Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Session for Confession

The 15 July 2009 posting regarding the Spinka scandal and the Agudath Israel stated:

"The Agudath Israel needs to take corrective discipline with its misbehaving bratty children, instead of trying to convince the principal to not suspend the kids each time they misbehave. It should position itself as a proponent of compliance with tax laws instead of as a cover-upper of tax cheats, and as a proponent of zero tolerance for sexual abusers instead of a cover-upper of sexual abuse. This will take some practical leadership."

Perhaps the Agudath Israel is coming through. In a hurried response to the mass arrests in New Jersey (which only exacerbate the AI's increasingly embarassing public image), the AI convened a hastily-planned symposium (for men only, but that's a whole separate issue). The speakers at the symposium included none other than Naftali Tzvi Weisz, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, who spoke some very contrite words. The speakers also included high-profile criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, who said many of the things I have been saying for years. The videos of the event are very, very interesting, and can be viewed here if you have the time and inclination.

My take on it:

(A) Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel recently assumed the post of Executive Vice President of the Agudath Israel of America. He is a lawyer, and understands many of the legal nuances involved far better than mere rabbis.

(B) The Spinka Rebbe, having signed the tentative plea agreement, now has to do all sorts of contritional acts. Moreover, the plea agreement is a "package deal" contingent upon, inter alia, "a case disposition agreement executed by representatives of Spinka and all of its constituent organizations." The Rebbe's reference in his discourse to various watchdog-type committees is probably a reference to the terms and conditions of such case disposition agreements.

(C) In one of the videos, (approx. 2:00), Ben Brafman tells a semi-humorous story wherein he attended a minyan (English translation: A group of at least 10 Jewish men convened for prayer service) to say Kaddish for his father, and the guy selected to lead was his former client. Understand that Ben Brafman's clients are all criminal defendants. This, no doubt, made many of the AI hierarchy people in attendance wince.

(D) This symposium would have been unimaginable a year ago. But now, AA seems to be moving rapidly out of denial mode and is confronting problems which, only a short while ago, it would never admit existed. With the Jersey arrests making the headlines, the AI hierarchy now is beginning to realize that it can no longer go about delivering the morality lecture when so many members of so many of its affiliated groups are not behaving in a moral manner. Expect more events and missives with the new "obey the laws" message!

(E) Personal sentiment: It would not surprise me in the least if, within the next few months or years, the Agudath Israel of America erects a website. I leave it to those in the pari-mutuel profession to assign particular odds to particular time frames.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha B'Av 5769

Today's date per the Hebrew calendar is 9 Av 5769. The 9th day of Av (Tisha B'Av in Hebrew) commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and the Second Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Other calamities, large and small, have occurred to the Jewish people on the 9th of Av. Accordingly, it is a very sad day. I have been fasting since last evening, and will not break the fast until after sunset tonight.

From the 1st day of the month of Av, it has been no meat or wine (except Shabbat). The no wine part does not particularly affect me, inasmuch as my preferred beverage is beer, which IS permissible, and which I usually have with dinner unless I plan to drive somewhere afterward. As much as I like to eat meat, the no meat part has not particularly been difficult for me. I do well with fish or yogurt (and, when I travel to locales without much in the way of kosher restaurants, subsist quite well with such foods).

For a while I was going beyond vegetarian and into vegan (to oversimplify, the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan is that vegans don't eat fish or animal products such as milk, while some vegetarians do). For the first time in a number of years, I actually cooked some tempeh (though I ended up with a slight agita afterwards) and, all told, did without even the yogurt or eggs for a few days (N.B. I usually put tofu into my salad at least 6 days out of 7 anyway). The tempeh, tofu, nuts, fruits, and TVP and veggies did me fine. Polly over at Veggywood would be proud of me.

