2/28/09

Fairleigh Dickinson University Newspaper: Egypt is a City

 
I picked up a copy of the local school's newspaper on Friday. From this story on page 6 it looks to me like Fairleigh Dickinson University, "The Leader in Global Education," needs to be more  focused on teaching their students about the difference between a foreign country and a city.

2/27/09

Halleluyah, the Vatican Clobbers Richard Williamson for his fake apology

Halleluyah, the Vatican has clobbered Richard Williamson for his fake apology. No more games now. He has not repented of his evil, pernicious hatred. He has not recanted his Holocaust denial. CNN reports further that he is, "under investigation for Holocaust denial in Germany, where it is a crime."
Vatican: Holocaust denier's apology not enough
  • Vatican says apology by Holocaust-denying bishop is not enough
  • Bishop Richard Williamson regretted hurt he caused but did not recant
  • On Swedish TV, he said Hitler did not set out to murder Jews or use gas chambers
  • Williamson suspended from performing priestly functions until he recants
ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The Vatican said Friday it is not satisfied by the apology issued by a Catholic bishop who denied the Holocaust, saying the cleric must still clearly "distance himself" from the controversial comments.

Bishop Richard Williamson, who is now in England, issued a statement Thursday saying he regretted making the remarks. But he did not retract them or say he had changed his mind about the Holocaust.

A Vatican spokesman pointed out that the apology, which was posted on a Catholic Web site, was not addressed to Pope Benedict XVI.

"The bishop's 'statement' does not appear to respect the conditions set by the secretariat of state on February 4, 2009, whereby he must also distance himself in an absolutely unequivocal and public from his stand regarding the Shoah (Holocaust)," said Padre Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

Williamson said in an interview with Swedish television that he did not believe that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler deliberately set out to murder Jews or that there were gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp...more...

Campaign Against Jewish Children Smoking Cigarettes on Purim

Ultra-Orthodox children in Israel are given their first cigarette on Purim.

This Israeli anti-smoking campaign is clear - smoking cigarettes is killer number one.
Rabbis to battle smoking in haredi public
'Cigarette- the number one killer' - Anti-smoking campaign launched...
Jerusalem Municipality, leading haredi leaders join forces to fight widespread phenomenon of smoking in sector through halachic rulings, educational campaign
by Neta Sela

Leading rabbis and the Jerusalem Municipality have joined forces in a battle against the widespread habit of smoking in the haredi public, in light of studies indicating that the sector has the highest rate of smokers in Israeli society.

The Health Ministry and local haredi authorities will also take part in the effort.

In a campaign that will be launched Thursday, rabbis will issue halachic rulings banning smoking. The rulings will be posted on bulletin boards and buses, and published in the community's pamphlets.

The decision to launch the campaign ahead of Purim was based on the fact that during the holiday it is usually considered legitimate for children to smoke cigarettes.

"Studies have shown that most haredi smokers smoked their first cigarette during Purim, as part of a defective practice which permits teenagers, and even children, to smoke on the holiday," Jerusalem Municipal Council Member Shlomo Rosenstein, explained.

"The campaign was made possible in view of the realization among all the bodies entrusted with this issue, that the haredi sector needs a campaign that speaks its language and addresses its codes," added Rosenstein, who heads the project.
Highest smoker rate

In addition to the distribution of relevant halachic rulings, the municipality also plans to institute educational programs on smoking prevention in schools and yeshivot, and open a special training program for educators.

Furthermore, rabbis and yeshiva heads will soon publish a petition slamming the practice of "the first cigarette" on Purim.

Yair Amikam, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said that medical studies indicate that smoking is more prevalent in the haredi sector than in any other sector in Israel, with the rate of smokers standing at 18.5%.

"In the haredi population it is very common to smoke in public places such as yeshivot, reception halls and so on," Amikam added.
[repost from 2008]

Times: Wiped Out Elie Wiesel Calls Madoff a Psychopath

I am not sure why this is news. Sounds like childish name calling. But it is in the Times, it involves a Nobel winner, and so it must be news.
Elie Wiesel Levels Scorn at Madoff
By STEPHANIE STROM

What does Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor who has dedicated his life to fighting hatred and intolerance, think about Bernard L. Madoff?

“ ‘Psychopath’ — it’s too nice a word for him,” Mr. Wiesel said in his first public comments on Mr. Madoff and the Ponzi scheme he is accused of perpetrating on thousands of individuals and charities, including the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

“ ‘Sociopath,’ ‘psychopath,’ it means there is a sickness, a pathology. This man knew what he was doing. I would simply call him thief, scoundrel, criminal.”

Mr. Wiesel’s charity lost $15.2 million, and he and his wife, Marion, lost their life savings. “This was a personal tragedy where we discovered all of a sudden what we had done in 40 years — my books, my lectures, everything — was gone,” said Mr. Wiesel, who shared his story as part of a panel discussion on the Madoff scandal on Thursday.

He said he began investing with Mr. Madoff at the suggestion of an old friend whom he declined to name, “just a wealthy man, not in the financial business.” Mr. Wiesel said, “He too lost $50 million.”

The Wiesels met Mr. Madoff on only two occasions, he said, adding that during one encounter Mr. Madoff had tried to persuade Mr. Wiesel to abandon his post at Boston University, where he teaches the humanities, philosophy and religion, for a chair at Queens College, alma mater of Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth.

“We must have spoken about ethics,” Mr. Wiesel said. “Some learn, and some don’t.”

After seeing how consistently Mr. Madoff generated handsome returns buying fairly plain-vanilla securities — “He bought 100 shares of Coca-Cola and sold 500 shares of Pfizer,” Mr. Wiesel said, describing his understanding of the Madoff strategy — the Wiesels decided to invest their charity’s assets with him as well.

“We checked the people who have business with him, and they were among the best minds on Wall Street, the geniuses of finance,” Mr. Wiesel said. “I am not a genius of finance. I teach philosophy and literature — and so it happened.”

Mr. Wiesel spoke on a panel at the “21” Club moderated by Joanne Lipman, the editor in chief of Portfolio, the Condé Nast magazine devoted to business and finance.

Another panelist, James Chanos, who specializes in short-selling, or betting that certain stock prices will fall, said Mr. Madoff’s investors bore some responsibility for not heeding the warning signs.

“Every checklist of responsible behavior on behalf of fiduciaries broke down here: ‘we’re not going to tell you what we’re in,’ ‘you can’t see where we’re investing,’ the statements weren’t clear, the strip-mall accounting firm,” Mr. Chanos said.

Harvey L. Pitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said that Madoff investors were not the only ones hoodwinked in the last several years, that investors in Wall Street firms also tolerated less-than-ideal transparency. “I really do believe that there was criminality at a lot of these firms,” Mr. Pitt said, citing the different valuations that financial institutions placed on the same financial instruments.

“It’s not per se fraudulent to have different values for different purposes, but someone has to look at that and figure out what was going on,” he said. “These kinds of things reflect more than happenstance or carelessness; they reflect criminality.”

Mr. Wiesel said, however, that spotting problems was not easy. “Remember, there was a myth he created around him, that everything was so special, so unique that it had to be secret,” he said, adding that his charity’s accountants had not identified potential concerns about Mr. Madoff.

He said he was amazed at the outpouring of support for his charity in the wake of the scandal. “Unsolicited, hundreds of people, literally, hundreds of people we have never known sent us money through the Internet, $5, $18, $100, one even $1,000,” he said.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation will hold a benefit concert on May 26 to raise more money, and Mr. Wiesel has a book, “A Mad Desire to Dance,” coming out soon.

Asked what punishment he would like to see for Mr. Madoff, Mr. Wiesel said: “I would like him to be in a solitary cell with only a screen, and on that screen for at least five years of his life, every day and every night, there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, all the time a voice saying, ‘Look what you have done to this old lady, look what you have done to that child, look what you have done,’ nothing else.”
+++

2/26/09

JTA: Bishop Richard Williamson - a bizarre man and an apology denier

When is an apology not an apology? When it is a sick game. But that guy does not care.

Bishop Richard Williamson apologized today for nothing. He did not retract his Holocaust denial or his lifetime of antisemitic preaching and teaching. To an antisocial personality like Williamson everything is a game. To the rest of the world, it's a disgrace.

Here is who this bizarre man is according to an NPR report:
Williamson champions The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forged document from the late 1800s that blames Jews for the problems in Russia at the time. He has called Jews the enemies of Christ and says that they, together with Freemasons, have contributed to the corruption of the Catholic Church.

Rizzo says Williamson expressed such opinions and ultra-orthodox views during spiritual conferences held on Thursday afternoons.

"He was always insisting that women should not wear pants, because that would be an occasion of sin, that women when married should be subjected to their husbands to such a degree — I'll never forget this — that if the wife misbehaves the husband should be willing to beat her," he said.

