Friday, February 22, 2008

Pretty Unbelievable - Austin Realtor w/ a BIG Rap Sheet

I saw this on a thread at REW and was pretty amazed/shocked. A local Austin real estate agent, Mohammed “Mike” Gharbi just had his license renewed by TREC (last month) with the following record:

*Arrested by the FBI
*Convicted of 5 counts in a $15m loan fraud scheme
*Sentenced to one year in prison
*Ordered to pay $84,914 restitution

He was convicted of purchasing cheap houses, getting fraudulent appraisals to justify loan amounts much higher, and then selling the houses to co-conspirators at much higher prices.

Apparently, he is in the process of appealing his case, and has 2 more months to appeal his case to the Supreme Court. TREC claims that they can’t yank his license until/unless he loses his final appeal.

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Killed While Escorting Hillary Clinton

Clinton Cancels Fort Worth Campaign Rally Following Officer's Death

DALLAS, Texas (CBS) ― A Dallas police motorcycle officer crashed and was killed Friday while escorting the Hillary Clinton motorcade to a campaign rally, CBS station KTVT-TV in Dallas reports.

Senior Corporal Victor Lozada, a 20-year veteran of the department, was apparently rounding a curve on the Houston Street viaduct when he hit a curb and crashed his motorcycle. No other motorcycles, or vehicles participating in the motorcade, were involved in the accident.

Sources say the 49-year-old Corporal had been in the traffic division since 2003, but was relatively new to the motorcycle division. Lozada was taken to Methodist Central Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A KTVT chopper was over the scene and showed emergency medical technicians working trying to save the officer. The crash happened between Oak Cliff and downtown Dallas.

Senator Clinton was told about the deadly crash shortly after her Dallas campaign stop ended. Speaking soon afterwards, Clinton said, "We are just heartsick over this loss of life in the line of duty. I have asked that my condolences be conveyed to the family. I am going to call the family, and I have placed a call to the chief of police expressing my sympathy."

KTVT's Steve Pickett, who attended the Dallas rally, said that even after Senator Clinton commented about the officer's death, most people in the crowd seemed to have no idea that the wreck had occurred.

Clinton was scheduled to attend a rally in Fort Worth after the Dallas event. She went to Fort Worth and spoke to supporters while standing in front of the Tarrant County courthouse. There she told the crowd that she was canceling the rally because of the death of Corporal Lozada.

Following the announcement in Fort Worth, Clinton went back to Dallas to visit Lozada's widow and family at Methodist Hospital.

The Clinton campaign later released a statement that said, in part, "This reminds us, once again, what our men and women in law enforcement do every single day and it is important that we respect and appreciate their service."

Corporal Lozada had four children, two of whom are in college. Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said Lozada was a very family-oriented man and was the soccer coach for his 10-year-old son's team.

According to the chief, Lozada had only been with the motorcycle unit for a little more than a month. This was only the second time he had participated in a police motorcade; the first was for the Barack Obama campaign rally at Reunion Arena on Thursday.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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Turkey launches major Iraq incursion

(CNN) -- Turkish troops backed by air support attacked Kurdish rebels Thursday in northern Iraq, the Turkish military said.Turkish tanks on the move near the border town of Silopi in Sirnak province, southeastern Turkey.

At least 24 suspected Kurd militants were killed, the Turkish military reported, adding it suffered 5 casualties.

The incursion against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq began around 7 p.m. Thursday.

In a statement, the Turkish military said it would act with "utmost sensitivity in order to avoid negative impact on local elements" -- a reference to keeping civilians out of the conflict.

"The Turkish Armed Forces, which values Iraq's territorial integrity and its stability, will return as soon as planned goals are achieved," the military said.

"The executed operation will prevent the region from being a permanent and safe base for the terrorists and will contribute to Iraq's stability and internal peace."

Turkey has been taking cross-border military action, including airstrikes and artillery shelling, against the PKK in retaliation to attacks by the group on targets in Turkey from bases in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The PKK has spent two decades fighting for autonomy for Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey has also been carrying out small ground operations into Iraq, forays characterized as "hot pursuit" incursions with a few hundred commandos responding to a particular threat.

Citing Turkish media reports estimating that as many as 10,000 Turkish troops had been involved, Fadi Hakura, an analyst with UK military thinktank Chatham House, said the operation was the first major incursion by Turkey into Iraq since Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Hakura said the Turkish military wanted to conduct a surprise attack against the PKK prior to the springtime, when violent attacks tend to escalate, and when the snow in the mountainous border region leaves the fighters' footprints.

