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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/03/2008 | Radical Jewish settlers threaten to fight Israeli army

israeli settlers are, and have been, moving onto palestinian lands illegally for years.  Now that Israel has said they will stop them, they are threatening to become the next terrorists to attack the state of Israel.  Good article:


HEBRON, West Bank — The Israeli government has arrested Jewish settler Itamar Ben Gvir more than 300 times by his own count.

He's been arrested for holding a public barbeque to celebrate the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He's spent months under house arrest and scuffled with Israeli police, and he was temporarily barred from taking part in protests against Israel's decision to dismantle all its Gaza Strip settlements in 2005.

None of it, the 32-year-old father of two now says, has ensured that the Israeli government can't forcibly evict even one more Jewish settler from the West Bank.

Now, Israeli activists such as Ben Gvir are embracing an even more confrontational strategy called the "Price Tag." Its concept is straightforward: If the Israeli government tries to forcibly remove any settlers from the West Bank, settlers should hit back. Hard.

It might come in the form of a pipe bomb planted at the doorstep of a left-wing Israeli activist or vandalizing Muslim graveyards by spray painting Stars of David on the headstones. It might entail throwing stones at Israeli soldiers trying to dismantle illegal West Bank outposts or beating Palestinian farmers in their fields.

"Our new tactic is: "We're not suckers,' " said Ben Gvir, who's at the forefront of a violent new showdown in Hebron, a West Bank city that's a magnet for radical settlers and that's now the scene of the first real test for the "Price Tag" strategy.

Hundreds of young Jewish activists have converged on a disputed three-story stone building. Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the government to clear it of Jewish residents until judges can resolve a legal battle over who owns the property: An American-Jewish businessman who says he bought it legally or the Palestinian man who says Jewish families moved into his property illegally last year.

As soon as the court ruled two weeks ago, Israeli activists began converging on Hebron, where some began carrying out the "Price Tag" strategy.

Since then, some settlers have rampaged through nearby Palestinian villages. They've vandalized the adjacent Muslim graveyard by spray-painting Stars of David on the headstones and written, "Mohammed is a Pig" on the side of a nearby mosque.

The volatile settler resistance has generated alarm among Israel's leaders. Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service, recently warned the nation's leaders that extremist settlers may be willing to use guns to fight the government.

Some Israelis took that as a warning that extremists might be plotting a political assassination like that of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed in 1995 by a right-wing Orthodox Jew who opposed his signing an agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

On Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres became the latest leader to denounce the settler attacks.

"Whoever throws a stone at a soldier, it is as if he has thrown a stone at the State of Israel," Peres said.

Concerns about settler violence have been growing since September, when a pipe bomb exploded outside the home of Zeev Sternhell, an Israeli history professor and a vocal critic of unregulated West Bank settlement expansion. At the scene, police found flyers announcing a quarter million dollar reward for anyone who killed a member of Israel's left-leaning Peace Now movement.

"The State of Israel has become our enemy," the flyer said.

The increasingly militant approach is also generating reservations among some settlement leaders, who worry that it could backfire and hurt their attempts to win more support among the Israeli public.

"It doesn't help us, and many times it hurts us," said Benny Katsover, a veteran West Bank settlement leader who's heading a parallel campaign to set up small cells of settlers to block intersections and disrupt attempts to remove settlements.

It's younger activists, however, who seem to be framing the debate, especially in Hebron.

On Wednesday, masked Israeli demonstrators briefly took over another disputed building in the center of Hebron, forcing police and soldiers to scramble to the site to remove at least 15 boys, some of who appeared to be in their early teens.

"We need to respond by attacking them all over," said Yonatan Rachamin, a 25-year-old activist who looked on as police removed the demonstrators from the house. "The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) won't determine where to fight us. We will choose the battlefield."

Minutes later, activists up the road tried to barricade the street with stones to try and block an Israeli police van from carrying the demonstrators away for questioning.

