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Monday, April 30, 2007

Your Retail Dollars Could Help Elect Our Next President

Consumerist has an interesting little item on where a percentage of your retail dollars might be going:
When you buy a light bulb at Home Depot or a pair of pants at Walmart, you probably don't give much thought to the political leanings of said light bulb or said pants. Nevertheless, retail outlets, airlines, electronics manufactures, and record company executives do make campaign contributions, and when they do, we can look it up.
For example, Consumerist reports that the Home Depot seems to give a portion of your paint or sheetrock purchase to Republicans, while Steve Jobs gives to Dems.

I guess the point is that people who hold particularly strong political views might want to consider where some of their money is headed. Of course, that detail just might be one too many layers to be concerned with - except for those types who quiz their plumbers, accountants, and/or appliance repairmen on their political affinities before hiring them.

A Quick Word

So at tonight's SD 15 "meet the candidates" night, candidate Pamela Greenbaum called me a "cyberbully". Ha. The only bully here is Ms. Greenbaum, who is seeking to strip my First Amendment right to anonymous political speech in the face of my very valid criticisms of her stance on important district issues. She's a bully because when she couldn't stand the heat, she dragged me into court, with the clear intention of attempting to shut me up by stanching my criticism. Did it ever occur to Ms. Greenbaum that it might have been more appropriate and befitting a public figure to actually try to disprove a critic's claims, instead of just attempting to muzzle said critic? To recap this whole sad affair, I have never attacked Ms. Greenbaum on anything but the issues.

But somehow, I'm the bully.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Junk Food Rant

I completely support this:
April 26, 2007 -- WASHINGTON - Sugary drinks, fatty chips and gooey snack cakes should be banned from schools in the face of rising childhood obesity fueled by these "junk foods," an expert panel said yesterday in a report requested by Congress.

The Institute of Medicine panel proposed nutritional standards more restrictive than current government rules for foods and drinks sold outside regular meal programs in cafeterias, vending machines and school stores in elementary, middle and high schools.

The proposals would banish most potato chips, candies, snack cakes such as Twinkies, "sports drinks" such as Gatorade, sugary sodas and iced teas and punches made with minimal fruit juice.
I for the life of me could never understand why my kids' schools find it necessary to stock vending machines with the most gargantuan bottles of iced tea and powerade. I do recall having a soda machine in the lunchroom of my own elementary school in my childhood, but those days, apparently a small can of soda would suffice. Now we're talking 24-ounce bottles of liquid candy being marketed to grade-schoolers. And does anyone really think that a bag of cheese puffs is a wholesome school-day choice?

I would love to see the school switch over to small bottles of juice and water in their beverage vending machines, and low-fat pretzels and the like in their snack machines. I mean, it's 2007 - shouldn't we all know better?

Monday, April 23, 2007

JIB Voting

Voting has begun for the JIBs. Feel free to peruse the offerings and vote for your favorites. I'm nominated in two categories:
Best Overall - vote here
Best Jewish Culture Blog - vote here

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Notes Indicate Nasty Political Ad Campaign Planned

Larry Gordon has the tale of a nasty campaign ad planned for the upcoming election that should shock you. The proposed ad shows a clear intent to deceive voters. Apparently, some people seem to think that it's appropriate to use any tactics whatsoever to get out the vote - and evidently, promoting hysteria is the tactic du jour.

Bagel Boycott Narrowly Averted? - UPDATED

Dag points us to an article in the Jewish Star regarding kashrut violations found at a local bagel store:
The sign in the window apologized for the inconvenience and said the Bagel Island store on Rockaway Turnpike in Cedarhurst was closed on the Thursday after Pesach due to “a plumbing problem.”

In actuality, the Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and the Rockaways ordered the store to shut down for one dayas a penalty after one of the owners of the store, David Perez, was discovered substitutingcream cheese with an OU-Dfor the Cholov Yisroel cheese the store is required to use. The Vaad’s rabbinic administrator,
Rabbi Yosef Eisen, confirmed that he personally made the discovery.

A spokesman for the Vaad,Rabbi Dovid Weinberger, said there was no cause for concern about the store’s kashrus. “Whatever needed to be corrected was corrected and the hashgacha continues with out any concern,” he said. Rabbi Weinberger, the rav of Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence, also heads the Rabbinic Liaison Committee of the Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and the Rockaways.

Rabbi Eisen “was spot checking, and saw something that made him suspicious,”
according to Rabbi Weinberger. “He saw a knife” on the seat of Perez’s car “and he found the cartons in the dumpster” outside the store. The cartons had contained
three-pound containers of Kosher, but not Cholov Yisroel, cream cheese. “When you take them out of the box they look identical to anything else and you would never know the difference.”

