Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Doing a study is easy—nothing really needs to change. Solving a problem involves (horror!) changes.
Jerry Markon reports in the Washington Post:
Afflicted with the lowest morale of any large federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security did what comes naturally to many in government.
It decided to study the problem. And then study it some more.
The first study cost about $1 million. When it was finished, it was put in a drawer. The next one cost less but duplicated the first. It also ended up in a drawer.
So last year, still stumped about why the employees charged with safeguarding Americans are so unhappy, the department commissioned two more studies.
Now, with the nation continuing to face threats to the homeland, some officials who have worked inside the agency acknowledge it should spend less time studying its internal problems and more energy trying to fix them.
“There’s really no excuse for the department expending finite resources on multiple studies, some at the same time, to tell the department pretty much what everyone has concluded: that there are four-to-five things that need to be done for morale,” said Chris Cummiskey, who left DHS in November after serving as its third-highest-ranking official. “You don’t need $2 million worth of studies to figure that out.”
Cummiskey added that DHS Secretary Jeh C. Johnson “understands this and is focused on delivering meaningful results for DHS employees.”
Since taking over the department in late 2013, Johnson has focused onraising morale and stemming high turnover, problems that date to the George W. Bush administration. Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit. Others have described in interviews how a stifling bureaucracy and relentless congressional criticism makes DHS an exhausting, even infuriating, place to work. . .
Repetitive stupidity is more or less the rule in bureaucracies and other large organizations. There is palpable resistance to understanding, and any progress in fought fiercely and rolled back at the first opportunity. It’s not just government: you see it in large corporations, church organizations, educational institutions: any place that has an entrenched group in power seems to grow stupidity like toadstools in damp forest group. It’s not merely a lack of understanding, it’s an aggressive effort on behalf of misunderstanding. “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
Here’s a wonderful example: Tomatoes are a fruit. But ignore that. Let’s reject knowledge, because being stupid is better. This is doubtless why the human race is doomed: on the whole, it embraces ignorance and stupidity.
From the DHS story above:
“It was not a very good light to shine on any of us, so we just hid it,” said one DHS employee familiar with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation by supervisors.
Two (very) obvious problems: a) if a report has negative findings, report must be hidden (that in itself precludes improvement), and b) if someone speaks up, s/he fears retaliation by superviors (which reveals that there is ZERO interest in making improvements and empowering employees. So nothing will happen, and the department will become, in effect, a cesspool of broken dreams, with promotions given to those who will keep it that way. I’m beginning to think that it’s hopeless.
If the Catholic church can keep things hidden long enough, the priests who raped children get away scot-free. See this story: Spanish Judge Drops Charges Against 9 Priests in Sexual Abuse Case
The priests are completely guilty, but thanks to the statute of limitations they get away with it. Their victims get no justice, no restitution, and no help: the Catholic church washes its hands of them. In fact, the Catholic church has taken a pretty hard-nosed stance against all the victims, fighting fiercely to avoid or at least minimize settlements. It’s hard to see much remorse or regret on the part of the church, and it certainly does not appear in any actions the church has taken.
Amanda Zamora and Terry Parris Jr. report at ProPublica with links to Muck Reads. The first few:
“Illegal … immoral … ineffective … unconstitutional.” That is how the deputy commander of a now-defunct Guantanamo task force described the interrogation tactics of Richard Zuley, a Navy reserve lieutenant who was known for extracting intelligence from his subjects through prolonged shackling, threats against family members and sleep depravation. The Guardian traced some of Zuley’s methods at Gitmo to the police precincts of Chicago, where his detective work helped put at least one innocent man in prison and has generated serious allegations of abuse. Zuley declined to comment. — The Guardian via @attackerman @guardianus [This one is amazing, and reflects the sorry state of American police departments. – LG]
It’s called popcorn lung. Diacetyl — used to flavor items like candy, coffee, chips and increasingly popular e-cigarettes — has been linked to hundreds of injuries and at least five deaths among workers in popcorn factories and flavoring companies over the last 15 years. When inhaled in large, concentrated amounts, it can obliterate your lungs, experts say. Researchers and regulators have known about the harmful affects of the chemical for years, but the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety has issued nothing more than an advisory bulletin to manufacturers on how to reduce exposure. And while most studies focus on the nicotine risks of e-cigarettes, one study found nearly 70% of flavored “smoke juice” contained diacetyl. “These are avoidable risks,” said one researcher. — The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via @john_diedrich
Surprise? “Consumer protection rules rarely apply to government debts.”Government agencies are outsourcing debt collection to private firms for things like unpaid taxes, parking tickets and traffic tolls. Although these are government debts, consumer protection laws usually don’t bind the private firms collecting against them. One of those firms is Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which “has gone so far as to argue it has immunity because it is an extension of the government,” CNN Money reports. These firms have “the power to threaten debtors with the suspension of their driver’s license, garnishment of their wages, foreclosure and arrest to get them to pay up.” They are also able to charge debtors directly, while consumer creditors collect fees from the debt itself. — CNN Money via @MarkObbie
The ‘Watchtower’ will decide which abusers are predators. Internal documents portray a religious hierarchy more concerned with protecting its members from criminal prosecution than from sexual abuse. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, which governs Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, has repeatedly instructed church elders to handle allegations of sexual abuse against children in secret, and to “avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation.” In a written statement, church officials told Reveal they “continue to educate parents and provide them with valuable tools to help them educate and protect their children.” — Reveal via @Rachael_Bale . . .
