The minimum wage battle: What makes a wage just?


Raising the minimum wage is a mitzvah. 

The Rambam says that ensuring others have work that can sustain them is the highest rung on the hierarchy of tzedakah (Mattanot Aniyim, 10:7). In Judaism, tzedakah does not mean charity but justice. We rectify social wrongs and fulfill our obligations through tzedakah. By raising the minimum wage, we are enabling others who work to escape poverty. Tzedakah is all the more important when applied to a system of legislation, as the mission of the Jewish people is to perpetuate our most precious  values of the good and the just into broader society. Our messianic dream is the creation of a society where Torah values are brought into the world to create a more just and holy civilization. 

The disparate gap between rich and poor is one of the most troubling moral issues in America today. Much of the problem has to do with unfair wages that block social mobility. The ” target=”_blank”>Time magazine, July 24, 2009). Even then, the wage only ” target=”_blank”>the earned-income tax credit has been crucial in helping to fill the gap (aiming to benefit low-income families with children and not just all low-wage workers). 

Some argue that raising the cost of labor will hurt workers, because employers will then hire fewer workers. In a few instances this may be true, but overall ” target=”_blank”>the impact on jobs is small.” 

Current ” target=”_blank”>four states with a minimum wage below the federal standard, two (” target=”_blank”>five states with no minimum wage, ” target=”_blank”>One significant study looking at the food industry found that raising the minimum wage did not result in employers trimming their workforce, and dozens of studies have confirmed these conclusions. For example, ” target=”_blank”>in 2006 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 would increase consumer spending by $5.5 billion, potentially offering a much-needed boon to the economy. 

A final objection to raising the minimum wage is that those who work in these largely menial jobs are teenagers who are simply trying to earn extra cash, and therefore there is no need for a wage increase. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out, this is untrue. Among the 15 million people working in minimum wage jobs today:

” target=”_blank”>As Barbara Ehrenreich, who once described her vain attempt to survive on a wage (above the minimum) in “Nickel and Dimed,” wrote in 2007: “There is no moral justification for a minimum wage lower than a living wage. And given the experience of the … states that have raised their minimum wages, there isn’t even an amoral economic justification.” 

Today, change is needed and the Jewish community has a crucial role to play. We should heed the word of President Barack Obama: “… let’s declare that in

Rob Eshman: The Shutdown


What the $%#@ is happening?

I’m writing this 17 minutes after the Federal government shut down — for the first time in 17 years.  I remember clearly the last time this happened.  It was stupid and superfluous and self-destructive then.  It’s stupid, superfluous and self-destructive now.

The Tea Partier Republicans set this in motion — they actually planned its implementation months ago.   You can go online and hear them at rallies back in the Spring promising to close down Washington, D.C.  “Shut it down!” their  audiences chanted back.

More mainstream Republican leaders went along with the demands of the far right.   House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker John Boehner knew it wouldn’t work, knew it was dumb, knew Cruz and his ilk will likely hurt Republicans in the next election cycle — but went along. 

If only they were the only victims. 

Prior to zero hour, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs circulated a letter on Capital Hill calling on lawmakers to support a federal budget agreement and avoid a government shutdown

“Spending cuts should not unfairly target the most vulnerable among us,” Jared Feldman, JCPA’s vice president and Washington director, wrote. “We urge you to strengthen anti-poverty efforts and restore opportunities for all Americans. It is critical that Congress come together cooperatively and civilly in this effort. Regardless of the outcome, a cantankerous and divisive process is unacceptable.”

The shutdown will hurt thousands of furloughed Federal workers.  It will disrupt numerous services, including research at the National Institute of Health, and it will likely suspend the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, new mothers and their children.

Because, you know, those heart disease researchers and low-income children are sucking this country dry.

[David Suissa: We should shut down the hysterics]

The shut down, which Tea Partiers and their enablers are promoting as a fiscally responsible way to thwart the implementation of Obamacare, will actually end up costing a couple billion dollars, not to mention a few points on the Dow.  If it continues for too long, the nation’s entire economy could backslide.

And if that’s not bad enough, the whole debacle may actually pay off for the people who cooked it up.

In recent polls, Sen. Ted Cruz shot ahead of his potential 2016 Presidential contenders.  Because of his Seussian 23-hour speech denouncing a funding bill the President could sign, Cruz “now has more credibility with the GOP base than the folks who have been leading the party for years,” according to outsidethebeltway.com.