Questioned by Rabbi Eisen, Perez first claimed the cheese came from Ahava Dairy, a Cholov Yisroel producer. “What are you doing with a knife in the car and these cartons in the trash?” Rabbi Eisen asked, according to Rabbi Weinberger. “When he confronted him, he caught him red-handed.”

Another partner in the store, Joe Elbaz, confirmed that Rabbi Eisen immediately ordered the store closed for one day. Elbaz said that he felt that the incident had been handled in a “fair” manner. “It was a situation where we were without cream cheese,” he explained, and the delivery from Mehadrin, the usual supplier, wasn’t scheduled to take place until the afternoon.

“In a second of thought - the wrong thought — it was a stupid mistake.” He added that no customers were served the non-Cholov Yisroel cream cheese. “I presume that no one was served it,” said Rabbi Weinberger, but “I cannot ascertain that for sure.” Elbaz confirmed that Perez purchased two cases of cream cheese with an OU-D which were not Cholov Yisroel, despite signage in the store which tells customers that Cholov Yisroel is what they should expect. “It was not an attempt to defraud,” he said, and admitted that he was “upset” with Perez.

The Vaad has seen receipts which, Elbaz said, confirm thatthe store receives regular deliveries of Cholov Yisroel products from Olam and Mehadrin, two major dairy suppliers. Elbaz brought receipts with him to an afternoon meeting at Shaaray Tefila, Rabbi Weinberger said.

Perez, who is not observant, “is no longer permitted to be inside the store,” effective immediately, said Rabbi Weinberger.

Can customers trust Bagel Island in the future? “Honestly, yes,” said Elbaz. “Olam and Mehadrin are my suppliers. Period. What else can I say?”

Rabbi Weinberger confirmed that the Vaad considers Elbaz to be trustworthy. “We are not looking to hurt a man who owns the store and whose partner took him for a ride, who is himself ethical and honest, because of somebody’s stupid mistake and idiocy.” That’s why, Rabbi Weinberger said, the sign in the window referred to a plumbing problem and did not detail the true reason behind the closure.

“I can attest to it that any time something like this happens customers are lost and it takes a very long time to win them back. That’s why we prefer to say that it is closed for some other reason. It absolutely justifies it.

At least one community rabbi chose to discuss this incident with his congregants, and call for stricter standards than the Vaad presently requires. At the Agudas Yisroel of Long Island this past Shabbat, people who were present confirmed that Rabbi Yaakov Reisman reiterated his oft-repeated preference that his own congregants confine their patronage to kosher establishments with Sabbath- observant owners. For use by members of his shul, Rabbi Reisman updates a list which he prepared long ago of stores which he deems acceptable.

Rabbi Weinberger, the spokesman for the Vaad Hakashrus, was asked to respond. “So close down 70 percent of the kosher stores in the country,” he said. The result, he predicted, would be more Jewish people eating “traif rather than kosher food.” “Most stores are owned by non-Shomer Shabbos proprietors,” he said. “You get a mashgiach temidi and the Shulchan Oruch is fine with it. If the Shulchan Oruch is fine with it, you can’t negate it. “
I can't say that that this makes me 100% comfortable with Bagel Island - though I will say that the fact that the offender is no longer allowed on the premises does mitigate my discomfort. It is nice to see that the Vaad is on the ball with regards to their supervision. In the past, I've heard criticism of the Vaad's policy of only spot-checking of the stores that are under their supervision. However, this incident would seem to indicate that not only does it work when it comes to finding violations, it presumably works as a deterrent for other store owners who might consider trying to pull this type of shtick.

Dag takes issue with the Vaad's coverup of the incident, saying that he doesn't like being lied to - whether by the store owners or by the Vaad. I can completely relate to the visceral dislike of any type of dishonesty, but I actually understand the Vaad's reasoning on this issue. If the other owner of the store agreed completely to barring the violator from the premises indefinitely, then one has to assume that the problem has been dealt with appropriately. Dag also says that the Vaad's handling of this episode is surprising, especially since "they came down so hard on Glatt Emporium." However, to me, this sounds exactly similar to the way the Vaad handled the GG situation. I recall the same type of attempt by the Vaad during the initial stages of the Gourmet Glatt saga to keep the story quiet. Unfortunately, the story began to come out, and the Vaad had no choice but to confirm the details of the Kashrut violations in that incident, as they eventually did in this case as well.