[Yes, I know that Polly leans quite far towards the Left. But at least she understands that veganism and vegetarianism are not for everyone, and does not attempt to impose her views on the matter upon the rest of us. And while she thinks that PETA is basically a good organization, she does admit that they wax extreme from time to time. It is reassuring that there are some rational animal rights activists out there. Having encountered plenty of spoiled rotten, irresponsible, narcissistic, far far leftist and irrational brats from Beverly Hills, Hollywood, The Hamptons, Westchester, the Main Line, Greenwich, Monte Carlo and other locales where the glitterati dwell and propagate, oblivious to the realities of the world, I have to respect Polly for her sincerity and for her grasp of reality. If her Weltanschauung differs from mine, then so be it. Maybe the next time she's back East we can do lunch or dinner at a kosher vegan dining establishment (and no, I'm not trying to score -- Twenty-something years ago I serendipitously scored with a woman, and the two of us are still playing that one out, big time, through thick and thin.).].

I, of course, did not schedule any professional activity for today. Not good to work on an empty stomach, especially when others, such as clients, depend upon your sound functioning. And, of course, my disposition is not at its best, so I have avoided major encounters with others (which is just as well, because one is not really supposed to greet others on Tisha B'Av). But who was I kidding when I thought that I might get some productive paperwork done today? It's almost 7:00 PM and I have accomplished precious little, except for a few much-need additional hours of sleep.

Oh, well! Maybe that's the way it should be. After all, I should be bothered by the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the Holy City of Jerusalem. I am adversely affected by the memory of the Holy City's destruction, then my heart aches over it. And those who mourn the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem will, one day, rejoice when it is rebuilt.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Publisher's Pitfalls

As this post is being written, a big scandal is unfolding regarding some New Jersey politicians, and also some rabbis. I shall not comment extensively on it at this time, other than to note that (A) the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty; (B) if indeed the defendants participated in the bad acts as charged, then I vehemently disapprove of such acts; (C) if indeed the defendants are found guilty or plead guilty, then there will and should be significant consequences visited upon them; and (D) even if the defendants are eventually exonerated (as I do hope will happen), the arrests and indictments are a signal to the religious Jewish community that it must go beyond damage control, and change what have become popular notions as to what is and is not acceptable behavior.

In prior posts, including the one from 5 April 2009, this blog has had occasion to mention a publication known as Yated Ne'eman. [Actually, there are two such publications, one in Israel and one based in Monsey, New York. They formerly were connected; now they are divorced but still sleeping together.]. Yated Ne'eman presents some cogent viewpoints not found in other media. In any given week, several people read Yated Ne'eman before I get hold of a copy, and I now have read the 17 July 2009 edition.

As mentioned in the prior post, Yated Ne'eman has what they would like to think is a strict policy against publishing photographs of women. Again, this is a decision I respect, given the social values of the niche of Yated's primary market, the insular religious Jewish community. Nevertheless, I now note an ironic, and, I find, comical malfunction of this strict policy. The front page of the 17 July 2009 edition carries a photo captioned "The Senate Judicary [sic] Committee is holding hearings this week for the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. See Page 90." The photo was procured from Getty Images.

Any other publication would feature a photograph of the nominee, Sonia "SoSo" Sotomayor. But because Judge Sotomayor is a woman, Yated did not place her photograph on its front page. Instead, the photo features the Judiciary Committee itself, and a whole group of photographers with their lenses trained ahead to a spot behind the photographer, where Judge Sotomayor is obviously seated. So instead of a photograph of Sonia, there is a photograph of photographers photographing Sonia, so that Sonia is totally out of the photograph.

This is amusing enough. But if one looks at the very left side of the photo on the front page of Yated Ne'eman, it seems that one of the photographers in the press pool is a w-o-m-a-n, whose lens is directed towards the Committee. We see the side view of her head, but her face is mostly obscured by her straight long black hair. But the woman's entire arm, up to the shoulder, is exposed by clothing which, in the social groups that typically read Yated Ne'eman, is deemed immodest, provocative, and even whore-like. Given Yated's penchant for not showing a woman's face, and given the mindset of Yated's core readership, the depiction of a woman's arm above the elbow -- on the Front Page of Yated Ne'eman, just below the top banner -- is nothing short of a hilarious irony!