And there are more. Click the link.
Greg Gordon reports for McClatchy:
An orthodox rabbi in the nation’s capital pleaded guilty Thursday to secretly videotaping 52 women, mainly congregants at the temple he led, as they removed their clothing to step into a Jewish ritual bath.
Rabbi Bernard Freundel admitted to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism charges for invading the women’s privacy between March 4, 2012 and last Sept. 19. Prosecutors said in papers filed in Superior Court for the District of Columbia, however, that the evidence shows his behavior dates to 2009 and that he also surreptitiously recorded another 100 women who were undressed or partially clothed.
Voyeurism carries a three-year statute of limitations, so it was too late to prosecute him for most of the secret videotaping. Even though the charges are misdemeanors, Freundel faces a maximum sentence of 52 years in prison.
The disclosure of his activities last fall shocked the congregation at Kesher Israel, a temple in the city’s tony Georgetown neighborhood.
“Bernard Freundel exploited his position of power to victimize dozens of women who entered a sacred, intimate space of religious ritual,” said Ronald Machen Jr., U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. “He betrayed the trust of every woman whose private moments he caught on camera along with an entire community that counted on him for moral leadership.”
Kesher Israel sits next to the National Capital Mikvah, a ritual bath used mainly by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by other individuals to complete their conversion to Judaism. However, an individual associated with the Mikvah discovered last Oct. 12th that Freundel had placed a clock radio on the countertop of the sink in the larger of the mikvah’s two rooms for changing and showering, examined it and turned it over to District of Columbia police.
Freundel was arrested two days later. . .
Truly, the Catholic church (the organization) seems to be a bastion of bad faith. Now an archbishop is trying to designate teachers as “ministers” to strip of their civil rights and protection under the law. Lee Romney reports in the LA Times:
Eight state lawmakers on Tuesday urged San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone to withdraw the “morality clauses” he unveiled this month in a handbook for high school teachers, and to reverse his intention to redefine teachers as “ministers” in their employment contracts.
The letter to Cordileone from five members of the Assembly and three state senators said the new conditions for employment at four high schools run by the archdiocese “conflict with settled areas of law and foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.”
Cordileone has spurred protests with his addition to the handbook — which guides the nearly 500 school employees — because it focuses almost exclusively on sexual morality in language many consider harsh.
It asks employees to “affirm and believe” that “adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations” are “gravely evil.” Artificial-reproductive technology, contraception and abortion are described similarly.
The “fundamental demands of justice,” it continues, “require that the civil law preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Cordileone also is seeking to define teachers as ministers in the collective bargaining agreement now under negotiation with the teachers’ union — a move that would probably strip them of recourse under anti-discrimination law in the event of dismissal.
The lawmakers’ letter takes particular exception to that designation, saying it would effectively “remove civil rights protections guaranteed to all Californians. Among these rights are the freedom to choose who to love and marry, how to plan a family, and what causes or beliefs to support through freedom of speech and association.
Another example of a religious closed community protecting sexual predators. What is up with these people? Trey Bundy writes at RevealNews.org:
The leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – one of the world’s most insular religions – for 25 years has instructed its elders to keep cases of child sexual abuse secret from law enforcement and members of their own congregations, according to an examination of thousands of pages of documents in recent cases.
The religion’s parent organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, issued the directives in at least 10 memos dating back to 1989. Although the memos were anonymously written, Watchtower officials have testified that the organization’s Governing Body approved them all.
The most recent letter, dated Nov. 6, 2014, instructed elders – the spiritual leaders of local congregations – to form confidential committees to handle potential criminal matters internally.