As dusk fell, Israeli soldiers fired stun grenades at activists surrounding the disputed building, which supporters call the "House of Peace" and the Israeli media has dubbed the "House of Contention."

Protesters milled around the Hebron house wearing t-shirts featuring a photo of the building and the slogan: "In the House of Peace, there will be a war."

"There will be more actions like this," Rachamin said after the skirmishes subsided. "We won't be leaving quietly, hopefully at all."

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/03/2008 | Radical Jewish settlers threaten to fight Israeli army

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rich Leonard - Give Bankruptcy Judges the Power to Alter Mortgages - washingtonpost.com

I watched a middle-aged widow lose her home recently.

Her story was familiar. She owned her simple brick residence outright until four years ago, when a mortgage broker stopped by and offered her a loan too good to be true. In exchange for taking on a modest monthly payment, she could make some needed repairs and consolidate other debts.

More sophisticated than many borrowers, she realized she was getting an adjustable-rate mortgage. What she didn't realize was that, in the biggest "bait-and-switch" ever pulled by an entire industry, her ARM was not tied to the prime rate or any other index, as adjustable-rate mortgages have traditionally been. Her rate simply adjusted periodically, ever upward. When it hit 14 percent, her social worker's salary could no longer cover the payments.

I watched this story unfold in court, from my seat in a bankruptcy judge's chair. While a Chapter 13 filing temporarily stopped the foreclosure on this woman's home, it did little more than buy a few months' time.

Under existing law, bankruptcy courts cannot modify the terms of home mortgages. To keep her home, this debtor needed to demonstrate sufficient income not only to make her ongoing payments at 14 percent but also to cover, during her five-year repayment plan, the payments she had defaulted on. Her proposed plan was clearly not feasible based on her salary, so I had no choice but to lift the stay and allow the foreclosure to continue.Homeowners are the only ones who cannot modify the terms of their secured debts in bankruptcy. Corporate America flocks to bankruptcy courts to do precisely this -- to restructure and reamortize loans whose conditions they find onerous or can no longer meet. Airlines are still flying and auto parts makers still operating because they have used this powerful tool of the bankruptcy process. Lehman Brothers will surely invoke it. But when the bankruptcy code was adopted in 1979, the mortgage industry persuaded Congress that its market was so tightly regulated and conservatively run that it should be exempted from the general bankruptcy rules permitting modification.

How far we have come.

For more than a year, a number of legislators, academics and judges have advocated removing this ban on home mortgage modification to help stem the increasing number of foreclosures. I have twice participated in briefing sessions organized by the House Judiciary Committee, where I was lectured by lobbyists for the mortgage industry about the sanctity of contracts. I have listened to their high-priced lawyers make fallacious constitutional arguments based on discredited cases from the 1930s. (This is, incidentally, an industry that is not particularly concerned about its own contractual obligations as it tries, through various Treasury-aided programs, to stay afloat.)

Allowing modifications is a solid solution, as evidenced by my example. This homeowner could have restructured her loan to terms resembling those of a conventional mortgage. If the court found that the market value of her home had fallen below what she owed, the secured portion that must be repaid in full would be reduced to the house's actual value; otherwise, the amount to be repaid would stay the same. The interest rate would be adjusted to reflect the prevailing market. However, because this homeowner is a riskier borrower than most, I would have raised her rate to account for that increased risk, as Supreme Court precedent requires. Instead of 14 percent, the rate would probably have been in the high single digits. This homeowner -- with her steady income -- could have made the reduced payments.

Such a solution would have been better for everyone. Obviously, it would have been good for the homeowner and the community in which she lives. Instead of another abandoned house tied up in foreclosure, her residence would be owned by a taxpaying citizen. More important, it would have been good for the lender. Whatever unknown mortgage syndicates hold pieces of this loan, they are never going to get their 14 percent return. Instead, the total recovery will be limited to the proceeds from a foreclosure sale in a depressed market. Any deficiency owed by the homeowner will be discharged as part of her bankruptcy. No one has been able to explain to me why it is not better for mortgage holders to get a fair return of principal back, albeit at a lower interest rate, than to take a lump sum through foreclosure that is probably much less than the value of the note.