The 48-year-old priest says Williamson had bad things to say even about a 20th century icon of Catholic charity.

"He would criticize Mother Teresa for false facade of charity, saying, 'Oh yes, she may take care of the poor, but she is still a modernist. We shouldn't fall for her liberal tendencies,' " he said.

Rizzo also recalls that when Williamson taught sacred scriptures, he would often espouse conspiracy theories and attack the American government — a theme he would pick up in a 2007 lecture in London where he described the United States as a police state.

"And I hope none of you believe that 9/11 is what it was presented to be," Williamson said at the time. "Of course two towers came down, but it was absolutely for certain not two airplanes which brought down those two towers; they were professionally demolished by a series of demolition charges from top to bottom of the towers."
And here is his latest non-apology according to a JTA report and I just don't know why they gave it the misleading title that it bears...
Bishop apologizes for Holocaust remarks

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Bishop Richard Williamson apologized for making comments minimizing the Holocaust, but he did not recant them.

"The Holy Father and my Superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, have requested that I reconsider the remarks I made on Swedish television four months ago, because their consequences have been so heavy," Williamson said in a statement published Thursday by the Zenit Catholic News Agency.

Pope Benedict XVI sparked a furor last month when he reinstated Williamson and three other excommunicated bishops, all members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, just days after Williamson told Swedish TV that he believed "that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler." He said no more than a few hundred Jews died in Europe during World War II.

This week, Williamson expressed regret for making the remarks.

"Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them," he said.

Williamson concluded, "To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize. As the Holy Father has said, every act of injust violence against one man hurts all mankind."

The founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Survivors, Menachem Rosensaft, called Williamson's apology unacceptable, noting that the bishop expressed regret for voicing his opinion but did not disavow his views about the Holocaust.

2/25/09

Madoff and Merkin - the Pioneers of Odianthropy

On the way home tonight I decided we need to invent a whole new word to describe what Madoff and Merkin have done to the world of charities. Consider this.
  • Where you are wealthy and give to charities, that we know is called philanthropy.
  • Where you are wealthy and take from charities, that shall henceforth be an act called odianthropy.
A person who misappropriates funds that other people contributed philanthropically shows an utter contempt for humankind. It is a particularly detestable, odious, offensive and repellent act.

Madoff and Merkin then in my vocabulary are pioneering odianthropists, that is, practitioners of odianthropy.

As we finally finish our review of Steve Fishman's article in NY Mag, we note that Fishman concludes that while he served on the board of trustees of Yeshiva University, odianthropist J. Ezra Merkin helped himself to $10 million in fees that derived from the philanthropic gifts of others.

Here is the pithy narrative that Fishman assembles in that odious chapter of the Monster Mensch, How Ezra Merkin fleeced Yeshiva University.
And so Ezra took Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities places Bernie couldn’t have dreamed of going by himself. The list of people and institutions that Ezra Merkin put with Bernie Madoff is a kind of Jewish social register. There was Mort Zuckerman, the media and real-estate mogul, and Ira Rennert, chairman of Fifth Avenue Synagogue and owner of a 68-acre oceanfront Hamptons estate. Over 30 charities invested with Ezra, many of them with a Jewish affiliation. Ramaz was in, as was Yeshiva. Not every investor says they knew that Ezra’s fund Ascot was fully invested with Madoff, an assertion that will be at issue in forthcoming lawsuits. Ezra maintains that, at the very least, he let people know that he might invest with other managers. And in some instances, he claims he was more direct. In the case of Yeshiva, with perhaps the largest endowment of any nonprofit he managed, he did report a relationship with Bernie, though it appears not to have been the real one.

Ezra had served as chairman of Yeshiva’s investment committee since about 1994. Not long after that, the committee directed $14.5 million of Yeshiva’s endowment to Ascot, which Ezra passed along to Madoff, collecting his usual fee, initially one percent and later 1.5 percent, standard for all of Yeshiva’s money managers.

Yeshiva saw no conflict of interest or, if it did, didn’t mind. The university required nothing more than that those who served on the investment committee disclose that they were doing business with the university. The 2003 disclosure to the board, a copy of which was obtained by New York Magazine, reported that Ezra was managing about 10 percent of Yeshiva’s endowment through four different funds. For his efforts, he collected over $2 million in fees, almost $1 million for Ascot alone.

That 2003 memo stated that Madoff was Ascot’s “executing broker,” a term that means he was executing buy and sell orders, supposedly those dictated by Ascot. In fact, though Merkin looked at Madoff’s statements every month, and they were detailed and thorough, and questioned him about his accounts, he left the trading—or, as we now know, lack thereof—to Madoff. Some now wonder about the propriety of the chairman of the investment committee’s taking fees for simply passing along money to Bernie—especially since Bernie was elected to Yeshiva’s board of trustees in 1996, when Hermann served as vice-chairman. Why not just give the money directly to Bernie and save Yeshiva the fee? To some, it seemed like Ezra was skimming profits, and from an institution he loved.

Whatever fudging there’d been in the disclosures, Ezra did well for Yeshiva—in fourteen years, the fund grew 9 percent a year, even after subtracting losses for Madoff and expenses. And he did well for himself; certainly, he made at least $10 million from Yeshiva over his tenure.
Source: New York Magazine, "The Monster Mensch. What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?" by Steve Fishman, published Feb 22, 2009. 

Kindle 2 was at my door! Woot.

It's awesome. Sleek and sexy. Tiny little cute chicklet keys! Solid feel. Web browser slow but works even on Tzvee's Talmudic Blog and that is all that matters (91 screens for our index page). The little joystick takes us back fifteen years.

We'll be trying lots of two week free introductory subscriptions, started already with the WSJ.

There will be a lot to say as we use it. This one is a keeper!

We think it will be our next Harris Epstein best invention award winner.

PS - if you decide that you are going to buy one, kindly remember to come back here and click on our kindle ad in the column on the right to order - please support our blog!

Star Tribune: New York City drops to #2 in worst traffic rankings


Shockers. Twin Cities jumps to #10 and New York City drops to #2 in the worst traffic rankings:
  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. Chicago
  4. Dallas-Ft. Worth
  5. Washington D.C.
  6. Houston
  7. San Francisco
  8. Boston
  9. Seattle-Tacoma
  10. Twin Cities

John Biggs on Crunch Gear - Top 10 reasons to buy an Amazon Kindle 2

Hi John,
I like your Kindle review! Regards to Joanna.
Tzvee
Having used both Kindles 1 and 2, I thought it would helpful to list where the new Kindle excels and where it falters. The dead tree book will never die - I think it will even have more longevity and popularity than the boutique appreciation of vinyl records - but our generation will be the last to use “books” as our primary reading systems. Expect ebooks to hit colleges in perhaps five years and high schools and grade schools in about 7. That said, should you buy a Kindle now? Why and why not?...more...

Bernie Madoff and Victor Teicher and Ezra Merkin as financial terrorists


One highly condensed vignette from Fishman's NY Mag narrative is crafted to sound like a matter-of-fact account of the Ezra-Victor relationship that began 21 years ago. We read it as a flawed crime narrative. In this unsatisfying story, there is no heroic detective, no crime busting sheriff. The bad guys are not caught by forces of good.

Maybe Fishman's characterization is right and Madoff really is the arch criminal, the Joker of Wall Street. I'm just too uncomfortable granting him the stature of such mythic evil. And as I said, there's no Batman and Robin to the rescue in this story.

I prefer it if they'd knock Madoff and his cronies down to where they belong. Perhaps these guys should be portrayed as terrorist maniacs whose religion is cosmic greed.

Madoff and Merkin and Teicher – suicide bombers.

Madoff admits his evil – end of story for him. Merkin plays innocent – he reads and believes his own press releases. Teicher protests his new-found honesty and demands to be treated as a rehabilitated soul.

Main point: These "money managers" were brought down by their own misdeeds. They self destructed – blew themselves up – and they had to know that they would. You may say no, these are not terrorists. How can you make such a comparison?

I could say look around at the bodies lying all over the landscape. In their chosen and inevitable self-immolation these terrorists of greed took with them, in the resulting devastation and shrapnel, hordes of nearby innocent victims.

Anyway here is how Fishman narrates this chapter, the Ezra-Victor relationship.
…the first of Ezra’s finds was Victor Teicher. Teicher, a colorful, uncontrollable character with a faulty internal censor, was not the confidence-instilling type to put in front of prospective investors. But he had an instinctive gift for financial opportunity. Early on, he concentrated on merger arbitrage, betting on whether one firm would take over another. In this, he had some help. In 1986, he was investigated for insider trading in connection with what was known as the Yuppie Five case, in which young professionals at blue-chip firms passed along inside information about upcoming mergers.

