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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Dutch Parliament Member Speaks Out On Muslims In Europe

Friends,

Geert Wilder is a well-known Dutch member of Parliament, film producer who tells us of the current Islamic takeover of Europe and the eventual Islamization of the United States. This is a must read to send on to others on your mail lists. It is a warning that, fearfully, may come true if we sit back and do nothing. Silence is acceptance.

Gerry

 

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Geert Wilders,

September 28, 2008 America as the last man standing 'In a generation or two, the US will ask itself: who lost Europe ?'


Here is the speech of Geert Wilders, chairman Party for Freedom, the 
Netherlands , at the Four Seasons, New York , introducing an Alliance of Patriots and announcing the Facing Jihad Conference in Jerusalem .
The speech was sponsored by the Hudson Institute on September 25.

Dear friends, Thank you very much for inviting me.  Great to be at the Four Seasons.  I come from a country that has one season only: a rainy season that starts January 1st and ends December 31st.  When we have three sunny days in a row, the government declares a national emergency.   So Four Seasons, that's new to me.   It's great to be in New York .   When I see the skyscrapers and office buildings, I think of what Ayn Rand said: "The sky over New York and the will of man made visible." Of course.   Without the Dutch you would have been nowhere, still figuring out how to buy this island from the Indians.   But we are glad we did it for you. And, frankly, you did a far better job than we possibly could have done.


I come to 
America with a mission.  All is not well in the old world.   There is a tremendous danger looming, and it is very difficult to be optimistic.  We might be in the final stages of the Islamization of Europe .   This not only is a clear and present danger to the future of Europe itself, it is a threat to America and the sheer survival of the West.   The danger I see looming is the scenario of America as the last man standing.  The United States as the last bastion of Western civilization, facing an Islamic Europe .  In a generation or two, the US will ask itself: who lost Europe .   Patriots from around Europe risk their lives every day to prevent precisely this scenario form becoming a reality.  My short lecture consists of 4 parts.

First I will describe the situation on the ground in Europe .   Then, I will say a few things about Islam.   Thirdly, if you are still here, I will talk a little bit about the movie you just saw.   To close I will tell you about a meeting in Jerusalem .

The Europe you know is changing.   You have probably seen the landmarks.   The Eiffel Tower and Trafalgar Square and Rome 's ancient buildings and maybe the canals of Amsterdam .  They are still there.  And they still look very much the same as they did a hundred years ago.

But in all of these cities, sometimes a few blocks away from your tourist destination, there is another world, a world very few visitors see and one that does not appear in your tourist guidebook.   It is the world of the parallel society created by Muslim mass-migration.   All throughout Europe a new reality is rising: entire Muslim neighborhoods where very few indigenous people reside or are even seen.   And if they are, they might regret it.   This goes for the police as well.   It's the world of head scarves, where women walk around in figureless tents, with baby strollers and a group of children.   Their husbands, or slaveholders if you prefer, walk three steps ahead.   With mosques on many street corner.   The shops have sign s you and I cannot read.   You will be hard-pressed to find any economic activity.   These are Muslim ghettos controlled by religious fanatics.   These are Muslin neighborhoods, and they are mushrooming in every city across Europe .   These are the building-blocks for territorial control of increasingly larger portions of Europe , street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city.


There are now thousands of mosques throughout 
Europe .   With larger congregations than there are in churches.   And in every European city there are plans to build super-mosques that will dwarf every church in the region..  Clearly, the signal is: "we rule."

Many European cities are already one-quarter Muslim: just take Amsterdam , Marseille and Malmo in Sweden .    In many cities the majority of the under-18 population is Muslim.   Paris is now surrounded by a ring of Muslim neighborhoods.   Mohammed is the most popular name among boys in many cities.   In some elementary schools in Amsterdam the farm can no longer be mentioned, because that would also mean mentioning the pig, and that would be an insult to Muslims.   Many state schools in Belgium and Denmark only serve halal food to all pupils.   In once-tolerant Amsterdam gays are beaten up almost exclusively by Muslims.  Non-Muslim women routinely hear "whore, whore".   Satellite dishes are not pointed to local TV stations, but to stations in the country of origin.   In France school teachers are advised to avoid authors deemed offensive to Muslims, including Voltaire and Diderot; the same is increasingly true of Darwin .   The history of the Holocaust can in many cases no longer be taught because of Muslim sensitivity.  In England sharia c ourts are now officially part of the British legal system.    Many neighborhoods in France are no-go areas for women without head scarves.   Last week a man almost died after being beaten up by Muslims in Brussels , because he was drinking during the Ramadan.   Jews are fleeing France in record numbers, on the run for the worst wave of anti-Semitism since World War II.   French is now commonly spoken on the streets of Tel Aviv and Netanya, Israel .   I could go on forever with stories like this.  Stories about Islamization.

A total of fifty-four million Muslims now live in Europe.   San Diego University recently calculated that a staggering 
25 percent of the population in Europe will be Muslim just 12 years from now.    Bernhard Lewis has predicted a Muslim majority by the end of this century.   Now these are just numbers.   And the numbers would not be threatening if the Muslim-immigrants had a strong desire to assimilate.   But there are few signs of that.   The Pew Research Center reported that half of French Muslims see their loyalty to Islam as greater than their loyalty to France .   One-third of French Muslims do not object to suicide attacks.   The British Centre for Social Cohesion reported that one-third of British Muslim students are in favor of a worldwide caliphate.   A Dutch study reported that half of Dutch Muslims admit they "understand" the 9/11 attacks.   Muslims demand what they call 'respect'.  And this is how we give them respect.  Our elites are willing to give in. 

