Thursday, November 24, 2016

Texas women exonerated after nearly 15 years in prison for sexual assault

Texas’ highest criminal court on Wednesday exonerated four San Antonio women who spent almost 15 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, opening the door for the women to seek potentially millions of dollars in state compensation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the so-called “San Antonio 4” -- Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez -- were innocent. The decision will allow the criminal records of all four women to be expunged.

The women were convicted in 1998, after two of Ramirez’s nieces, ages 7 and 9, accused them of holding them by the wrists and ankles, sexually assaulting and threatening to kill them in 1994. One of the nieces later recanted, saying another family member threatened her into making the statements.

“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated,” Judge David Newell wrote in the majority opinion. “These women have carried that burden. They are innocent. And they are exonerated.”

CBS affiliate KENS reports that Ramirez was babysitting her two nieces, who were 7 and 9 years old at the time, while the other three women were visiting at her apartment.

About four months after that night, in November 1994, the 20-year-old and pregnant Ramirez remembers a knock at her door.

“I was at home in my apartment, and a detective came knocking at the door and asked to speak to me,” Ramirez previously told KENS. “He asked if I knew Javier, Stephanie and Vanessa, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s my brother-in-law and my nieces.’ And he said, ‘Do you know they accused you of sexually assaulting them?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Do you know why they would do that?’ And I said, ‘No, I have no idea because it never happened.’”[...]

But the court’s opinion on Wednesday relied heavily on the niece who recanted her testimony. The opinion said the two girls’ testimony was so intertwined that a jury could not rely on one without the other. The court also said the “newly available evidence of innocence undermines the legally sufficient, but hard-to-believe versions of events that led to the convictions of these four women.”

A concurring opinion by two other Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges would also grant exoneration based on the challenges to the expert testimony and recantation. The opinion said “no reasonable juror would have convicted them” considering those factors and other “weak and contradictory” testimony presented at their trials.

The science behind why you shouldn’t stop giving thanks after Thanksgiving

Every year, Americans set aside one day for gratitude. But why shouldn’t every day be Thanksgiving?

Not the part of the holiday that calls for gorging on turkey and pumpkin pie or lazing about with family and friends, but the part where people deliberately pause to reflect and count their blessings.

On most days, gratitude manifests as an emotional reaction to a favorable event or outcome. But it also can be a way of life. People who consciously choose daily to seek out things in their lives to be thankful for are, research has shown, happier and healthier.

In one 2003 study, gratitude experts Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami asked some participants to keep a record of what they were grateful for, while others were asked to list the hassles in their lives. After several weeks, those in the gratitude group had a more positive outlook on life, exercised more and reported fewer physical problems.

Emmons also has compiled a list of health data points from his and others’ studies on gratitude that show there are many emotional and physical health benefits of being consciously thankful. For example, practicing gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and led to a 7 percent reduction in biomarkers of inflammation in patients with congestive heart failure. There are studies that suggest gratitude led to reductions in depression and blood pressure and improvement in sleep quality among those with chronic pain and insomnia. In one study, 88 percent of suicidal patients reported feeling less hopeless after writing a letter of gratitude.

Although it’s busy season for a gratitude expert, Emmons, author of “The Little Book of Gratitude,” took the time this week to answer our questions by email about the practice of giving thanks and why we should be doing it year round.[...]

School for life David Brooks on Character

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump shifts on at least 3 prominent issues: Climate, torture and prosecution of Clinton

People voted for Trump for what he promised. But now that he is significantly backtracking on those promises they are not bothered by the deception - because "at least he said what I wanted to hear and his heart is clearly in the right place. Such a good man - not like that wicked liar Clinton". 

This similar to the explanation that a woman - whose husband cheats on her and beats her regularly - will use to explain why she hasn't left him. "He always promises that he will be better and never beat me again. And then after he beats me he apologizes sincerely for not keeping his promises and he is so nice to me after he beats me. He is such a good man"

LA Times  Donald Trump tweaked the script of his transition again Tuesday, appearing to shift his stance on at least three major issues in the course of an afternoon but defending his right to continue involvement in his worldwide businesses despite the potential for conflicts of interest.

What seemed to be Trump’s ironclad belief that America must withdraw from the international climate change accord reached last year suddenly wasn’t so ironclad. He demurred when pressed on whether he would pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton — a signature promise of his campaign. And he backed off on his commitment to torturing enemies of state, saying a single conversation with a retired Marine general changed his mind.

The day marked yet another in which Trump’s agenda bounced around like a pinball. Much of the repositioning played out during a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times — a meeting that Trump had angrily said in the morning that he would cancel over what turned out to be a misunderstanding over the ground rules. By afternoon, Trump was on a full-fledged charm offensive in the mothership of the news organization he had just hours earlier derisively labeled “failing.”

Whether Trump’s remarks reflected a genuine pivot in his thinking or just the president-elect playing to the room he was in will become clearer when he starts governing. Trump made sure to leave himself wiggle room, as he often does.

Still, some of the shifts were jarring. The president-elect, who had branded climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and dismissed efforts to fight it as a massive, politically motivated waste of time and money, now said that perhaps action was needed, and that he might follow through with America’s commitments in the international climate agreement that he repeatedly vowed during the campaign to disregard.

“I’m looking at it very closely,” he said. “I have an open mind to it.”

The comments put Trump at odds not just with his own campaign pledge, but also with his transition team. The man charged with readying the Environmental Protection Agency for the Trump administration, Myron Ebell, is a renowned climate contrarian who regularly attacks the consensus of mainstream science that global warming is a crisis that must be addressed immediately. Ebell has crusaded against every major effort the U.S. has embarked on to slow warming. The Trump transition plan, posted online, states the president-elect will “scrap the $5-trillion Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan.”