The indictment might have put Teicher out of business, but he had been earning returns as high as 20 percent a year, and so most of his investors stayed. Merkin too was enticed by the returns, and beginning in 1988, the year Teicher was indicted, he started putting a substantial portion of the money he raised for Gabriel Capital with Teicher. Ezra kept 20 percent of the profits for his troubles, and gave Teicher half. Since Ezra was technically raising money for Gabriel and its offshore twin, Ariel, he didn’t need to cloud the waters by mentioning Teicher’s controversial name, a lapse that New York University alleges in a lawsuit. In 1992, the year Teicher was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, he was running about $500 million, perhaps three-quarters of that from Ezra’s investors.

Teicher spent most of 1994 in prison. When he got out expecting to return to work, Ezra decided to separate. The business was running well without Teicher’s day-to-day oversight. And, Ezra told Teicher, his lawyers thought working with a convicted felon wasn’t a great idea. Ezra threatened to yank his money. So Teicher gave in. In January 1995, Ezra took over the staff, put Gabriel Capital’s name on the door, and hired Nathan Leight, now at Terrapin Partners, to manage the money.

Teicher operated on his own until August 1998, when Ezra called again. It was a troubled year for the markets, and he needed help. Teicher, then running about $50 million, jumped at the chance and was soon managing roughly $1 billion for Ezra as an independent operator. It was a profitable arrangement for both—Teicher turned the fund around, and he might have continued except that in January 2000, with his appeals exhausted, the SEC finally banned Teicher from running other people’s money. Ezra replaced Teicher. But by then, Ezra was also showering money on another genius: Bernie Madoff.

… For Ezra, Madoff’s returns weren’t eye-popping—Teicher did better—though his average of more than 12 percent a year was more than respectable. But the real selling point was Bernie’s consistency—barely a down month in more than a decade.

There were many for whom Madoff’s consistency was a giant red flag. The SEC missed it, but Teicher, the inside trader, was a skeptic. Ezra and Teicher talked about Madoff on and off for years. Teicher scoffed. “The thing seemed ridiculous,” Teicher told Ezra. But then, Ezra must have thought, Teicher generally didn’t like anyone’s ideas but his own.
Source: New York Magazine, "The Monster Mensch. What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?" by Steve Fishman, published Feb 22, 2009.

Professor Jonathan Sarna Puts Bernie Madoff into historical context

I know Jonathan Sarna. This Brandeis newspaper article is not a fair representation of the Sarna that I know.
Prof puts Madoff
by Destiny Aquino

Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) spoke to students about the historical perspective of the Bernard L. Madoff scandal and its effects on the Jewish community during a Feb. 11 event.

The event, called "Why were we susceptible to the Madoff scandal?" was held over dinner in Sherman Dining Hall and was sponsored by Brandeis University Conservative Organization.

Madoff, a former chairman of the NASDAQ composite, was accused of running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, a fraud operation in which investors are paid out of the money input by other investors rather than out of profits. Although many Brandeis donors such as Carl and Ruth Shapiro invested with Madoff and lost much of their wealth, the University did not invest any money with Madoff.

Sarna said that the stock market crash of 2008 caused most people to tighten their budgets and be more careful with their spending habits. "The stock market collapse not only led to a decline in every Jewish organization's endowment but also to a big loss in donations, and that of course meant that a lot of people that had invested money with people like Madoff suddenly needed that money," Sarna explained. "The minute you need money, a Ponzi scheme collapses," he said.

Sarna explained that affinity fraud, a system that relies on the trust in a group of people, was Madoff's main tool in his Ponzi scheme. "That's one of the reasons one chooses to belong to a Jewish community: They're all related to one another; they all trust one another. … But all good things have an evil twin. The evil twin of trust is betrayal," he said.

Sarna closed his lecture by speaking about impact with "regard to [the] loss of wealth in the Jewish community due to the stock market crash and the Madoff scandal. ... The truth is that the Jewish community can no longer afford all the things that it's doing."

Sarna said that the future of Jewish donation is unknown but that he is curious to see if it returns to an older system of receiving smaller gifts from large groups of people rather than larger donations from fewer "mega donors," which has been the norm for many years, he said.

Lisa Aremband '11 explained her motives for coming to the event: "I didn't really understand a lot of the Madoff scandal, so it was good to get a professor's view. It was definitely helpful, and I feel like I understand a lot better how it happened and the effects that made it happen."

Gideon Klionsky '11 said that "hearing the insight of one of the greatest Jewish educational minds in the field today is important." "It's just really interesting to hear the foresight of Sarna and also the hindsight since he's been around in the field for a long time, ... . and to hear his interpretation is really eye-opening," Klionsky said.

2/24/09

Steve Fishman in NY Mag: The Bluffer as Scholar - Ezra Merkin fashioned his illusion on emptiness

When praise is anonymous, it is meaningless.

And so at the cutting edge of emptiness we find the praise of Ezra Merkin that was cited by Steve Fishman in his otherwise generally praiseworthy essay:
“Pious, prayerful, and profound,” said a fellow congregant. Said a business colleague, “He is one of the wisest men on Wall Street.”
What context produced the great deception, the illusion that we now attribute to Mr. Ezra Merkin? It was nothing less than a mere breakaway minyan - a group of unruly, disaffected Jews who were cast out of the established synagogues of the upper East Side of Manhattan.

The rabbi and leaders of Zichron Ephraim (now the Park East Synagogue) would no longer tolerate the outrageous antics of the Merkins and their ilk. They were cast out onto the street. So they had no recourse if they wanted to attend services in an Orthodox Jewish house of worship other than to reconstitute themselves into another shul,
…In 1958, when Ezra was 5, Hermann co-founded the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, a congregation that would become perhaps the richest in the country. The synagogue, a monument to Hermann’s accomplishments, would be under his control for years. And he guided it forcefully—he had little patience for communal decisions—turning it into a haven for modern Orthodoxy as well as a center for his own religious education. Hermann put a premium on education. Yanked out of school as a teenager, he was a frustrated intellectual. At home, a learned Jewish text was often open on his desk, next to the Wall Street Journal. He regularly attended Talmud classes at the synagogue, until a few days before he died at 91 in 1999.
Indeed, Hermann, the unlettered son of Leibl the Goniff, a furrier with a penchant for rising during services to shout like an inebriate at the rabbi, had no choice but to set up his own place of worship.

No other synagogue would admit him to pray. And that son Hermann would tell a tale of mock-piety that made the Torah scroll's themselves weep in embarrassment.
…But once a week, on Shabbos, Hermann ceded the floor to his eldest son, his Torah prodigy. Wearing a tie, Ezra commenced an exegesis of the next day’s Torah portion. He was professorial, playing it up. It was one of the few things Ezra did that elicited unrestrained paternal approval.
Huzzah. The grandson of the goniff ostensibly had managed to make up for his irksome heritage.
After high school at Ramaz, the Upper East Side Orthodox day school, Ezra attended two yeshivas in Israel, then Columbia and Harvard Law, and swiftly climbed through the world his father built. “There was never a time when he wasn’t a success,” says an acquaintance.
Again, anonymous praise and now the added approbation of the unlettered paraded about as if it were acceptance of a work of scholarship approved for publication in a refereed journal.

What a vacant tale of the bluffer as the scholar:
With investors, Ezra was a showman. He likes a stage, and likes to show off his storehouse of knowledge. He could talk Talmud with rabbis, or politics with a Ph.D.; he sent articles to Ruth Madoff, which Bernie shared and reported. “It made me better read,” Bernie would say.

Ezra could be impatient with slower minds—“uninhibited” in his disregard, says one. But with those he considered equals, and with his clients, he was a pleaser. “He does not like to disappoint,” says one friend. And for all his erudition, he had another winning quality. He didn’t mind poking fun at himself. The key to success is sincerity, he’d confide. If you can fake it, you’ve got everything.

A couple of business associates later complained, as one put it, “He’ll talk about things factually but not necessarily in any relation to facts. For some reason, he makes things up, and not for any advantage to himself, necessarily.” Perhaps rounding the edges made for a more convincing presentation. And most found him convincing. At the UJA-Federation, where he headed the investment committee for ten years, “he would speak conceptually of economic matters,” says one attendee from outside the financial world. “The word you heard after he left the room was ‘dazzling.’ ”
And so Ezra fashioned his illusion, he faked it, he made things up.

In the company of ignoramuses, his basic Hebrew literacy became genius. In the context of the unsophisticated businessmen, his basic finance vocabulary waxed astonishing.

As we know now all of this was not just the vanity of vanities and a striving after wind. It was the smokescreen that enabled a fraud that cost good people their life's savings and took essential funds from needy charities.

Source: New York Magazine, "The Monster Mensch. What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?" by Steve Fishman, published Feb 22, 2009.

Steve Fishman in NY Magazine: Final Act - Ezra Merkin after the fall

Every staged tragic drama has its final act where the curtain comes down and the audience applauds and then files out of the theater. Sometimes the stage is littered with dead bodies and the tragic figure is left standing, or he is led off in chains, or he too groans and staggers and falls to the ground, dead.