To give up.   In my own country we have gone from calls by one cabinet member to turn Muslim holidays into official state holidays, to statements by another cabinet member, that Islam is part of Dutch culture, to an affirmation by the Christian-Democratic attorney general that he is willing to accept sharia in the Netherlands if there is a Muslim majority.   We have cabinet members with passports from Morocco and Turkey .

Muslim demands are supported by unlawful behavior, ranging from petty crimes and random violence, for example against ambulance workers and bus drivers, to small-scale riots.   Paris has seen its uprising in the low-income suburbs, the banlieus.   Some prefer to see these as isolated incidents, but I call it a Muslim intifada.   I call the perpetrators "settlers"..   Because that is what they are.   They do not come to integrate into our societies, they come to integrate our society into their Dar-al-Islam..   Therefore, they are settlers.

Much of this street violence I mentioned is directed exclusively against non-Muslims, forcing many native people to leave their neighborhoods, their cities, their countries.   Politicians shy away from taking a stand against this creeping sharia.  They believe in the equality of all cultures.   Moreover, on a mundane level, Muslims are now a swing vote not to be ignored.
Our many problems with Islam cannot be explained by poverty, repression or the European colonial past, as the Left claims.   Nor does it have anything to do with Palestinians or American troops in 
Iraq .   The problem is Islam itself.  Allow me to give you a brief Islam 101.   The first thing you need to know about Islam is the imp ortance of the book of the Quran.  The Quran is Allah's personal word, revealed by an angel to Mohammed, the prophet.   This is where the trouble starts.   Every word in the Quran is Allah's word and therefore not open to discussion or interpretation.   It is valid for every Muslim and for all times.   Therefore, there is no such a thing as moderate Islam.   Sure, there are a lot of moderate Muslims.   But a moderate Islam is non-existent.


The Quran calls for hatred, violence, submission, murder, and terrorism.   The Quran calls for Muslims to kill non-Muslims, to terrorize non-Muslims and to fulfill their duty to wage war: violent jihad.   Jihad is a duty for every Muslim, Islam is to rule the world by the sword.  The Quran is clearly anti-Semitic, describing Jews as monkeys and pigs.

The second thing you need to know is the importance of Mohammed the prophet.   His behavior is an example to all Muslims and cannot be criticized.   Now, if Mohammed had been a man of peace, let us say like Ghandi and Mother Theresa wrapped in one, there would be no problem.   But Mohammed was a warlord, a mass murderer, a pedophile, and had several marriages at the same time.   Islamic tradition tells us how he fought in battles, how he had his enemies murdered and even had prisoners of war executed.  Mohammed himself slaughtered the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza.   He advised on matters of slavery, but never advised to liberate slaves.   Islam has no other morality than the advancement of Islam.   If it is good for Islam, it is good.   If it is bad for Islam, it is bad. There is no gray area or other side.

Quran as Allah's own word and Mohammed as the perfect man are the two most important facets of Islam.   Let no one fool you about Islam being a religion.   Sure, it has a god, and a here-after, and 72 virgins.   But in its essence Islam is a political ideology.   It is a system that lays down detailed rules for society and the life of every person.   Islam wants to dictate every aspect of life.   Islam means 'submission'.   Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy, because what it strives for is sharia.   If you want to compare Islam to anything, compare it to communism or national-socialism, these are all totalitarian ideologies.

This is what you need to know about Islam, in order to understand what is going on in Europe .  For millions of Muslims the Quran and the live of Mohammed are not 14 centuries old, but are an everyday reality, an ideal, that guide every aspect of their lives.   Now you know why Winston Churchill called Islam "the most retrograde force in the world", and why he compared Mein Kampf to the Quran.  Which brings me to my movie, Fitna.

I am a lawmaker, and not a movie maker.   But I felt I had the moral duty to educate about Islam.   The duty to make clear that the Quran stands at the heart of what some people call terrorism but is in reality jihad.  I wanted to show that the problems of Islam are at the core of Islam, and do not belong to its fringes.

Now, from the day the plan for my movie was made public, it caused quite a stir, in theNetherlands and throughout Europe .  First, there was a political storm, with government leaders, across the continent in sheer panic.  The Netherlands was put under a heightened terror alert, because of possible attacks or a revolt by our Muslim population.  The Dutch branch of the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir declared that the Netherlands was due for an attack.  Internationally, there was a series of incidents.  The Taliban threatened to organize additional attacks against Dutch troo ps in Afghanistan, and a website linked to Al Qaeda published the message that I ought to be killed, while various muftis in the Middle East stated that I would be responsible for all the bloodshed after the screening of the movie.   In Afghanistan and Pakistan the Dutch flag was burned on several occasions.   Dolls representing me were also burned.  The Indonesian President announced that I will never be admitted into Indonesia again, while the UN Secretary General and the European Union issued cowardly statements in the same vein as those made by the Dutch Government.  I could go on and on.   It was an absolute disgrace, a sell-out.

A plethora of legal troubles also followed, and have not ended yet.  Currently the state of Jordanis litigating against me.  Only last week there were renewed security agency reports about a heightened terror alert for the Netherlands because of Fitna.  Now, I would like to say a few things about Israel .  Because, very soon, we will get together in its capital.   The best way for a politician in Europe to lose votes is to say something positive about Israel.  The public has wholeheartedly accepted the Palestinian narrative, and sees Israel as the aggressor.   I, however, will continue to speak up for Israel .  I see defending Israel as a matter of principle.  I have lived in this country and visited it dozens of times.  I support Israel .  First, because it is the Jewish homeland after two thousand years of exile up to and including Auschwitz, second because it is a democracy, and third because Israel is our first line of defense.

Samuel Huntington writes it so aptly: "Islam has bloody borders".   Israel is located precisely on that border.  This tiny country is situated on the fault line of jihad, frustrating Islam's territorial advance.  Israel is facing the front lines of jihad, like Kashmir, Kosovo, the Philippines, Southern Thailand, Darfur in Sudan, Lebanon, and Aceh in Indonesia .   Israel is simply in the way.  The same way West-Berlin was during the Cold War.