"Normally during the 1980s and the 1990s, the incursions involved 35,000 50,000 troops and they tended to be somewhat open-ended over weeks. This one is expected to be limited to a matter of days and targeted attacks against the PKK," he said.

U.S. officials were downplaying the scope of the operation Friday.

Tom Casey, deputy State Department spokesman, said Iraqi Foreign Ministry Hoshyar Zebari called the incursion "limited in nature" and not "major."

"The PKK is a common enemy of the U.S., Turkey and Iraq. We need to work together to resolve it," Casey said. "We are pleased that Turks have stressed that they will do everything possible to avoid acts that would harm civilians."

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, told CNN the military is "aware" of a Turkish "operation of limited duration to specifically target PKK terrorists in that region."

"Turkey has given its assurances it will do everything possible to avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians or Kurdish infrastructure," Smith said.

The ground troops' deployment followed cross-border shelling early Thursday by Turkish soldiers into abandoned villages north of Irbil -- the capital of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government.

The shelling, which struck abandoned villages in the Khwar-Kork area north of Irbil, lasted two hours and was followed by heavy gunfire, a KRG official told CNN. There were no reports of casualties.

Border tensions have been a source of diplomatic disagreement between the U,S. and its Iraqi and Turkish allies. U.S. and Iraqi authorities have been concerned that any large-scale operation by Turkey into Iraq to chase down Kurdish rebels could destabilize the region.

At the same time, the U.S. backs Turkey's efforts to battle the PKK, which both countries regard as a terrorist group and has been providing intelligence to the Turks.

"The United States continues to support Turkey's right to defend itself from the terrorist activities of the PKK and has encouraged Turkey to use all available means, to include diplomacy and close coordination with the Government of Iraq to ultimately resolve this issue," Smith said.

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How Bad Will the Mortgage Crisis Get?

A foreclosed home in Chicago John Gress / Reuter

The credit markets are seizing up and the uncertainty recently drove up short-term interest rates for municipalities and some rock solid institutions such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to 20%. And now even so-called prime borrowers, the ones who were properly vetted, are being sucked into defaults on their mortgages. Yet it's still a relatively small number of institutions and individuals getting hurt by this not-yet-a-recession. So what's the worst that could happen?

Sorry we asked.

A number of economists and banking industry experts believe the subprime crisis could metamorphose into the biggest debacle to hit the sector since the savings & loan catastrophe of the 1980s, which caused some $500 billion in losses to the banking industry. And that means the future of a couple of name brand financial institutions could be in jeopardy.

Much will depend on how far home prices tumble over the next few quarters, how high unemployment climbs, how many homeowners are pushed into foreclosure from rate resets, and, most importantly, how far the crisis spills into the conventional mortgage market and other parts of the credit sector. "The impact here could be far larger [than the S&L crisis] in terms of the dollar amount and the spillover effects into other parts of the economy, particularly the consumer," said Merrill Lynch economist Kathy Bostjancic.

Why? Home prices fell about 6% in 2007 and are expected to tumble another 15% in 2008, 10% in 2009 and 5% in 2010, said Bostjancic. Unemployment, which climbed to its highest level in two years in December at 5%, will hit 5.8% by year end and 6% in 2009, predicts Bostjancic. As this happens, she said, the crunch will likely expand into prime mortgages, home equity loans and credit cards, making it the worst consumer recession since 1980. The buildup of credit was "unprecedented" and is now unwinding, she said.

The Bush Administration's rate-freeze program for certain subprime homeowners and the recently passed stimulus/rebate package, along with the Federal Reserve's aggressive rate cuts, offer short-term fixes. But it won't stop the carnage. "The principal concern of the current credit crisis lies in the possibility that banks will eventually run out of capital," said Doug Duncan, chief economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association, in his updated 2008 forecast.

Many believe the government will ultimately step in with a housing industry bailout to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars before it would allow a major bank to collapse.