The Madoff-Merkin tragedy - in the version artfully written by Steve Fishman in NY Mag - does not end with a classic final curtain but with sort of a post-modern fade-out wherein one tragic actor ruminates about his fate after the sound and fury of the drama ends. Fishman paints for us Ezra Merkin, trying to visualize his life after the fall from the cosmic Eden which he inhabited.

The implications for Ezra are easily laid out by anyone who follows the story. He may be indicted for crimes. He won't be sitting on the bimah next to the rabbi. He will be whiling away the days in court or depositions or meeting with lawyers. He won't be known as the sage and wise genius and saint. He will be pointed at as the tricky and sly victimizer and pathetic victim rolled into one.

But we know that life is not a drama played out on a stage. In real life, Ezra will be doomed to live with himself. Every day Ezra will interrogate Ezra and ask how and why he failed to realize that he was not ever the sage and hero of the fictive narrative.

We were told in one of the news accounts that Ezra is a big baseball fan. So maybe it is apt to boil down his days after leaving the major leagues as follows.

Now because of his actions Merkin will never be eligible for the Hall of Fame. His records, whatever they may have been, will always be marked with a big bold asterisk.

The speculative end of Fishman's lengthy article...
Merkin is ruined

... Ezra Merkin is ruined. “His life as he knew it is over and not coming back,” says brother Sol, adding, “he doesn’t deserve this.” Ezra is winding down his funds. He’s been all but exiled from many of the communities he cared about. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State attorney general, is investigating whether Ezra misled the charities whose endowments he managed in order to enrich himself. He resigned as chairman of GMAC at the insistence of the U.S. government, one condition for bailing out the lender with $5 billion. For the moment, observant Ezra still sits on the bema every Saturday, in the spot designated for the synagogue president. Some in the congregation are scandalized, and some will sue him, it is almost certain. It’s not practical to sue Madoff. There are no assets left. And so they will take their turns with Ezra—who, as general partner, is personally liable. “He will spend the rest of his life in court,” says one attorney. Ironically, the sage will plead ignorance for the remainder of his days.

And yet, in another way, it’s not over. It’s just beginning. Ezra Merkin is fascinated—“extremely fascinated,” he sometimes tells friends—to know what will happen next in his life.

About Madoff’s victims, the ones whose funds Merkin was supposed to be safeguarding, he is matter-of-fact. He tells friends, “I lost a lot of people a lot of money.” There’s something slightly obtuse in this. Nearly every day brings accounts of shuttered charities, of retirements ruined, of houses suddenly put up for sale. Shouldn’t he be rending himself? But he was tricked like everyone else, he says, and tells himself he’s got to be resilient, show fortitude. And so he talks to himself about what he has. A loving wife, four devoted children—he is a much better father than Hermann. “I have to get through this,” he tells people, if one can. As for the future, he doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be. Ezra has lately been proclaiming himself free of the need for money and prestige, those things that shaped his life. He can start anew, reinvent himself. We’ll be all right, he thinks. Ezra understands as well as anyone the role his financial success played. Money has been central to his life. It put those breathtaking Rothkos on the wall and elevated him to society’s loftiest ranks. Things will change now. He’s begun to think along other lines. He says he might pursue something more on the contemplative side, reading or writing. Whatever this evolves into, “it doesn’t have to be a wealthy lifestyle for us to be happy,” Ezra tells friends, then adds, “I don’t think.”
Source: New York Magazine, "The Monster Mensch. What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?" by Steve Fishman, published Feb 22, 2009.

2/23/09

WSJ: Amazon's Kindle 2 versus competitor Indigo Shortcovers

Our Amazon Kindle 2 shipped today. We'll have it in hand and review it this week. I hope they got it right this time after all the hype.
Kindle 2 Arrives, and So Do Rivals

By Geoffrey A. Fowler
The second generation of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader started shipping Monday – one day early to ensure Amazon meets a promised February 24 launch, the company said.

And there appears to be plenty more where that came from. The gadget is “in stock” on the Amazon Web site, for now, despite being the site’s top seller in electronics since it was introduced on February 9. That’s a big improvement from the supply problems that plagued the first generation of the device, which sold out soon after being unveiled in 2007 and was also out of stock for most of last year’s holiday shopping season.

kindle2Amazon won’t say how many Kindle 2 devices are shipping today, or how many Kindles have sold overall. In a statement, Amazon vice president Ian Freed said, “The response from customers to Kindle 2 has been tremendous.” (Enthusiasts can watch Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos talking about the device tonight on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central.)

Yet already a new service from a major bookseller, calling itself a “Kindle Killer,” is hoping to steal some of Kindle’s thunder. On Thursday, Canadian bookseller Indigo Books & Music is planning to launch Shortcovers, an e-book reading and buying program that works on devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones, and in the coming months on other smartphone systems including Symbian and Windows, as well as on other gadgets such as the Palm Pre.

“We think the ability to use your existing device is definitely going to be a convenient aspect to the service, especially for a consumer that isn’t an avid reader,” said Michael Serbinis, the executive vice president of Shortcovers in an interview with this blog. Shortcovers says it will also distinguish itself with features that allow users to read the first chapter of books for free, as well as buy just single chapters of a book at a time. That could be helpful, for example, if you want just the chapter on one city in one of those chunky travel guides.

The service is clearly targeted at a younger, more attention-deficit afflicted reader, coming with the ability to share comments, create tags, and even Twitter while you read. “People are reading differently than they would with a print edition of a book. They are reading in shorter bursts, with higher frequency,” said Serbinis. “One eye is busy reading while the other eye is looking for authority, and context and relevance.”

Amazon spokesman Craig Berman said his company is also working on making Kindle books available on cellphones, but doesn’t have any details to share. Moreover, Amazon maintains there’s still plenty of need for a gadget that’s dedicated to plain old reading. “We also know that lots of people, especially people who love to read, want a purpose built-reading device, for the same reason you have a cell phone and a digital camera—you want a dedicated device for the things you love,” he said.

Steve Fishman's Amazing Account of Madoff and Merkin in NY Magazine

Steve Fishman's, "The Monster Mensch" is an amazing account of the Bernie Madoff and Ezra Merkin tragedy accompanied by some striking art by Riccardo Vecchio.

He asks, "What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?"

Fishman will be roundly criticized for making the story all too human and allowing the tragic personalities to speak for themselves without intruding his judgment into the narrative. Hey, that's just what a good journalist does.

And after all, it is a tragic drama when people act badly on such a grand scale. In fact after reading the Fishman piece I can almost visualize an opera called, "The Monster Mensch" someday opening at the Met.

We hope to come back on the blog here and look at passages from the article later with more analysis.

I managed to read through it with the TV on and while cradling my 3 year old grandson who we are babysitting and who just refused to go to sleep tonight. No I didn't read the essay to him. He finally dozed off while watching the Academy Awards about the time I finished reading the lengthy article.

2/22/09

Is CNBC's Rick Santelli out of his mind?

It was just last week that we praised CNBC's David Faber for his award-caliber "House of Cards" documentary. Now this.

What to do when a business reporter goes off the deep end while on the air supposedly doing his serious job?

The Times ("CNBC Replays Its Reporter’s Tirade") sums up the Rick Santelli affair in a report that strikes an incredulous tone. Within the article it summarizes the nutty on air event (in case you missed it):
Mr. Santelli is normally a strait-laced newsman; he has reported live from the Chicago Board of Trade for 10 years. But in an appearance on the morning show “Squawk Box” on Thursday, he suggested a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest the administration’s housing plans.

“The government is promoting bad behavior,” he said, and later implied comparisons to Cuba and asked the traders around them whether they wanted to pay their neighbors’ delinquent mortgages. When the traders started to boo, Mr. Santelli said, “President Obama, are you listening?”
I'm not going to link to the video. It's embarrassing. Nor will I harp on the obvious "bad behavior" irony.

Yes, Mr. Santelli, we were all listening and we now are waiting to hear your abject apology for your unprofessional actions.

Is Meet the Press Host David Gregory Jewish?

Yes, David Gregory is Jewish and embraces and practices Judaism.

We just received an email [HT to Mimi] with a link to his blog, "The View From Here. Updates from the Host of Meet the Press."

The top of the blog image today (and it may be the permanent image) is David overlooking the Dead Sea at sunrise.

And what a nice surprise. In a blog post of 2/18/09, "Making room for the spiritual," David extols his Shabbat experience and speaks about the Torah he has learned this week:
Over bagels and eggs this week a friend who is a well known Washington rabbi described “Aha!” spiritual moments. You know, those times in our lives, when we say, "Aha!" This is what it means to be alive and filled with a sense of purpose and meaning in our spiritual life.

I experience it when we gather as a family on Shabbat to put money in the Tzedekah box and take a moment to say who we are thinking of and how fortunate we are to be the hand that gives.