This would all make sense if, at the end of this nightmare, Cruz would stare into our eyes, and say, like Walter White in “Breaking Bad” did to Skyler: “I did it for me!” At least that would be honest.  But like Walt’s alter ego, Heisenberg, Cruz has convinced himself he’s leading this charge for the greater good. Seriously, even in “Breaking Bad” the meth dealers respected the Feds.

It may sound petty, given the enormity of this debacle, to point out here that a Republican Party taken over by anti-government nihilists can kiss winning the Jewish vote goodbye.  Granted, it’s a small vote, but it comes with the added benefits of activism, donations and a couple of swing states.

Why do I say that? Because Jews, it turns out, like good government.  Stable government in democratic nations have enabled them to prosper and practice their faith freely.  Effective, accountable  government protects minority rights and property and creates the conditions for prosperity, including investment in and support of those less fortunate—which turns out to be good for all.

I’m assuming Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, knows this, which is why at press conferences he looks like a kid being dragged in front of the principal.

It’s why — little known fact — the Republican President who garnered the largest percentage of the Jewish vote in the modern era was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Yes, he was a bit dull and unconscionably complacent on civil rights, but consider his achievements, as Stephen Ambrose enumerates them in his biography:  Instead of dismantling the New Deal, as more strident Republicans wanted, the number of people receiving Social Security benefits doubled under Eisenhower’s administration. He balanced the budget, froze military spending and refused to lower taxes. He kept New Deal regulatory commissions in place. Public works expenditures exceeded those of Truman or FDR—projects that included the Interstate Highway System and the St. Lawrence Seaway.  He refused to sell off public lands or open wilderness areas to mineral development. He stopped nuclear testing in the atmosphere.  He avoided all military entanglements.

“The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground in my administration,” Eisenhower said. “We kept the peace. People asked how it happened. By God, it didn’t just happen, I’ll tell you that.”

All that investment, all that government — and Eisenhower presided over the greatest decade of American prosperity in the twentieth century.

In 1956, Eisenhower received 40 percent of the Jewish vote—a number that hasn’t been topped since.  Even more telling, he campaigned and got that vote while delivering to Israel a series of punishing measures and blistering statements in response to its collusion with Britain and France in the Suez Campaign.

Call it ancient history.  Call it a distant fantasy.   But if Republicans want to come close to that accomplishment, it’s not the government they need to shut down, but Ted Cruz.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Private schools chalk it up to federal dollars


It’s not unusual for elementary school students at Sinai Akiba Academy to walk into class and be greeted with the following message: “Dear scientists, today we’re going to look at our mealworms under the microscopes.”

The idea is that by identifying kids as writers, readers and scientists, they actually take on that role. It’s part of a classroom philosophy called “Responsive Classroom” that has transformed the school in recent years, according to Shelley Lawrence, lower school director at Sinai Akiba.

The message greeting pupils at the private day school could easily come with an asterisk: “Made possible, in part, by public tax dollars.”

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became known as No Child Left Behind, allows faith-based schools to receive services funded by federal dollars. Local Jewish education leaders said they tend to benefit most from its provisions for professional development and supplemental instruction for students in need of academic improvement in core curriculum areas.

A third item that allowed private schools to upgrade technology ended after last year. Some local schools used it to add iPads, SMART Boards and video cameras to their schools.

BJE: Builders of Jewish Education worked with 20 area Jewish day schools to secure more than $1 million worth of services through this law, said Miriam Prum Hess, BJE’s director for the Center for Excellence in Day School Education.

“Our goal has been to maximize and make sure that our schools can get the full amount of the funds. In the last four years, we have really been successful in doing that,” she said.

Public dollars for private schools?

“One of the provisions of the act was the equitable participation of kids regardless of what school they were in, whether they were in public school or private school,” Prum Hess explained. “The funding never goes directly to the private schools, but the services go to the students and the teachers in private schools.”

Here’s how it works.

The amount of assistance a school receives for professional development is based on a per capita allocation related to its student population. BJE pools those funds for its schools to offer workshops and other training that would be too expensive for any single day school to provide. Individual schools can do things on their own as well.

Things get more complicated when it comes to improving academic achievement. Funds for the added assistance are generated based on the number of students whose families and home public school districts are below certain poverty levels. Those pupils who actually receive the services must live within the boundaries of a poor school and test at a certain level to determine eligibility, Prum Hess said.

