March 31, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Book advertising copy we're glad not to have written

From an ad in The New York Review of Books for The 33-Day War: Israel's War on Hezbolah in Lebanon and its Consequences by Gilbert Achcar:

An up-to-date analysis of the impacts of last summer's war which provoked the most serious political earthquake for Israel since the 1973 "Yom Kippur War."
Because there are just too many out-of-date books about the summer of 2006...

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March 30, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Pidyon Shvuyim and Tzedakah

John Robb discusses Al Quaeda's Islamic State of Iraq over on Global Guerrillas:


Tamimi lists several discrete responsibilities of the ISI, most of which involve establishing judicial processes and resolving disputes among tribal groups; another is collecting Zakat (alms). The only material services the ISI owes to its citizens is to free prisoners and support the families of those considered martyrs.
Funny how familiar a neo-medieval caliphate sounds to those of us familiar with medieval formulations of Jewish communities...

(Reb Yudel)

What's at stake in the Attorney Generals scandal

Joshua Marshall -- who basically broke the story now being investigated by the Congressional Democrats -- gives the video explanation that your nightly news won't give you:


(Reb Yudel)

Bush: Making America more like Russia

Dov Bear on how Bush bends the law beyond recognition
Bush and his cronies have changed well established norms that, for generations, have served to check the president's power. Examples include the purge of the US attorneys. Though the president has always had the power to fire government lawyers, it hardly ever happened. Now that Bush has changed this norm, US attorneys must remember to show deference to their political patrons when in the past the law was their only master.
Just as good Communists justified all means toward their utopian ends, loyal Republicans -- the hardcore 30% who still support president -- have a fixed ideology that doesn't let them see what is in front of their noses, to mangle Andrew Sullivan's George Orwell epigraph.

The question the rest of us need to ask -- if there is any hope in restoring America -- is how did these people get so embedded in their ideology? And how can they be extracted?

March 25, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Today's Passover Video: Bobby Conn in "Passover in Puppettown"


And you thought the Winerville Passover was weird...

March 24, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Keeping Secrets: This Article is Illegal

The following article, from the Washington Post, is illegal. The author violated federal law in writing it. His crime? Ultimately, disclosing that the Patriot Act created a secret police -- an FBI able to carry out spying at whim.

As the article mentioned, the FBI and the Justice Department lied to Congress about their actions. The author of this Washington Post article could not join the debate over the law -- his right under the Constitutional system of America -- because he was banned from telling anyone that the law impacted him.

Here's how the Washington Post essay describes what happened:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Read the article yourself on the Washington Post, or after the jump. Oh, and if you're inclined to say, "The FBI wouldn't hurt anyone..."; well, time to read up about the history of the FBI...or for that matter, current reports of what police will do without supervision.


My National Security Letter Gag Order

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

March 23, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

A different approach to telling the Schechter story

The New Jersey Jewish Standard weighs in on Schechter, in a straight-forward piece by Lois Goldrich.

The significant change is that this piece is from the perspective of the administration -- principal Rhonda Rosenheck and board president Mary Sanders. You may recall that neither made themselves available to the Jewish Week. It seems they learned Media Relations 101 the hard way.

What I would really like to know is how the Schechter students who reacted strongly (and rather impressively, on the whole) to my blog posts -- and to the Jewish Week article -- respond to this piece.

March 19, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Think Passover: Switch to Matza!

"Hi, I'm a slice of bread."

"And I'm a piece of matza..."

Join us as Ben Yehuda Press celebrates Passover 2007 with our first foray into video.

March 15, 2007

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Back -- and tipsy

Back to the blog after some time away, and want to raise a toast to Reform Judaism magazine, which this month releases its "RJ Insider's Guide to KOSHER WINE."

The guide comes with sidebars on what makes a wine kosher, mevushal, and kosher for Passover, and yet no discussion of "personal and congregational autonomy," which often accompanies the Union of Reform Judaism's discussion of kashrut. Reform-bashers will see this as amusing; classical Reform proponents might see it as a sell-out; the knowledgeable will see it as keeping with the movement's most up-to-date "Principles."