Environmentalists were skeptical of Trump’s altered tone. “As long as Trump has a climate change denier like Myron Ebell running his [EPA] transition team, you know this is all a bunch of empty rhetoric,” said May Boeve, executive director of the climate change advocacy group

Trump also got blowback from the right, whose activists were irked by his decision not to pursue prosecution of Clinton.

“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons — I really don’t,” Trump said. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.” When he was pushed on whether prosecution is off the table, Trump responded: “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”

The conservative group Judicial Watch, which has committed itself to exposing alleged Clinton law-breaking, warned Trump against “a betrayal of his promise to the American people.”

But Trump said he would use his influence over law enforcement to argue it is time to move past Clinton investigations, though that too would suggest undue sway over agents who are supposed to be independent of politics when deciding which targets to investigate.

He allowed there is even a case to be made that the Clinton Foundation does “good work.”

The remarks came on a day when Trump’s own foundation was once again in the spotlight. It acknowledged in a fresh tax filing Tuesday that it broke rules prohibiting self-dealing, which will likely trigger a fine. The tax document emerged after the Washington Post reported on multiple instances in which Trump used foundation money to cover the cost of legal settlements his businesses entered into.

The Trump Foundation did not disclose on its new tax filing what payments were inappropriate. Foundation attorneys declined to comment and the Trump transition team did not respond to emails.

The continued negative attention on Trump’s financial entanglements, though, did not appear to be motivating him to more quickly step away from his business empire. Trump made a point of noting that while he is working to transfer control of his businesses over to his children, he does not have to.

“The law's totally on my side; the president can't have a conflict of interest,” Trump said.

He elaborated: “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”

Trump’s indifference to being perceived as using the presidency to enrich himself flouts all White House convention.

He pushed back against concerns that turning over his business empire to his children doesn’t free him from conflicts, as they are also his advisors in government and will be in constant contact. “If it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again,” he scoffed.

In another significant turnabout, he backpedaled from his repeated calls for a return to waterboarding and other discredited torture techniques to fight terrorism. Trump indicated he had reversed his view after a discussion with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, considered a possible pick for secretary of Defense.[...]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Donald Trump’s Early Thanksgiving – An Incredible Story About Anonymous Chessed That Trump Did

Yeshiva World News by Rabbi Hershy Ten is the president of Bikur Cholim Los Angeles.


[...] My history with Donald Trump began in July 1988. At that time, my wife and I had been living in Los Angeles for 5 years after moving here from New York. Our beautiful 3 year-old son Avraham Moshe was suffering from a severe lung condition.

When Avraham Moshe’s doctors found themselves at a loss to remedy his pain and suffering, I looked to my former home of New York with the hope that a set of fresh eyes could offer a chance at recovery. However, in order to pursue this we needed to fly my son across the country, but no private or commercial airline would do so due to potential liabilities, and our health insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. So there we were, with seemingly nowhere else to turn; but the thought of doing nothing was not an option. In the 1980s, Donald Trump’s fame was well-known to me, and well-known to most of the world. So when I once again awoke early one morning to the familiar sight of my son struggling to breathe, I decided to take a bold step – I picked up the phone and called Donald Trump’s office, spoke with him, and bluntly asked him to lend us his private plane for this mission of mercy. Without knowing me and without hesitation, he said yes.

A week later, Donald Trump’s 727 landed in Los Angeles and flew me, my wife, and my son along with 3 ICU nurses to LaGuardia Airport. We landed at sunrise and were greeted by our family-members on the tarmac, as well as an army of reporters. You must bear in mind that at this time there was no social media or internet; nevertheless the news was out and the NY press was abuzz with the story of the famous entrepreneur’s generosity with dozens of headlines such as, “Trump to the rescue of tyke” and “On two wings and a prayer”. Sadly, there was no new hope that could be provided to our son, and weeks later we returned home on the same plane. Though Avraham Moshe bravely battled for his life for years to come, he passed away just months shy of his bar mitzvah – yehi zichro baruch.

While my son’s z”l outcome was devastating, Mr. Trump’s enormous act of chesed rendered me forever grateful and gave me a unique insight of his character. Since that first contact, we were indelibly connected and remain so to this day. For almost 3 decades I’ve dropped by his office to say “hello” and not a year has passed without he and I exchanging wishes of a L’shana Tova and a Gut Yor. Those who know me both personally and in my role as president of Bikur Cholim (Los Angeles) know that I’ve carried the impact of his kindness with me every day. However, for many years I had often wondered as to what personal impact this may have had on him. [...]

Trump Foundation admits to violating ban on ‘self-dealing,’ new filing to IRS shows

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.

That admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.[...]

The New York attorney general’s office is investigating Trump’s charity, following up on reports in The Post that described apparent instances of self-dealing going back to 2007. A spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment, other than to say “our investigation is ongoing.”[...]

During the presidential campaign, The Post revealed several instances — worth about $300,000 — where Trump seemed to have used the Trump Foundation to help himself.

In two cases, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation appeared to pay legal settlements to end lawsuits that involved his for-profit businesses.

In one case, Trump settled a dispute with the town of Palm Beach, Fla., over a large flagpole he erected at his Mar-a-Lago Club. The town agreed to waive $120,000 in unpaid fines if Trump’s club donated $100,000 to Fisher House, a charity helping wounded veterans and military personnel. The Trump Foundation paid that donation instead — effectively saving his business $100,000.

In another, Trump’s golf course in New York’s Westchester County was sued by a man who had won a $1 million hole-in-one prize during a tournament at the course. The man was later denied the money because Trump’s course had allegedly made the hole too short for the prize to be valid.

The lawsuit was settled, and details on that final settlement have not been made public. But on the day that the parties told the court that their lawsuit had been settled, the Trump Foundation donated $158,000 to the unhappy golfer’s charity. Trump’s golf course donated nothing.