Officials at Los Angeles Unified School District, which handles the money for any services rendered — as well as the educators for much of the supplemental instruction — said the value in these two areas is about $12 million for all of the private schools, Jewish and non-Jewish, with which it works.

Erica Rothblum, head of school at Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, said she considers the help in professional development to be “one of the most instrumental things that has impacted our school.”

Instead of having to send teachers to the East Coast to learn about Responsive Classrooms at a cost of $700 each, she was able to have all of her instructors attend training sessions here through BJE. And the school also has been able to adopt Singapore Math, which requires a heavy dose of professional development.

After three years in the new math program, the results have been tangible. “Our test scores in terms of math are very high,” Rothblum said. “With the sixth-graders, they’re all placing in the highest math classes. … They’re very well prepared for middle school.”

At Sinai Akiba, Responsive Classrooms, in which kids also gather for morning meetings to start the day, has had a similar effect.

“It’s had a profound impact on our school in the way we look at children and the way that we teach children and talk to children,” Lawrence said. “Without that funding, we would never have been able to get that type of teacher training.”

Administrators at both schools said they had fewer than 10 students who qualified for the academic help and counseling last year.

One catch to all of this is that the funds cannot be used to provide services related to Judaism. The teaching of Hebrew is permitted because it is a foreign language, Prum Hess said.

That’s important, according to Eugene Volokh, a professor of First Amendment law at the UCLA School of Law.

“There have got to be assurances that it’s not going to be used for religious purposes,” he said.

As for the issue of tax dollars making their way to private schools, Rothblum said it’s simply a matter of money following the child.

Prum Hess went further, stating that while the parents of students at Jewish day schools are making a choice to leave the public system, in many ways they may be sacrificing tremendously financially to pursue an education grounded in the values of the Jewish community.

“Forty-six percent of kids in day school are on financial aid, and it’s really important to recognize that not all kids in Jewish day school come from wealthy families,” Prum Hess said. “It is called No Child Left Behind — regardless of what school is best for that child. The ultimate goal is helping the child attend the school that best suits their need.”

One LAUSD official agreed that the point is to work together to raise the overall level of education and that these provisions and services benefiting Jewish day school students help with that.

“They’re all students in our community,” said Vivian Ekchian, chief human resources officer for the district. “It’s in the best interest of our state to elevate education [to] the highest level, regardless of where they are getting instruction. We do not compete with schools. We all have one goal, which is to deliver the best instruction possible for the youth in our state.”

Creditors force Ezri Namvar into involuntary bankruptcy


Businessman and philanthropist Ezri Namvar was once a pillar of the local Iranian Jewish community, a trusted friend to whom many in the community loaned freely and without fear.

Now Namvar and his investment company, Namco Capital Group, Inc., are accused of losing as much as $400 million loaned to him.

For the last three months, lawsuits have been filed and extensive negotiations have been taking place to resolve the hundreds of millions of dollars in disputes between Namvar’s creditors and the Brentwood Iranian Jewish businessman. On Dec. 22, two dozen creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Namvar and Namco.

The petition follows 17 lawsuits filed against Namvar, Namco, entities owned by Namvar and other Namvar family members alleging breach of contract and contractual fraud in a case that attorneys estimate involves 300 to 400 creditors, the majority of whom are Iranian Jews.

“Disputes happen all the time, but the magnitude of this case is huge,” said A. David Youssefyeh, a local Iranian Jewish attorney who is advising nearly 20 Iranian Jewish creditors in this case, of whom only a small group participated in the filing of the petition. “This case hits people in the community from such a broad socio-economic level — it includes everyone, from students that had entrusted Mr. Namvar with their bar mitzvah money, to retired people who invested their entire life savings in Namco and were paying their living expenses from the interest they received from the company.”

The creditors include investors in Namco Capital Group, those who lent money to Namco and received a personal guarantee from Namvar, lenders to Namco who received a lien on property owed by Namvar or one his entities and those who gave profits from their real estate transactions (1031 funds) to Namvar, according to the lawsuits.

“For 1031 money, the IRS will allow delayed payment of taxes on profits people give to a facilitator, such as Mr. Namvar, to hold for them until they find a substitute property to purchase,” Youssefyeh said. “But now that that money is gone, the people that entrusted Mr. Namvar with the money may potentially have to pay taxes on monies that they don’t have.”