In my new job, I find the work week even more involved and absorbing than before so I am particularly comforted by a prayer I read in my siddur (prayer book). It thanks God for calling us to light the Sabbath candles because, without this mitzvah, I might have never slowed down enough to remind myself what life is really about and about the greater purpose we all have.

Speaking of purpose, I studied Deuteronomy with my teacher this past week and we focused on the idea that God “opens our hearts that we may live.” What does it mean to open your heart to someone else or to God?....more...

A Peek into the Gilded Penthouse Incarceration of Bernie Madoff





I'm amazed at these two images clipped from a 20/20 ABC News video. They show Bernie Madoff sitting in his penthouse on 64th and Lexington at his desk in front of his Apple notebook computer and surfing the Internet or reading his email.

I have to side with activist Al Sharpton who protested February 7 that,
"There must be one standard for all, and not one based on income," Sharpton said at the protest on Manhattan's affluent Upper East Side.

He added that Madoff, who is under house arrest, was experiencing "a kind of gilded penthouse incarceration."
And this sentiment has been escalated now by Steve Rosenbaum on the HuffPost who  brings us these images and asks, "President Obama... I have to ask, why isn't Bernie Madoff behind bars?"
Until the Federal Government comes down on all of them with a hammer, puts them behind bars, seizes their assets, and looks to make investors whole, the average investor isn't going to be able to tell the difference between the legitimate market and the increasingly large number of stock scammers who've created Ponzi schemes and ruined the lives of mom-and-pop investors whose life savings are now wiped out....

Restoring faith in the market will require holding criminals who've undermined the market responsible. Anything less will leave average American's faith shaken, and the markets without the participation of the retail investor.
Yep. That hits the nail on the head. I'm that retail investor and I'm staying 100% cash until further notice.

A Snarky Walter Kirn Does Not Like David Danby's new little book "Snark"

Writing in the Times, Walter Kirn lets us know that he does not like David Danby's new little book "Snark."

For the uninitiated, the word "snark" is a combination of the words "snide" and "remark". It ususally denotes a form of sarcasm in a blog post or online comment thread.

Two points. First, are we snarky in our blog posts and comments? Sure, sometimes, that's what a blog is for. But we try to be nicely snarky. And we try to mix our limited snarkiness with clever, witty, insightful, Talmudically analytical, and yes, even thoughtful observations.

Second, and ironic to note, I actually think that Kirn is intentionally snarky in his review of Denby's "Snark."

You can read a chapter here. And below is the second part of the review, "Insult as Injury," from the Times Book Section, with gratuitous references to Ivan Boesky and Bernie Madoff thrown in by Kirn for reasons only he can fathom,
...No, what really bugs Denby’s mandarin side is a much subtler species of expression: humor that celebrates “the power to ridicule” and is indulged in by semi-sophisticates who seek to sound clued-in and hip so as to soothe their feelings of “dispossession” and elevate their wounded self-esteem by sneering at folks like — get ready to be outraged! — the convicted insider trader Ivan Boesky, whose notorious taste in gaudy baubles was once satirized in the late Spy magazine.

And that, sir, is snark, society’s arch­enemy — making light fun of vulgar criminal robber barons who steal more in a month than Capone stole in a decade. This manner, this “snark,” and the motives he imputes to it, are treated by Denby as more ominous for our future prospects as a people than the invective of K.K.K. grand wizards. What he views as outbreaks of unacknowledged envy for the extremely wealthy and conspicuous by the comparatively poor and plain (masquerading as people of taste and virtue when, in fact, they’re merely climbers) is positively intolerable to him. And just as complicit in this grave offense (grave to Denby, but natural to the masses; see The National Enquirer and its routine photos of stars without their makeup) are the readers who laugh at such upstart snottiness. They should be bigger than that, somehow. Less petty.

A portion of Denby’s diatribe against the leveling impulse behind much humor now (a now when the high and mighty aren’t leveled enough, but stroll around freely on Manhattan streets wearing widows’ lost pension money as jewelry) consists of a series of chapters about the past whose cutesy archaic Dickensian titles display all too clearly what Denby has to fear from the off-the-cuff jokers of the Face­book age. Exhibit A: “A Brief, Highly Intermittent History of Snark, Part 2, in which the author brings his search almost to the present era, celebrating and deploring certain publications and exposing the snarky tendencies of a famous author.” When he finally reaches the present era, Denby pronounces Tom Wolfe and Maureen Dowd masters of “snarky mimesis” and settles on two epicenters of snark located on opposite sides of the Atlantic: Private Eye, a British publication that he deems an outpost of postcolonial Anglo bitterness, and Spy, the aforementioned American magazine whose golden age was the late ’80s and whose editors, Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen, are sniffed at as new-to-New York City provincials stuffed with dreams of metropolitan glamour and disgust for the “wicked” city they ended up in. As someone who worked at Spy and knows a bit about what went on there while Denby wasn’t present, I find his portrayal of the place inaccurate — and his charges against it frail and dim. “The editors wanted to find out where the power was, though their fascination was severely limited in range. Finance and the media . . . obsessed them.” To take on New York’s two most conspicuous, intimidating and seemingly invincible industries wasn’t limited at all, of course, but, if anything rather predictable and obvious. Denby then engineers an accusation that’s even more moronic and meaningless. “Spy . . . did not want its victims to disappear. It wanted them to hang around so they could be attacked again and again. The magazine and its subjects were mutually dependent on each other.”

How very true. As The New Republic is dependent on the government and Motor Trend on General Motors, Spy indeed relied upon its subjects. So as to have subjects, like any magazine. One, the main one perhaps, was Donald Trump, who consistently outpaced the efforts of even his most fanciful critics to lampoon his own persona, climaxing in the series “The Apprentice,” whose explosive, ill-mannered, grotesque main character raised and doubled every snarky charge that Spy ever hit him with, and seemed proud to do so. Would Denby have rather had the magazine pick targets less maniacally vain and clawingly ubiquitous? If Spy on Trump was quintessential snark, then snark is mandatory in certain cases.

In others, it’s woefully absent or understated, which can breed disaster. Bernard Madoff, where were you in 1987? If Spy could have gotten its ink-stained paws on him, there might be a few more liquid Jewish charities now. Snickering at power has it uses, whatever Denby imagines drives the snickerers, and however he belittles their spitting prose. Playing polite, though, exacts a higher price — and one that Denby seems strangely willing to pay for the sake of . . . what? It’s hard to know. One almost wonders if what he so deplores about what he calls “the hunting of the snark” is that, invariably — given his obtuseness about the necessity of irreverent laughter, even if it’s rude, unfair or lamebrained, in revealing or merely helping to abide perceived arrogance and fraudulence — someday the snark would come for books like his.

Mazal tov to the great Jewish comedian Jerry Lewis on receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

Tonight the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will give Jerry Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In 1962 when I was a school kid in the Manhattan Day School on 104th Street and Manhattan Avenue, my classmate Bella recruited me to join the Jerry Lewis Fan Club. I've been impressed ever since with the enormous talent, character and generosity of this performer.

Jerry deserves the award. The Times has a nice article, here is part,
... He was born Joseph Levitch in Newark on March 16, 1926, the only child of vaudevillians who, during the school year, left him with relatives while they hit the road. He didn’t stay behind for long: by the age of 5 he was warbling the Depression standard “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” in the borscht belt, where, as a teenager, he worked as a tummler, a hotel social director cum court jester whose job it was to keep guests entertained at any madcap cost. By 19 he was a high-school dropout with a wife (the first of two), a baby (the first of seven) and a struggling career lip-synching to records in funny outfits, making like Carmen Miranda with a fruit-bowl hat as “Jerry Lewis — Satirical Impressions in Pantomimicry.”

The partnership with Martin, with whom he joined forces in 1946, turned them into a national phenomenon. There had been plenty of comedy teams before — Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby — but Martin and Lewis added something to the mix. They were sexy, for starters (well, one of them anyway), as well as sexed up. (Jerry liked to plant kisses on Dean.) And they were overtly ethnic: the suave Italian-American and the jittery Jewish American who, with a sprinkling of Yiddish, seduced mainstream America. By 1950 the dream team was so popular thousands of screaming fans waited outside their Times Square hotel, a scene that’s self-reflexively captured in their 1953 musical comedy, “The Stooge.” ...

2/21/09

Want to Join a Non-Denominational Online Discussion of Religion? Try the Amazon Forums

I don't follow them. But wow, I just noticed that there sure are a lot of discussion forums over at the Amazon site under the heading. "Religion."

religion forum

Products (10,946)   
Discussions
(1,023)   
Lists & Guides (1,001)

Example: There are NO genuine contradictions in the Bible (~2000 posts)

Times: Merkin (not Ezra) sells stock in Maddow (not Madoff)

Who would imagine that it would be pleasant and relaxing to come across an article containing the name Merkin in the New York Times?