One would have to assume that had the owner who committed the Kashrut violation had refused to follow the Vaad's directives to be banned from the premises, we would have been looking at a bagel boycott.

Also, in regards to mention made in the article of a certain local Rav who tells his congregants not to eat at restaurants owned by non-Sabbath observers? I have just one word in response to that "failsafe": Monsey.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Jewish Star has issued a correction on some details regarding the story above:

Sometimes even the most determined effort at fact checking goes awry and mistakes slip into the newspaper. That hurts. But when the names of two people become reversed — one of whom did something and the other of whom suffered the consequences — an editor's worst case scenario is born.
We reported last week that the Bagel Island store on Rockaway Turnpike was shut down for a day by the Vaad Hakashrus. It had been discovered that OU-D cream cheese was substituted for Cholov Yisroel cream cheese, which is required by the Vaad. Accurate, so far.
However, despite multiple conversations with rabbonim and with an owner of the store, the names of the two partners still came to be reversed in the published story.
Joe Elbaz and David Perez — the partners — each confirm that it was Elbaz who brought in the OU-D cream cheese, not Perez. At the time Elbaz told us, "In a second of thought — the wrong thought — it was a stupid mistake." He now clarifies that he was admitting to his own action, and NOT referring to something done by his partner. He further explained that it was Perez, his Sabbath-observant partner, who was upset at HIM, Elbaz. The story clearly said that the reverse was the case.
We deeply regret the error and apologize to both men.

OM in Court

Couldn't get a disguise together that was good enough to dare to venture into court myself, but SIW made his way over there for today's arguments. His report can be found here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Hey everyone, the Jewish Israeli Blog Awards are back. Nominations in a number of categories end tomorrow, so check out the categories and enjoy being introduced to some new blogs.

SD 15 Bad Behavior

There's an infuriating article in this week's Jewish Star, but I can't link the article, so I'm going to have to recap much of it.

As I first posted about here, there was a request made to the Board of Education of School District 15 by district parents who wished to have their special needs children placed in Kulanu Torah Academy, as they felt their children's special education needs were not being adequately met by district public schools. The Board of Education came to a confidential settlement with the parents to reimburse them at the tuition cost of $22,500 per child. This amicable settlement would seem to have been a win-win situation, as quotes in the article would indicate:
In fact, the amity with which the settlement was reached represents a departure from past practice when virtually every dispute over private special ed placement resulted in a court battle.

“Last year the special ed litigation costs were in excess of $750,000,” said school board President Asher Mansdorf, who ordered the district’s legal team to seek settlements, in conformity, he said, with recent directives from Albany. “I can tell you that the estimate is that every time we have to go to litigate a [special ed] case, the starting cost is in the area of $18,000 dollars,” he said. “Whether you win, lose or draw you’ve spent at least 18-thousand dollars.

Aside from saved legal fees, Mark Honigsfeld, the chairman of the board of Kulanu, said the settlement represented a significant savings to the district in tuition, alone. “It’s public knowledge that it costs the district over $50,000 per year to educate a special needs child,” he said. “Some of these students,” he continued, “were being sent outside the district, which required a matron on a bus, and hours a day on a bus, and those situations cost the board over $70,000 a year.”

“My general approach to life is mediation and conciliation,” Mansdorf said. “Just think about any civil lawsuit that takes place anywhere in the country. What’s the first thing anyone does? The lawyers sit down and try to resolve it without going to court. Isn’t that what everyone tries to do. Am I the only one?”

In any event, Honigsfeld said, “Governor Spitzer has mandated that districts settle
these cases and parents should have major input. Only this district is going against the tide, because of this election.”
Despite the fact that the settlement seemed to have been in everyone's best interests, board members Pamela Greenbaum and Stanley Kopilow chose to oppose the settlement, and unfortunately, they chose to publicly air their disagreement with this confidential settlement, which had initially been discussed only in a private session completely closed to the public - violating the policy of confidentiality with which these matters are expected to be treated:
Both men also objected to the way in which confidential matters concerning special ed students have now become topics of public discussion. A person familiar with the district’s legal affairs, whose request for anonymity was granted, said “anything involving a special ed child is so confidential that the board never sees the names of the kids — they only see a number — and the number is known only to the office of pupil personnel and services.”

