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August 20, 2014 / 24 Av, 5774
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On the Job but Not Getting Paid?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

I’m very glad Congress and the president decided to make sure the uniformed military will get paid during the government shutdown.  That was the right thing to do.  The move averts a game-of-chicken mistake made in late 1995, when Bill Clinton was dispatching troops to Bosnia while their pay was in jeopardy.

As long as preparations are made beforehand, meanwhile, there’s enough in the trusts to make sure Social Security and veterans’ pension payments go out next month as well as this month. That’s a relief to millions of elderly who can’t just go start harvesting vegetables or sweeping floors if their checks don’t come in.  We can assume Congress will keep a sharp eye out for the potential problems, and make provision for them.

That leaves our Border Patrol, FBI, other federal law enforcement agents, federal firefighters, and air traffic controllers, some of the 80% of federal workers who will remain on the job during the shutdown.  At least some of them are reportedly being required to work without their latest-due paychecks being in the bank, until the government is “open” again.  It’s not fully clear how many or which of these workers are having to show up for work with their pay suspended.  I’ve seen reports that suggest some are being paid; other reports seem to indicate that law enforcement and essential-services people are working without pay (i.e., presumably, pay delayed, not “pay never coming”).

In any case, as happy as I am to see the EPA and other agencies off the job, I’m concerned about morale among the hard-working law enforcement and essential-services folks.  They do a tough job 24/365, and a lot is being asked of them today, and for as long as the shutdown lasts.

We can hope the shutdown will last only a couple of days.  Presumably, Congress will be looking out for these workers, and have a care for the hardships they will face if the shutdown goes longer than that.  (In extremis, much could probably be done, even within the current debt ceiling, through issuing IOUs to the Social Security trust fund.)  As with those in all professions, the younger workers – with kids, mortgage and college-loan payments, living paycheck to paycheck – will be the hardest hit.

If the shutdown does become extended, those who have the means can consider donating to organizations that provide a helping hand to these particular federal workers in their time of need.  Here are some links to get you started:

Federal Law Enforcement Foundation

Federal Law Enforcement Officers Foundation

Wildland Firefighters Foundation

Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (especially for non-law enforcement personnel; air traffic controllers are members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, or NATCA, a labor union with some funding for mutual aid, as well as its own charitable foundation)

I (Heart) Public Safety Network (umbrella network coordinating various forms of assistance to public-safety programs, public-safety workers, and their families)

Note:  per the Washington Post summary at the first link, U.S. Postal Service workers should be getting paid on schedule.  Except for its annual requests for bailouts, USPS is “self-funding,” and should last through the shutdown, however long it goes.

Honoring our Parents: Can We Learn from China?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It is well known that millions of elderly Americans are neglected at their most vulnerable time. Jewish law, however, requires multiple times and in multiple ways that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:11, Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 19:3, Deuteronomy 27:16).

The ancient exhortations to honor one’s parents endure into our age. As of July 1, 2013, China has required that adult children take care of their parents. The amended Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly states that adult children must visit their elderly relatives, and they are prohibited from insulting, mistreating, or abandoning them under pain of lawsuit. Wu Ming, the deputy department head in China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said, “Family members should not ignore and isolate the elderly. And they should come often to visit.” Today, millions of Chinese workers live thousands of miles away from their parents, families are limited to one child per family, and the tradition values of filial piety have become more challenging to put into practice. But those who fail to take care of their parents will now be fined. This act may be in recognition of the aging of the Chinese population: There will be 221 million elderly (age 60 and older) in the country in 2015, and the percentage will reach about a third by 2050.

In Japan, another country with the longstanding value of filial piety, modern legislation assists families in paying for hired caregivers (although they cannot be family members). Elsewhere, many nations mandate some level of care for the elderly. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, some of its policies survive in the areas it used to control. For example, in much of the former Soviet bloc, the elderly can sue their children for child support, and siblings can sue each other to make sure the money is raised and the burden shared. In Western Europe, eldercare is typically ensured through social insurance programs. The most inclusive policy for the elderly can be found in Norway, where all of the elderly are guaranteed long-term care.