The 24 July edition of Yated has obviously been published. I have not yet seen it, but eagerly await its arrival in my hands to see if there is any mention of reader criticism of the Sotomayor photo without Sotomayor.

The Sonia photograph without Sonia will now be among the least of Yated Ne'eman's consternations. Yated now has to report the Jersey scandal to a readership that has a well-ingrained reflex for defending their own (as do I), and a distaste for negative comments about their own, as well as an aversion to the public airing of internal controversies. The mere mention of the scandal will touch many sore spots of Yated's readership, and non-mention of the scandal would severely impair Yated's credibility.

But, given Yated Ne'eman's past stances in other matters of controversy in the insular religious Jewish community, I do expect Yated to meet the challenge quite well. We shall see!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Katz Chasing the Robins

Today's story in the New York tabloids: Robin Katz, a 25-year-old investment advisor at Chase Bank, now stands accused of tapping a client's private account to the` tune of $110 K through the medium of a duplicate ATM card, which was found on her person upon her arrest.

The New York Post story is here, (Front Page in print edition), an AP apparatchik's version is here, and Newsday's take is here.

My commentary, in no particular order:

1. Robin's MySpace self-description reportedly is "rocket scientist by day, party fool by night." If indeed she were a rocket scientist, she would have filched the money by some means less tracable than an ATM card. ATM machines commonly are monitored with video surveillance, which only corroborates the electronic money trail.

2. The New York Post, being the sensationalist tabloid it is, now presents Robin as a sexual commodity. All else being equal, this would bother me. All else is not equal, however, because Robin herself apparently accentuates her own sexual aspects on her public pages such as MySpace and Facebook. Which wouldn't be quite so bad if she were not facing criminal trial. She is definitely NOT a sympathy-evoking defendant.

3. Robin apparently left New York in May for a purported family emergency in California, yet the ATM withdrawals persisted from June 2008 through June 2009. If Robin really were apprehensive about being caught, maybe she should have ceased and desisted.

4. According to the Newsday story, "A [Chase] spokesman declined comment Tuesday, refusing to say whether Katz was still employed there, or how long she had worked for the company." I am not a public relations expert, but would think that if Robin no longer worked at Chase, then Chase should be most anxious to have the world know that fact. Methinks that some sort of employer-employee relationship persisted at least until Robin's arrest. This makes Chase look like a even more of a smacked toochas, at a time when the entire banking industry already has poop smeared all over its face. Moreover, the unnamed Chase customer was probably signed on with JP Morgan Chase Private Banking services. Not good for the bank's public image or public confidence!

5. Robin exhibits many hallmarks of a spoiled trust fund kid. Smith College, family in California, working in the banking industry, rich and riotous lifestyle, et cetera.

6. Once the Madoff case broke, Rocket Scientist Robin should have recognized it as a signal that society's patience for financial crimes is being sorely tested. She should have ceased and desisted immediately. What caused her to continue? Was it just plain arrogance, or was there some sort of substance abuse and dependency lurking in the background? How much of that money got sucked up her nose?

7. There will be tax consequences for Robin if she failed to report her filched income on her tax returns. My advice to Robin: File an Amended 2008 return NOW; that way you MAYBE can avoid at least some of the penalties.

8. As the father of a college student, and as one who interfaces with the business world, I cannot help but be concerned about my son's Internet persona. There are consequences for what one does or does not post on their Facebook or MySpace pages, and, if truth be told, my wife and I have had occasion to deliver an admonishment to our son in that regard (not terribly serious, but not totally with our zone of confort). Robin's case will, if anything, heighten public awareness regarding Facebook and MySpace and similar cyberscrapbooks. And if I were advising an employer (or, rather, when I advise employers, for one of my clients has been talking about launching a business venture that will require paid help over and above his wife, daughter and mother-in-law), I would have them take a look at Facebook and MySpace, et cetera, when checking out prospective employees. What you do on your own time is your private business -- until you make your private business public.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Spanking for Spinka

The Agudath Israel of America is an advocacy organization for the more religiously observant Jewish groups. It presents and asserts many issues and viewpoints I consider to be necessary. I am grateful that it exists, and am not above sending it a modest monetary donation from time to time.

