyfullah, said it was responsible for several attacks and threatened the Olympics.

"The Chinese have haughtily ignored our warnings," IntelCenter quoted him as saying.

"The Turkestan Islamic Party volunteers... have started urgent actions."


In Beijing, Chinese police and a small group of protesters clashed in Qianmen district, near Tiananmen Square.

The demonstrators complained that they had been evicted from their homes to make way for the reconstruction of the district.

The Olympic torch is due to be carried round a stadium in Mianyang, Sichuan province, which was used to house thousands of people forced from their homes by a devastating earthquake in May.

The torch will go on to the provincial capital in Chengdu on Tuesday before heading to Beijing for the opening ceremony on Friday.