“Certain board members who have voiced their objection to this out-of-court settlement, in my opinion, are totally uninformed as to the sensitivity required when publicly discussing issues related to families and children who have disabilities,” Honigsfeld said. “So, bringing this to a public forum was inappropriate and, as I understand it, the full board was made aware of all the circumstances in executive sessions.” The upcoming election has played a role, he said. “It is only these individuals who are contrary to the private school sector looking to use this settlement as a platform for their campaign.”
Accusing the board members who oppose this settlement of doing it only to curry favor with voters in advance of an election campaign might seem a bit harsh, but it's hard to see what else the motivation here could be. It's clear that this settlement saved the district money. It's also noted in the article that the move had support of the district superintendent, school attorney, and special ed supervisor. In addition, it is pointed out in this earlier article on the subject that at the same meeting, a similar settlement was made for a public school student to attend an outside special ed program - yet somehow was not mentioned by Kopilow and Greenbaum when they chose to bring these previously confidential cases under public scrutiny. It's also hard to make the case that publicly raising an issue that is so clearly meant to remain confidential is in the best interests of the concerned district children. How are we to believe that Greenbaum and Kopilow are looking out for the best interests of every district child when they display a willingness to break confidentiality for special needs district children simply to make a political point? Doing what's best for one group of district children should not entail harming a different group of district children - shouldn't that be very clear to all, especially those who are elected to provide for the needs of all district children?

In any event, now this hue and cry as raised by Greenbaum/Kopilow has turned litigious. (Not shocking, as Greenbaum is involved). A former special education teacher from Long Beach, Ruth Radow, has filed a petition in objection to the settlement agreement. It seems that she is claiming it's unlawful:
In early April, the state education department received a petition, known as a ‘310 appeal’ asking that the education commissioner to vacate the board’s decision on the grounds that Kulanu is not an “approved” school and that proper procedures were not followed in allowing the case to be settled without the customarily lengthy appeals process.
The fact that a "customarily lengthy appeals process" is being presented as a positive, desirable goal for either the district or more importantly, for district children, is simply shocking - and Dr. Mansdorf's explanations above for settling and saving both the parents involved as well as the district time and money seem right on target. The fact that the school is claimed to be not "approved" is also debunked here:
Honigsfeld also pointed out that “there is no such thing as a quote-unquote ‘approved’ school,” he said. Kulanu is chartered by the NYS Board of Regents.
Dr. Mansdorf also takes issue with the suggestion that the settlement was unlawful:
"You have to realize that they’re also implying that our attorney, our special ed supervisor and our superintendent all broke the law,” Mansdorf pointed out. “That we said, fellows, lets go ahead and break the law, and they said, ‘OK, let’s go ahead
and do it.’ It’s just ludicrous.”
It is ludicrous, and quite sickening. It's as if a certain segment of the community who have an agenda to protect the public schools at any cost seem to think that such an agenda should come at the expense of fair, just, and equitable treatment of all district children.

It's a damn shame.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Post to Read

Krum has a great post on gender selection technology and halacha. My previous posts on the topic: I, II

Muslim Taxi Drivers Cannot Refuse to Take Passengers Carrying Alcohol

Here's the news:
Muslim cab drivers at Minnesota's biggest airport will face new penalties including a two-year revocation of their taxi permits if they refuse to give rides to travelers carrying liquor or accompanied by dogs, the board overseeing operations ruled Monday.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission, responding to complaints about the liquor issue, voted unanimously to impose the new penalties beginning in May.

A large number of taxi drivers in the area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Muslim Somali immigrants. Many say they feel the faith's ban on alcohol consumption includes transporting anyone carrying it.

Some also have refused to transport dogs, both pets and guide dogs, saying they are unclean.

The new rules cover any driver who refuses a ride for unwarranted reasons, including those who refuse to take short-haul passengers in favor of more lucrative longer trips. They can still refuse fares for certain reasons, including threats to their safety.
This issue is hard to sort out. There's obviously the question of freedom of religion, and that these drivers have every right to forbid taking alcohol and dogs into their private cars - when driving as private citizens. However, even if the cab belongs to them, once they become licensed by a municipal agency, one has to assume that the heavy regulation involved includes having to follow a stricter set of guidelines than those a driver might be allowed to follow if he was part of a private car service. The new rules prevent cab drivers from refusing passengers for any reason - not just religious ones. Of course, there's the fact that no one is forcing anyone to drive a taxi, of course. And who can ignore the old slippery-slope question of, to what end? If we allow taxi drivers to refuse customers because they are traveling with alcohol or dogs, what's next? Refusing to transport women who are dressed inappropriately? Refusing to transport passengers who are openly homosexual?

