Israeli Court Knocks El Al For Gender Discrimination

el al plane photo

In a case that almost didn’t get brought to court, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been convicted of gender discrimination when a woman was asked to take a different seat because an ultra-orthodox man didn’t want to sit next to her.

That once-common practice, which caters to a whim of someone from a sect with otherworldly-strict beliefs, was brought down by a suit filed by a holocaust survivor who originally intended to ignore the affront. But a couple of weeks after her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was marred by the incident, Renee Rabinowitz, 81, attended an event where a representative of the Israel Religious Action Center discussed IRAC’s campaign against airlines’ practice of accommodating what Rabinowitz described as “a Haredi-looking [ultra orthodox] gentleman”. Such individuals are members of a group representing the social and cultural interests of fervently religious Jews. Created in response to escalating assimilation and secularization within worldwide Jewry, they aim to preserve and maintain Torah-bound Judaism, both on the individual and collective level.

But in refusing to sit next to a woman on, for example, an airplane, “a passenger asking to move their seat because of their gender will qualify as discrimination, and as such will be prohibited,” the Israeli court said in an English-language statement.

More specifically, The Jerusalem Post reported, “Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The JP website added, “The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.”

El Al has said it will take the ruling seriously, and the airline is expected to modify its rules and retrain flight attendants within the 45-day period specified by the court.

The Guardian quoted the airline as saying, “The sides reached an agreement that the airline’s procedures would be clarified to its employees. The court validated this agreement and the company will respect the verdict.”


Presidential Candidate’s Pipeline Protest, Likely to earn Charges


Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein (with bandana) met with Dakota Access Pipeline protesters Tuesday.  Photo: Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service.

Protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which this blog reported on last weekend, have gone … silly, with Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein earning herself a police charge or two for spray-painting “I approve this message” on a bulldozer blade Tuesday.

She was part of a group of 150-200 protesting at a construction site where two among them attached themselves to bulldozers and some construction equipment that Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said apparently was vandalized. Speaking at a press conference, Kirchmeier said that though no arrests were made as a result of Tuesday’s actions, his department is “working up the information through the state’s attorney’s office to pursue charges (against Stein).” One possible charge could be for trespassing and another for vandalism, though it’s not yet known whether these would be felony or misdemeanor charges.

According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, the protest took place at around 10:30 a.m., and protesters gathered at a construction area at County Road 35 and Highway 6, 2 miles east of Highway 1806.

About 25 law enforcement officers responded to the protest site, where no Dakota Access Pipeline workers were working at the time of the protest. Kirchmeier said officers saw some protesters on horses, masks and some carrying hatchets and wearing goggles.

Law enforcement officers were “pulled back from the area because it was determined that, at that point, it was unsafe for them to go into the situation,” Kirchmeier said.

“At this point … I don’t believe that we need to go in there and have physical altercations with the protesters,” he said.

On Saturday, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said three private security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline were reportedly injured after about 300 protesters entered the work site. One guard was transported to a Bismarck hospital, but refused treatment.

No arrests have been made as a result of the incident that occurred Saturday or Tuesday.

“We are actively investigating these incidents, either by video or social media to identify people that have taken place in this,” Kirchmeier said. “We will pursue charges as needed.”

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II compared illegal actions taken by protesters, like those that bound themselves to equipment, to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat during the Civil Rights movement: “It was illegal, but it was the right thing to do.”

Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, director and chairman of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services Advisory Committee, said at the press conference his department has recently spoke with members of Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the Sacred Stone Camp about maintaining safety and “dispelling rumors.”

“We need to work together, everyone, that is committed to a peaceful solution to what is going on right now, to work together so that we can marginalize the agitators,” Dohrmann said.

Kids Die As Parents Deny Medical Care



American law, in some places, works in mysterious ways – as when it allows parents who staunchly believe in ‘faith healing’ to deny medical care to their children, sometimes causing their deaths, or permanent disability.

In yet another example of how the U.K.-based The Guardian beats out U.S. media on a U.S.-based story, that British website has reported how legislators in the state of Idaho have repeatedly denied young citizens they represent a pair of  basic rights – to ‘life,’ and to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ – expressed so eloquently in the nascent country’s Declaration of Independence.

The issue, in this instance, is the strongly-held (but totally unproved) belief of their parents that faith-healing is a superior approach to ‘treatment’ than is the well-established (and superiorly proven) practice of employing skilled medical professionals in attempts to cure diseases, treat physical ailments and, in the process, possibly even save lives.

The parents, in this situation, are members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect – strict followers of their own version of the rather offbeat beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, often referred to as LDS. Among their beyond-the-ordinary beliefs are that an assortment of substances, including ‘strong drink’ (except home-made wine), tobacco, and ‘hot drinks’ – including coffee and tea, are not to be consumed, for reasons that shall, no doubt, forever remain a mystery.