Problems first arose nearly five months ago, when various creditors discovered they were unable to retrieve funds they had invested in Namco or given to Namvar, and that they were also no longer receiving interest payments from monies invested his company, Youssefyeh said.

While some community members filed suits to regain their money, the majority hoped instead to resolve the issue outside of the courts, in the traditional manner of the tight-knit community.

“Back in Iran, whenever a businessman in the Jewish community was unable to pay his creditors, the community leaders would get together and devise a plan to help the businessman get back on his feet financially so that he could repay those debts,” said Ebrahim Yahid, a community activist in his 80s who is a close friend of the Namvar family.

Indeed, such a group was organized after a meeting on Nov. 5 between Namvar and Namco’s Iranian Jewish creditors, according to a statement released to The Jewish Journal by the group on Dec. 16. Namco’s creditors first nominated and then voted to create a provisional committee, including prominent, independent community members. The group planned to trace all of Namvar’s assets and propose solutions to the creditors, according to the statement.

The all-volunteer committee included retired banker and former president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) Solomon Agahi and former IAJF Secretary General Sam Kermanian, as well as businessmen Jack Rochel and Nejat Sarshar. They had their first meeting on Nov. 24, according to the statement, and they were offered full authority by Namvar to resolve the disputes. The committee also hired an independent forensic accountant and attorney.

Nevertheless, talks broke down, and Youssefyeh said he advised his clients to file the bankruptcy petition when his negotiations with the local Iranian Jewish community leaders and Namco’s attorney failed to secure a deal to retrieve their investments for his clients and the nearly 200 other local Iranian Jewish creditors.

Youssefyeh said he became frustrated because Namvar’s paybacks seemed designed to protect the wealthy creditors, rather than the small investors whose life savings had been jeopardized. “What particularly made me mad was that with the $12 [million] to $13 million, Mr. Namvar could pay off 190 people, most of which needed the money for their survival, that had entrusted Mr. Namvar with $200,000 or less,” Youssefyeh said. “But people close to him told me that instead of Mr .Namvar paying off these creditors, Mr. Namvar had earmarked the remaining $17 million that he would receive from the sale of his Wilshire Bundy Plaza building to pay his 1031 obligations first, in order to avoid any potential liability arising from the 1031 funds not being available to the investors.”

Youssefyeh said bankruptcy was the only available option to protect his clients, because it allows the courts to distribute Namvar’s assets and even reverses settlement payments Namvar had made to his more affluent creditors, who have the financial means to proceed with litigation against him.

According to the bankruptcy petition, filed in U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court in downtown Los Angeles, the dozen creditors include both Iranian Jews and non-Jews, with more than $7 million in claims against Namco Capital Group and $7 million in personal claims against Namvar.

While members of the provisional committee declined to comment on the filing, legal experts said the petition nullifies the committee’s ability to settle the case, giving the courts the responsibility of distributing Namvar and Namco’s assets.

Some community leaders, who asked not to be identified, argued that the bankruptcy petition could hurt the community’s numerous creditors, because they might never receive their money back, since the case could take years to litigate and any available monies could be eaten up by attorneys’ fees as well as other costs.

Youssefyeh defended the bankruptcy petition. “The [provisional] committee had not taken any steps to take control of Mr. Namvar’s assets and in so many words said that they were not qualified to disperse his assets,” he said, adding, “yes, it will be painful and take a long time, but at the end of the day there was no other viable solution that would have frozen the assets, brought all of the preferential transfers and securitization money back into the pot.”

Local Iranian Jews had been investing with Namvar and Namco since the late 1990s. The relationships were based on his family’s reputation for being honorable as well as his success in real estate development, Yahid said.

Some have compared Namvar’s situation to the Bernard Madoff scandal, which involves a Ponzi scheme, but this is unfair, according to Namvar’s friends and community supporters, who say Namvar’s losses are due simply to the economic downturn.

“I know he [Namvar] did not have bad intentions — the economy around the whole world has gone downward, including the real estate market here in Los Angeles, and everyone is hurting, including himself,” Yahid said. “If he really had bad intentions, he would not have welcomed the committee to resolve this case, but would have instead declared immediate bankruptcy himself and destroyed the lives of hundreds in our community.”

Abramoff receives new four-year sentence, Phoenix community leader murdered


Abramoff Receives New Four-Year Sentence

Jewish lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison. Abramoff had pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses related to influence peddling involving Republican congressmen and midlevel Bush administration officials, some of whom were convicted.