The war against Israel is not a war against Israel .  It is a war against the West.  It is jihad.   Israel is simply receiving the blows that are meant for all of us.  If there would have been no Israel , Islamic imperialism would have found other venues to release its energy and its desire for conquest.  Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night, parents in Europe and America can sleep well and dream, unaware of the dangers looming.


Many in 
Europe argue in favor of abandoning Israel in order to address the grievances of our Muslim minorities. But if Israel were, God forbid, to go down, it would not bring any solace to the West.  It would not mean our Muslim minorities would all of a sudden change their behavior, and accept our values.  On the contrary, the end of Israel would give enormous encouragement to the forces of Islam.   They would, and rightly so, see the demise of Israel as proof that the West is weak, and doome d.  The end of Israel would not mean the end of our problems with Islam, but only the beginning.   It would mean the start of the final battle for world domination. If they can get Israel , they can get everything.  Therefore, it is not that the West has a stake in Israel .  It is Israel .  It is very difficult to be an optimist in the face of the growing Islamization of Europe .   All the tides are against us.

On all fronts we are losing.  Demographically the momentum is with Islam.  Muslim immigration is even a source of pride within ruling liberal parties.  Academia, the arts, the media, trade unions, the churches, the business world, the entire political establishment have all converted to the suicidal theory of multiculturalism.  So-called journalists volunteer to label any and all critics of Islamization as a 'right-wing extremists' or 'racists'.  The entire establishment has sided with our enemy.  Leftists, liberals and Christian-Democrats are now all in bed with Islam.

This is the most painful thing to see: the betrayal by our elites.   At this moment in Europe 's history, our elites are supposed to lead us.? To stand up for centuries of civilization.  To defend our heritage.  To honor our eternal Judeo-Christian values that made Europe what it is today.  But there are very few signs of hope to be seen at the governmental level.  Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown, Berlusconi; in private, they probably know how grave the situation is.  But when the little red light goes on, they stare into the camera and tell us that Islam is a religion of peace, and we should all try to get along nicely and sing Kumbaya.  They willingly participate in, what President Reagan so aptly called: "the betrayal of our past, the squandering of o ur freedom."  If there is hope in Europe , it comes from the people, not from the elites.  Change can only come from a grass-roots level.   It has to come from the citizens themselves..  Yet these patriots will have to take on the entire political, legal and media establishment.


Over the past years there have been some small, but encouraging, signs of a rebirth of the original European spirit.  Maybe the elites turn their backs on freedom, the public does not.  In my country, the 
Netherlands , 60 percent of the population now sees the mass immigration of Muslims as the number one policy mistake since World War II.  And another 60 percent sees Islam as the biggest threat to our national identity.  I don't think the public opinion in Holland is very different from other European countries.
Patriotic parties that oppose jihad are growing, against all odds.  My own party debuted two years ago, with five percent of the vote. Now it stands at ten percen t in the polls.  The same is true of all military-minded parties in Europe .  They are fighting the liberal establishment, and are gaining footholds on the political arena, one voter at the time.

Now, for the first time, these patriotic parties will come together and exchange experiences.  It may be the start of something big. Something that might change the map of Europe for decades to come.  It might also be Europe 's last chance.
This December a conference will take place in Jerusalem .  Thanks to Professor Aryeh Eldad, a member of Knesset, we will be able to watch Fitna in the Knesset building and discuss the jihad.  We are organizing this event in Israel to emphasize the fact that we are all in the same boat together, and that Israel is part of our common heritage. Those attending will be a select audience.  No racist organizations will be allowed.  And we will only admit parties that are solidly democratic. This conference will be the start of an Alliance of European patriots.  This Alliance will serve as the backbone for all organizations and political parties that oppose jihad and Islamization.? For this Alliance I seek your support.

This endeavor may be crucial to America and to the West.  America may hold fast to the dream that, thanks to its location, it is safe from jihad and shaira.  But seven years ago to the day, there was still smoke rising from ground zero, following the attacks that forever shattered that dream.  Yet there is a danger even greater danger than terrorist attacks, the scenario of America as the last man standing.  The lights may go out in Europe faster than you can imagine.  An Islamic Europe means a Europe without freedom and democracy, an economic wasteland, an intellectual nightmare, and a loss of military might for America - as its allies will turn into enemies, enemies with atomic bombs.   With an Islamic Europe, it would be up to America alone to preserve the heritage of Rome , Athens and Jerusalem .

Dear friends, liberty is the most precious of gifts.  My generation never had to fight for this freedom, it was offered to us on a silver platter, by people who fought for it with their lives.  All throughout Europe American cemeteries remind us of the young boys who never made it home, and whose memory we cherish.  My generation does not own this freedom; we are merely its custodians.  We can only hand over this hard won liberty to Europe 's children in the same state in which it was offered to us.   We cannot strike a deal with mullahs and imams.? Future generations would never forgive us.   We cannot squander our liberties.  We simply do not have the right to do so.< /o:p>

This is not the first time our civilization is under threat.  We have seen dangers before.  We have been betrayed by our elites before. They have sided with our enemies before.  And yet, then, freedom prevailed.  These are not times in which to take lessons from appeasement, capitulation, giving away, giving up or giving in.  These are not times in which to draw lessons from Mr. Chamberlain. These are times calling us to draw lessons from Mr.   Churchill and the words he spoke in 1942:   "Never give in, never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.   Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Elena Doesa It again. 12-27=-2008

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Elena Does It Again With An Incredible Nature Photo From Moss Becach,California; 12-27-2008

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Another View Of Moss Beach; 12-227-2008

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Moss Beach At Its Full Glory; 12-27-2008