And somewhere deep in their portfolio of odd expectations is the concept that prayer, the laying-on of unlikely ointments and the like can, miraculously, accomplish as much as modern medicine might.

Sadly, that too often proves to not be the case.

In northern Idaho, The Guardian article says, “While Idaho legislators stonewall [pleas to alter the law – discussed below], children in faith-healing communities continue to suffer; According to coroners’ reports, in Canyon County alone just in the past decade at least 10 children in the Followers of Christ church have died. These include 15-year-old Arrian Granden, who died in 2012 after contracting food poisoning. She vomited so much that her esophagus ruptured. Untreated, she bled to death.

“The other deaths are mostly infants who died during at-home births or soon after from treatable complications, simple infections or pneumonia.”

In their way, members of the Followers of Christ sect, are to LDS, as extreme to the extreme as are, say, Lubavitch Hassidics to Judaism – with rules of their own that bare little if any resemblance to the basics of their ‘home’ church. Unlike the extreme Hassidim, though, the likes of the Followers of Christ – and they’re just one of several such extreme sects – look like ‘everybody else’, residing, as they tend to, in areas where there is little racial inter-mixing, scarcely any inter-cultural interaction, very few clearly obvious ‘foreigners’. Hassidim of whatever sect clearly set themselves aside from others through their dress – solid black for men, bearded with, in some sects, long ‘sidelocks’ or sidecurls’ (payot, in Hebrew), and wearing traditional forms of hats, among other distinguishing features.

There was a TV series a few years ago called ‘Big Love’. It centered on a family with one male adult and three females, all living as if they were his legal wives. (They had a massive side-by-side collection of houses, and ‘arrangements’ for sexual liaisons for the man and his assorted mates.)

The concept of ‘legal wives’, plural, is illegal throughout the United States. But one-man-two (or more)-women ‘marriages’ exist, and, for unknown reasons, they are basically ignored by law-enforcement authorities.

The concept of parents being able to deny health care to their children for religious reasons is, however, being challenged. As well it should be.

Take the case of Mariah Walton, who’s now 20, and permanently disabled because her parents refused to let her be treated to close a congenital hole in her heart. That condition could easily have been corrected for a number of years, but now it’s too late; And, rightly so, Mariah is pretty unhappy about that.

“Yes,” she told The Guardian, “I would like to see my parents prosecuted.” Because, she, added, “They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.” Stop other parents from denying their children life- or life-style-saving treatments.

Mariah is frail and permanently disabled as a result of a condition called pulmonary hypertension. When she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. Her life, as you might imagine, leaves much to be desired.

As she grew sicker, in her youth, her parents prayed over her and used ‘alternative medicines’, The Guardian said. The supposedly always-attentive ‘man upstairs’ – if you persist in believing in that myth – obviously was on bathroom breaks during all of their prayer sessions.

Not long ago, Mariah moved out of her parents home. Somehow, she was able to acquire the birth certificate they’d long denied her, and a Social Security number.

She’s probably eligible for, and benefiting from, Medicaid, the government program dedicated to providing (sometimes minimum) health care for seriously ill or disabled individuals with low incomes. The Guardian’s article indicates no income or potential for it for this young lady, whose income would, therefore, fall into the ‘zero to none’ category – making her eligible for both government-paid-for medical help but also for housing and food support.

These are costs that – while I would never deny them to Mariah – are being borne by Americans who pay taxes, who are, in effect, supporting a ‘religious right’ of crazy people. That’s wrong.

The Guardian noted that, “In Canyon County, just west of the capital [of Idaho], the [Followers of Christ] sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a taskforce set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.”

The laws shielding followers of that sect and others from prosecution in Idaho were passed during the Nixon presidency in the 1974, after some high—profile child abuse cases in the 1960’s led Congress to strengthened laws to protect kids. This particular ‘shielding’ section was inserted at the urging of two of Nixon’s key advisors, John Erlichman and J.R. Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists and both key players in the Watergate scandal which revolved around [1] a theft from the Democratic National Committee of assorted documents, [2] the attempt to cover up that theft by Nixon ‘operatives’, and [3] the revelation that the Nixon White House was adorned with microphones and recording systems that tracked virtually everything the president said and did – on his orders. That ‘historic record’ eventually led to the resignation of the president – the first and, so far, only time that’s happened – in August of 1974.

Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explained to The Guardian that, “Because Erlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law.”

It gets more complicated – and more ridiculous, legally – but the bottom line is, Oregon was slow to react and conform to a provision of that law until it because obvious, through news and ancillary reports, that the Followers of Christ were, by neglect, causing the needless, pointless, death of lots of children.