This issue is probably most comparable to that of the right of pharmacists to refuse to sell Plan B contraceptives on religious/moral grounds. A pharmacist is permitted by law in most states to refuse to dispense the contraceptive, but must have a sign on the storefront proclaiming that they do not carry it. Why should pharmacists have the choice to limit their services based on their religious beliefs without losing their licenses - but not Minnesota cabbies? It would seem to follow that cabbies should either be allowed to refuse passengers as long as they put a visible decals on the sides of their cabs proclaiming that they will not transport alcohol or dogs - or that pharmacists should lose their licenses if they refuse to dispense Plan B. I mean, who's to say that one person's religious beliefs are more compelling a reason to refuse service than another's?

This issue is so hopelessly convoluted that it gives me a headache. Feel free to chime in while I go take two advil.

OM Lawsuit Update

Sorry, I've been a bit swamped with work, but SIW has some updates.

Here, Steven starts to take apart the brief filed by Feder/Greenbaum.

And here, Steven links the response to Greenbaum's brief by my attorney, Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen. Let's just say that it's a delicious read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I particularly loved the part where Levy rips apart Greenbaum's initial (and completely false) claim that I "called her an anti-Semite" and that I "wrote that my concern revealed an anti-Semitic agenda". He then proceeds to demolish her post hoc claim that my response to her original complaint - where I said that it was false and completely unsupported by the evidence she filed - was defamatory. It's particularly hilarious to consider the (il)logic of Greenbaum making a false claim in her initial complaint, and then claiming defamation when I point out the falsity of her claim.

He also makes it quite clear that though Greenbaum asserts again and again that my claims were "false", nowhere does she even begin to show evidence of the falsity of my claims or attempt to indicate what the truth actually is. Her claim was false, I said so, and I was right. Nothing false, defamatory or actionable in that.

All in all, I think the response is quite devastating to Greenbaum's position.

Read. And enjoy.

Update: Ezzie likes the response too.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Free Speech At Work

Here's a story that had a little different resolution than the one that occurred in the Imus case:
Mein Gott! Sharon Hewitt, office assistant to Jane Pearl, the supervising judge at Kings County Family Court, has been removed from her position, after the court became aware of Hewitt’s long history as a neo-Nazi. Up until a few months ago, Hewitt regularly posted online on neo-Nazi sites under her neo-Nazi screen name. She’s been photographed attending multiple hate-group rallies and helped organize demonstrations in 2005 on behalf of veteran hatemonger Ernst Zündel, who was wanted in Germany for denying the Holocaust. Court spokesman David Bookstaver says Hewitt has been moved out of Judge Pearl’s office and into a general administrative pool where she will not have access to confidential information, and that the court can’t fire her for her Nazi sympathies. “As repugnant as one might find her beliefs, we live in a country where she is entitled to them, as long as they do not impact on her duties,” says Bookstaver, who points out that it was the New York civil service that employed Hewitt, not Judge Pearl. “She sat for an exam, she got it,” he says.
In contrast to the Imus firing, Hewitt got to keep her job. Now that is free speech at work, where an employee cannot be fired for views she holds or expresses outside of her place of work, in a manner that does not affect her duties. As upsetting and repugnant as I find Hewitt's views, I agree completely with the resolution of her case.

OM's Green(ish) Proposal

I will make this confession: Orthodad is pretty much my conscience when it comes to being green (in the environmental - not kermit - sense). It isn't that I don't care as much about the environment as he does, it's just that I'm not as committed on a day-to-day basis to worrying about how my actions hurt the environment. Perhaps that's because our sanitation district does not require curbside recycling (supposedly, the trash gets sorted into recyclables and non-recyclables at the plant), and it's easy not to think about the ramifications to our landfills when it's all chucked out together. Perhaps it's easy to ignore in a community such as mine, where being green is not exactly considered chic (Mammoth SUV's in every driveway? Check. Homes with highest-tech heat-producing halogen lighting - then cooled to 68 degrees with constant central air? Check. You get the picture). Either way, my husband is always the one to respond to the PSA's we hear during summer heat waves, requesting that homeowners turn their thermostats up to the high 70's to save energy and prevent area blackouts. He's the one who sweetly chided me to use an insulated travel mug for my morning coffee instead of the the disposable paper cups with plastic sip-tops I had been favoring, and asked me if we could stop using so much in the way of plastic disposable silverware. He's the one who called the contractor over after he noticed that after a snowfall, the snow on our roof was melting very quickly, which he had read somewhere meant that our roof wasn't insulated properly (he was right - the contractor told us that with the newly installed insulation, we would likely save on our heating bills the next winter). He's the one who runs around from room to room of the house, turning lights off. You get the picture, I think.