It therefore pains me to say that the Agudath Israel is a troubled organization. It is not a bad organization, but it is troubled because some of its past statements and suboptimal judgment calls are now coming back to haunt it. [N.B. I have similar sentiments regarding the Republican Party, for analogous reasons.].

This Blog's posting on 21 December 2007 commented on a tax fraud indictment case in Los Angeles, a case that involves the Spinka institutions. My very reliable sources now inform me that the Naftali Tzvi Weisz, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, has signed a plea agreement whereby he will plead guilty to a felony conspirary charge and face up to 5 years imprisonment. The plea agreement is "wired," that is, the agreement is contingent upon the entry into of plea agreements by Rabbi Weisz's codefendants, and disposition agreements by the various Spinka institutions. My sources tell me that understandings have, for the most part, been reached regarding the codefendants' pleas, but that the disposition agreements with the corporate parties are still not in the zone of agreement.

The Spinka Chassidic community is one of the Agudath Israel's constituencies. The Spinka tax fraud case implicates, and may well exacerbate, the Agudath Israel's troubles. Please bear with me on this analysis:

Some time last April, apparently after Pesach, the Agudath Israel issued a statement (jointly with Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools) regarding sexual abuse in religious Jewish institutions. The long and short of the statement is that the two organizations (A) " fully acknowledge the horror of child sexual abuse and the devastating long-term scars it all too often creates;" but (B) are concerned that legislation currently under consideration in Albany (if indeed anything at all is being done in Albany) might be so overly broad as to saddle educational institutions with "potentially crippling financial liability" for long past indiscretions by individuals who are dead, retired, or otherwise long gone from such educational institutions. Within the four corners of the policy statement document, I am 100% with Agudath Israel.

But the AI-TU joint statement was not written on a fresh klaf. At Agudath Israel's 2006 national convention, a speech was made by Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon wherein it was effectively admitted that many in the Agudath Israel leadership have swept under the rug the matter of sexual molestation in Yeshivas, in deference to the feelings of the families of the accused (and, in come cases, proven) molesters. Others have, and not without foundation, accused Agudath Israel of indecisiveness and stalling on the matter.

Before sexual abuse issue became THE big sore matter with Agudath Israel, there were some charges, again not without foundation, that the rabbis of Agudath Israel were wont to encourage abused wives to give in to their abusive husbands' monetary demands and not make a public issue of it. Indeed, in an article published in the Jewish Observer, the Agudath Israel's (almost) monthly magazine (as I recall, some time between 2000 and 2002 or thenabout), there was an effective denial that the problem was exacerbated by the various rabbis' entreaties to the abused wives to surrender to their husbands' monetary demands in exchange for the divorce.

And so, the Agudath Israel now has a public relations problem with its constituencies. Its failure to admit its shortcomings and lapses leaves many of its constituents (and former constituents) very skeptical.

Getting back to the Joint Statement, if one takes it at its face value (which I in fact do), a cardinal concern of the Agudath Israel is to maintain the viability of the religious Jewish day schools. This is also a concern of mine, and a cause to which much of my family's tzedaka (charity) allocations are directed. The way I read the Spinka situation, there is a serious question as to whether the Spinka educational institutions involved in the indictment can continue to financially survive if they agree to the settlements I would expect the government to demand, and/or the tax assessments the IRS is likely to have made and/or be in the process of making. Which puts the Agudath Israel right back on Square One!

The Agudath Israel needs to take corrective discipline with its misbehaving bratty children, instead of trying to convince the principal to not suspend the kids each time they misbehave. It should position itself as a proponent of compliance with tax laws instead of as a cover-upper of tax cheats, and as a proponent of zero tolerance for sexual abusers instead of a cover-upper of sexual abuse. This will take some practical leadership.
I personally believe that Agudath Israel is capable of such leadership if they make the necessary changes in their policies and procedures (and, perhaps, personnel). For the sake of the future of American Jewry, I hope that I am correct on this score!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Wise Decision?