How does the United States, which has traditionally been reluctant in implementing social welfare policies taken for granted in Europe, compare with rest of the industrial world? Currently, nearly 10 million adults age 50 and older care for elderly parents, with little governmental assistance. This number has tripled in 15 years, so now about 1 in 4 adult children provide personal or financial care for their parents. A study conducted by a group of insurance, caregiving, and policy think tanks concluded that, taking into account wages and Social Security and pension money, the average adult who becomes a caregiver for an aging parent spends nearly $304,000. In addition, caregivers undergo tremendous stress, and suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease and alcohol abuse, among other illnesses. On top of this, Social Security benefits here do not increase when personal care costs rise, as they do in some European nations.

One bright spot is that many adults can now take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for an ill parent (or any other family member) without losing their job under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Unfortunately, this does not go far enough, because this leave is without pay and therefore an unaffordable option for nearly all working Americans. Medicare may help pay for some short-term care, and Medicaid can cover expenses for those with in adequate resources, although these are dependent on individual state requirements, which are constantly under attack today. Currently, as the Medicare website notes, private funds are used for eldercare: “About half of all nursing home residents pay nursing home costs out of their own savings. After these savings and other resources are spent, many people who stay in nursing homes for long periods eventually become eligible for Medicaid.” In other words, if you want nursing care as an elderly person, be prepared to lose all your resources. Other programs, such as Meals on Wheels, are also dependent on state funding (with some federal aid that is also under attack), and we cannot assume that it will continue as is in the current atmosphere of austerity. Other options usually rely on independent insurance or health plans that require additional payments.

While the United States remains a wealthy nation, and many can afford their own care, we should heed Jewish law and truly honor our parents. The rabbis tell a story which is codified as law (Shulkhan Arukh YD 240:3).

They inquired of Rav Ula: “How far does honoring/dignifying parents extend?”

He said to them: “Go out and see what one [non-Jew] did in Ashkelon. His name was Dama ben Netinah. Once the Sages sought merchandise for a price of sixty myriads, but the key was resting under his father’s head, and he did not disturb him…. When Rav Dimi came, he said: Once he was wearing a gold diadem and sitting among the greats of Rome, when his mother came and tore it off him, and hit him over the head and spit in his face, but he did not humiliate her” (Kiddushin 31a).

Even when mistreated and shamed by a parent, many demands to honor parents still remain. To be sure, there are limits too!

One whose mother or father breaks down mentally – He must make the effort to behave with them in accordance with their condition until [Hashem] has mercy on them; but if he it is not possible for him to stand it, because they have become greatly insane – he may go and leave them behind, so long as he commands others to treat them properly (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:10).

Jewish law wisely and prophetically notes the mental and physical strain that an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have on a family. However, the law also mandates that we provide some degree of proper care for them. We should not force families to go into bankruptcy in order to avoid placing their parents in virtual warehouses where their parents will be neglected and mistreated.

The thing is that this is not only an ossified, unrealistic demand based on an idealized or no longer extant religious society. We see models for contemporary implementation around the world today, in China, Norway, and beyond. Our parents sacrificed so much for our well-being throughout their lives, when we were not able to fend for ourselves. As a society, we must recognize this and provide for them when they are no longer physically independent themselves.

Double Standards on Facebook

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Some things, you have to see to believe.  I was alerted by a friend, a couple of days ago, to the existence of a truly revolting, anti-Semitic Facebook page called “The Untold History,” which, according to Facebook, does not violate Facebook’s standards.

We practice link hygiene here at TOC, so I offer this write-up from the Online Hate Prevention Project (OHPP) website, which contains a link to the offensive Facebook page.  If you can stomach another round of anti-Semitic imagery, cast a glance at the image copied in this post from the Facebook page – one of quite a few.  The page has 833 “Likes” as of this writing.

We don’t know how many users have reported this page for “hate speech,” against which Facebook has a policy.  But several of those who have reported the page have posted in the comments at OHPP’s Facebook page that the response they received was like this one (posted by OHPP):

fb-response

The text reads:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards.  Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.  We reviewed the page you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn’t violate our community standard on hate speech.

(This is the response I received as well.)

I tend toward the libertarian when it comes to freedom of expression; as long as Facebook is a private company, I believe it has the right to host or not host what seems proper to its leadership and shareholders.  Facebook can afford its users the latitude of expression it prefers, even when the expression in question is really offensive; the customer base can then decide to participate or not accordingly.

But since Facebook has a policy on hate speech, what is the company’s standard for latitude in freedom of expression?  What doesn’t get to remain on Facebook?  Where does the arbiter make the cut-off, and can users trust that it’s being done fairly?  This week, we have been given a unique opportunity to do a comparison with what did get banned at Facebook – if only for a few days.

