Friday, July 31, 2009

Economic Turnaround Arrives!

U.S. home prices registered their first monthly gain in almost three years, it was reported this week, providing new and strong evidence our current recession has bottomed.

The stock market's been running since March (chart shows S&P) but now Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller index, which measures home prices in 20 metropolitan areas, rose 0.5% for the three-month period ending in May, as compared with the three months ending in April. It marked the index's first increase after 34 straight months of decline.

The Wall Street Journal said economists who discussed the survey focused on the April-to-May rise, saying it represents a significant change in direction. Home prices in 15 of the 20 areas in the survey rose or remained stable.

It's only housing prices, you say? What about the Gross National Product and, more importantly, unemployment? That's next gang. The economy needed to put a floor under these falling home prices and declining real estate assets, or economic activity would never pick up.

Think this is just my opinion? Think I'm guessing? Check out the chart. Look where the big money's been moving since March: The Standard % Poor's 500 index. America's biggest companies.

Thanks to ETrade and the Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Elmore Leonard on TV!

According to that slick little West Coast tabloid, The Hollywood Reporter, FX Networks ordered 13 episodes of Lawman, a series based on a character created by Elmore Leonard -- US Marshal Raylan Givens. Remember him? He wore a big cowboy hat? Givens most recently appeared in the short story "Fire in the Hole", which was included in the 2002 anthology When the Women Come Out to Dance. The character also appeared in earlier stories "Pronto" and "Riding the Rap."

The Hollywood Reporter says the series, written by Graham Yost (Speed, Hard Rain), stars Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Givens, a 19th century-style lawman enforcing his own brand of justice in today's world. Production will start this fall in Southern California with a spring 2010 premiere.

"Graham began with a memorable character from one of America’s foremost crime novelists, Elmore Leonard, and we scored the hat-trick signing Tim Olyphant, who is absolutely pitch-perfect in the role of Raylan Givens," said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX Networks.

Read more on Elmore's website.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meet the Informer

So who's the rat?

According to all available sources, including the Asbury Park Press and the Newark Star-Ledger, the key cooperating witness in the New Jersey corruption probe that led to federal charges against 44 people last week is an Ocean Township real estate developer accused two years ago with trying to defraud a bank of more than $50 million, Solomon Dweck.

While federal prosecutors declined to identify the witness, sources with knowledge of the investigation said the witness is Dwek (man on right in photo), son of Rabbi Isaac Dwek, a leader in the Sephardic Jewish community and the head of the Synagogue of Deal.

Solomon Dwek was charged two years ago with trying to defraud a bank of more than $50 million. According to court documents, Dwek was accused of depositing a bogus $25 million check at the PNC Bank in Eatontown and spending $22 million of it before he was caught. He then tried to deposit a second bogus $25 million check at a different PNC branch before he was confronted.

Dwek's father is Rabbi Isaac Dwek, a leader in the Sephardic Jewish community and the head of the Synagogue of Deal. His father and other family members were in court with him.

Dwek himself has been the vice president and chief executive of a Jewish school, the Deal Yeshiva. He is a prolific contributor to political candidates and committees. In Federal Election Commission records from the past six years, he lists himself alternately as a rabbi, a school administrator, an investor and the head of a real estate company called Dwek Properties LLC.

He owns more than 200 properties in central New Jersey, his lawyer (pictured above) said in court.

Thanks to the Associated Press

Friday, July 24, 2009

Joys of Crime Writing in NJ

Gee, crime writing is fun in the State of New Jersey. You don't ever have to make anything up. When Harlan Coben, Chris Grabenstein, Jeffrey Cohen, Ken Issacson, Jeff Markowitz, or even The Famous Author need a new novel or short-story idea, do they squeeze blood from their creative, writerly brains? Heck no. They pick up the newspaper or turn on the NJ news:

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - An investigation into the sale of black-market kidneys and fake Gucci handbags evolved into a sweeping probe of political corruption in New Jersey, ensnaring more than 40 people Thursday, including three mayors, two state lawmakers and several rabbis.

Even for a state with a rich history of graft, the scale of wrongdoing alleged was breathtaking. An FBI official called corruption "a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state." The number of arrests was remarkable even for New Jersey, where more than 130 public officials have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of corruption since 2001.

Federal prosecutors said the investigation initially focused on a money laundering network that operated between Brooklyn, N.Y.; Deal, N.J.; and Israel. The network is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars through Jewish charities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.