I'm back!

No more pencils, no more books, no more students' dirty looks!!

The grades have just been submitted, and, now that I am no longer teaching until the Fall semester, all of the things that have gone neglected to one extent or another can now be given my attention. Like my sleep! I'm all burnt out from the Summer Session semester, so I'll need a day or two to recover.

Don't get me wrong! I did enjoy teaching the courses I taught. But, like all summer session courses at all universities, this was very intense for student and professor alike.

My brief social commentary for this posting deals with one Clive Campbell -- or rather, The Other Clive Campbell.

There are two reasonably respectable Clive Campbells in the world, namely, the New Zealander soccer player, and the Bronx DJ known as "Kool Herc" who is credited with establishing Hip Hop music in America. [Okay, so I'm not a big fan of Hip Hop music (nor of the Bronx, for that matter), but Kool Herc did work hard and pay his dues and succeed after he came to America from his native Jamaica, so he is in that sense a positive living example of America's greatness.].

Then there is this Other Clive Campbell, who is sullying the names of the DJ and the footballer, is a self-described Brooklyn community activist (sound like Barack Hussein Obama's resume) who has a group called "Da Black Defense League." I shall not link this posting to this man or his group; suffice it to say that the man and his website are everything one would expect and more.

Specifically, Campbell filed a pro se lawsuit against Barclay's Bank and others. The lawsuit smacks of extortion. Justice Arthur Schack, of the Kings County Supreme Court, has dismissed Campbell's lawsuit. It is a long read, but Justice Schack described the Complaint as a "rambling, disjointed, almost 30 page essay dealing with, inter alia: the history of the trans-Atlantic African slave trade; the injustices suffered by African slaves and their descendants; the alleged connection of BARCLAYS to the slave trade; and, the alleged violation by all defendants of international, federal and state laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States Declaration of Independence, and the United States and New York State Constitutions."

You can read the case of Campbell v. Barclay's Bank if you really, really want to. I shall not now detail all of the inconsistencies and nonsequiturs and irrationalities in the complaint. Bottom line: Justice Schack dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted.

The social commentary imponderable: How would that Wise Latina, Judge Sonia "So-So" Sotomayor, have ruled on the case had it been before her bench?

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ernesto and Irv

Still teaching, but not quite as sleep-deficient.

Ernesto Lecuona (1895 - 1963) was, by most estimations, Cuba's greatest musician ever. He was a composer, pianist, band leader, and a founder of the Havana Symphony Orchestra. Finding the Castro regime in Cuba intolerable, Lecuona moved to Tampa in 1960. If you have not been informed about Ernesto Lecuona, you can bring yourself up to speed here, here and here.

Lecuona's untimely death on 29 November 1963 did not receive the attention it merited because the news media of the world was still working on the grist from the death just a week earlier of another significant figure in Cuba's history -- President John F. Kennedy.

History repeats itself! My friends in Philadelphia have informed me that noted radio personality Irv Homer passed away on 26 June 2009. I had a number of occasions to listen to Irv's show, and I held him in high regard for his sincerity, and his willingness to call things as he saw them, come what may. Irv Homer was able to see the broader issues of things.

Irv Homer was a staunch proponent of the First Amendment and the Second Amendment, and was openly critical of the intrusive excesses of government, whether the FCC or the IRS.

And, having lost a young child of his own to disease, Irv Homer was an active and avid supporter of the Sunshine Foundation, a charity that grants wishes to very sick children. [Parenthetic note: The Sunshine Foundation's sponsorship of gatherings of children afflicted with progeria, a rare disease that manifests itself as rapid aging, enabled the efficient and reliable collection of blood samples which greatly advanced the medical research towards treatment and cure.].

Hopefully, Irv Homer will eventually be recognized as the broadcast industry's moral compass he was. But, like Ernesto Lecuona before him, Irv Homer must, in death, take second-line billing the media's other anointed idols of lesser worth than himself -- In Irv's case, he is a few pages after Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett.

Rest in Peace, Irv Homer (and also Ernesto Lecuona)!

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