He's also the one who's been asking me for a while now to buy some energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL's) for the house. Apparently, they can save 75% of the energy incandescents use, and cost less, and last 10 times longer. But, I had always heard that they give off a sickly cast - who wants their bedrooms to have the same greenish lighting of their office cubes? Certainly not me. So I've been resisting his requests. Today he sent me this article, from Popular Mechanics, which shows that in comparison tests, the fluorescents actually outperformed the incandescents in brightness and lighting quality.

So here is my proposal. What do my readers say to all of us going out and stocking up on the CFL's for all of our houses. It would be kind of hard to convince me that there would be a big impact on the environment if I were to make the switch to CFL's today. But maybe if a group of my readers did so at the same time? C'mon...let's all give it a shot.

My next light bulb purchase will include the best performer in the Popular Mechanics review, the N:Vision Soft White bulb. Who's with me?

Also, has anyone recently made the switch to CFL's in their home? How did it go?

Voting Vicissitudes

We've seen stories like this one before:
A Davidson County voter has sued the local election commission because Nashville's runoff election is scheduled on a Jewish high holy day.
Elinor Gregor's attorney George Barrett said the decision to hold an election on Rosh Hashana deprives Jewish voters.

A runoff election will be held only if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes. The general election for mayor, vice mayor and Metro Council is August 2nd.

The city's legal department recommended the September 13th date based on the city's charter. The election commission voted for it 3-to-2 last month.

The legal opinion said there are options for voting early or by absentee ballot.
I understand that the options for voting early or by absentee ballot exist, but the question really is whether a date like this should be chosen for an election, especially when all indications are that the decision was made with full knowledge that the day is such an important Jewish holiday. We are talking about Rosh Hashana, a holiday that shows up on just about every secular calendar out there. This story shows that at least the candidates in the race are not happy with the decision:
Nashville's mayoral candidates made an election promise they're in no position to keep, but their opposition to holding a potential runoff election on a Jewish holy day could put more pressure on Metro to change the date.

The candidates told a gathering at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in West Meade on Thursday night that holding the election on Rosh Hashana is not acceptable, and all vowed that it will be changed.

..Candidate Karl Dean, a former Metro law director, compared it to having an election on Christmas Day.

The candidates met Thursday in a building that may serve as an early voting site for Jewish Nashvillians who can't vote on that election day. All six candidates present said Mayor Bill Purcell's proposed solution, setting up early voting sites in the Jewish community, is unacceptable.

"When the election commission was asked how to deal with the conflict of dates, we gave an opinion that was insensitive to this issue," candidate David Briley said.

Briley, an at-large Metro councilman, said he supports a lawsuit filed by Davidson County resident Elinor J. Gregor against the election commission and its members over the issue.
I am quite sure that I will get comments opining that the early voting is a "reasonable accommodation", and that this is really no big deal. But seriously, we're talking about Rosh Hashana. I do feel that an alternate date could - and should - have been worked out.

Related: I, II

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pamela Greenbaum Spells it out for Us

The Jewish Star runs a story this week in which they attempt to profile all 6 declared candidates in the upcoming School Board elections. Unfortunately, they could not get Pamela Greenbaum to sit for an interview, and this is the reason she gave:
Greenbaum, who has spoken to the paper before, would only say, "Quality education for all. That's my comment." She declined to elaborate,even after a reporter observed that her comment might better be described as a slogan. A day earlier Greenbaum responded to a question about why she changed her mind and decided to run again by saying, "I don't think I'm going to be talking to you very much." Why? she was asked. "I doubt that you're going to endorse me, anyway, so why should I waste my time?"
Eep. She actually told a reporter that she will not deign to discuss her views as a school board candidate with someone who is not prepared to endorse her??? That explaining her views and policies to anyone not committed to endorse or support her is, in her own words, a waste of her time? I guess we now have an idea as to why Pamela Greenbaum thought a lawsuit was an easier way to counter criticism of her actions as a board member than actually making a rudimentary attempt to explain her views. Are we to understand that she simply will not discuss her views with someone who she feels does not agree with and support her on every level? If the ridiculous lawsuit I face is not proof enough that Greenbaum is unwilling to tolerate any criticism or her whatsoever - even criticism as benign as that which she absurdly alleges to be defamatory in her court filing - then this latest admission of hers pretty much seals the deal.