Subprime horror stories have been making headlines for much of the past year as falling home prices, a pullback in housing demand, overbuilding, interest rate resets, growing defaults and tightening lending standards played havoc in the residential market. A flurry of mortgage companies, including American Home Mortgage Investment Corp., New Century Financial Corp. and Delta Financial Corp., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Big banks took large write-downs, and chief executives from three of them — Citigroup's Charles Prince, Bear Stearns' James Cayne and Merrill Lynch's Stanley O'Neil — resigned. Citigroup and Merrill Lynch shook the market when Citigroup posted an $18.1 billion write-down, $9.8 billion loss, and 41% dividend cut, and Merrill Lynch posted its largest loss in the firm's 94-year history in the fourth quarter. Both warned of more write-downs ahead. "Who would have guessed the banks would have incurred the losses they've incurred already, especially on triple A investments," said Chip MacDonald, partner in the Atlanta office of Jones Day.

Experts fear this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are $1 trillion in outstanding subprime mortgages, with potential losses estimated at about $250 billion, said Bose George, an equity analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. Columbia University professor Charles Calomiris pegs the losses even higher — at between $300 and $400 billion.

All of this comes as a large wave of ARM and hybrid mortgages are poised to reset this year — an event that could push the crisis into the conventional mortgage and credit markets. Once this happens, "it's almost impossible to imagine any bank or financial institution going unscathed and I would be very surprised if at least some aren't threatened," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank. He believes the losses will easily exceed that of the S&L debacle.

Subprime borrowers, who had eye-poppingly low teaser rates of 7% to 8%, will see rates jump as high as 11% when they reset. Even conventional borrowers with ARM and hybrid mortgages could face a crunch, especially those who stretched their finances to buy a home, those who took advantage of loose lending standards by taking out big loans without showing documented proof they could afford it, and those whose home values have plummeted below the mortgage amount.

Merrill Lynch's Bostjancic said the biggest impact of rate resets, from a dollar perspective, will come in the third quarter of 2008. She sees losses from all loan defaults exceeding $500 billion in 2008.

There are already signs the turmoil is creeping into the conventional mortgage market and other credit areas. Indeed, 5.6% of all loans were at least 30 days overdue in the third quarter — the highest rate in 20 years , according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Mark Greene, chief executive of credit analysis firm Fair Isaac Corp., warns that "losses on prime mortgages can easily be two to three times what they were on subprime mortgages." Delinquencies are also ticking up among credit cards and home equity loans, said Dennis Moroney, an analyst with TowerGroup Research.

"It kind of reminds me of the old cartoon of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, and while he's trying to plug up the subprime hole, there are leaks sprouting all around him," said Mark Fitzgibbon, director of equity research at Sandler O'Neill & Partners. "Subprime is just one small piece of of it."

Bostjancic said the credit crunch is already affecting consumer spending as U.S. retailers experienced the worst holiday sales season since 2001, and consumer confidence hit its lowest level in 20 years. "The amount of debt that's likely to go bad is virtually certain to be in the high hundreds of billions of dollars, and it wouldn't surprise me if it ends up crossing a trillion," said Baker.

Steve Persky, managing partner and chief executive of Dalton Investments LLC, believes the federal government would step in with a heavy-handed bailout before allowing a major bank to blow up. "I don't think the Fed will let a major bank fail," he said.

Still, some industry analysts and investors see opportunity in the beaten-down financial stocks and battered mortgage-backed securities market. "There are double-A and triple-A subprime backed securities that have a 25% or 30% collateral cushion below them that are trading at 50 cents on the dollar," Persky said. "This presents one of the best distressed opportunities I've seen in years."

Sharon Haas, managing director of Fitch Ratings, admits investors "started to panic" and randomly slashed values on virtually all mortgage-backed securities, even those that aren't at risk. "The market just doesn't know how to value those securities," she said. It had better learn soon, or the price of that education will become astronomical.

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Israeli MP blames quakes on gays

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against a Gay Pride parade in 2007
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem
An Israeli MP has blamed parliament's tolerance of gays for earthquakes that have rocked the Holy Land recently.

Shlomo Benizri, of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, said the tremors had been caused by lawmaking that gave "legitimacy to sodomy".

Israel decriminalised homosexuality in 1988 and has since passed several laws recognising gay rights.

Two earthquakes shook the region last week and a further four struck in November and December.


Mr Benizri made his comments while addressing a committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, about the country's readiness for earthquakes.

He called on lawmakers to stop "passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes".

Israeli court rulings in recent years have granted inheritance rights to gay couples and recognised same-sex marriages performed abroad.

Last week, Israel's attorney general ruled same-sex couples could adopt.