On 9 August, author and columnist Ruthie Blum posted a column in which she recounted her recent adventures in being banned by Facebook:

For the past two months, I have intermittently been barred from Facebook.

The first time it happened was in June, when I tried to post my Israel Hayom column. Suddenly, a window popped up, telling me that inappropriate material had been found on, and removed from, my page. I was warned that if I continued violating Facebook’s “community standards,” I would be banned from the social network for good.

The notice included a link specifying these standards, and a demand that I click to acknowledge I had read and understood them. Failure to do so, it said, would result in my inability even to open Facebook to read my newsfeed. I complied.

Ms. Blum worked through the wickets Facebook set up for restoring her account to its good graces, but was unable to determine what, exactly, had violated its standards.  She was barred from Facebook for 24 hours at one point, and then for three days.

Her columns, she observes, are political in nature.  (Ms. Blum was formerly an editor at The Jerusalem Post.)  I append links to samples of them from the relevant timeframe here, here, here, here, and here.  She writes responsibly, in measured tones, and with reason and documentation; there is nothing intemperate or inflammatory about her content.  You might disagree with its political perspective, but you could not reasonably consider it “hate speech,” violence, threats, or bullying.  One thing it is completely free of:  graphics depicting anyone, or depicting anyone’s ethnic or religious symbols, surrounded by dead bodies and blood.

Here’s a screen cap from one of her recent columns at Israel Hayom:

blum-1

Contrast the tone and presentation of the type of content she was trying to link to with a random sampling of the content at The Untold History’s Facebook page:

Saudi Blogger Faces Jail and 600 Lashes For Insulting Islam

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Only 600 lashes? The libs will say that is progress. The question is, how many lashes can any human being withstand? I think beheadng is more …. humane.

“We believe that when public speech is deemed offensive, be it via social media or any other means, the issue is best addressed through open-dialogue and honest debate,” said US State Department spokeswoman

As for the State department’s hollow remarks, I submit that the State Department should cease meeting with the OIC in Washington in order to impose restrictions on speech in accordance with the blasphemy laws under the sharia. I submit that the State Department should withdraw the Secretary of State’s remarks. I submit that the Department of Justice should withdraw its vow to criminalize postings on social media that offend Muslims. I submit that Obama should cease blaming youtube and freedom of expression for murderous attacks on Americans in Benghazi and beyond. I submit that Obama should stop championing the adoption of anti-free speech resolution by the UN.

“Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi Faces Jail and 600 Lashes For Insulting Islam” IBTimes, July 31, 2013

An international outcry was triggered by a Saudi Arabian court that handed a seven-year jail and 600 lashes sentence to the editor of a liberal website for violating Islamic values.

Raif Badawi has been in detention since 2012, after being arrested on cyber-crime charges related to Free Saudi, the website he founded which hosted discussions on religion in the ultraconservative Islamic kingdom.

The US and France expressed deep concerns at the punishment also slammed by human rights groups.

“We believe that when public speech is deemed offensive, be it via social media or any other means, the issue is best addressed through open-dialogue and honest debate,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.logger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.”

Judges at Jeddah criminal court reportedly dropped the heaviest charge of apostasy - which carries an automatic death sentence – after Badawi, gave assurances he was a Muslim.

“The judge asked Raif, ‘Are you a Muslim?’ and he said ‘Yes, and I don’t accept anyone to cast doubt on (my belief)’,” Badawi’s wife, who moved abroad in 2012 with her children, tweeted.

However, the court found Badawi guilty of insulting Islam and ordered the closure of the website, Al-Watan newspaper reported.

Judges also gave Badawi an additional three months in jail for disobeying his father, a crime in Saudi Arabia. The two allegedly had numerous public confrontations over the years.

Part of prosecutors’ evidence consisted in postings by Badawi and anonymous members of his site critical of senior Saudi religious figures, HRW reported.

Badawi’s troubles with the authorities started shortly after he started Free Saudi in 2008.

He was forced to leave the country in May that year, after authorities charged him with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam”.

As the charges were dropped he returned to his homeland but continued his online activity, HRW said.

In March 2012 he was designated as an “unbeliever and apostate” by a well-known cleric Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak.

Al-Barrak reportedly claimed Badawi was guilty of saying “that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists are all equal”.

In accordance with a strict interpretation of Islamic law, Saudi courts implement a series of corporal punishments, of which flogging is considered the most lenient. 

Visit Atlas Shrugs.

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