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Elena Does It Again With An Incredible Photo at Moss Beach, California on 12-27-2008

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Another Of Elena's Incredible Nature Photos At Moss Beach; 12-27-2008

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Another Of Elena's Incredible Nature Photos At Moss Beach, California 12-27-2008

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One of Elena's Incredible Nature Photos From Moss Beach,California 12-27-2008

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Clara Orellana Rojas In Boulder, Colorado

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Clara Orellana-Rojas On The Campus Of The University of Colorado at Boulder

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Clara Orellana-Rojas With SpaceX Chairman And Space Visionary Elon Musk

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Clara Orellana-Rojas With Dr.Caroline Pourco of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cassini Program Manager

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Clara Orellana-Rojas With Dr.Chris McKay

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Loan Modifications And Foreclosures--A Horror Story From Wells Fargo Bank

FAIR GAME
A Mortgage Paper Trail Often Leads to Nowhere

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
Published: December 26, 2008
WITH home prices in free fall and mortgage delinquencies mounting, pressure to modify troubled loans is ratcheting up.

Related
Times Topics: Gretchen Morgenson

But lawyers who represent candidates for modifications say the programs are hobbled by the complexity of securitization pools that hold the loans, as well as uncertainty about who actually owns the notes underlying the mortgages.

Problems often emerge because these notes — which are written promises to repay the full amount of a mortgage — weren’t recorded properly when they were bundled by Wall Street into pools or were subsequently transferred to other holders.

How can a loan be modified, these lawyers ask, if the lender cannot prove that it actually owns the note? More and more judges are asking the same thing about lenders trying to foreclose on borrowers.

And here is another hurdle: Most loan servicers — the folks responsible for handling all the paperwork surrounding monthly mortgage payments — aren’t set up to handle all of the details involved in a modification.

Loan servicing operations are intended to receive borrowers’ payments; producing loan histories and verifying that payments were received or junk fees were not applied is considerably more labor intensive. This cuts into profits.

“These servicers are not staffed up and they don’t have a chance in the world to do the stuff they are supposed to do,” said April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Legal Aid. Many servicers continue to stonewall troubled borrowers who ask for a history of their loan payments and fees, she said.

“This is your biggest, hugest expense — your home — and when you ask for a life-of-loan history your servicer tells you to get lost,” she said. “And when you ask for a list of charges in the loan history that’s not going to happen.”

So even if loan modifications were to rise rapidly, it is unclear that borrowers can trust what lenders tell them about what they owe.

Consider a federal bankruptcy court case in Colorado. It involves two borrowers who got into trouble on their loan but agreed, under a bankruptcy plan, to make revised mortgage payments to get back on track.

The lender in the case is Wells Fargo, and last Monday the judge overseeing the matter took a tough stance on the bank’s recordkeeping and billing practices.

In June 2004, Brandon M. Burrier and Denon A. Burrier received a $183,126 loan for a property in Arvada, Colo. The note was later transferred to Wells Fargo, court filings show.

The Burriers fell behind on their loan and in February 2007, they filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, agreeing to pay $12,000 that Wells Fargo said they owed. Chapter 13 bankruptcies allow debtors to retain their property and work out a repayment plan based on their income and the level of their indebtedness.

The Burriers’ payment plan was confirmed by the bankruptcy court in August 2007; last December, a second plan requiring higher payments was approved by the court.

Two months later, Wells Fargo told the court that the Burriers had failed to make four of their payments and that it should be allowed to begin foreclosure proceedings.

The Burriers denied that they had missed payments, but in April, to keep their home, they agreed to make double payments to cover the ones Wells Fargo claimed they had missed.

If the borrowers could prove that the mortgage checks were submitted, Wells Fargo said, their account would be credited and they would no longer have to make up the payments. The proof required by Wells Fargo and approved by the court was “valid, accurate and true copies” of the front and back of the checks the borrowers sent in.

Last August, the parties were back in court, with Wells Fargo stating that the borrowers had failed to comply with the deal. Ms. Burrier testified that she had asked her local bank repeatedly for proof of the payments made to Wells Fargo, but had had no luck. The payments to Wells Fargo were processed electronically, she learned, and that meant it did not return the checks to her bank.

The borrowers did produce bank statements showing that the checks Wells said were missing were actually cashed by “WFHM,” an entity that they assumed was Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

But Tara E. Gaschler, the lawyer representing the borrowers, said that Wells Fargo continued to maintain that it hadn’t received the money.

The bank flew in an expert to testify that all checks received by Wells Fargo from borrowers in Chapter 13 cases were processed by hand, Ms. Gaschler said. “Even when presented with bank statements, they told the court there must be some mistake,” she added.

Related
Times Topics: Gretchen Morgenson

Finally, Wells Fargo demanded that the Burriers provide the routing number of the account at Wells Fargo that their money went into. If they could not, the bank said, they would have to keep making extra payments.

But Sidney B. Brooks, the judge overseeing the case, was clearly dismayed by the bank’s performance.

In his opinion, he fumed that Wells Fargo had asked the borrowers for canceled checks as proof of payment, even though such checks were often not available. Wells Fargo’s request for canceled checks was especially troubling, the judge said, given that the bank was a proponent of the 2003 law that allowed banks to stop returning canceled checks to customers.

The only institution that could have the original checks is Wells Fargo, he concluded.

“The payments have, evidently, been lost in a black hole of the creditor’s organization or through accounting mismanagement,” the judge wrote. “This is a major lender/mortgage loan servicer where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing — the collection department does not know what the check processing and accounting departments are doing.”

Because this is not the first time the judge has encountered problems in Wells Fargo’s operations, he is considering sanctions on the bank.