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Why Having The Top Doctors Association Say "YES" to Medical Marijuana is a Historic Endorsement

The American College Of Physicians is the second biggest doctor's organization in America, consisting of 124,000 physicians. Yesterday the college issued a statement pointing to strong evidence that marijuana is useful in treating AIDS wasting syndrome, glaucoma, and easing side effects from cancer.

Here is a summary of their main argument:

"Position 1: ACP supports programs and funding for rigorous scientific evaluation of the potential therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana and the publication of such findings.

Position 1a: ACP supports increased research for conditions where the efficacy of marijuana has been established to determine optimal dosage and route of delivery.

Position 1b: Medical marijuana research should not only focus on determining drug efficacy and safety but also on determining efficacy in comparison with other available treatments.

Position 2: ACP encourages the use of non-smoked forms of THC that have proven therapeutic value.

Position 3: ACP supports the current process for obtaining federal research-grade cannabis.

Position 4: ACP urges review of marijuana's status as a schedule I controlled substance and its reclassification into a more appropriate schedule, given the scientific evidence regarding marijuana's safety and efficacy in some clinical conditions.

Position 5: ACP strongly supports exemption from federal criminal prosecution; civil liability; or professional sanctioning, such as loss of licensure or credentialing, for physicians who prescribe or dispense medical marijuana in accordance with state law."

The American College Physicians is the first medical organization to outright oppose the governments laws against medical marijuana. This is a historic step towards the medical community's acceptance of marijuana as medicine. The largest medical organization in the United States, the American Medical Association, has lagged behind on the issue, and this will put pressure on them to follow suit.

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U.S. outrage as Serb protesters burn embassy

By Ellie Tzortzi

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serb protesters ransacked and set fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade on Thursday, venting anger at U.S. support for Kosovo's declaration of independence.

A charred body was later found inside, but all American personnel had been accounted for and nothing suggested it was an embassy employee, U.S. officials said.

Riot police -- nowhere to be seen when the attack began -- eventually moved in to disperse the rampaging protesters but Washington was furious.

At U.S. request, the U.N. Security Council condemned "mob attacks" on the embassy in Belgrade.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to protest at the lack of security.

"The message was very clear, that the situation was intolerable, that they needed to act immediately to provide adequate security," a State Department spokesman said.

Kostunica, who had earlier addressed a state-backed rally by some 200,000 Serbs against Kosovo's secession, had promised it would not happen again.

There were lesser attacks on other diplomatic missions, but none was entered. Germany said its embassy was attacked, Croatia protested over damage and local agencies said missions of Britain, Turkey and Bosnia were also hit.

Hospital officials said around 150 people were injured in street clashes, including 30 police and a Dutch reporter.

Serbia's foreign minister swiftly condemned the violence by a few hundred "vandals".

Jeremic told Reuters in an interview the attacks on embassies and foreign businesses were unacceptable and regrettable acts by isolated extremists.

"They hurt Serbia's image abroad, they do not represent the collective feeling of the Serbian people," he said. "Acts of violence are not going to be permitted on the streets of Belgrade or anywhere in Serbia."

Gangs also vandalized shops and banks, especially Western ones, leaving a trail of smashed glass and debris. There was some looting.

Serbia considers Kosovo its historic heartland and has waged a diplomatic campaign against the secession of the predominantly ethnic Albanian region, which declared independence on Sunday.

Thursday's "people's rally" from which the rioters emerged was Serbia's biggest since protesters filled the streets in 2000 and stormed the old Yugoslav parliament building to oust nationalist autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.

"As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia," Kostunica told the crowd in front of the same building.

"We're not alone in our fight. President (Vladimir) Putin is with us," he said, paying tribute to the Russian leader who has opposed U.S. and European states' recognition of Kosovo.

The rally had been subdued as Serbs of all ages listened to speeches, melancholic patriotic songs and poems about Kosovo, seen as the birthplace of a medieval kingdom and Serbia's religious roots.


When police arrived to disperse the crowd at the U.S. embassy -- under attack for the second time in a week -- they fired teargas and beat and detained rioters. They secured the streets and tried to cordon off the whole embassy district.

Rioters -- many wearing balaclavas and scarves to hide their faces -- had attacked the U.S. embassy with sticks and metal bars after destroying two guard boxes outside.

They ripped metal grilles from windows and tore a handrail off the entrance to use as a battering ram and gain entry.