In three other cases, Trump’s foundation paid for items that Trump or his wife purchased at charity auctions. In 2012, Trump bid $12,000 for a football helmet signed by then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

In another case, from 2007, Trump’s wife, Melania, bid $20,000 on a six-foot-tall portrait of Trump painted by “speed painter” Michael Israel during a gala at Mar-a-Lago. And in 2014, Trump bid $10,000 to buy a four-foot painting of himself by artist Havi Schanz at another charity gala.

In all three cases, the Trump Foundation paid the bill. Tax experts said that, by law, the items had to be put to charitable use. Trump’s spokesmen have not said what became of the helmet or the $20,000 portrait.

The $10,000 portrait was, however, located by Washington Post readers, following coverage of the Trump Foundation. It was hanging on the wall of the sports bar at Trump’s Doral golf resort, outside Miami.

In September, a Trump campaign spokesman rejected the idea that Trump had done anything wrong, by using his charity’s money to buy art for his bar. Instead, spokesman Boris Epshteyn said, the sports bar was doing the charity a favor by “storing” its art free of charge.

Tax experts said that this argument was unlikely to hold water.

“It’s hard to make an IRS auditor laugh,” Brett Kappel, a lawyer who advises nonprofit groups at the Akerman firm, told The Post then. “But this would do it.” [...]

Broken Promise:Trump officially is not going to pursue charges against Hillary Clinton

Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway confirmed the show’s earlier report that the incoming Trump administration will not pursue charges against his general election opponent Hillary Clinton for her use of an unauthorized email server while secretary of state and on any of the alleged wrongdoing involving her and her family’s charitable organization the Clinton Foundation.

According to Conway, Clinton still faces a challenge in rebuilding her own image and suggested this was part of Trump helping the former first lady “heal.”

“I think when the President-elect, who’s also the head of your party, tells you before he’s even inaugurated that he doesn’t wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone, and content to the members,” Conway said. “And I think Hillary Clinton still has to face the fact that the majority of Americans don’t find her to be honest and trustworthy. But if Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that is a good thing. Look, I think he’s thinking of many different things as he is preparing to become president of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign aren’t among them.”

Trump won’t pursue case against Clinton, Conway says

President-elect Donald Trump has decided that he won’t seek criminal investigations related to former rival Hillary Clinton’s private email server or her family foundation, a senior Trump adviser said Tuesday

Trump’s apparent decision, conveyed by former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,’’ is a change from his campaign rhetoric, in which he issued incendiary calls for a special prosecutor to reopen the FBI’s closed investigation of Clinton’s use of a private server while serving as secretary of state and had also urged investigations of allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. He nicknamed the Democratic nominee “Crooked Hillary” and encouraged chants of “Lock her up!” at his rallies.

Trump’s decision to pursue or not pursue a criminal investigation from the Oval Office would be an extraordinary break with political and legal protocol, which holds that the attorney general and FBI make decisions on whether to conduct investigations and file charges, free of pressure from the president. [...]

Trump has not spoken directly about his apparent change of heart but hinted at it in a post-election interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” in which he expressed warm feelings toward Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Trump had repeatedly blasted both Clintons, with whom he was once friendly, during the campaign.[...]

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz will speak in Ramot Tuesday November 22 2016


אחרי החרדה - הרב המומחה מארה"ב יגיע לשכונה אליה עבר להתגורר תוקף ילדים מורשע, כדי לתת הדרכה להורים המודאגים

בשכונת רמות בירושלים פועלים הורים מודאגים לסילוקו של תוקף ילדים סדרתי שהורשע בארה"ב ועבר להתגורר בשכונה, כפי שדווח ב'בחדרי חרדים' לראשונה.

בשבוע הקרוב תתקיים בשכונה הרצאה תחת הנושא "שמירת בטיחות הילדים בעולמנו כיום", אותה ימסור מי שנחשב למומחה בתחום - הרב יעקב הורביץ.

הרב הורביץ, הינו מייסד ומנהל של ישיבת דרכי נועם במונסי ניו יורק והקים את פרויקט "יס", העוסק בין היתר בטיפול בנוער בסיכון ועוסק בסוגיות הקשורות לפגיעות בילדים ומניעתן. שמו אף עלה לכותרות בפרשת המאבק נגד תוקף הילדים משכונת הר נוף בירושלים, שתבע את הרב לבית המשפט נוכח הרדיפה אחריו, והכפשת שמו כביכול.

הרצאות הרב מטעם ארגון "מגן" שיימסרו באנגלית בערים שונות ובשכונת רמות בירושלים בתאריך 22 לנובמבר, יתקיימו בבית הכנסת טשכנוב, ויימסרו לגברים ונשים בנפרד.

ל'בחדרי חרדים' נודע עוד כי הגאון הרב אשר וייס, מחשובי רבני השכונה, מעורב בפרשה - ולפי מידע ממקורות בשכונה הוא מוכן לאפשר לתוקף לעבור טיפול מונע שימנע ממנו להמשיך לתקוף, וכך להימנע מפעולות לסילוקו מהשכונה.

MK Glick: My relative committed suicide due to his divorce

Arutz 7   MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) devoted his Knesset address Monday to the plight of divorced fathers and the high rates of suicide among this group.

"A relative of mine committed suicide three months ago in the same situation," said Glick. "Three children, a year after his divorce. Last week a young man in Haifa committed suicide and many, many more have done the same. It seems to me that the time has come to be more aware of the appalling situation of men who are involved in a divorce process."

"Hundreds of people are killed, month after month," lamented Glick. "Divorced men commit suicide seven times more than their married counterparts."

Glick read out parts of a Yediot Aharonot article by Yifat Glick, including the suicide note written by Hanan Dadon, who was the MDA's Southern Region spokesman and a member if the 669 rescue unit. "Today I understood that there is no value to my life. My divorce will leave me destitute. How can I stay debt-ridden and still pay 14,000 NIS a month in child support? How can I work two jobs yet not be able to look my children in the eyes?