“This dispute might portend a widespread abuse of collection practices or creditor overreaching,” he wrote, “demanding of debtors what it, the creditor itself, is unable to provide: accurate and reliable record keeping and billing practices.”

A spokesman for Wells Fargo said: “We are currently reviewing the court’s opinion to determine whether or not an appeal is appropriate. The Burrier case is quite factually specific, and we disagree with the court’s conclusions. We are confident that our payment processing practices are accurate and sound.”

Ms. Gaschler says that this kind of dispute is becoming more common in her practice and that borrowers wind up losing too often.

“A lot of times clients don’t keep canceled checks or maybe their bank account was closed and they can’t go and get the proof,” she said. “The bank gets that extra money for as long as the debtor can keep it up and when they can’t they are pushed out of their homes.”

While judges are starting to see how flawed loan servicers’ systems can be, those rushing to modify loans may not be as aware of the problems.

In the interests of fairness, modification programs should require life-of-loan histories from servicers and a justification of each entry. New loans, especially ones backed by taxpayers, are no place to bury dubious fees or extra borrower payments to cover those that were allegedly, but not actually, missed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Tale Of Two Pregnant Women In Zimbawe

COLUMN ONE
Caught between hope and fear in Zimbabwe
Two women, each expecting a baby, find it difficult to smile as conditions in their country collapse around them. The joy that marked early 2008 has been snuffed out by Mugabe.
By Robyn Dixon
December 26, 2008
Reporting from Harare, Zimbabwe -- When Asiatu thinks about having her first child, she wipes her hands over her face, as if washing away bad memories.

When Junica Dube thinks about giving birth again, she rests her hands on her belly, as still and silent as a statue.

The story of two babies, to be born in the new year, should be a joyful one. But their mothers do not smile.

Dube's baby will be the first to arrive, in January. Last year, she spent four days in labor, in a hospital where nothing worked and the nurses scolded her for crying out in pain. Her firstborn son lived just a few minutes. He died with no name.

Asiatu's baby is expected in May. Pretty and slender, with the same thin wrists and sad eyes as Dube, she doesn't know who the father is. All she knows is that he isn't the man she loved, the man she lost.

Haunted by their fears, the only thing that keeps these two going is a luminous thread of hope, looping forward against all odds into the darkness that is Zimbabwe, like a firefly fluttering out of reach.

The story of the two women, and the two babies yet to be born, is the story of Zimbabwe's violent journey between hope and fear this last year.

::

It's September. I'm running down a dusty Harare street. The frightened slap-slap of my feet joins an orchestra of thumping shoes, a crowd running away. Everyone is scared.

Part of it is pounding herd fear. But not far behind come our pursuers, a mob of young thugs for the ruling ZANU-PF party, hurling rocks.

As I run across a road called Rotten Row and pull around a corner out of the danger zone, a couple of old men laugh at me, and the idea that this 5-foot-tall white woman would come to their country in the state it's in.

"Look at the murungu!" they say, using the Shona word for a white. "Hey, white lady! Don't you know? This is Zimbabwe!"

I slap-slap for another half a block before slowing down, feeling slightly foolish.

When this day began, the sun was warm; people danced and sang. They believed that President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years, was finally going to agree to share power six months after voters handed him a stunning defeat. I perched on a precarious rock to see the singing crowd, a forest of red-and-white opposition T-shirts, swaying in hypnotic rhythm.

Everyone was smiling.

Then she appeared at the foot of my perch, a sunny girl of 21 with a smile so wide I didn't recognize her at first. The last time I had seen her, she was crying.

Asiatu.

I jumped down and she introduced me to her mother. And then I watched her dive back into the choppy, joyful sea of people.

It was the only time I saw Asiatu really smile.

But then fights erupted between opposition supporters and a load of ZANU-PF reinforcements who had arrived after the power-sharing deal was signed. Rocks were hurled; T-shirts were torn. Hope evaporated.

Asiatu saw the crowds of people running away, and ran too.

When I first meet Asiatu, an opposition activist, in July, she's been imprisoned for nearly two months in a ZANU-PF militia base, a rambling old farmhouse with a thatched roof outside Harare. She has to call her captors "comrades."

It's just after the second round of the presidential vote, and Mugabe's campaign of violence, designed to reverse his poor first-round result in March, is still at full throttle.

Asiatu has seen his supporters kill people at the base, stoning them with bricks. She fears she could be killed too, if her full name is published.

When she's not cleaning or cooking, she's forced to sing ZANU-PF songs for hours on end. By turns bored and terrified, she is allowed out of the base for only a couple of hours each day to do family chores.

I meet her during one of her brief stints of freedom.

When I ask about her story, her face crumples and she starts to weep. She whispers that she's raped daily by five men.

I hug her as her body shakes with sobs.



The year in Zimbabwe began with soaring expectations, like a kite on a wind: People were sure of a change. Then it plunged into despair, as if someone had shot the fragile paper-and-wood construction from the sky. Most of the time, though, people are so preoccupied with the grind of just surviving that change seems a quixotic dream.

As I've traveled across Zimbabwe over the last two years, I've met people in moments of tragic upheaval. I tell their stories and go my way. Finding them later is often difficult. But if and when I do, things have usually gone downhill.

People don't fit their trousers anymore. Skinny limbs swim in their clothes like twigs tossed into a sack. In Harare, ragged beggar girls dash between the cars, palms open in supplication, dwarfed by the babies they carry on their backs. A mother sits on a dusty curb, her toddler's belly distended. Dilapidated pickup trucks plow between the potholes, with people crammed in the back like sheep going to slaughter.

On a November day, an old man's rattling 1962 bicycle tells its own story: Its tires no longer exist. Instead, he's tied on bits of scrap rubber with any rubber strap, string or wire he can find.