Prosecutors then used an informant in that investigation to help them go after corrupt politicians. The informant — a real estate developer charged with bank fraud three years ago — posed as a crooked businessman and paid a string of public officials tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to get approvals for buildings and other projects in New Jersey, authorities said.

Among the 44 people arrested were the mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, Jersey City's deputy mayor, and two state assemblymen. A member of the governor's cabinet resigned after agents searched his home, though he was not arrested. All but one of the officeholders are Democrats.

Also, five rabbis from New York and New Jersey — two of whom lead congregations in Deal — were accused of laundering millions of dollars, some of it from the sale of counterfeit goods and bankruptcy fraud, authorities said.

Those arrested include:

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, charged with accepting $25,000 in cash bribes from an undercover cooperating witness.

Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, charged along with an aide of taking $15,000 in bribes to help get approvals from high-level state agency officials for building projects.

Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, charged with accepting a $10,000 bribe.

Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, charged with taking a $10,000 bribe.

Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, charged with agreeing to accept a $10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund.

Former Assemblyman Louis Manzo, charged with taking $27,500 in corrupt cash payments for use in his failed Jersey City mayoral campaign.

Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, charged with taking $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
Eliahu Ben Haim, a rabbi at a synagogue in Deal, N.J., charged with money laundering.

Saul Kassin, the chief rabbi of a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with money laundering.
Edmund Nahum, the principal rabbi of a synagogue in Deal, charged with money laundering.

Mordchai Fish, a rabbi at a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity. His brother Albert Schwartz, also a rabbi, was charged as well.

Those arrested included Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, who was charged with conspiring to arrange the sale of an Israeli citizen's kidney for $160,000 for a transplant for the informant's fictitious uncle. Rosenbaum was quoted as saying he had been arranging the sale of kidneys for 10 years.

The politicians arrested were not accused of any involvement in the money laundering or the trafficking in human organs and counterfeit handbags.

"New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation," said Ed Kahrer, who heads the FBI's white-collar and public corruption division. "Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state."

Gov. Jon Corzine said: "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."

Hours after FBI agents seized documents from his home and office, New Jersey Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria resigned. Federal officials would not say whether he would be charged. Doria did not return calls for comment.

The informant, whose name was not released, was the hinge between the two investigations. He gave prosecutors information about the money laundering operation, and later, at the direction of the FBI, drew on his background to go after politicians.

Who is that informant, huh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Redhead of the Week Studied Economics

Famke Janssen is a Dutch actress and former fashion model best known for her roles in GoldenEye, Nip/Tuck and as Dr. Jean Grey/Phoenix in the X-Men movies.

Famke was born in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, on Nov, 5, 1965. Besides her native Dutch, Janssen learned to speak English, German and French. She has two sisters, director Antoinette Beumer and actress Marjolein Beumer.

Before coming to America, Janssen studied economics for a year at the University of Amsterdam calling it "the stupidest idea I ever had". Janssen moved to the United States in 1984 and began her professional career as a fashion model. She was signed with Elite Model Management and worked for Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Victoria's Secret. After retiring from modeling in the early 1990's, she enrolled at Columbia University to study creative writing and literature and also took up acting. Several years later she moved to Los Angeles to establish her acting career.

One of her first appearances was in 1992, when she starred in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Perfect Mate" as empathic metamorph Kamala, opposite Patrick Stewart (who would later star with her in the X-Men film series). Then, in that same year, Janssen was offered the role of Jadzia Dax of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but turned it down in favor of film roles.

Janssen's first film role was with Jeff Goldblum in the 1992 film Fathers & Sons. In 1995, she appeared in the first Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, GoldenEye, as femme fatale Xenia Onatopp.

Janssen tried to fight against typecasting by appearing in Woody Allen's Celebrity, Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man, John Irvin's City of Industry and Ted Demme's Monument Ave. She was awarded the Special Jury Best Actress Award at the 2007 Hamptons International Film Festival for her role as a female pool hustler in Chris Eigeman's Turn the River.

Janssen provides the Dutch-language narration for the Studio Tram Tour at all Disney parks.

Janssen lives in West Village in New York City. She was married to writer/director Tod Culpan Williams, son of architect Tod Williams, from 1995 to 2000.

Thanks to Famke and Wikipedia

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beach Day

I don't want to go to work today. I don't want to take out the trash, make breakfast, or walk the dog. I don't want to water the flowers, take something out for dinner, or mop the kitchen floor.

The Famous Author doesn't want to work today either. He doesn't want to write or edit or promote. He's sick of it.