"I am supposed to start a new phase in life, to begin a training course on the fifteenth of the month," wrote Dadon. "Yet what's the point if in the end there won't even be bread and margarine and I will have to live with my father?"

The mere raising of the subject by Glick aroused the ire of MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) who interrupted Glick's words with a series of taunts. "What is this? It's not appropriate for you to speak like this," she declared. "Express yourself in a way that fits reality."

"It's not appropriate for me to talk about people in distress?," retorted Glick. "I'm talking about a group of people who according to official statistics of the state of Israel suffer from more that 100 suicides a year." [...]

On Wednesday the initial vote on a proposal by MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Yoav Kish (Likud) to cancel the early childhood custody which automatically leaves young children with their mother. The law is not the controversial "Parents and Children" proposal which confers prerogative rights on social workers over parents. The present proposal is intended to cancel the present situation whereby mothers are automatically preferred to fathers with regard to custody of children under the age of six.

The promised post election normalization of Trump? Trump blasts media heads in private meeting

It had all the trappings of a high-level rapprochement: President-elect Donald J. Trump, now the nation’s press critic in chief, inviting the leading anchors and executives of television news to join him on Monday for a private meeting of minds.

On-air stars like Lester Holt, Charlie Rose, George Stephanopoulos and Wolf Blitzer headed to Trump Tower for the off-the-record gathering, typically the kind of event where journalists and politicians clear the air after a hard-fought campaign.

Instead, the president-elect delivered a defiant message: You got it all wrong.

Mr. Trump, whose antagonism toward the news media was unusual even for a modern presidential candidate, described the television networks as dishonest in their reporting and shortsighted in missing the signs of his upset victory. He criticized some in the room by name, including CNN’s president, Jeffrey A. Zucker, according to multiple people briefed on the meeting who were granted anonymity to describe confidential discussions.

It is not unusual for journalists to agree to off-the-record sessions with prominent politicians, including President Obama, as a way to gain insights and develop relationships.

But after details of Mr. Trump’s hectoring leaked on Monday in The New York Post, it seemed the meeting was being used as a political prop, especially after Trump-friendly news outlets trumpeted the session as a take-no-prisoners move by a brave president-elect.

“Trump Slams Media Elite, Face to Face,” blared the Drudge Report. “Trump Eats Press,” wrote Breitbart News.[...]

Mr. Trump is meeting with representatives of several news organizations this week, including The New York Times, where he is scheduled to speak on Tuesday with editors, reporters, columnists and the newspaper’s publisher.

Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff; Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter; and Ms. Conway are expected to accompany the president-elect to The Times, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Embassy in Jerusalem? Trump Promises, but So Did Predecessors

America’s top diplomat in Jerusalem lives in an elegant three-story stone house first built by a German Lutheran missionary in 1868, a short walk from the historic Old City. But he is not an ambassador and the mission is a consulate, not an embassy.

For decades, those distinctions have rankled many Israeli Jews. The United States, along with the rest of the world, has kept its primary diplomatic footprint not in Israel’s self-declared capital, Jerusalem, but in the commercial and cultural hub of Tel Aviv to avoid seeming to take sides in the fraught and never-ending argument over who really has the right to control this ancient city.

Until now. Maybe.

President-elect Donald J. Trump vowed during his campaign that he would relocate the mission “fairly quickly” after taking office. That in itself is nothing new: For years, candidates running for president have promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and for years, candidates who actually became president have opted against doing so.

But just as Mr. Trump broke all the rules of campaigning, some of his supporters say no amount of hand-wringing by the State Department will change his mind. Jason Greenblatt, an Orthodox lawyer who is advising Mr. Trump on Israel, told Army Radio after the election that the president-elect was “going to do it” because he was “a man who keeps his word.”

Already, many Israelis and Palestinians are buzzing about the prospect. Where would the embassy go? Would it straddle the line between West Jerusalem, which is predominantly Jewish, and East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Arab? Would it touch off street protests in Palestinian cities or a backlash among Arab allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

“Jerusalem is a symbolic, emotional and real issue,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and president of the Israel Institute. “It matters to many Israeli Jews because it would indicate that the United States actually recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which now it effectively does not.”

Which is why Arabs object so strenuously to such a move. “This is a sign that he’s going to side with Israel,” said Mustafa Alani, a scholar at the Gulf Research Center, a research organization with offices in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. “If he does it, it’s going to be a wrong start for his relationship with the Arab world.”

The status of Jerusalem has always been one of the thorniest issues dividing Jews and Arabs. In 1947, the United Nations recommended that the city be declared a “corpus separatum,” meaning an international city, rather than incorporated into either the Arab or the Jewish states then being contemplated on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But in the war that followed its declaration of statehood in 1948, Israel captured the western portion of the city while Jordan seized the east.

Israel took control of East Jerusalem in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors and annexed it, declaring that the city would remain whole and unified as its eternal capital (and later building many settlements there that most of the world considers illegal). The United States and most other countries refused to recognize the annexation and kept their embassies in or near Tel Aviv. The last two countries with embassies in Jerusalem, Costa Rica and El Salvador, moved out a decade ago.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised during their presidential campaigns to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Both later backed away from those promises, convinced by Middle East experts that doing so would prejudge negotiations for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

In 1995, Congress passed a law declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and requiring the embassy be moved there by 1999 — or else the State Department building budget would be cut in half. But the law included a provision allowing presidents to waive its requirement for six months if they determined it was in the national interest. So every six months, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and eventually President Obama signed such waivers, fearing a violent response in the Arab world if the embassy moved.[...]