“In some cases, the elders will form a judicial committee to handle the alleged wrongdoing that may also constitute a violation of criminal law (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, assault),” the directive stipulates. “Generally, the elders should not delay the judicial committee process, but strict confidentiality must be maintained to avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation of the matter.”
Within the organization, the Watchtower has final say over who is considered a serial child abuser. According to a 2012 Watchtower memo: “Not every individual who has sexually abused a child in the past is considered a ‘predator.’ The (Watchtower), not the local body of elders, determines whether an individual who has sexually abused children in the past will be considered a ‘predator.’ ”
The directives are part of a pattern for the organization, which has more than 8 million members worldwide and preaches that Armageddon will soon release the world from Satan’s grip. In the U.S., the Jehovah’s Witnesses operate more than 14,000 congregations with about 1 million members.
Internal documents obtained by Reveal show that the Witnesses have systematically instructed elders and other leaders to keep child sexual abuse confidential, while collecting detailed information on congregants who prey on children. . .
At the link is an audio program on this.
Rachel Aviv has a somewhat depressing article on how the Hasidic community turned on a man whose son was molested by a member of the community, a man who turned out to have molested numerous boys, some of them repeatedly. The community worked hard to protect the molester (for reasons that are completely unclear to me). The entire story is worth reading. It shows the drawback of such close-knit communities which seem always to protect criminals to avoid feeling uncomfortable—the sacrifice of the children’s well-being does not seem to matter to them.
The article begins:
Sam Kellner’s reputation in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, began to suffer in 2008, when his teen-age son told him that he had been molested by a man who had prayed at their synagogue. Kellner’s first instinct was to run the man over with his van, but he didn’t know if his anger was justified. Molestation was rarely discussed in the community, and it didn’t seem to Kellner that any of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments explicitly related to it. The most relevant sins—adultery and coveting a neighbor’s belongings—didn’t capture the depth of the violation. Kellner couldn’t pinpoint what was lost when a child was sexually abused, since the person looked the same afterward. But he sensed that molestation was damaging, because he knew a few victims, and they had gone off the derech, or religious way. “They became dead-enders, lost souls, outcasts,” he told me.
Kellner, a heavyset man with hazel eyes and a long, graying beard, never spoke about sexual matters with his six children. They would take classes about the human body (with a focus on how to get pregnant) only after their marriages were arranged. Kellner took his son to a modesty committee, called vaad hatznius, which enforces standards of sexual propriety among Borough Park’s hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews, the majority of them Hasidic. Vaad hatznius disciplines residents who freely express their sexuality or behave lewdly. In a community where non-procreative sex is considered shameful, molestation tends to be regarded in roughly the same light as having an affair. When children complain about being molested, the council almost never notifies the police. Instead, it devises its own punishments for offenders: sometimes they are compelled to apologize, pay restitution, or move to Israel.
Kellner had once been a top administrator at the Munkacz synagogue and yeshiva, in Borough Park, but he had fought with other leaders about financial and educational policies. He had left the job and started a toner business, collecting discarded cartridges and reselling them. His son’s alleged abuser, Baruch Lebovits, was the descendant of a rabbinic dynasty, a prominent cantor with twenty-four grandchildren. Kellner told vaad hatznius that he wanted to report his son’s abuse to the police, because he didn’t trust that the issue could be dealt with internally.
The committee granted him permission, as long he had the approval of a rabbi. The rabbi would have to make an exception to the Talmudic prohibition againstmesirah, the act of turning over another Jew to civil authorities. According to some interpretations of Talmudic law, a Jew who informs on another Jew has committed a capital crime. He is a “wicked man,” who has “blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses,” the twelfth-century Torah scholar Maimonides wrote. The law was meant to protect the community from anti-Semitic governments. Kellner said, “The way history tells it is that if a Jew was arrested he was thrown in jail and never heard of again.”
Hasidim, whose movement emerged in the eighteenth century as a mystical, populist alternative to traditional Judaism, are defined in part by their concern for self-preservation. Kellner is the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who re-created in Brooklyn a community that had been destroyed by the war. Men dress in black frock coats; married women wear long skirts and hide their hair, which is considered alluring, under shawls or wigs. They speak Yiddish, and resist television, the Internet, and other secular forms of entertainment. Hasidic parents take literally the Lord’s order to “be fruitful and multiply”—they intend to replenish a culture devastated by the Holocaust—and Hasidim are now the fastest-growing segment of the Jewish population in New York City. Sixty per cent of the city’s Jewish children, many of them Hasidic, live in Orthodox homes.