The prosecution noted Abramoff’s cooperation in helping to build cases against some 10 other officials in recommending that he be given a reduced term, largely to motivate others to cooperate with investigators.

However, on Sept. 4, Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in Washington sentenced Abramoff to nine months more than the 39-month term suggested by prosecutors, citing the erosion of the public’s trust in government that Abramoff’s activities generated.

Wearing a yarmulke, Abramoff offered a wrenching apology to the court, saying, “I have fallen into an abyss,” according to the reports. “My name is the butt of a joke.” Abramoff currently is serving a two-year prison term in an unrelated fraud case.

Prominent Jewish Activist in Phoenix Slain

A prominent Jewish activist in Phoenix, Irving Shuman, 84, was murdered at his office on Sept. 2.

Shuman’s body was found Tuesday evening at his real estate office after he failed to show up for a dinner appointment, according to the Arizona Republic. His car was also stolen.

Shuman, who was active in Jewish organizations and pro-Israel lobbies, had received several honors, including the Tree of Life award by the Jewish National Fund in Arizona and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Medal of Honor.

“Irv Shuman was a man of exceptional values,” said Rabbi Ariel Shoshan, who studied with Shuman and other Phoenix executives on Thursdays, according to the Republic. “He lived for causes like the well-being of Israel and the furtherance of Jewish education and was an active supporter of over 100 charities.”

Shuman’s gold Lexus was recovered in San Bernardino this week.

Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers


Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers
 
The U.S. Congress rescinded language in Pentagon orders that allowed military chaplains to mention Jesus in official prayers. Controversy over including similar language in the Defense Authorization Act, a critical spending bill, dogged attempts to pull the bill out of a Senate-House conference committee before Congress recessed for midterm elections.
 
The conferees ultimately decided to strike the language and order the Pentagon to rescind its earlier instructions. Mikey Weinstein, a former U.S. Air Force officer who led the battle to remove the language, applauded the decision.”We welcome the opportunity Congress has afforded to discuss the appropriate role of religion and chaplains in the military,” Weinstein, who is Jewish, said last week in a statement issued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which he founded. “The passage of this bill will be a victory for those of us who have been fighting so assiduously to protect both the rights of the men and women in our armed forces and the United States Constitution.”
 

Austrian extremists gain in elections
 
Two far-right parties with a history of anti-Jewish rhetoric made gains in Austrian elections. National elections held over the weekend saw a 50 percent rise since 2002 elections in the percentage of votes for the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Members of both parties have expressed antipathy toward Israel and are known for their campaigns against Muslims living in Austria.
 
The left-leaning Social Democrats won the election with nearly 36 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right People’s Party with 34 percent. The Freedom Party came in third with 11 percent, and the Alliance for Austria’s Future, run by right-wing extremist Jorg Haider, received 4 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats and People’s Party are expected to form a governing coalition.
 
Federal legislation Includes grant for Federation model elderly care program
 
A Jewish federation model to facilitate care for the elderly in their home communities will be included in federal grant legislation. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body for North American federations, launched the “Aging in Place” initiative in 2002, helping 40 communities in 25 states obtain federal dollars for naturally occurring retirement communities.The model was featured in a U.S. Senate hearing this year to consider re-authorization of the Older Americans Act. As a result, a federal grant program for the retirement communities is included in language agreed to by House-Senate conferees.
 
Swiss stage pro-Israel rally
 
Approximately 3,000 demonstrators held a pro-Israel rally in the Swiss capital. Saturday’s rally in Bern called for the Swiss government to support Israel’s right to exist and show solidarity with the Jewish state’s fight against terrorism. Twenty organizations signed a resolution urging the government to refuse negotiations with terrorist groups that reject the existence of the Israeli state.
 

British House of Lords member faces probe by party over Israel lobby remarks
 
A member of Britain’s House of Lords will be investigated by her party for comments about the “pro-Israel lobby.” Liberal Democrat Party members have announced that Baroness Jenny Tonge’s position in the party will be reviewed in response to her public remarks.
 
In a speech that recently aired on BBC Radio, Tonge said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its [financial] grips on the Western world. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party.”
 
More than 20 of her peers in the House of Lords wrote a letter to the Times condemning Tonge’s comments, stating, “Baroness Tonge evoked a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory,” and that her language “as a member of the House of Lords, was irresponsible and inappropriate.”
 