Shlomo Carlebach - the enigma within a paradox - the tzadik who was a sexual molester

One of the larger than life figures in recent history is Shlomo Carlebach. A man who promoted and lived a life of love of one's fellow man. A man who was responsible for bringing many to observance or at least strong positive feelings about Judaism. A talented performer, a composer of beloved songs and teller of inspirational tales. A man who inspired the widespread phenomenon of the Carlebach Minyan. A man who molested some of the women who idolized him - including young teenage girls. 

There is a teshuva in the Igros Moshe regarding whether his songs are appropriate since there are allegations that has committed the sin of singing before mixed audiences. I confronted Carlebach with the teshuva and his response was that he had a very good relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein.

שו"ת אגרות משה אבן העזר חלק א סימן צו
בדבר ניגונים שעשה אדם כשר שאחר זמן נתקלקל וסני שומעניה אם יש לנגנם על חתונות כ"ב אייר תשי"ט. מע"כ ידידי מהר"ר שמואל דישון שליט"א.

בדבר אחד שהיה בן תורה בחזקת כשרות כמה שנים והוא מנגן שעשה ניגונים על שירי קדש ולשיר לחתונות והורגלו כמה בני תורה לזמר אותם בשמחות של מצוה ועתה אין שמועתו טובה שמכנס בחורים ובתולות יחד ומזמר לפניהם, ושואל כתר"ה אם מותר עתה לזמר בניגוניו שעשה תחלה כשהיה בחזקת כשרות. לע"ד איני רואה בזה שום איסור מכיון שהם ממה שעשה בכשרותו. וראיה שהרי מצינו בתקנות יוחנן כהן גדול שנקראו על שמו במתני' סוף מע"ש ובפ' עגלה ערופה בסוטה ויש שסוברין שהוא זה ששימש שמנים שנה בכהונה גדולה ולבסוף נעשה צדוקי עיין במלאכת שלמה במע"ש שם, ואף ששם לא היה אפשר לבטל התקנות הגדולות שתיקן ונתקבלו בישראל ונעשו הלכות קבועות, מ"מ לא הי"ל לקרא אותם על שמו אלמא דכיון שתיקן אותם בכשרותו יש לקרא על שמו אף שעתה הוא רשע ומין כיון שנקרא על השעה שהיה כשר.

איברא שהרמב"ם רפ"ט ממעשר כתב שהוא יוחנן כהן גדול שהיה אחר שמעון הצדיק וכתב הכ"מ לאפוקי שלא נאמר שהוא אותו יוחנן כ"ג שנעשה צדוקי לבסוף, מ"מ מסתבר שאינו משום שסובר הרמב"ם שהיה אסור לקרא על שמו אם היה אותו יוחנן כ"ג שנעשה צדוקי לבסוף, שאין לנו לעשות מחלוקת בחנם וא"כ מדידהו נשמע שגם הרמב"ם יודה שמותר לקרא על שמו מה שתיקן בכשרותו, אלא שיודע מאיזה מקור שהיה זה יוחנן כ"ג הקודם לזה שנעשה צדוקי. וגם הא מצינו מאמר באבות פ"ד מ"כ מאלישע בן אבויה אף שהוא לו זכרון גדול והוא משום דאמר זה בכשרותו.

ולבד זה הא מוכרח כן דהא כל המקור לאסור הוא לטעם הרמב"ם בס"ת שכתבו מין שישרף שהוא כדי שלא להניח שם לאפיקורסים ולא למעשיהם, והא זה ברור שבנעשה מומר אחר שכתב הס"ת היא כשרה ממש אף לקרות בו עיין בפ"ת יו"ד סימן רפ"א סק"ב אלמא דכיון שכתב כשהיה בכשרותו הוי הנחת השם לזמן כשרותו שלזה ליכא קפידא. ואין לדחות דבכתב בכשרותו הרי קידש את השמות שהיה אסור לשרוף אף בכתבו מין כדמשמע שם ברמב"ם, דמ"מ היה לן לפסול ולהצריך גניזה, אלא צריך לומר דכיון שהנחת השם הוא לזמן כשרותו ליכא קפידא גם להרמב"ם. ולכן גם בעובדא זו הניגונים שעשה כשהיה בכשרותו שאף אם נימא שיש בזה ענין הנחת השם לעושה הניגונים אין לאסור דהרי הוא הנחת השם על זמן כשרותו שליכא קפידא בזה ומותר. ואף לבני תורה ובעלי נפש אין מקום להחמיר.

ובעצם מסופקני אף בהניגונים שעשה אחר שסני שומעניה, אם הם ניגונים כשרים שאין בהם קלות שראוין לנגנם, אם יש לזה ענין הנחת שם למעשה רשעים, דמסתבר דרק בעניני קדושה ככתיבת ס"ת שהוא חשיבות הנחת שמם בדבר קדושה הוא אסור להרמב"ם אבל בעניני חול אין בזה שום חשיבות במה שיהיה שמם עליהם ואין לאסור. וכמו שפשוט שמותר להשתמש וגם לקרא שמם על עניני חדוש ברפואות ומאשינעס /ומכונות/ וכדומה אלמא דרק בעניני קדושה הוא גנאי להניח שם לאפיקורסים ולא בעניני חול. וא"כ גם הניגונים הם עניני חול דאין להם שום קדושה ולכן אף שעשו לנגן בניגונים אלו דברי קדושה אפשר אין להחשיב שהוא הנחת שם להרשע בדברי קדושה כיון שבעצם הניגונים שחידש אין בהם קדושה. וא"כ אף ניגונים אלו שעשה אחר שסני שומעניה נמי יותר נוטה שאין לאסור לנגן בהם. אך באלו יש לבני תורה ובע"נ להחמיר כיון שיש גם טעם לאסור אף שהוא טעם קלוש.