Slowly, very slowly, prosecutors and courts are catching up with these wingnuts, and prosecutions are resulting – up to and including for criminally negligent homicide (Jeffrey and Marci Beagley in 2010) and criminal mistreatment (Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, 2011, whose daughter, Aylana, was ordered to be treated by a condition that was threatening to blinding her), and second degee manslaughter (Dale and Shannon Hickman, after their newborn son died as a result of a simple, easily-curable infection).

I’ve linked to The Guardian article. It goes on and on – ever more horrifically. Read it; you’ll weep.



Foolish ‘Student’ Sentenced to 15 ‘Hard’ Years in North Korea



A 21-year old American, a student at the University of Virginia, has been sentenced to 15 years of ‘hard labor’ in North Korea for taking as a souvenir a poster featuring a political slogan.

At his age, Otto Warmbier should be aware enough of world affairs – particularly concerning a country he plans to visit – to know that the South Korean government is like few others: It is a based, in effect, on the concept that the country’s leader, no matter his (in-)experience or (lack-of-)knowledge level, is a deity – a walking, talking, bad-decisions-making god, of sorts. That, in a nut shell, is what Kim Jong-il – an overweight idiot with a bad haircut – is.

There was a case a couple of years ago where two/three ‘tourists’ were taken into custody while hiking through a remote part of … was it Iran? Probably. Iran’s leaders, like those in a few other countries, are fanatics with missions no right-thinking person can make a lot of sense of. And this is, or should be, general knowledge – to anyone who reads a newspaper or online news services. And especially to anyone intending to stroll into some such country!

So why, you have to wonder, would two twenty-somethings be wandering around on a magical mystery adventure tour, in the backyard of a country known full-well to abhor Americans and everything America stands for?

I grant you, 15 years is, even for North Korea, a pretty harsh sentence for someone who misappropriated a poster. And in all likelihood, a deal will somehow be worked out so that Warmbier serves only a fraction of the sentenced time.

But it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who put themselves in that position – by [1] even being in North Korea (is he totally nuts?)  and [2] effectively defacing public – nee, ‘sacred’ – property by taking with intend to keep a political poster.

I know this is hardly comparable, but here’s the story: I was in Versailles, France, to visit the palace there – and a grand place it indeed is. Walking back to the train for Paris, I saw a poster in a butcher’s window for a Mozart concert that had taken place the night before. Knowing he really had no further use for it – and assuming he’d allowed it to be placed in his window as a favor to someone – I asked, in my petit Francais, if I could have the poster. He assented, and I carefully conveyed it back to the U.S., where it was, for a long time, a prized feature on one of my office walls. (I have no idea what ever happened to it. I’ve had 39 homes in two countries in my 73 years, and I’m sure most of them have seen something left behind.)

I took many photos in Russia and in Kosovo in 1974. Russia was just then opening itself up to tourists. Kosovo hosted me and a group of German journalists set on touring vineyards and sampling wine for six or so days. (Who keep track of time when you and your colleagues are consuming multiple bottles of wine daily at restaurants where you are a guest of the government – eating, by the way, essentially the same ‘local’ foods twice a day, because Kosovo is small, and most towns have the same or very similar ‘specialties’.)

Never, in either of those countries, both under more-or-less ‘communist’ governments at the time, did I have any problem with my capturing images of things the locals saw every day. Those governments may have been repressive in some ways, but they fully realized the value of hosting foreigners – tourists, in the case of Russia, guests of a wine-exporting company in the other.

North Korea is, or seems to be, bound and determined to remain a pariah nation – existing outside any ‘norm’s established elsewhere in the world, causing, for whatever reason, its people to suffer dietary and an assortment of other sufferings for … what?

The 1950-53 Korean War between the north and south entities on that peninsula was never ‘settled’, in that a truce was agreed, but peace never was. Meanwhile, under a democratic system, the south has prospered, and the north has struggled – hardly seeming to even attempt to overcome the hungers – for food, education, jobs and more – of its people.

Now that miniscule nation, such as it is, is messing around with developing nuclear bomb technology! One has to assume Kim Jong-il  is getting advice as wise in that area – in creating the ability to do nuclear bomb-related harm to neighboring countries, and even the U.S. –as what he hears from whomever is cutting his hair!

Otto Warmbier Humbles himself in N. Korean court, the just-sentence ‘student’

Good luck, Otto.  If you haven’t already, accept that kimchi is both a healthy (cabbage-based) side dish… and one more than likely to distract you, given its strong flavor, from other issues.

By Law: Alabama Low-Earners Can’t Earn 1/3 What State Workers Do



The state of Alabama, never known to be the most forward-looking of territories, has enacted a law barring cities, towns or whatever from enacting minimum wage laws exceeding the federal one, which now is $7.25 per hour. (At 40 hours per week, year round, that provides a worker an almost-impossible-to-live-on $15,080 a year.)