In early 2004, she was fired from her position as Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development for saying she could understand why a Palestinian would become a suicide bomber and also that she would consider becoming one were she a Palestinian.
 
Remains of Czech Jewish graveyard found
 
Evidence of a medieval Jewish cemetery was discovered in the Czech Republic.Researchers from a preservationist organization in the city of Pilsen say they found documents in the city archive revealing details of what they believe was one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Czech lands in the 14th century.
 
The cemetery’s existence was already known, said archaeologist Radek Siroky of the West Bohemian Institute for Heritage Conservation and Documentation, but the new documents reveal more specifics about its location.
 
He said that only excavations, approved by religious authorities, could provide more details about the cemetery’s size and the nature of the Jewish community there.
 
Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Briefs


 

Council Adds Some Fire to Mayoral Race

The Los Angeles City Council is doing a great job of overcompensating for the general public’s lukewarm interest in the upcoming mayoral election. With accusations of electoral politics flying from both sides, six council members left Mayor Jim Hahn shaking with rage during the week of Feb. 6., after blocking his (and Police Chief William Bratton’s) attempt to put a half-cent city sales tax increase on the May 17 ballot to fund 1,200 new police officers.

Some of the councilmembers opposing the city tax measure, like Jack Weiss of the Westside’s 5th District, had just recently supported failed Measure A, a half-cent countywide sales tax increase designed to hire more law enforcement personnel that was defeated in the November general election.

The councilmembers supporting one of Hahn’s mayoral rivals, or who are themselves candidates, are obviously more susceptible to accusations of voting “no” for political reasons. Hahn is running a campaign based in large part on his public safety record, and successfully placing this tax proposal on the May ballot would have given him powerful ammunition were he to find himself in a runoff.

After two votes, Hahn was one council member short of winning approval of the ballot measure. After the failure, he implied that no-voting Councilmen Antonio Villaraigosa and Weiss should be recalled, because a sizable majority in both their districts supported Measure A. Weiss is an avid supporter of Villaraigosa’s mayoral campaign.

“I support raising the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for more cops; that’s not the issue,” Weiss said. “I think the best time to do it is not when there’s a contested mayor’s race, not when major segments of the city are opposed to it, such as the [San Fernando] Valley and many folks in South L.A.”

Weiss called Hahn’s sales tax a “half-baked” measure, because it would not affect other cities in L.A. County. He said voters in the 5th District approved the countywide measure – not this city-only tax – and this is not the right time to ask them about it again.

Weiss even disputed Hahn’s credentials on the issue in general, saying, “Mayor Hahn was AWOL on [county] Measure A. Sheriff [Lee] Baca and Councilman Villaraigosa led that effort.”

“Absolutely false,” said Shannon Murphy, Hahn’s communications director.

She pointed out that Hahn attended a county supervisors’ meeting (among other events) to support Measure A, before it was placed on the November 2004 ballot, and said that his support for this latest tax fits perfectly with his record.

“The mayor is disappointed that a minority of the council chose not to trust the voters with this crucial decision,” Murphy said.

So was the mayor really pursuing the sales tax as part of his long-standing commitment to public safety and Bratton, or was it just a way to horde political capital ahead of an election? And does Weiss truly believe that the tax must be countywide, or was he simply blocking Hahn to support Villaraigosa?

With an election coming soon, you can bet on all of the above.

Love and Marriage – and Welfare

Far beyond the gravity of local politics, a House of Representatives bill is winding its way through committee in Washington D.C., but it could have a big impact on Los Angeles. H.R. 240 is the latest reauthorization of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) funds, which are distributed through state welfare programs.

This year, one of President Bush’s pet projects has found its way into TANF: marriage education. The bill would set aside $1.5 billion over the next five years to fund high school education on the “value of marriage,” divorce reduction programs and programs to “reduce the disincentives” (in the bureaucratese of the bill) to getting married among people who receive welfare support from TANF.

Women’s advocacy groups, in particular, have been very skeptical of the premise that government should assume that marriage should always be encouraged. They point out that many couples rightly split up due to abuse.

Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service (JFS) executive director, weighed in on the issue: “We have to look at the broader context. It’s great to have the promotion of formation of healthy families and marriages, but in an environment that doesn’t provide enough child care and where there are not enough jobs, you’re putting a Band-Aid over one thing, while the rest of the body is still bleeding.”

With the amount of federal dollars slated for Medicaid and food stamps (programs to help the poor) decreasing, funding a marriage education program creates some novel dilemmas.