Daphne Merkin, sister of the Ezra Merkin, used to be the controversial one of the Merkin kids, some would say the black sheep of the family, because she wrote embarrassing articles about her personal obsessions.

Well, after the turbulent revelations of the past two months regarding her little brother Ezra's involvement in the biggest financial scandal of all time -- as a primary funnel of funds for the the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme -- it turns out that Daphne now is in fact the white sheep of the Merkin family.

Her benign imaginary references to Hitler, vaginas and spanking, now seem much less toxic to the family, and her community, than her sibling's more insidious imaginary references to his split-strike conversion investment strategy, calls, puts and collars.

But seriously folks, we do like MSNBC's news professional Rachel Maddow, the subject of Daphne's essay in the Style section of this week's Times.

We remember watching her the evening that she filled in for the first time as TV anchor for Keith Olbermann, another of our favorites. Boy, was she ever visibly nervous that night.

Together with Keith, these two liberal news stars have contributed significantly to my viewing pleasure and erudition, and more significantly, may have helped the election efforts of Barack Obama and the return to liberal democratic leadership in our country.

Back to the article. Now that Daphne may actually have to worry about her income, her showing an interest in "lesbian chic" is not a bad idea. Look at how far lesbian chic got Howard Stern! He built his whole multi-million dollar career on silly parodies like the, "Lesbian Dating Game."

Here's Daphne's article kick-off:
Butch Fatale. LESBIAN GLAMOUR STEPS OUT OF THE CLOSET. DAPHNE MERKIN APPLAUDS.

In the ongoing dance of the sexes, women who remain partnerless are referred to as ‘‘wallflowers’’ while unpartnered men are simply that — not yet taken. The former become invisible; the latter become ever more conspicuously valuable. In the sense that lesbianism might be said to mirror the condition of straight women raised to an exponential power of God knows what, their minor status in gay culture reflects the secondary status of straight women in the culture at large. For in truth, until fairly recently, lesbians have been the wallflowers at the homosexual dance, waiting to get their share of recognition. Outside the elaborate and empowering confines of ‘‘queer theory,’’ some much-publicized celebrity comings-out (Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell) and the birth of the acronym LUG (lesbian until graduation), they have been largely overlooked, unsung Girls in the Band. ‘‘I don’t think that much about lesbianism,’’ says a young gay male friend of mine, unwittingly stating the problem in a nutshell. ‘‘No one thinks that much about lesbianism. Who cares?’’ ...yada, yada...

Times issues a correction of their Victor Teicher - Ezra Merkin Story

The NY Times issued a correction today of their story of last week regarding the relationship between the now-rehabilitated Yuppie Five Felon Victor Teicher and the not-yet-convicted Madoff Fund Funnel Ezra Merkin.
Corrections 
 
An article last Saturday about an adviser to the money manager J. Ezra Merkin, who invested $2 billion of his clients’ money with Bernard L. Madoff, overstated action taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the early 1990s against the adviser. Although the adviser, Victor Teicher, who provided investment advice to Mr. Merkin while Mr. Teicher was in prison for securities fraud, was barred by the S.E.C. from providing investment advice to registered securities advisers, he was not barred from advising unregistered advisers like Mr. Merkin.

The article also may have left the incorrect impression that Mr. Teicher was required to disclose his arrangement with Mr. Merkin in two unsuccessful applications to the S.E.C. in 2007 and 2008 in his effort to re-enter the securities business. The terms of his agreement with the S.E.C. did not require such a disclosure.

CNN: Holocaust Denier Bishop Williamson Forced to Leave Argentina



'Undeniable' and impressive that Argentina has come out so strongly against the holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson. We hope that on his way out someone reminds the Bishop that Argentina was the country that harbored many Nazis who hid out there after WWII, the country from which Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Mossad in 1960 to be put on trial in Israel and executed for his role in the Holocaust.
Bishop who denied Holocaust ordered to leave Argentina
  • Story Highlights
  • Argentina's Ministry of Interior gives bishop 10 days to leave
  • Bishop Richard Williamson denied existence of the Holocaust last month
  • Minister says statements that "deny a historic truth" harm society
  • Williamson's welcome back to church by Pope has sparked anger
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Bishop Richard Williamson, who last month denied the existence of the Holocaust in an interview with Swedish television, was ordered Thursday to leave Argentina within 10 days, the Ministry of Interior said.

Bishop Richard Williamson had denied the existence of the Holocaust, saying there were no gas chambers.

Bishop Richard Williamson had denied the existence of the Holocaust, saying there were no gas chambers.

"The bishop has repeatedly forged the true motive for his stay in the country, having declared that he is an employee of 'La Tradicion' Civil Society when, in reality, his true activity was as priest and seminary director of the Society of Saint Pius X in the neighborhood of Moreno," Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said in a written statement.

Williamson and three other bishops who belong to the Society of Saint Pius X were excommunicated in 1988. The society was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve, who rebelled against the Vatican's modernizing reforms in the 1960s, and who consecrated the men in unsanctioned ceremonies.

"Williamson has had public notoriety following his anti-Semitic statements to Swedish media in which he questioned whether Jewish people were victims of the Holocaust," Randazzo continued.

"For these reasons, along with the strong condemnation from the Argentine government of how statements like these harm Argentine society, the Jewish community, and all of humanity by trying to deny a historic truth, the national government has decided to demand that the Bishop leave the country or be expelled."...more...

2/19/09

Times: Stock Market Dow Dips Under 7500


Too late to sell. Too early to buy. Does the market linger here or head down into the water? Darned if I know. The Talmud provides little insight into this question.

We do know that round numbers like 7500 are psychological barriers. When broken through, newspapers write about them. The Times:
...Losses among financial companies, computer makers and General Electric sent the Dow lower by 89.68 points, or 1.19 percent, to 7,465.95. The index dropped below its recent bear-market lows. It had not closed so low since it sank to 7,286.27 on Oct. 9, 2002.

Although it does not mean anything has changed economically when market indexes like the Dow Jones industrial average cross 7,500 or 10,000 or 14,000, analysts say these benchmarks contribute to investor psychology and sentiment — factors that can move markets...

Guardian: FBI Finds Robert Allen Stanford in Fredericksburg Virginia - Serves Him Papers

No longer on the lam, Stanford has been found and served with papers. Not arrested? What?
'We said, are you this guy? He said yes.' FBI finds Stanford
Ed Pilkington in St John's, Antigua, The Guardian

A two-day global hunt to find the cricket tycoon Sir Allen Stanford in the wake of allegations that he masterminded a massive financial swindle came to an end last night, when the FBI said it had tracked him down to Virginia.

The discovery of the Texas billionaire in Fredericksburg, about 50 miles south-west of Washington, spared the American financial regulators further embarrassment after they issued charges against Stanford on Tuesday but without being certain of his whereabouts.

It allowed the Securities and Exchange Commission to serve papers on the businessman, thus rendering its proceedings against him active in what it claims to be a financial fraud of "shocking magnitude".

The FBI said last night the businessman had been found as he was driving a car in Fredericksburg, noting he was not a fugitive and had been very cooperative. "He wasn't hard to find," the FBI said. "We said, 'Are you this guy?', he said, 'Yes', and we served the papers on him."

The SEC alleges Stanford misled investors in a fraud whose total value reaches $9.2bn (£6.4bn). He is accused of encouraging investors using false information about the performance of his banks, including claims that he put the money into tradable shares when in fact it went towards real estate and private equity...

IHT: Argentina Banishes Holocaust Denier Bishop Richard Williamson

Bravo to Argentina for doing the right thing.

Argentina expels Holocaust- denying bishop
By Hugh Bronstein

Argentina has given a Roman Catholic bishop 10 days to leave the country or be expelled after he caused an international uproar by denying the extent of the Holocaust, the government said on Thursday.

Bishop Richard Williamson, an ultra-traditionalist who headed a seminary near Buenos Aires until earlier this month, has said he believes there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in Germany's Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million figure that is widely accepted.

The Vatican ordered him to retract his comments and the British-born Williamson responded that needed more time to review the evidence.

"The interior minister ... orders Richard Nelson Williamson to leave the country within 10 days or be expelled," Argentina's government said in a statement.

Williamson's views were anti-Semitic and "deeply offended Argentine society," the government said. Argentina is home to one of the world's largest Jewish communities outside of Israel.

At the seminary outside Buenos Aires, in the rural town of La Reja, two clergymen told Reuters that Williamson had already left the sprawling, tree-lined compound.

"It's very sad but there you have it," said a bespectacled, young Frenchman who identified himself as Juan de Dios, or Juan of God.

Neither he nor priest Alvaro Calderon was willing to say if Williamson had left for good.

Pope Benedict angered Jewish leaders and many Catholics last month when he lifted excommunications on Williamson and three other traditionalists to try to heal a 20-year-old schism within the Church that began in 1988 when they were ordained without Vatican permission.