Along the highways you see people trudging steadily, their plastic sandals worn paper thin, their ancient T-shirts reduced to a net of holes. They scavenge whatever they can find. The grains of corn that scatter from passing trucks are carefully collected for the day's one meal.

I often think about Jane Sibanda, a 70-year-old woman I met last year near Lupane village in southern Zimbabwe. She was embarrassed to have to beg food from her neighbors, so she'd wait until hunger clawed at her insides like an insatiable beast. The food situation was terrible then.

But this year's hunger is much worse. People are dying in villages and being buried there, with no count of the dead ever made. Perhaps she died too. I try to trace her, but fail.

Last month, on a deserted track in a dry, forgotten corner of western Zimbabwe, two old women and a man plod along carrying heavy bags. Heads bowed, they don't even hope for a lift, for drivers usually ask for money. I tell my friend, who's driving, to stop. The women's faces are streaming with sweat. One carries a panting red hen. They say they have about 25 miles more to walk. Perhaps they're exaggerating?

But it turns out to be 36 miles -- what would have been a three-day march on a stony track.

When they get out, they lightly clap their palms together, in Zimbabwe's gentle thank-you gesture. I meet the older woman's gaze for a long moment. She has tears in her eyes.

Driving through the crowded township of Mufakose one warm evening after ZANU-PF's loss in the first-round elections, I pause to drop someone off. A crowd of young men catches sight of me, and the shout goes up, "Murungu! Murungu!"Murungu! Murungu!" They throng around the car, reaching, shaking hands and laughing.

"This is the new Zimbabwe! The new Zimbabwe!" they yell. And it almost seems true.

But by nightfall, I hear that intelligence agents are raiding hotels and arresting journalists for working without accreditation. It's started.

A few days later, I meet some opposition activists in a dark car. Their fear is so strong you can almost smell it. They describe being hunted down in their villages by ZANU-PF militias with AK-47 assault rifles. On their foreheads, beads of sweat glisten in the soft green light of the cellphone I'm using as a flashlight to take notes.

Week by week, the violence escalates. One late July night, I get a text message from an opposition man I've met only once: "Pliz help me, my life is in danger." I call, but can't get through. I hit redial again and again.

Every day in a well-to-do Harare neighborhood, I see a group of exhausted-looking gardeners landscaping a garden. When I talk to them in the lush, serene surroundings, their tale is surreal.

In the evenings, they're rounded up in their township by ruling party youth militias, forced to dance, sing liberation songs and beat people all night long.

Sometimes they beat their victims to death.

Then the next day, it's off to work by 8, laying tiles in neat circles, placing elegant statues in pretty corners, building ponds and water features in someone else's garden.

There are luxurious islands in the violence. One day in June, I walk past a long, black Mercedes and into a Harare restaurant where I have a lunch meeting with one of the ZANU-PF militia base commanders. It's warm in the restaurant garden; a flutter of tiny, colorful honeyeaters sips nectar from the flowers.

He's dressed in a casual fawn-colored outfit with a cap and orders a T-bone steak, well done. He's polite and refined and speaks so softly that at times he's inaudible. He holds his teacup in long, fine fingers, sipping delicately.

Even more delicate: the subject of the election violence. We wend in wary circles toward a subject he seems keen to avoid. He calls it "re-education" and says it's necessary.

He speaks in a singsong tone, sawing methodically at his meat.

"Now, what the government is doing, because of the utterances of the West, the government is saying: 'You see, you're forgetting that we got this country by shedding blood. You think it can be returned with a ballpoint pen. This is not going to happen.' "

More than a year after Junica Dube lost her son, she is almost ready to give birth again. A new life seems a happy event in a country full of pain.

But here, things keep on getting worse. It's not just the decaying roads and the crazy inflation. Earlier this year, most schools and hospitals worked. Now most don't.

Thinking of the birth, Dube, 29, stares blankly ahead.

"I can't even say how I feel. I'm worried because there are no doctors. There are no nurses. I have to buy everything that is needed for me to give birth. And you can't afford to buy anything."

"I feel very fearful," adds her husband, Luke Dube, 34, recalling the death of his newborn last year. "What I saw last time, if it can happen again, I'd rather die. We try to forget about it, but it comes back at any time and you think about it."

Once, Asiatu dared to fall in love, with a fellow MDC activist named Phainos. But he fled in May during the election violence and hasn't been heard of since.

"We were on the verge of getting married," she says. "I'm afraid for his life, because the silence is too long."

In her township, she often has to pass the "comrades" who raped her.

"I just look away and walk past. I feel so much hate and anger, sometimes I begin trembling."

When I visit her at home in December, Asiatu wants an HIV test. So I drive her to a clinic in town. When I come by the clinic later, she's sitting slumped on the curb, head bowed.

"I feel sorry for myself. They told me that I am pregnant," she says later.

Despite being four months pregnant, she says she hadn't realized her situation. "It hurts. It hurts a lot." The HIV result will come later.

She feels no joy over the thought of a child born of rape. The father "is one of those guys, but I don't know which one."

I try to tell her that a baby's always good news, but choke on my words. Sometimes, in Zimbabwe, it's not. I brush away a sudden stream of tears. Where to start?

I take out my cellphone and pull up pictures of my daughter. My voice shakes as I tell her that I never wanted to be a single mother, either. But as difficult as it is to believe, it will be all right.

Asiatu considers the photographs carefully as I scroll one by one through my pictures.

"She's beautiful," Asiatu says softly. She tells me her child will be a girl too.

I ask whether she feels happy about that. Finally, the ghost of a smile flickers.

"A little bit," she whispers.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Lavish Lifestyle Of Robert Mugabe's "Looter In Chief"

From 
December 21, 2008

Lavish life of Mugabe’s looter-in-chief

As starving Zimbabweans face their bleakest Christmas ever, the head of the state bank puts the last touches to his 47-bedroom palace

IN the rich and leafy northern Harare suburb of Borrowdale Brook, Gideon Gono, who as governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is President Robert Mugabe’s right-hand man and financial adviser, is having the finishing touches put to a lavish mansion that he started building several years ago.