There is a simple answer to the frequent, hyperbolic assertion that such a process would be abused: Chapter 13 is no walk in the park. It requires public disclosure of every aspect of your life, examinations under oath by a trustee and creditors, allowing creditors to haul you into court on any objection, and relinquishment of control of your financial life for up to five years. If you falter, your case will be dismissed and you will lose the entire benefit of the bankruptcy law, including having your original contract terms reinstated. That is precisely why allowing mortgage modifications is such a good approach. It would elegantly separate those homeowners who desperately need to stay in their homes and have sufficient incomes to make reasonable payments from those investors who bet on lax regulation, easy credit and an appreciating market in buying residential properties. Those in the latter category will have no use for this process, but for the first category, it could be a powerful step back to financial stability.

The writer is a judge with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Rich Leonard - Give Bankruptcy Judges the Power to Alter Mortgages - washingtonpost.com

Ex-Diplomat Says Georgia Started War With Russia - NYTimes.com

TBILISI, Georgia — A parliamentary hearing on the origins of the war between Georgia and Russia in August ended in a furor on Tuesday after a former Georgian diplomat testified that Georgian authorities were responsible for starting the conflict.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Tbilisi’s former ambassador to Moscow, testified for three hours before he was shouted down by members of Parliament.

A former confidant of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Mr. Kitsmarishvili said Georgian officials told him in April that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia, one of two breakaway regions at issue in the war, and had received a green light from the United States government to do so. He said the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia, the other region, and continue into Abkhazia.

He would not name the officials who he said had told him about planned actions in Abkhazia, saying that identifying them would endanger their lives.

American officials have consistently said that they had warned Mr. Saakashvili against taking action in the two enclaves, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed.

Mr. Kitsmarishvili’s testimony in front of a parliamentary commission, shown live on Georgian television, met with forceful and immediate denials. One commission member, Givi Targamadze, threw a pen and then lunged toward Mr. Kitsmarishvili, but was restrained by his colleagues.

The chairman of the commission, Paata Davitaia, said he would initiate a criminal case against Mr. Kitsmarishvili for “professional negligence.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, who appeared on short notice to comment on Mr. Kitsmarishvili’s testimony, called the allegations “irresponsible and shameless fabrication,” and said they were “either the result of a lack of information or the personal resentment of a man who has lost his job and wants to get involved in politics.” Mr. Kitsmarishvili was fired in September by the president.

Mr. Kitsmarishvili walked out amid the furor on Tuesday. “They don’t want to listen to the truth,” he told reporters.

Russia and Georgia have each painted the other as the aggressor in the five-day war. Georgia said it launched an attack on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, because a Russian invasion was under way. Russia says it sent combat troops into the enclave to protect civilians and peacekeepers after Georgia’s offensive had begun.

Russian forces drove deep into central Georgia, and remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow has formally recognized as independent nations.

The hearings are part of an official Georgian inquiry, the full name of which is the Temporary Commission to Study Russia’s Military Aggression and Other Actions Undertaken With the Aim to Infringe Georgia’s Territorial Integrity. Many senior officials have already testified, and the president is scheduled to appear Friday. Mr. Kitsmarishvili had petitioned to appear, saying a refusal to hear him would show that the inquiry was hollow.

In his comments, the former diplomat said that Mr. Saakashvili was responding to Russian provocation, but that he had long been planning to take control of the enclaves, which won de facto independence from Georgia in fighting in the early 1990s.

Mr. Kitsmarishvili said the president aimed to start an offensive in 2004, but met with resistance from Western and other Georgian officials.

Among the catalysts for the offensive, Mr. Kitsmarishvili said, was the belief that United States officials had given their approval. When he tried to verify that information with the American diplomats in Tbilisi, Mr. Kitsmarishvili said, he was told no such approval had been given.

Ex-Diplomat Says Georgia Started War With Russia - NYTimes.com