והנה בעובדא זו שהסני שומעניה אינו בעניני כפירה אלא בעניני קלות ראש לנגן בפני בחורים ובתולות יחד שודאי אין להחשיבו כמין ואפיקורס ואף לא כמומר לתיאבון דהא רק לדבר אחד דקלות ראש ופריצות הוא עבריין לתיאבון מסתבר שעל אדם כזה אין למילף שיהיה דין וחיוב שלא להניח שם לו ולמעשיו. ואדרבה הא ברור שהס"ת שיכתוב איש כזה יהיה כשר, ומפורש ברדב"ז סימן תשע"ד הובא בקיצור בפ"ת שם שס"ת שכתב אחד מהקראים אסור לשרוף ובעצם היה מותר גם לקרות בו רק משום שאפשר שלא נעשה כתקון חז"ל עיין שם והא במין ואפיקורס שכתבו ס"ת אף בהיה ידוע בעדים שכתבו כדין היה אסור לקרות בו להרמב"ם כדי שלא להניח שם להאפיקורסים, מטעם שחלק הרדב"ז שאף שהם בכלל הכופרים כיון שעכ"פ מאמינים בקדושת השם ובקדושת התורה אין קפידא בהנחת שמם בקדושה שמחזיקין. א"כ כ"ש שמומר לתיאבון כשמאמין בקדושת התורה שכשר לקרות בו. וכ"ש בעבריין רק לדבר אחד לתיאבון דכשר הס"ת שיכתוב. וא"כ כ"ש הניגונים שעושה שרשאין לנגן בהם ואין להחמיר אף לבני תורה ובעלי נפש. ואם סני שומעניה גם לעניני כפירה אז הוא כדכתבתי לעיל שאלו שעשה מתחלה אין מקום להחמיר כלל ואף אלו שעשה אח"כ מסתבר יותר שאין לאסור כיון שאינם ענין קדושה אבל לבני תורה ובע"נ ראוי להחמיר, ידידו מוקירו, משה פיינשטיין

He was larger than life, and since his death, Jews running the full religious and political spectrum have continued debating the true nature and beliefs of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach; a new memoir places him among the hippies, but in truth he didn’t fully belong to anyone. [...]

Lilith Magazine

In 1989 the feminist group Women of the Wall defied the Orthodox Jewish establishment and read from their own Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Shlomo Carlebach, steeped in hasidic tradition but committed to the spiritual rights of women, was the only male rabbi present.

An Orthodox rabbi by training, Rabbi Carlebach took down the separation between women and men in his own synagogue, encouraged women to study and to teach the Jewish texts, and gave private ordination to women before most mainstream Jewish institutions would. Described as a musical genius. Rabbi Carlebach’s melodies—including Adir Hu, Am Yisrael Chai and Esa Einar are sung throughout the world in hasidic shteibels and Reform temples alike; they have sunk so deeply into Jewish consciousness that many don’t realize these are not age-old tunes. And Rabbi Carlebach encouraged women to sing out loud—a challenge to the Orthodox teaching that women’s voices should not be heard publicly lest they arouse men.

Shlomo Carlebach also abandoned the Orthodox injunction that men and women not touch publicly. Indeed, he was known for his frequent hugs of men and women alike, and often said his hope was to hug every Jew—perhaps every person—on earth.

It is an alarming paradox, then, that the man who did so much on behalf of women may also have done some of them harm. In the three years since Rabbi Carlebach’s death, at age 69, ceremonies honoring his life and work have been interrupted by women who claim the rabbi sexually harassed or abused them. In dozens of recent interviews, Lilith has attempted to untangle and to explain Rabbi Carlebach’s complex legacy.

“He was the first person to ordain women, to take down the mechitza, and I think he thought all boundaries were off,” says Abigail Grafton, a psychotherapist whose Jewish Renewal congregation in Berkeley, California, has spent the last six months trying to cope with the allegations.[...]

Among the many people Lilith spoke with, nearly all had heard stories of Rabbi Carlebach’s sexual indiscretions during his more than four decade rabbinic career. Spiritual leaders, psychotherapists and others report numerous incidents, from playful propositions to actual sexual contact. Most of the allegations include middle-of-the-night, sexually charged phone calls and unwanted attention or propositions. Others, which have been slower to emerge, relate to sexual molestation.[...]

However, he was a special rabbi, and those she had looked up to had looked up to him. Rachel, today an artist and martial arts teacher in New Mexico, told almost no one what had happened. Those she did tell said he was “just a dirty old man.” Thirty-five years later she was jogging with Rabbi Gottlieb, both her friend and her congregational rabbi, when they began talking about Rabbi Carlebach. Hearing that others were claiming experiences similar to hers, Rachel broke down in tears. Only then, she recalls, did she get very angry. “I felt acknowledged. It wasn’t a dream, it really happened.”[...]

Other stories have begun to emerge, suggesting that Rachel’s experience was not unique. Robin Goldberg, today a teacher of women’s studies and a research psychoanalyst on women’s issues in California, was 12 years old when Shlomo visited her Orthodox Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, community to lead a singing and dancing concert. He invited all the young people for a preconcert preparation. And it was during the dancing that he started touching her. He kept coming back to her, she reports, whispering in her ear, saying “holy maidele,” and fondling her breast. Twelve years old and Orthodox, she says she didn’t know what to think. Her mother, that afternoon, told her she must have been mistaken and that she must not have understood what was going on. But when she was taken to a dance event led by Rabbi Carlebach years later, while she was in college, she reports that the same thing—dancing, whispering, fondling—happened to her again. [...]