The castle-like house has 47 en suite bedrooms and a glass swimming pool with underlights, a gym bigger than many good houses in the Zimbabwean capital, a mini-theatre and landscaped gardens.

His house is one of the biggest in Harare - bigger, in fact, than Mugabe’s, which is nearby, hidden behind a high wall and guarded by soldiers.

No one except Gono knows for sure how much the mansion cost, but the architects originally said they expected it would reach more than $5m on completion. This is enough to build and equip at least four primary schools in Zimbabwe.

Gono is not ready to move in just yet. Extra security sensors were recently installed on the outside perimeter and biometric iris recognition and finger print authentication systems were fitted in the interior, but he has yet to be convinced that it is entirely safe.

Whether he moves house or not, Gono is hardly facing a miserable Christmas, unlike the millions whose lives have been wrecked by the once-prosperous country’s economic meltdown. They are coping with constant power and water cuts, food shortages and now the terror of cholera. The disease has struck because the government has spent so much money corruptly rather than investing in a clean water supply for its people.

More than 1,100 have died in the epidemic, nearly 21,000 have been infected and there is no end in sight.

“Where is the joy this Christmas?” asked Mercy Gunda, a housewife, as she stood in a long queue at a bank to withdraw money last Friday. “The city is full of people queueing at banks. They are not doing Christmas shopping. If there are any Christmas presents to be bought for the children this year it will be school uniforms.”

Last week I met Palimaga Malani, a 67-year-old blind widow whose task this Christmas is to look after seven children whose parents have died of Aids. They live together in Bulawayo in a house hardly bigger than a walk-in wardrobe in Gono’s mansion.

Somehow she makes sure that with the donations she receives from a local church the children are neatly turned out and fed. “I am very well really, but I am hungry,” she said. The cataracts that caused her blindness are curable but she cannot afford the operation to restore her sight.

A few streets away was another family of orphaned children, the youngest two being cared for by a 15-year-old girl, Anyanga. They survive by selling ice lollies on the streets. Gono, however, has plenty of houses and several farms that were seized from white commercial farmers over the years.

Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of southern Africa and one of the world’s top exporters of tobacco until 2000, when Mugabe started seizing white farms under the guise of redistributing them to black Zimbabweans to right the wrongs of the colonial past. But he gave them largely to his cronies and entourage.

This chaotic land reform programme, plagued by violence, was condemned as racist by five African judges in southern Africa’s regional court in a test case bought by 78 farmers, a ruling that Zimbabwe has refused to accept although it is bound by treaty to do so.

The land seizures have created chronic food shortages and a crisis that has led a third of the population to flee abroad and half of those remaining to depend on food aid to survive.

As Mugabe’s right-hand man, Gono is a beneficiary of the crisis. “He has been looting big time,” said one of his many critics, a once wealthy Harare businessman who had crossed swords with Gono several times. “Mugabe has just reappointed him governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe [RBZ] for another five years, so it must be great for him.

“Any loot that comes in he grabs. It is no longer the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe; it is a bank reserved for him and the president's cronies. If Mugabe has a degree in violence, which he has often said he has, Gono has a degree in corruption.”

In fact, Gono, who started out as a tea boy at the central bank, has a doctorate in strategic management, but it is from a nonaccredited American university.

Some of Gono’s farms are not in working order - far from unusual among Mugabe’s entourage, who have so many farms that they sometimes do not know what to do with them.

Take the case of Elias Musakwa. A stalwart of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, he is a gospel singer at night with his own recording studio, a banker by day working with Gono in the upper echelons of the RBZ, and an occasional farmer at the weekend on a farm he seized.

Last year he grabbed a dairy farm that once supplied 2% of Harare’s milk. It now has four goats and a few sheep, while hundreds of cows that produced the milk have perished.

“If you do not have a sense of humour you don’t survive here,” said one Zimbabwean, who told of government officials using their posts to steal fuel, pay their children’s school fees and fund the inflated wages of their gardeners and maids, all for a few hours’ work a week. “Everything is weird in this country,” he said.

While so much is collapsing all around, one of Gono’s biggest farms near Norton, 50 miles from Harare, where he has installed two white managers, is fully functional, a glaring example of how he and the powerful men around Mugabe abuse their power. When it is dry, the farm draws water to irrigate the fields though a pipe-line linked to a reservoir 25 miles away which Gono installed at vast expense. The reservoir water is supposed to be for the people of Harare.

The city has minimal municipal water of its own. In the poorest suburbs, where houses are made out of tin and plastic, children were playing in pools of untreated sewage last week and families were still collecting water from broken pipes.

Cholera has killed 224 people in Harare, with more than 9,000 suffering from it. Many affluent parts of the city have no municipal water but survive on a system of privately dug boreholes.

In 2003, when Gono took office, inflation was 619%. It is now well in excess of 231m%. A police inspector’s Christmas bonus last week was worth one American cent on the widely used parallel black market.

Little wonder that, on Friday, anger against Gono spilt into the streets of Harare for the second time in a month. A mob threw rocks at the Reserve Bank building. Many were low-grade civil servants such as prison staff who had been trying to get money for Christmas, only to find that the banks had run out of cash despite the introduction that morning of new Z$1 billion, Z$5 billion and Z$10 billion notes.

“We have fallen into the abyss,” said a friend. “Economically we were teetering on the edge. Now we have fallen over and it is demonstrable for a number of reasons. You go into a shop and if you don’t have US dollars you starve. People don’t want Zimbabwean dollars. They are worthless.”