We're going to the beach. Play in the sand, swim, and talk to half-naked women.

(If you must read about actual work, click on this link to see what TFA thinks of Chinese noodles).

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'll Take the Beretta

(Below is the first of what we hope will be many partial short stories for readers' consideration and/or comment. We'll call this, Do You Want to Read More Day. Volunteer writers will submit the opening of their short story, you readers tell him/her if you want to read more. If you do, we'll publish the rest. If no, we'll move on to the next offering. Writers can contact me through The Famous Author, at

By Duke Hunter

I decided on the Baretta because of the smooth action, the extra magazines the guy offered, and because I drilled seven of nine rounds inside a one-and-a-half-inch circle. Much tighter grouping than the Glock. Since my plan was to fire enough bullets at Jimmy Cassiotta to cut him in half, the Italian-made nine millimeter with its bonus magazines seemed like the right choice.

I paid cash and left, thinking how much I loved Kentucky gun shows. A firing range on site. No waiting. No identification. Pick out what you want and split. Figured I’d stop for dinner on the drive home, maybe somewhere outside Columbus, but I ended up sailing all the way into West Virginia before I was hungry enough.

I look for lots of trucks. Shoney’s fit the bill, and that’s where I met Sophie. Her name tag rested on her chest, and was therefore hard to see, there being so much distraction.

“Whaddya want with the pot roast, honey?” she said. “You get three sides.”

“I want you, Sophie,” I said. “Up, down, and all around.”

Pretty lame line, but I got a smile right then, and later, over a beer when her shift was over, some laughs. When the sun came up next morning, Sophie was beside me in the motel bed. We hadn’t slept much, having kinda hit it off in the sex department, and both of us were feeling friendly. I made coffee, but we got back into bed to drink and talk.

“Take me with you, Vince. Please. If you get tired of me back in New Jersey, I’ll go my own way anytime you say. Right now, I just gotta get the hell out of West Virginia.”

I knew the feeling. I also had a few new ones stirring around on account of Sophie. She had a big heart inside that big chest, I could tell. Something I wasn’t used to in women. Not since my Mama died.

We were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike before ten, back on the Jersey Shore by dinner time. I dropped Sophie at my place in Long Branch, said I was going out for some food, and went to see a friend, a guy works behind the bar at Clooney’s Waterfront.

“So where is he?” I said.

Jason poured me a double Wild Turkey. “Haven’t seen him all weekend. You pick up your new assistant?”

“Yeah, a dark Italian. Very smooth talker.”

“You took him out for a demo?”

“Right on the spot. He made me look real good on the range.”

Jason nods. “It’s harder when it’s real."

(To be continued...maybe. Comment if you want to read more from Duke)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Redhead of the Week Likes to Fiddle

Felicia Day is best known as "Vi" on TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for parts in movies such as Bring It On Again and June, as well as the Internet musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

She is also the star, script writer and producer of the originally YouTube-based web series The Guild, which won the Greenlight Award for Best Original Digital Series Production at the South by Southwest festivals, the YouTube Video Award for Best Series, the Yahoo! Video Award for Best Series, and 2009 Streamy Awards for Best Comedy Web Series.

Day's acting career began at the age of 7 when she starred as Scout in a local production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Day has also studied ballet professionally and has performed at concerts and competitions nationwide. She is also an accomplished violinist.

Going straight from home-schooling to college at an early age, Day chose to double major in mathematics and violin performance at the University of Texas at Austin, despite having been accepted to the Juilliard School of Music.

After graduation, Day moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. She landed several roles in various short and independent films, as well as commercials and guest spots on television shows, including Undeclared and Maybe It's Me. These parts propelled her to larger roles: a part in the film Bring It On Again, the starring role in June, and a recurring guest spot as potential Slayer Vi on television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Thanks to Felicia and Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Joe Pike Rides Again

THE FIRST RULE, a new Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais, will be published this coming February. We loved THE WATCHMAN, Pike's first starring role, and we are chomping for this new one. Here's the blurb RC just sent his fans:

"Frank and Cindy Meyer had the American dream – until the day a professional robbery crew invaded their home and murdered everyone inside. The only thing out of the ordinary about Frank was that – before his family, business, and oh-so-normal life – a younger Frank Meyer worked as a professional mercenary . . . with a man named Joe Pike.

"Pike learns of the crime when the police question him. The same crew has done other home invasions, and all the targets have been criminals with large stashes of cash or drugs. The police believe the same is true of Frank, but Pike does not, and with the help of Elvis Cole, he sets out to clear his friend . . . and punish the people who murdered him.