In other local news, Larry Gordon has written some harsh but very accurate words regarding board members Pamela Greenbaum and Stanley Kopilow in light of their lack of support for the new, zero-increase budget as proposed by district 15 superintendent John Fitzsimons (Keep in mind that a zero-increase budget may be the only way for this district to finally approve a budget and end the unfortunate stretch of austerity the public schools have been facing):
As the board endorsed the newly proposed numbers by a vote of 4 to 2 (board member David Sussman was not present), it was interesting to note that both Pam Greenbaum and Stanley Kopilow who have been vociferous advocates of getting the district out of austerity mode voted against the new budget. It's an almost surreal turn of events, with those who have been advocating for years that a budget must be approved now opposed to it, and those who were opposed to the budgets of the previous four years now committed to getting the budget passed.

...The new proposed budget calls for a total increase of $825,000, with an unprecedented zero increase in schools administration and capital expenditures. It's important to understand that if the budget is defeated at the polls, education law calls for an automatic increase of almost 4 percent in the annual budget. That automatic increase, however, is accompanied by a series of restrictions on spending. Such austerity provisions prohibit the purchase of new equipment (computers, phone systems, etc.) or making non-emergency repairs on buildings.

Opposing this budget is really not much more than a public-relations ploy for the two board members, who have made an art of opposing their fellow board members just to be contrarian. By their past rhetoric, Greenbaum and Kopilow have in a sense boxed themselves into a corner, making it hard for them to do the responsible thing. For his part, Mr. Kopilow says that the new budget indulges in voodoo economics. Ms. Greenbaum challenged the board's counsel, who suggested in response that she submit her questions in writing so that they can be thoroughly researched and answered and also criticized her use of the board-meeting forum to promote her position on issues not at hand.

What Kopilow and Greenbaum objected to most was that the new budget would include funding of pre-K busing for private-school children. These two board members continue to talk about providing services for private-school children as though it comes at the expense of public-school students. Unfortunately, that is the picture being painted by those who want to create disunity and friction in our heterogeneous community.

...We can only be puzzled at how the two board members who continually express their desire to bring the district out of austerity so it can repair its buildings, update its computers, buy a new phone system, and make other improvements went ahead and voted to keep the district operating under the limited contingency budget.

Hopefully the above observations will serve to help voters appreciate the importance of participating in the May 15 elections.
Uh oh. Pamela Greenbaum has "made an art of opposing their fellow board members just to be contrarian"? Pamela Greenbaum is obstructionist? Pamela Greenbaum voting based not on principles, but as a "public relations ploy"? Larry, if I were you, I would watch your back. It seems that Pamela Greenbaum has a very loose interpretation of defamation, and judging by the standards she applied to my criticism, this would certainly qualify.

OM on Imus

My take on Imus's racist comments:

He had every right to make the racist comments that he did from a First Amendment perspective. That said, people such as Imus, who rely on others for their livelihood would be wise to toe some sort of line when it comes to propriety. I'm not sure why people are complaining so vociferously over his firing at the hands of CBS and MSNBC. Clearly they did so after hearing some sort of consensus from their advertisers. In any event, they have just as much right to fire him if they feel his latest rantings have compromised their advertising prospects as Imus did to rant in the first place. Those who are so irate over his firing should feel free to vote with their radio dial when Imus is picked up by XM Satellite radio.

Some say he shouldn't be fired because he's made similarly anti-Semitic comments in the past. I say that shouldn't really make a difference. If his employers feel he crossed the line - whether due to the response from their listeners, advertisers, network executives' own personal distaste for his most recent comments, or because this was the final straw - then they should feel free to fire him for this offense.

Some say that firing someone for saying the wrong thing flies in the face of our democratic culture of free speech. I disagree with that as well. I think the outcome might have been different had Imus chosen to make these comments during his private time while not on the air, but that is not the case. Instead, here a man chose to make objectionable comments while on the job. Similarly, while a company would probably come under criticism for firing an employee who makes comments deemed objectionable while at home or on vacation, I highly doubt that a company would garner much in the way of criticism for firing an employee who spouts racist comments in the boardroom.

So why is this in any way different?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

PSA Regarding Legal Action Against Orthomom Commenters

I noted a few comments in the post directly below this one that Adam Feder has identified as potentially defamatory in his letter to the judge presiding over the case, however, he included one more example in his filing that, for some reason, was not included in the letter:
Anonymous 8:39
"Pam Greenbaum is a bigot and really should not be on the board.
Good thing her term is up this year."
As I mentioned below, I and my counsel intent to protect the free speech of my comments as vociferously as we intend to protect my own. However, if you think you might be the author of the comment referenced above - or any of the others referenced by Feder - feel free to e-mail me (under a pseudonym) or contact my attorney Paul Levy of Public Citizen.