Williamson, who belongs to the ultra-traditional Society of Saint Pius X, was removed earlier this month as head of the seminary in La Reja...

Argentine Jewish groups applauded the government's decision. Aldo Donzis, head of the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations, said denying the Holocaust was "unacceptable."

Rabbi Daniel Goldman, a child of Holocaust survivors who sought government action against Williamson, told the Jewish News Agency that "actions such as these clearly show that our people and our leadership refuse to live alongside a lie."

A leader of Germany's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, said on Sunday it was "almost ridiculous" that Williamson has said he needs time to review evidence about whether the Holocaust took place.

Where is Robert Allen Stanford Hiding?


Reuters reports that Robert Allen Stanford is still on the lam - nobody can find him. Rightfully the court has seized his US assets and Venezuela has seized one of his banks.
...Stanford's whereabouts remain a mystery. CNBC television reported this week that he had tried to hire a private jet to fly from Houston to Antigua, but the jet lessor refused to accept his credit card.

The SEC says it does not know where Stanford is and says he failed to respond to subpoenas seeking testimony.

A federal judge appointed a receiver on Tuesday "to take possession and control of defendants' assets for the protection of defendants' victims."

Stanford's personal fortune was estimated at $2.2 billion last year by Forbes Magazine. He holds dual U.S.-Antiguan citizenship, has donated millions of dollars to U.S. politicians, and has secured endorsements from sports stars, including golfer Vijay Singh and soccer player Michael Owen.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has already severed its association with Stanford, and a planned Stanford-sponsored international cricket tournament is now unlikely to take place, ECB chairman Giles Clarke said.

In Antigua, Stanford owns the country's largest newspaper, heads a local commercial bank, and is the first American to receive a knighthood from its government. He has homes across the region, from Antigua to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Miami.

EJP: Belgian Magzine Joods Actueel Exposes Rampant Catholic SSPX Antisemitism

We are sincerely horrified at what the Belgians have chronicled about the rampant antisemitism of SSPX, especially since Pope Benedict XVI is rehabilitating the stature of Bishop Richard Williamson and other members of this strange fringe group into the mainstream Catholic church.
Review of Pius X Society websites reveals virulent anti-Semitism, says Jewish magazine

Subtitle: Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers, is a member of the Society

ANTWERP (EJP)---The traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, whose excommunication was lifted by the Vatican in January, openly propagates virulent anti-Semitism, according to an investigation published Thursday by a Jewish magazine in Belgium.

The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, in 1988 along with Richard Williamson and three other member priests, declaring that their consecrations were "unlawful" and "schismatic."

Richard Williamson, a controversial British priest, denied that Jews were killed in the Nazi gas chambers during WWII, in a recent interview with a Swedish television.

Research by the Antwerp-based “Joods Actueel” weekly magazine has revealed a “slew of anti-Semitic content” on websites of the St. Pius X society in five languages.
The research comes to the conclusion that Pius X is “an extreme conservative Catholic group that rejects the Second Vatican Council and propagates the worst kind of anti-Semitism.”

For the research the international overarching site of the society was consulted and also a host of national sites such as those of the US, Brazil, Ireland, Asia, Austria, South-Africa and Poland.

The magazine found that the society's US Web site described Jews as "the enemy of man, whose secret weapon is the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy," adding that "heads of Jewry have for centuries conspired methodically and out of an undying hatred against the Catholic name."

The South African site said that "Jews have come closer and closer to fulfilling their substitute-Messianic drive towards world dominion." The Irish site asks whether "the Jews are guilty of Deicide," answering: "We must say yes."

The site from Germany said that "contemporary Jews are for sure guilty of the murder of God, as long as they don't recognize Christ as God."

The Belgian site accuses Jews of "still believing they are the chosen people" while "awaiting world domination."

Michael Freilich, chief editor of Joods Actueel, commented his research: “This is in many ways worse than the outrageous statements of bishop Williamson denying the Holocaust and the existence of gas chambers.”

“Williamson is a lone fool and not taken serious by the masses, whereas here we are talking about an entire society comprising thousands of priests spreading hatred against the Jewish people to hundreds of thousands around the world”.

2/18/09

Times: Will NYS Supreme Court Justice Richard Lowe Fire J. Ezra Merkin?

The Times reports, "Justice Richard Lowe of New York State Supreme Court, who is overseeing a lawsuit brought against Mr. Merkin by New York University, says he plans to rule soon on a request by the university to remove Mr. Merkin as the manager of his Ariel Fund Ltd. and appoint an outside liquidator to sell the remaining assets."

The article title is, "Merkin Could Lose Control of Firm in Madoff Scandal." Huh? Could lose control? Is there any doubt that Lowe must remove Merkin? We think not.

It's time to throw Ezra out in the street as quick as possible, "with his tallis" (i.e., a reference to a pithy Yiddish expression that describes removing a scoundrel in haste from his pew and casting him out of the synagogue without even giving him a chance to take off his prayer shawl). His victims deserve that immediate relief.

The Times goes on to explain the legal options in less colorful terms.
Judge Lowe also extended a temporary restraining order on Tuesday that bars Mr. Merkin from selling or transferring any of the $700 million in assets remaining in Ariel and other funds controlled by his firm, Gabriel Capital.

Since the restraining order was put in place on Dec. 24, Gabriel has not been able to pay expenses including rent, telephone bills, year-end bonuses and health insurance premiums for its employees.

The university, which lost $24 million of its investment in Ariel Fund, is suing Mr. Merkin for turning over a portion of its money to Mr. Madoff without disclosing the arrangement to Ariel’s investors. Mr. Madoff is under house arrest at his Manhattan penthouse apartment.

“Mr. Merkin engaged in deliberate ignorance in order to line his pockets,” Beth Kaswan, a lawyer for N.Y.U., said Tuesday at a court hearing. The university also opposes the formation of an oversight committee to monitor Mr. Merkin’s management of the remaining assets in the Ariel Fund.

“Merkin garnered hundreds of millions of dollars of fees by violating the trust of investors,” New York University said in a court filing. “There is no reason to believe that he will alter his cynical approach to his fiduciary obligations if he is left in control of Ariel’s remaining assets.”

Mr. Merkin has proposed to form an “oversight committee” that would evaluate the liquidation of several funds under his control — a process that could take years. Other investors in funds managed by Gabriel Capital have also filed lawsuits against Mr. Merkin for not disclosing his relationship with Mr. Madoff.

The proposed members of the oversight committee include Jeff J. Marwil, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose, who represents clients with $90 million invested in various funds under Mr. Merkin’s control; Lehman Brothers‘ former chief financial officer, Arthur W. Fried, who represents investors with more than $80 million in Ariel; and the longtime hedge fund investor Michael H. Steinhardt, who lost $2 million with Mr. Merkin.

At the court hearing on Tuesday, Ms. Kaswan, N.Y.U.’s lawyer, called the committee members “simply figureheads” and insisted Mr. Merkin “is the fund’s executive and he has complete control over all the assets and all the decision-making.”

Silver Creek Capital, a hedge fund that has $200 million invested in the Ariel fund, and other investors who represent an additional $200 million have said they support Mr. Merkin’s plan for the oversight committee, according to court documents.

In December, the Ariel Fund had 575 “illiquid and complex” investments valued at about $650 million and another $50 million in stocks and bonds. Ariel lost a total of $350 million on its investment with Mr. Madoff.
To revert to a more universal metaphor, Judge Lowe knows that he can't leave that fox anywhere near the hen house.

Bloomberg: Why Rich People are Nasty Rotten SOBs

We've posted quite a bit recently about several ultra-wealthy personalities who by-and-large have been described as having rude, nasty personalities.

A writer over at Bloomberg has given this general coincidence of wealth and rudeness some thought and come to the conclusion that it is not an accident.
Want to Be Rich? It’s About Being Rude to People: Matthew Lynn
...If you want to make a lot of money, just try being rude to people.

Hold on, that doesn’t make sense, you may say. Surely the way to get on in life is to be as polite as possible. A soft cloud of charm can carry even the lamest executive all the way to the boardroom. Tell everyone you meet they are fantastic, listen to their ridiculous suggestions, buy them a drink as they launch into a tedious anecdote, and they will think you are great. The way to the top is to be courteous, you say.

No less an authority than Dale Carnegie in his self-help classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” makes the point emphatically. Rule No. 1 for making people like you: Become genuinely interested in them. Rule No. 2: Smile.

Rich and Rude

New research has turned that wisdom upside down. The richer people are, the ruder they are, according to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Keltner and co-researcher Michael Kraus videotaped 100 undergraduate students who didn’t know each other, and studied their body language during one-minute gaps in conversation.

The results were clear: Students from a higher socio- economic background were more likely to be rude during the silence. They would doodle, fidget or start grooming themselves. Less-privileged students made far more effort to engage with the other person, making “I’m interested” signals such as laughing or raising eyebrows.