This Fall, Spiegel summarized the stories she had heard regarding Rabbi Carlebach in a letter to Yaakov Ariel, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying Rabbi Carlebach’s spiritually innovative California synagogue, the House of Love and Prayer. In the letter, which Spiegel made available to Lilith, she states that in the last few years, a number of women in their 40s have approached her “in private and often with deep seated pain” about experiences they had when they were in their teens. “Shlomo came to their camp, their center, their synagogue,” she wrote. “He singled them out with some excuse . . . . [G]etting them alone, he fondled their breasts and vagina, sometimes thrusting himself against them, and muttering something which they now believe was Yiddish.”[...]

Two years ago, following a “Carlebach Shabbos” at my former shul, I wrote an article in which I described the conflict I felt hearing Carlebach being praised for his selflessness and kindness, while simultaneously aware of allegations that he had molested women. I left the article open ended, simply giving my two sides, and left it open for my readers to responded. And boy, did they. The responses flooded in; comments, emails, Facebook messages, even some in-person responses. They came in heavy, heated, and varied. It’s been two years, and I’ve had time to reflect more on the subject, discuss it with more people, and gain some perspective on the issue. Furthermore, since then I’ve spoken to quite a number of his victims, three of whom left comments on my original post. I’d like to address a few things.

Right off the bat, people challenged me on the ethics of sharing an article alleging that someone who is dead and cannot defend himself committed abuse that has never been proven in court. Many people have claimed it’s simply lashon hara, and therefore refuse to even listen. Setting aside whether or not those same people are as careful about the laws of lashon hara when the person under discussion is not one of the spiritual idols, I’ll take it at face value.

It is lashon hara. But one of the exceptions to the prohibitions against speaking lashon hara is when there’s a to’eles, a purpose. Most notably, if there’s a general purpose in the community knowing, if it will prevent some harm, then it is permitted to speak lashon hara. The benefits of discussing Carlebach’s crimes are twofold. First, it sends a message to the community that abusers will have to pay, in one way or another for their crimes, that death is not an escape from the damage caused by sexual abusers. It’s a powerful message to send because there are so many victims out there whose stories are kept hidden by coercion and fear, because the people who keep those secrets are terrified of what their families, their communities might say or do to them if they dare come forward. The more stories are made public, the more people come forward, the more victims will feel safe and secure in coming forward and telling their stories, exposing their abusers, and pursuing justice against them.

Second, for decades Carlebach’s crimes were covered up. For decades, all his victims heard about him was constant praise bordering on deification, any criticism quashed, any attempt at bringing his crimes to light hushed and suppressed. It wasn’t just his followers either who were complicit. Perhaps they can be forgiven because they were blinded by his charisma and façade, but his right-hand men, his gabba’im were aware of the allegations, and actively suppressed the accusers. And for years all his victims heard were stories of Carlebach’s greatness, the constant praise of a man who could do no wrong, simultaneously invalidating their experiences and exalting the man who hurt them. They deserve to have their stories told, to have their experiences validated, and there are enough of them to constitute a to’eles harabim.[...]

This past weekend, after sharing my article again this year in “honor” of Carlebach’s yahrtzeit, two women posted their stories as comments on the article. I’d like to share them below, because it leads me to my final point. The first is by a poster who used the name Shula.

“I was a 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl, enthralled with his music. I was in seventh heaven when he offered me a ride home from a concert. The driver and another person sat in the front, and he sat with me in the back. When he put his arm around my shoulder I was stunned but delighted; and then his hand started massaging my breast. I was 15 and completely naive, had no idea what was happening, but somehow felt embarrassed and ashamed. I just continued to sit silently without moving. This continued until I was dropped off at my house. He told me to come to his hotel room the next morning, and I did! He hugged me very tightly, and I stood frozen, not really understanding what was happening. Then the car came to pick him up, and again I went with him in the car and he dropped me off at school. And I never said a word to anyone, never! I’m a grandmother today, and can still recall that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the confusion and feeling ashamed. I never spoke about this, ever. But all of these comments of denial make me feel I have to confirm that these things happened. He was 40 years old, I was 15. He was an experienced 40 year old man and I was a very naive 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl. In those days we never talked about sex. I had never even spoken to a boy! I didn’t associate him with ‘a boy’ – he was like a parent figure, he was old. But I felt it was something to be ashamed of.

Your article is extremely important – these are conflicts that we have to deal with in life, but if no one ever brings them up, then each person, in each generation, has to over and over again re-invent the wheel of faith. The struggle for faith is hard enough; when these issues are so wrapped in secrecy (and I’m one of those that kept the secret for 53 years!).”[...]

But as to why they didn’t come forward sooner? They did. Or rather, they tried. Many of them tried to confront Carlebach about what he did, but when his gabba’im found out about why they wanted to talk to him, they made sure to keep them away. When his followers found out that someone was harboring such an accusation, they made sure to shut them out, and make it plain that they were no longer welcome. The legend they’d built in their minds and their hearts was too big and too fragile to fail. And the truth is it’s not unexpected. Carlebach, to so many, represents the very essence of their Judaism. For many he’s the very reason they have any connection at all, whether spiritual, cultural, or religious, to Judaism. For many, his message of love and acceptance, of connection to God rather than strict observance of a set of laws, of following the spirit to transcend the letter. Without him that message is lost, and without that message they lose their connection.

I feel for such people. I do. And that’s how we return to the original question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist; the message from the man. Two years ago, when I wrote the article, I didn’t know the answer. But now, to me, the answer is clear. I’ve decided to let it all go. I no longer listen to or sing his music. I don’t feel personally that it’s appropriate to listen to the music and stories of a man whose art gave him the power and status he needed to get away with abusing so many women. I can’t honestly stand at the Amud and sing L’cha Dodi to any of Carlebach’s tunes and feel anything but dirty. I can’t tell myself that God wants my prayers when they come packaged in such poisoned melodies. [...]