More on Feder's filing when I am not so backlogged with work.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

School District 15 Tidbits

First, and most pressing, I need to inform my commenting community that Adam Feder, (Pamela Greenbaum's attorney), has identified the comments whose authors' he would like to see identified by Google. In a letter to the court, he said:
As per the stipulation So Ordered by the Hon. Marcy Friedman, please supply the ISP and IP addresses to the following posts:

a. Anonymous 7:19 PM
"Pam Greenbaum is a bigot and really should not be on the board"

b. Anonymous 10;19 PM
"Greenbaum is smarter than she seems, unfortunately there is a significant group of voters who can't get enough of her bigotry."

c. Anonymous 10:27 PM
"Greenbaum is not to be believed"

d. Anonymous 12:18 AM
"She is also ugly"

e. Anonymous 10:55 PM
"I heard that the majority of the board members support childabuse screening. Pam Greenbaum, refusing to ever agree with an Orthodox Jew, now opposes protecting children.
I've seen more maturity from kindergarten kids...what a stupid case of reverse psychology. Get a life, Pam. Even the public school parents (me) think you're pushing things too far."

f. Anonymous 10:46 PM
"I think you're reading her wrong. Pam is not only refusing to agree with an Orthodox Jew, she is also safeguarding the interests of the teacher's union"
Ok. That's all for the comments that the dynamic duo of Feder/Greenbaum have identified as defamatory. First and most important, if you are the author of any of these comments, please feel free to contact me, if you have any worries about maintaining your anonymity. And please rest assured that I and my lawyers intend to protect your right to anonymous free speech as zealously as we are trying to protect my own.

Now, for the meat. This letter Feder has sent out only shows how absurd and ridiculous this claim really is. The fact that an attorney of law can claim that any of these comments are defamatory is surprising. Even more surprising is the fact that Feder is seriously attempting to strip the anonymity of commenters who make statements such as "Greenbaum is not to be believed". Are we to take seriously the claims of a man who would like to strip someone's First Amendment right to anonymous free speech for simply stating that someone is "not to be believed", with no further qualifying comments on the statement??? Is this guy for real??? By setting the bar so low, it seems to me that Feder is going to have a heap of trouble making the case for any of the other comments he identified. Watch out world! If you say someone is "not to be believed" in an anonymous forum, you are risking getting stripped of your First Amendment rights - no matter your intention in making that statement!!

Another point: what ever happened to Greenbaum's and Feder's sworn affirmations that not only I, but my commenters, called her "anti-Semitic"? Never mind? Of course no one ever called her an anti-Semite. I've been saying all along that they clearly misrepresented that salient point in their filing. Also? They still have not shown where I make the comment against Greenbaum that they claim is defamatory. Of course, I know that the reason for that is because the supposedly defamatory comments made by me do not actually exist.

One last point: a careful reader might note that the comment calling Pamela Greenbaum "ugly" (though that happens, in any event, to not be an actionable claim - offensive as the subject may find the term) is not actually located anywhere on my blog. That is because I deleted the comment within hours of it being posted, months before this idiotic court case was initiated. My personal policy on non-substantive attacks such as those has always been to delete them, as they add zero to the discussion. So memo to Adam Feder: there always existed a somewhat simpler method of getting me to delete comments one may find offensive - certainly simpler than writing letter to judges with preposterous claims of defamation.

I will venture to say that Feder's letter shows how tenuous this case really is. What Feder and Greenbaum are asking is for a judge to rule that they are making a strong enough case for defamation that the speakers' First Amendment rights should be jettisoned. I certainly don't think they have done so.

In other news, Pamela Greenbaum seems to have flip-flopped on her decision of a few weeks ago not to run in the upcoming school board election:
The three public-school candidates are incumbent Pam Greenbaum, Andrew Levey of Atlantic Beach and Maribel Camcelliere of Lawrence.
Of course the Herald article mentions her candidacy as if she hadn't just publicly and clearly stated her decision to withdraw from the race - which is a bit odd. The article also strangely makes no mention of the lawsuit Greenbaum has filed, which I can't imagine anyone feels is irrelevant to the upcoming race. The article does bring up a lovely quote though, which it appears was made by Greenbaum in the aftermath of her win in the 2004 election:
In 2004 Greenbaum won a full-three year term on the board with a decisive victory over challenger Shlomo Huttler. "I'm in it for the long haul," she said. "I'm there fighting for your kids. We must beat them and get them off the board."
Who's "them"? Let's just say I won't spell out what I'm thinking, out of deference to Adam Feder's very loose interpretation of what constitutes defamation.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Chag Kasher V'Sameach

Pesach preparations have me so exhausted I can barely type, but I just want to wish all my readers a Chag Kasher V'Sameach.