Kellner, who was a member of a synagogue that is closely affiliated with the Satmar sect, the largest Hasidic community in New York, wasn’t sure that the prohibition against mesirah made sense in a country where, he said, “the justice system is credible enough.” Although the Satmar community distrusts secular government, it participates fully in the democratic process. Hasidim typically vote as a bloc, delivering tens of thousands of votes to the politicians their leaders endorse. In exchange for the community’s loyalty, politicians have given Brooklyn’s Hasidim wide latitude to police themselves. They have their own emergency medical corps, a security patrol, and a rabbinic court system, which often handles criminal allegations.
Kellner sought counsel from Rabbi Chaim Flohr, the leader of an institute where rabbinic scholars study how the teachings of the Torah translate to contemporary dilemmas. After listening to Kellner’s story, Flohr called the modesty councils in Borough Park and Williamsburg (where there are sixty thousand Hasidim) to see if other children had reported being molested by Lebovits. Flohr wrote in an affidavit that “numerous complaints and allegations of a similar nature had been made against Baruch Lebovits dating back over a long period of time.” Flohr told Kellner that he was justified in going to the police, because Lebovits could be considered a rodef, or pursuer, someone who is endangering the lives of other Jews. In a letter, Flohr wrote, “Behold I make known in the public arena: to praise an honest man, namely Mr. Shloma Aron Kellner, may his light shine, that how he acted in regards to the government was based on a query before a rabbinic court and was done according to our Holy Torah. . . . It is forbidden to trouble him or humiliate him.”
With the rabbi’s approval, Kellner took his son, whom I’ll call Yossel, to the offices of the Brooklyn Special Victims Unit, in Crown Heights, to speak with Steven Litwin, the senior detective. A studious and introspective boy, Yossel explained that Lebovits had offered him a ride home from a school outing late at night, then reached over to the passenger seat and molested him. He said that Lebovits was soon moaning and grunting. He told his teacher what had happened, but the teacher said that Lebovits was a “respected person” and instructed him not to think about the incident again.
Litwin found the boy’s “claims to be extremely credible,” he wrote in an affidavit. But he told Kellner that the crime was a misdemeanor, and that it was unlikely that Lebovits, a first-time offender, would receive jail time. Disappointed, Kellner said that Lebovits had molested other boys, too. “O.K., so help me find them,” Litwin told him.
Kellner went back to the modesty council and was given the name of another boy, Joshua, who had complained about Lebovits. (All victims’ names have been changed.) Joshua said that, starting in 2000, when he was twelve, Lebovits sometimes drove alongside him while he was walking to school, honking his horn and encouraging him to get into the car, where Lebovits performed oral sex on him. Joshua said that, on other occasions, Lebovits molested him in the mikvah, a ritual bath that was in the basement of his synagogue.
Joshua had gone to a yeshiva for students with developmental disabilities. His family was poor, and he begged for charity outside synagogues and weddings, a common practice in Borough Park, where the poorest members of the Hasidic community live and pray next to the wealthiest. They patronize the same businesses on Thirteenth Avenue, a commercial strip of kosher restaurants and shops. Although Kellner had never met Joshua, he drove to his house and offered him work helping to plan the wedding of a mutual acquaintance. Kellner gradually steered the conversation toward Baruch Lebovits, and urged Joshua to report his abuse. Joshua became jittery and hyper. “Listen, unless you go to the authorities, you’ll never feel relaxed,” Kellner told him. “You’ll never feel unviolated.”
On March 6, 2008, Joshua told Detective Litwin that he had been molested by Lebovits on more than thirty occasions over four years. Once, he said, Lebovits had picked him up on his way to school and anally raped him in a building near his yeshiva. After each encounter, Lebovits apologized and promised he would never do it again.
Five days later, Baruch Lebovits was arrested in front of his house. Although Joshua’s name wasn’t publicly released, everyone in his neighborhood seemed to know that he had gone to the police. Natalie Hadad, his best friend, said, “People would call him and say, ‘If you testify, bad things are going to happen to your parents. If you testify, you’re going to get thrown out of Borough Park.’ ” . . .
The behavior of the community is clearly unethical, immoral, and contemptible, but I would like to understand why people can go to such lengths to protect a sexual predator. I don’t get it. Is it the religion? I don’t think so. Indeed, the actions of those who are willing to sacrifice the children seem rather obviously against the teachings of religion regarding moral behavior.