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wireless Brain Implant Allows “Locked-In” Woman to Communicate

A wireless device that decodes brain waves has enabled a woman paralyzed by locked-in syndrome to communicate from the comfort of her home, researchers announced this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The 59-year-old patient, who prefers to remain anonymous but goes by the initials HB, is “trapped” inside her own body, with full mental acuity but completely paralyzed by a disease that struck in 2008 and attacked the neurons that make her muscles move. Unable to breathe on her own, a tube in her neck pumps air into her lungs and she requires round-the-clock assistance from caretakers. Thanks to the latest advance in brain–computer interfaces, however, HB has at least regained some ability to communicate.

The new wireless device enables her to select letters on a computer screen using her mind alone, spelling out words at a rate of one letter every 56 seconds, to share her thoughts. “This is a significant achievement. Other attempts on such an advanced case have failed,” says neuroscientist Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

HB’s mind is intact and the part of her brain that controls her bodily movements operates perfectly, but the signals from her brain no longer reach her muscles because the motor neurons that relay them have been damaged by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), says neuroscientist Erick Aarnoutse, who designed the new device and was responsible for the technical aspects of the research. He is part of a team of physicians and scientists led by neuroscientist Nick Ramsey at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Previously, the only way HB could communicate was via a system that uses an infrared camera to track her eye movements. But the device is awkward to set up and use for someone who cannot move, and it does not function well in many situations, such as in bright sunlight.[....]

The technology is not without controversy, however. Some experts believe that only noninvasive methods should be used to help people with locked-in syndrome communicate, for example by recording brain waves from scalp electrodes. “Implantations like the one reported here may carry an unknown risk for advanced ALS patients,” says Niels Birbaumer, an expert in brain–computer interfaces at Tübingen University in Germany who was not involved in the study.[...]

Still, some experts say the wireless new device may not justify the risks. “One to two letters per minute is not justifiable [for doing a craniotomy] unless they can improve it,” Kennedy says.

Indeed, when HB was first learning to use the device, she told Aarnoutse, “Trying to communicate like this is like tacking a sailboat.” But many patients with locked-in syndrome choose not to use ventilators to breathe when their disease reaches an advanced stage because they cannot communicate and they feel they are a burden on their loved ones, according Schwartz. Studies suggest that locked-in people can lead meaningful and productive lives if they can communicate in some way. “We need to do anything we can to help these people,” he says. “We are talking about life and death.”

Now, more than a year after the device was implanted, HB lives at home with her husband and one of her children, and she has gotten much faster at typing out her thoughts. Also, the device works outdoors in the sunshine where her eye tracker fails. “She’s happy,” Aarnoutse says. “The ability to communicate has given her more freedom and made her more independent.”

Steve Bannon on Politics as War

It’s hard to think of Steve Bannon as a low-profile guy. He has garnered about as many headlines over the past week as Donald Trump—no small feat. He is the executive chairman of the hard-right Breitbart News, among the most aggressive voices online, its website an attack machine against Democrats and “establishment” conservatives. President-elect Trump chose Mr. Bannon this week as his chief strategist and senior counselor, a slot usually filed by someone eager to play a presidential surrogate on TV.

Yet Mr. Bannon—who joined the Trump campaign in mid-August to propel its thunderbolt victory—professes no interest in being the story. “It’s not important to be known,” he says in a telephone interview Thursday night, among his first public comments since the election. “It was Lao Tzu who said that with the best leaders, when the work is accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’ That’s how I’ve led.”

Nor does he profess to care that Democrats and the media are portraying him as a “cloven-hoofed devil,” as he puts it. “I pride myself in doing things that matter. What mattered in the campaign was winning. We did. What matters now is pulling together the single best team we can to implement President-elect Trump’s vision.

He continues: “How can you take anything seriously from a media apparatus—paid the amount of money you people are paid—that systematically missed something that was so obvious, that missed Brexit, that missed the Trump revolution? You’d have thought they’d have learned their lesson on November 8.”

Slight pause. “They clearly haven’t.”

Here are a few things you’ve likely read about Steve Bannon this week: He’s a white supremacist, a bigot and anti-Semite. He’s a self-described Leninist who wants to “destroy the state.” He’s associated with the “alt-right,” a movement that, according to the New York Times, delights in “harassing Jews, Muslims and other vulnerable groups by spewing shocking insults on social media.”

You’ll have seen some of Breitbart’s more offensive headlines, which refer to “renegade” Jews and the “dangerous faggot tour.” You maybe heard that Breitbart is gearing up to be a Pravda-like state organ for the Trump administration.

Mr. Bannon is an aggressive political scrapper, unabashed in his views, but he says those views bear no relation to the media’s description. Over 70 minutes, he describes himself as a “conservative,” a “populist” and an “economic nationalist.” He’s a talker, but unexcitable, speaking in measured tones. A former naval officer, he thinks in military terms and likes to quote philosophers and generals. He’s contemptuous of the media, proud of Breitbart, protective of the “deplorables,” and—at least at the moment—eager to work with everyone from soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

At first Mr. Bannon insists that he has no interest in “wasting time” addressing the accusations against him. Yet he’s soon ticking off the reasons they are “just nonsense.”

Anti-Semitic? “Breitbart is the most pro-Israel site in the United States of America. I have Breitbart Jerusalem, which I have Aaron Klein run with about 10 reporters there. We’ve been leaders in stopping this BDS movement”—meaning boycott, divestment and sanctions—“in the United States; we’re a leader in the reporting of young Jewish students being harassed on American campuses; we’ve been a leader on reporting on the terrible plight of the Jews in Europe.” He adds that given his many Jewish partners and writers, “guys like Joel Pollak, these claims of anti-Semitism just aren’t serious. It’s a joke.”

He blames the attacks on a lazy media, noting for instance that the “renegade Jew” line wasn’t Breitbart’s. Conservative activist David Horowitz (also Jewish) has taken responsibility for writing the headline himself, in a piece about Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.[...]