One man climbed up and ripped the Stars and Stripes off its pole.

Other people jumped up and down on the balcony, holding up a Serbian flag as the crowd below of about 1,000 people cheered them on, shouting "Serbia, Serbia".

Black smoke billowed out of the embassy. Papers and chairs were thrown out of the windows, with doors wedged in the window frames and burning. American officials said only security personnel were at the embassy at the time, in a different area.


Meanwhile, the main rally proceeded as planned with a march to the city's biggest Orthodox cathedral for a prayer service.

State television switched between scenes of the rioting and the serenity of choral singing at the church service.

The lack of passion at the main rally appeared to support comments by Western analysts and some ordinary people that most Serbs were bitter but resigned to the loss of Kosovo and tired of years of conflict with neighboring states.

"I don't think this protest might change anything, but I don't see any other way to express my dissatisfaction," said Danica, a government employee who declined to give her surname.

In other protests, several hundred Serb army veterans stoned Kosovo police at a border before dispersing. No one was hurt.

In Banja Luka in Bosnia, several people were hurt when protesters clashed with police at the U.S. consulate.

(Additional reporting by Matt Robinson on the Kosovo-Serbia border, Olja Stanic in Banja Luka, Ksenija Prodanovic in Belgrade, Susan Cornwell in Washington; Writing by Richard Meares; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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US troops, families hit with indefinite curfew in Okinawa

TOKYO (AFP) - The US military slapped a sweeping curfew Wednesday on troops and their relatives on Japan's southern island of Okinawa after a series of incidents including an alleged rape that sparked tension.

The indefinite curfew took effect at 7:30 am (2230 GMT Tuesday) in the wake of calls from Japanese leaders for stricter discipline on the more than 40,000 US troops in the country, half of whom are stationed in Okinawa.

Marine Corps Lieutenant General Richard Zilmer, the top US commander in Okinawa, has ordered all members of the military and their families to stay on their bases or off-base residences until further notice.

"Active duty service members on Okinawa will be limited to their place of duty or employment, worship, education or medical or dental treatment" as they enter a "period of reflection," a military statement said.

It will "allow commanders and all service members an opportunity to further review procedures and orders that govern the discipline and conduct of all US service members serving in Okinawa," it said.

The US military has imposed night curfews on troops before and many US troops in Okinawa were already under orders to be back on base by midnight.

But it is rare for restrictions to be in place around the clock and to include families. A US military spokesman said it was unclear when such drastic action was last taken.

"The US military and its commanders take very seriously all incidents and allegations involving misconduct by service members," the military statement added.

The US troops are based in Japan under a security treaty to protect Washington's key Asian ally, which has been officially pacifist since World War II.

In another bid to calm public anger, the US military said it would hold a "day of reflection" for all forces across Japan on Friday.

The Japanese government welcomed the curfew.

"We value this," chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura told reporters, while adding, "We need further concrete preventive measures."

In a separate statement, the Japanese government said it "appreciates" the "strict measures" taken by the US military.

"We will hold close consultations between Japan and the United States so that the US side will devise appropriate longer-term measures to prevent a recurrence," the statement said.

A US Marine was arrested last week on allegations that he raped a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa, home to half of the US troops in Japan, leading Japanese leaders to demand tighter discipline for troops.

Staff Sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott, 38, has admitted trying to forcibly kiss the girl but denied raping her.

Thomas Schieffer, the US ambassador to Japan, quickly flew to Okinawa to offer a personal apology for the incident and pledged new training for troops.

But within days, Okinawa police arrested two more Marines, with one allegedly driving while drunk and the other accused of stumbling into a stranger's house and passing out intoxicated.

Meanwhile, the US military took an army member into custody in the middle of this month for an alleged sexual assault on a Philippine woman in Okinawa, Kyodo News said Wednesday, citing investigative sources.

Prefectural police plan to seek an arrest warrant on suspicion that he raped the woman, based on a claim filed by her, Kyodo said.

Japanese media also reported Tuesday that US authorities detained a Marine for allegedly distributing counterfeit 20-dollar bills in Okinawa.

Okinawa saw mass protests in 1995 after three US servicemen gang-raped a 12-year-old girl, setting in motion a process to reduce the number of soldiers on the island.

Protests have so far been small after the latest incidents, but Japan has promised to raise its concerns with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits next week.

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