He pointed out of the window into a grubby lane below where people had dumped thousands of banknotes which had become redundant.

There are many heroes in Zimbabwe still trying to make the country work. One is a 28-year-old male nurse at a Bulawayo hospital who was struggling this weekend to care for a ward of 63 children on his own.

Unable to obtain their wages from the banks because of the shortage of banknotes, many of his colleagues have given up coming to work. It was too burdensome and expensive for them to travel or they have moved to South Africa to try to earn a living.

Behind the male nurse was the body of a two-year-old boy lying under a sheet on a table. He had died that morning from severe malnutrition and septicaemia from sores on his body.

“We survive by so many ways,” the nurse said. “We adjust; we barter. I have been tempted to leave like many of my colleagues so many times, but I need to look after my mother, father and young brothers and sisters.”

Looking at the small bundle beneath the sheet, he said: “This boy should never have died.”

“When you meet somebody like that young man you feel that is why there is still hope in this country,” said Stella Allberry, health secretary of a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who has been jailed before. “The one God-given thing we have is hope. And the one thing I don’t want Mugabe to take from me is hope.”

Hope for too many has disappeared, however. At a cholera clinic near the Mozambique border, a 23-year-old mother was watching her seven-year-old daughter die of cholera and malaria on Monday. It had taken her almost 12 hours to bring the child to the clinic on foot. Others were carried there in wheelbarrows.

As the country crumbled, Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party was desperately trying to put on a show of unity at its annual party conference. Even before it began, the facade of unity was cracking. The party is increasingly riven with factionalism, shown by an unprecedented outbreak of fighting at its Harare headquarters on Monday night. Police had to use water cannons to break up a pitched battle over the election of a new leadership for Harare province.

This internal party violence followed the mysterious wounding of Perence Shiri, the powerful air force chief, in an alleged assassination attempt, and the arrests and abduction of opposition members, human rights activists and journalists who have vanished without trace.

The government charges that the opposition has set up secret military training camps in Botswana to overthrow it, aided by the West.

Zimbabwe is entering an unpredictable, unstable and dangerous phase. In the next few days Gono is expected to head off for a holiday in Malaysia. Mugabe would normally go there, too.

Apart from a holiday, both men have assets in the region in the aftermath of western sanctions and it is a favourite destination. But diplomats last week wondered whether the 84-year-old president would risk leaving Zimbabwe at this time.

He has been in power for 28 years and is outwardly still defiant. “Zimbabwe is mine,” he said on Friday, rejecting calls to step down. “I will never, never sell my country. I will never, never, never surrender.”

Nor, say many suffering Zimbabweans, are they going to surrender hope for change as they celebrate the bleakest Christmas of their lives.

In Bulawayo, 1,000 people, black and white, turned out for a candlelit carol service in the rundown amphitheatre of a once beautiful park. The children were delighted. There was a nativity play and a brass band played.

“It made the children happy,” said a mother. “When it came to the end we prayed for them. Our prayer was that the children would not be hungry next year.”

Failed nation

- Health

The toll from cholera has left more than 1,100 dead; 1.3m people have HIV.

- Economy

Official inflation rate is 231m% and 80% of workforce are unemployed.

- Hunger

47% of population undernourished, 34% of children under five chronically malnourished.

- Political violence

200 opposition activists were killed, 5,000 abducted and 200,000 forced to flee in June presidential election

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Nuclear Iran-Obama's Nightmare

Subject: Iran

Dec 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Another e-mail from the president-elect’s inbox


“THE toughest decision you have to make about Iran is whether you are willing in the final resort to attack its nuclear facilities to stop it getting a bomb. Everything else flows from that call.

John McCain said the only thing worse than a war with Iran would be an Iran with a bomb. If diplomacy fails, you do have a military option: bombing the uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz and other plants would set back Iran’s programme a year or three and put the mullahs on notice to expect more if they tried again. But if we attack we cannot rule out a big response: missiles on Israel, terror attacks on our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, strikes on oil shipments through the Gulf. Of course, we can respond to their response. But as a president elected on a peace ticket you would need all this like a hole in the head.

Besides, the McCain dictum is debatable. What’s Iran going to do with its bomb? If it drops it on Israel it’s committing suicide. Mutual assured destruction deterred the Soviets, didn’t it? True, a nuclear Iran will be a bolder Iran, tempted to push even harder against our interests in Iraq, the Gulf, Lebanon and Palestine. But we have ways to push back. We could, for instance, extend our nuclear umbrella beyond Israel to our Arab friends.

If you decide it’s better to let Iran get its bomb than to risk bombing it, we don’t have to tell anybody for a bit. Pretending to keep a military threat on the table while trying to talk or bribe Iran out of going nuclear is not a bad policy. But be under no illusion: it’s the policy the previous administration tried too, with zero results. You’ve promised bigger carrots and threatened bigger sticks. But President Bush and the Europeans tried a good-cop, bad-cop routine and Iran ran circles round them both. To get the Russians behind tougher sanctions you’ll have to give them something big, like dropping the idea of missile defence for Europe.

One new idea you bring to the table is the offer of direct talks. Some of our people think there’s a “grand bargain” to be had with the mullahs. (Others, though, reckon they want to get their bomb first, and the bargain later.)

It might work; but there’s not much time. Within a couple of months of your inauguration Iran could have enough low-enriched uranium for one bomb, once the stuff has been boosted (this could take less than another two months) to weapons-grade. We don’t know how close Iran would then be to a working device, but its chances of getting a bomb in the first half of your first term are high. In all likelihood, you will have to decide—bomb or deter—quite soon.

Oh, and the Israelis know all this as well. We need to warn them again not to go it alone in the hope of dragging us in to finish the job. If diplomacy fails and you decide that the military option is in the end the lesser evil, at least let it be our decision, not theirs.”


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