"They won’t know what hit them.

"The first rule: Don’t make Pike mad."

RC will read an excerpt from THE FIRST RULE and sign his backlist in San Diego on Wednesday, July 15.

Mysterious Galaxy - 7:00 p.m. – July 15
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92111


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Redhead of the Week Carries a Sword

Red Sonja is a she-devil with a a big sword, a high fantasy sorcery heroine created by Robert E. Howard and adapted for comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. She first appeared in Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel Comics).

Red Sonja has become the archetypical example of the fantasy figure of a fierce and stunningly beautiful female barbarian who typically wears armor resembling a bikini or lingerie.

Ever wonder what you'd do with a girlfriend like this? Probably whatever she says, right?

The character now appears monthly in her own series, as well as a series of mini-series and one-shots, all published by Dynamite Entertainment. The main Red Sonja series features a wide array of cover artists as well as the regular creative team of writer Michael Avon Oeming and artist Mel Rubi.

The original story for Red Sonja, "The Day of the Sword", first appeared in Kull and the Barbarians #3 by Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, and Howard Chaykin, and was later redrawn by Dick Giordano and Terry Austin for The Savage Sword of Conan, issue 78.

In the current Dynamite comic book series, Sonja's origins are portrayed in "flashbacks" within each issue beginning with issue #8. The goddess makes her first appearance in the new series in issue #12, which also marks the return of the deadly sorcerer Kulan Gath.

Later during the series, the original character is killed off in issue #34. Instead, a new character of the same name, described a reincarnation of the original Sonja, takes her place from issue #35 onward.

Thanks to Wikipedia and Bob Howard

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Whose Treasure is it?

Time to double-down.

Back in February, we suggested you might want to invest in Odyssey Marine Exploration (OMEX) at a little over $4 a share. The company hunts sunken treasure beneath the seas (with proprietary, side-scanning radar), and they're currently sitting on at least three big caches of silver and gold.


And that's only what they've told us about. For reasons so aptly illustrated by current developments, OMEX likes to bring the treasure home and lock it up before they tell anybody they've found it.

Treasure hunting isn't easy. Not even when you find the gold. If you check out this chart, you'll see OMEX has fallen below $2 a share on an adverse court ruling concerning one of their biggest finds: Here's the month-old news from Dow Jones.

"NEW YORK (Dow Jones, June 4)--Shares of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. (OMEX) plunged as much as 64% Thursday to a six-year low after the shipwreck explorer was recommended Wednesday to return an estimated half a billion dollars in sunken cargo it had found two years ago in the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

"Investors had expected Odyssey to succeed in the case, in part because no ship was found, only valuable debris, and admiralty laws concerning sovereign immunity only apply to sunken ships. However, Odyssey said Thursday that a federal court indicated there was sufficient evidence to confirm the site is that of the Neustra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel that exploded in 1804, and that the vessel and its cargo are subject to sovereign immunity."

Ouch! Some investors believe this is it for OMEX. The company will have to return that Spanish treasure, and no country will ever let them pick up gold and silver again. Lawsuits will ruin them. Well, we don't think so. International Marine Law is pretty clear: If the ship is a sovereign nation's property -- usually a warship -- than the treasure belongs to the host country, but ...

Everything else is finders keepers, and this first court ruling was a Magistrate's recommendation, not a decision. OMEX says, one, nobody found a ship. There is no evidence of one, save for the cargo-- 500,000 silver and gold coins. Two, evidence showing the Mercedes was on a merchant trip was ignored, including the testimony and claims of shipping heirs. Marine Law says if a warship was being paid commercially for transporting goods, its cargo can't be sovereign. OMEX expects a reversal upon a appeal, and also notes the Magistrate's recommendation says the U.S. court does not have jurisdiction. Really.

For now, however, headlines say OMEX has to give this huge treasure -- worth up to $500 million -- back to Spain. Ya? How is Spain going to
collect it? OMEX has that treasure locked up at a secret location in the United States. If the U.S. court says they don't have jurisdiction, whose going to make OMEX give that gold back? The Spanish courts? I don't think so. Much more likely is some negotiated settlement. Plus, everybody seems to be forgetting the Sussex (another treasure OMEX has gps numbers on, and the Victory (yet another), plus the multiple locations they're not talking about in the English Channel.

This puppy ain't dead. It's a rip roaring buy.

Thanks to E-Trade for the chart.

WARNING: You are considering financial advice from a fictional stockbroker.