“How do you measure whether a state has been successful in forming healthy marriages?” Castro asked. “Would the state simply count the number of unwed parents?”

With all these caveats in mind, the seemingly arbitrary selection of a marriage education requirement, while other programs go underfunded, makes the plan sound more like a social conservative’s whim and less like good public policy.

Castro said JFS runs its own parenting classes and is convinced of the need for healthy families, but the complexities of why individuals end up on welfare – and why marriages fail – make legislating it in this way a dubious enterprise.

In the meantime, JFS, which provides social services to approximately 60,000 people a year, just lost $87,000 in federal funds for its Gramercy Place homeless shelter.

 

Suspect Indicted in Murder of JDL’s Krugel


Almost nine months after the brutal prison-yard slaying of Earl Krugel, the longtime No. 2 man in the Jewish Defense League (JDL), federal authorities have indicted an inmate with no apparent ties to Krugel.

The suspect, David Frank Jennings, 30, allegedly attacked Krugel from behind with a piece of concrete hidden in a bag while Krugel was using an exercise machine at a federal prison in Phoenix.



The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on July 19, offers neither details nor motive, asserting that Jennings “with premeditation and malice aforethought willfully kill and murder Earl Leslie Krugel.”



Jennings is the only person charged in the killing that took place in plain view. Authorities contend that Jennings acted alone.



“He was the only one charged. There was no conspiracy,” said Ann Harwood, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix, Authorities would say little else, including anything about the motive of the alleged killer, a small-time repeat offender with nothing in his rap sheet to suggest either this level of violence or any particular animosity toward the 62-year-old Krugel.



Krugel had been transferred to the Federal Corrections Institute (FCI) Phoenix, a medium security prison, just three days before the assault. To date, there is no indication that Krugel and Jennings knew each other. “My husband was brutally murdered just a few days after he was sent to that prison,” Lola Krugel said. “He wasn’t there long enough to make any deadly enemies.”



At the time of Krugel’s attack, Jennings was serving a 70-month sentence at FCI Phoenix for a 2003 bank robbery in Las Vegas, which netted him $1,040. Because Jennings had threatened the teller during the robbery, authorities eventually extended his plea bargain sentence from 63 months to 70 months.



Jennings, who lived in Oregon before moving to Nevada, has multiple convictions, but court records reviewed by The Journal did not indicate any association with racist or anti-Semitic groups in or out of prison.

In 1993,Jennings was convicted in Oregon on an Assault III charge; a “class C” state felony, which resulted in an 18-month state prison sentence. In 1994 he was arrested and convicted for unauthorized use of a vehicle and sentenced to six months in jail. In 1995, a probation violation cost him another six months.



He had apparently moved to Nevada by 1996. That same year he was arrested and pleaded guilty to state charges of grand larceny and unlawful possession of a credit card, for which he received a sentence of 16 to 72 months in state prison.



Krugel was transferred to the Phoenix facility to serve out the balance of a 20-year sentence, following his negotiated guilty plea to conspiracy, weapons and explosives charges. The high-profile case against Krugel and the JDL involved an abortive bombing plot against possible targets that included a Culver City mosque and the field office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), an Arab-American of Lebanese descent.



A fitness fanatic, Krugel was using exercise equipment when he was blind-sided between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2005. Details of the assault did not emerge in previous reports; a review of the autopsy depicts a vicious attack.



His main injury was the initial blow to the back of his head, which crushed the left side of his skull and severely damaged his brain and brain stem. But his attacker also delivered multiple blows to Krugel’s skull, face and neck, according to the autopsy, which was performed by the Maricopa County medical examiner and obtained by The Journal. Krugel suffered multiple skull fractures, internal bleeding and multiple lacerations to his head, face and brain. The beating knocked out teeth and also fractured one of his eye sockets. Krugel was pronounced dead at the scene.



His death marked the violent end, in prison, for both local leaders of an organization that advocated the use of violence, as necessary, in defending the interests of Jews. JDL head Irv Rubin died in 2002, at 57, from injuries he suffered after jumping or falling from a railing inside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Authorities ruled Rubin’s death a suicide, though family members contested that finding. Krugel, a dental technician by trade, was Rubin’s longtime close friend and second-in-command.



Krugel and Rubin were arrested in late 2001. They were accused, in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, of plotting violent revenge against Muslims and Arabs. No attack was carried out. Krugel spent four years in federal lock-up in Los Angeles. It was the resolution of his case, with the guilty plea to reduced charges, that landed him in Phoenix.