One objective of the law is to prevent Birmingham, the state’s largest city (pop. 212,237 or thereabouts) from mandating a minimum wage of a massive $10.10 an hour – still barely a living wage.

Why did the state legislature find it necessary to create, vote for and pass such a law (which the state’s governor signed an hour or so after it was passed)? Because, simply stated, some well-healed business people opposed Birmingham’s plan to push forward an almost-living-wage minimum wage law. You can assume those business people prevailed, in their lobbying efforts, thanks to their contributions to assorted elected officials – many of whom, you might also assume, are over paid.

I know this is apples and oranges, comparing something going on in one state to something going on in another, but I happened to learn today about the salaries being paid by a Virginia-based member of the House of Representatives to his staff.

Now I fully appreciate that the cost of living in my pretty-damn-rural part of Virginia are nothing like the costs of living in Washington. But not all of his staff members live in the over-priced District of Columbia.

The wealthiest ten percent of people in my town (pop. <4,000) probably earn less than $50k-$60k per year. The average family income, hereabouts, is closer to $30,000.

At least one of our area’s  Congressman’s based-outside-of-Washington staffers is paid more than double the higher of estimates of what our town’s highest earners do.

Doesn’t earn – is paid.

Like professional athletes don’t earn the massive sums too many of them are paid.

But get this: A 2012 report by Alabama’s state personnel department shows that the state’s employees – who more than likely earn less than the state’s elected legislators – pull in an average of $42,966 a year.

Why are taxpayers in Alabama supporting wages at that level for their public servants when they themselves – the poorest of them, anyway – don’t stand a chance of earning much more than one third as much as their public servants’ average wage?

Hamlet said something was rotten in the state of Denmark. I’m saying the same of the state of Alabama.

Most Quoted in Supreme Court Decisions: Bob Dylan


It’s apparent in so many ways that the times are, indeed, a’ changing, and we’ll get a clearer idea of how much they’re changing when the recently deceased Antonin Scalia is replaced on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why? Because for the past few years, with the average of justices falling into that range (a bit more than 70, right now) where ordinary folk are said to be ‘of a certain age’, Bob Dylan has been the songwriter most-quoted by SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the U.S.) justices in their opinions.

More often, perhaps, in dissents, because “you have a little more leeway there,” Chief Justice John Roberts said earlier this month while being interviewed by Dean John F. O’Brian of New England Law – aka The New England School of Law, of Boston.

But what, you may be wondering, does the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice have to do with how often Dylan (or any songwriter) is cited by that court? Simply this: If the new justice is significantly younger, perhaps even than today’s youngest SCOTUS member, Elena Kagan, who is 55, his or her favorite songwriter is likely to be of a more recent vintage than the early Bob Dylan, the vintage that is most-often quoted in the court’s decisions.

Dylan rocked the music world, and musical history, with a huge outpouring of material from 1963 through 1965, a short period, but the time when much of his most memorable work was presented to an often-astonished public. And though he’s been churning out music for more than half a century, many of his best-known works are from that period.

And many of them, including “Blowing in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” have had snippets of lyrics woven into SCOTUS decisions.

The first such reference was by Chief Justice John Roberts, in a 2008 dissent in what actually was a misquote. The issue concerned whether or not collection agencies for pay phone companies had ‘standing’ – a vested interest – in the case at hand. Roberts, citing ‘Blowing in the Wind’ as his ‘authority,’ said, “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

True Dylan fans rightly complained that he’d left out the word ‘ain’t’:  “When you ain’t got nothing…”

The Dylan line most often quoted by justices, at the highest and lower levels, is “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” from “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

And it’s not just courts that quote him: A New York Times article (2/22/16) noted that a recent study found 213 references to Dylan in medical journals.

But, as The Times pondered, will a younger justice – if we get a new 9th justice within any current American’s lifetime – be offering up quotes from, say, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Sting (hopefully not “I’ll be watching you”!) or even Taylor Swift? (Hopefully not “I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go”) (from her ‘Shake It Off’.)

I have about as much interest in her music as she does, I venture to guess, about Supreme Court rulings. But as Dylan noted, in a slightly different context, “It’s alright ma, I’m only sighing.” You could bet against quotes from her showing up in future SCOTUS decisions, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Swift could be quoted because many of her lines are, as Alex B. Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee said of Dylan’s, “pithy, memorable and pointed. They’re great lines on their own, and they’re also really useful to convey the legal concept [a justice] is trying to get across.”

Like many other songwriters, Swift also offers up some amazingly ‘pithy,’ right-to-the-point lyrics.

I mention her only because I have great admiration for her devotion to her craft, and for her business acumen.

I read a profile article on her recently, and she appears – if what was said can be believed – to devote herself about 97% to that craft. The rest of the time, she sleeps. We should all be so fortunate!