Lola Krugel said she’s relieved that someone has finally been charged in her husband’s murder. But she and Krugel’s sister, Linda, both expressed frustration and anger over the time it took to make an arrest, as well as the FBI’s unwillingness to share information with the family.



“He did it right there in the open,” said Lola Krugel, referring to the attacker. “There had to be witnesses and cameras. So why did it take so long for them to charge this man?”



The delay was not foot-dragging but a desire to get it right, said Patrick Snyder, assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the criminal division in the Phoenix office: “Since the murder occurred in prison, we know the assailant is already in custody. So we’re not under the same kind of time pressure to make an arrest that we are when a killer is still at large.”



Lola Krugel filed a wrongful-death claim against the federal government in February, which has since been denied. The family says it’s now preparing to file a civil lawsuit. The rejected claim had asked for $10 million for personal injury and $10 million for Krugel’s wrongful death.



“It’s an ‘outrage figure,'” said family attorney Benjamin Schonbrun, a partner in the Venice-area firm of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman. “A figure to illustrate the outrage Lola Krugel feels over the murder of her husband, plus the anger she felt over her inability to get any information from the government.”

Religion and the State


What rights would a yarmulke-wearing child have in a public school that decides to prohibit hats on campus? What about a group of Jewish inmates who want to light Chanukah candles when a regulation clearly bans fire of any kind inside a prison? Or a synagogue or church that wishes to build or expand in a restricted area?

These are among the potential and real-life cases that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was intended to address. The premise of RFRA was that even though “free exercise of religion” was a constitutionally guaranteed right in this country, laws that were presumably “neutral” toward religion could pose as much of a burden as those intended to hinder religious practice. Therefore, RFRA said, a “compelling interest” test should be applied that would weigh the government’s interest in imposing a law, against the burden that law would place, on free exercise of religion.

Since the United States Supreme Court overturned RFRA in June, a number of states, including California, have launched campaigns to pass similar laws to ensure stringent protection of religion at the state level. A broad coalition of religious and civil-liberties organizations led by American Jewish Congress recently urged a group of California legislators to pass a statute providing “real and enforceable, yet balanced, protection for religious liberty.”

In testimony before a special hearing of the State Assembly Judiciary Committee, Marc Stern, co-director of the AJ Congress Commission on Law and Social Action, told legislators that the danger to religious liberty today doesn’t come from “outright bans on a particular faith” and other clearly unconstitutional actions. Rather, he said, it derives from actions of what he termed “the well-meaning state.”

“The complex society in which we live tolerates, and often requires, regulation to a degree unprecedented in American history,” Stern said. “Oftentimes, the regulations are cast in a form which interferes with the practice of one faith or another. Most of these conflicts emerge because no one foresaw the clash between the regulations and religious practice.”

Stern, one of the principle drafters of the federal RFRA legislation, singled out zoning laws as common examples of how “bias often sneaks in — and sometimes dominates — hearings before zoning officials who exercise vast discretionary authority.”

For Jews, careful scrutiny of laws that affect religion are of particular importance, Stern said. “One of the reasons Jews have been able to flourish is that they’re not put at a disadvantage because of the law,” he said.

Eugene Volokh, acting professor of law at UCLA and an opponent of passing state RFRA, said such legislation would unfairly discriminate in favor of religious individuals or groups, giving them an advantage over those with deeply held moral beliefs not rooted in a particular religion. He also felt it would hand too much power to judges and courts, instead of legislators and voters. “It’s important to protect both the secular and the religious and look at each case on its merits,” said Volokh, a Russian-born Jew who teaches constitutional law. “This overall massive law that leaves decisions in the hands of judges is not a good idea.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, a Sydney M. Irmas professor of law and political science at USC Law School, said establishing a RFRA statute in California “is an essential protection of religious freedom” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal version. Since the California Supreme Court has tended in the past to follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, without federal RFRA to turn to, state law becomes even more uncertain, Chemerinsky said.

At least five Jewish groups attended the hearing in support of a state RFRA statute. They included: the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee and AJ Congress. Also supporting the passage of state RFRA were the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern and Northern California, People for the American Way Action Fund, San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as groups representing Muslims, Buddhists, Lutherans, Unitarians and Seventh Day Adventists. Further hearings on the subject are scheduled in the next few months.