In short, the richer people were a lot ruder, while the poor were a lot more polite.

The psychologists viewed the results as basic animal behavior. The higher up the food chain you are, the fitter and stronger you are. The wealthier animals are signaling that they don’t need anyone. The poorer animals are ingratiating themselves because they need help.

No Reliance

“It is the experience of wealth that leads individuals to become disengaged,” Keltner says.

There is much truth to that. The richer you are, the less reliant you are on other people. It doesn’t matter much what others think of you, since you are unlikely to be asking them for a favor any time soon.

And yet while the rich may be rude because they are wealthy, it is just as likely to be the other way around. Just as plausibly, they are wealthy because they are rude.

Carnegie and other self-help writers have missed the point the last few decades. Getting ahead in life isn’t about making people like you. It is about getting them to serve your interests.

Success depends, more than anything, on an inner ruthlessness. As anyone who has spent much time with chief executives will know, they are mostly an unpleasant bunch.

They bully, cajole, threaten and fume. There are very few examples of them flattering or charming their way to the top. They are more likely to be shouting and raging at people, demanding the impossible, and casting old friends and colleagues aside the moment they become an inconvenience. The accumulation of wealth requires an ability to crush rivals, stamp on employees, and sweep aside all opposition. Charm doesn’t come into it.

As your bank or hedge fund slides toward insolvency, just carry on barking at your secretary, snubbing waitresses, and blanking old friends who nod at you in the elevator. Everyone will assume you are still loaded -- and will hold off pulling the plug on you for a few more days at least.

Pope Benedict XVI Powwows with Pro-choice Democrat Nancy Pelosi

For heretics and non-believers, getting to see this Pope is getting easier every day.

Last week the Pope entertained a group of Jewish leaders and told them what they wanted to hear. This week he spent 15 minutes in private with pro-choice Catholic politician, democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

After the Pelosi powwow the Vatican issued a namby pamby softball statement, "His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

Reminding the democrat of the Vatican's stance in favor of "Laws capable of protecting..." is many stages and degrees away from the spin that reactionary Catholics have put on it. The Pope did not directly criticize or chastise the politician for her openly heretical positions.

The fact is that we can spin this event as a softening while others spin it as a reiteration of hard-line papal politics.

So, now this and recall that last week on the one hand he greeted a Holocaust denier back into the Church and then on the other hand he greeted a group of Jewish leaders in the Vatican and spoke against Holocaust denial.

Amazing. The Pope has become a sort of papal Talmudist who promulgates utterances and performs actions that are interpreted in diametrically opposite ways.

Should the Northwest Jesuits be given bankruptcy protection?

We ask whether Northwest Jesuits be allowed bankruptcy protection against abuse lawsuits. We don't think it is a good idea to let this entity use the shelter of chapter 11.

Critics say, "Chapter 11 bankruptcy is excessively lenient in giving a needless "escape hatch" to the incompetent management of a failing company, damaging the efficiency of the economy as a whole and allowing poor managers to continue managing. It is unusual for the management of a company in Chapter 11 to be fired, as it is usually assumed that the present management team knows far more about the company and its customers than would a new set of management. These critics note that in Europe, bankruptcy law is far less lenient for failing companies."

In other words, bankruptcy in this case will encourage the church to maintain in place the priests that allowed the abuse. Bad idea.

Critics of chapter 11 say further, "A company undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy is effectively operating under the 'protection' of the court until it emerges, in some cases giving the bankrupt company a great advantage against its competitors, distorting the market and harming more competitive businesses."

This troubles me because it blurs the separation of church and state. If a church operates under the 'protection' of the secular court and derives therefrom advantages -- to me that suggests the state is engaged in fostering the establishment of a specific religion.

The first amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Allowing a church the benefit of state protected bankruptcy violates that clause. Bad idea.

That's our Talmudic analysis of the day.
Northwest Jesuits file for bankruptcy protection
By STEVEN DUBOIS

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Confronted by scores of lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests, the Jesuits of the Oregon Province have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The petition was filed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland. The province of the Roman Catholic order listed assets of less than $5 million and liabilities of almost $62 million.

"Our decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one, but with approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the Province," The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, the current provincial, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The religious order — officially The Society of Jesus — has 10 provinces in the United States. The Oregon Province covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.

Many of the lawsuits involve Alaska Natives who say they were sexually abused as children while living in remote villages.

Ken Roosa, an Anchorage-based attorney who has filed claims on behalf of more than 60 Alaska Natives, said Tuesday night the Oregon Province is vastly underestimating its assets. Roosa said he believes the Oregon Jesuit province has assets of "more than a billion dollars."

The Portland-based province contends it has worked "diligently" to resolve claims of misconduct, saying it has settled more than 200 claims and paid more than $25 million to victims since 2001. That amount does not include payments made by insurers.

"Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our Province's history to an end," Lee said. "We continue to pray for all those who have been hurt by the actions of a few men, so that they can receive the healing and reconciliation that they deserve."

2/17/09

AT: Schmerken on Merkin

The blog post title that we could not resist. Why?

On her blog, Ivy Schmerken, editor of Advanced Trading, posts an article today with her original clever title, "The Curious Case of J. Ezra Merkin."

Nota bene: In her post Ms. Schmerken cites our own earlier post about NYU's lawsuit v. Merkin and she concludes that Tzvee, "...offers incisive commentary."

Thanks, we do try.

Has the NY Times Defamed Merkin Advisor Victor Teicher?

This was forwarded to us, ostensibly originating from attorneys for Victor Teicher and accusing the Times of libel:
"We are counsel to Victor Teicher, who is referenced in a misleading and false way in a February 14, 2009 article about Ezra Merkin's lawsuit with NYU. We write to demand an immediate retraction of statements in that article which suggest directly or indirectly that Mr. Teicher acted in violation of a bar by the Securities and Exchange Commission when he provided services to certain of Mr. Merkin's funds in certain periods in the 1990's into the beginning of 2000.

Those statements are false because Mr. Teicher was permitted, pursuant to an express agreement with the SEC, to be associated with unregistered investment advisors such as Mr. Merkin, until a final, unappealable order was issued by the Courts that the SEC had jurisdiction over unregistered investment advisors. After that final ruling was issued in the beginning of 2000, Mr. Teicher observed his agreement with the SEC to the letter and promptly stopped working for Mr. Merkin's funds. Your statement that he continued to be associated with those funds until 2001 is also false.

Having falsely suggested that Mr. Teicher's association with Mr. Merkin's funds was illegal, your article goes on to suggest that Mr. Teicher's 2007 and 2008 applications to modify his industry bar falsely claimed that he had complied with the securities laws and did not disclose his supposed illegal association with Mr. Merkin's funds. All of those false statements are libelous per se, and must be immediately and prominently retracted.

We note that had your reporters followed proper journalistic practices and attempted to contact Mr. Teicher or his representative prior to publication of this article, they would have learned the true facts. The failure to seek comment or clarification from Mr. Teicher is inexcusable and Mr. Teicher will pursue all available remedies.”

Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman, P.C.
The Times' article apparently needs to be clarified. Indeed, a lot of other things about this affair need to be clarified.

LAT: Madoff Victims Fear Clawback Lawsuits

If you were an victim-investor with Bernie Madoff and were "lucky" enough to take out some of your money over the years, you probably will be hit with a clawback lawsuit seeking some of your money under an exotic Talmudic theory of the law.
Alleged Madoff victims may be vulnerable to other victims' claims. Those who profited before suffering losses -- including retirees and charities -- could be hit with demands to give back cash in a settlement.
By Carol J. Williams

Santa Monica retiree Bob Braslau considers himself a victim of accused fraud mastermind Bernard L. Madoff.

But the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, he fears, might consider him a beneficiary.

Braslau was among the thousands who lost money when the Madoff fund collapsed amid allegations that it was a $50-billion Ponzi scheme. But because Braslau had taken out some proceeds over the years, he could be forced to return those earnings if a court determines they weren't real investment returns, simply money from other victims.

"I do feel in jeopardy," said Braslau, a former aerospace engineer for TRW Inc. who invested with Madoff through Stanley Chais, a Beverly Hills money manager. "People are going to be frantic in trying to recover their money."

Some of the charities and foundations that lost millions with Madoff are also potential targets in the gathering scramble to recover cash from those who profited to distribute among those who did not.

Madoff, 70, has been under house arrest at his luxury Manhattan apartment since Dec. 11. The former Nasdaq chairman is reported to be cooperating with investigators while awaiting trial on securities fraud charges.

Irving Picard, a partner with law firm Baker Hostetler appointed by the federal Bankruptcy Court to recover assets for distribution to defrauded investors, has so far found $830 million and sent out 8,000 letters to potential claimants.

In pursuit of other funds from the lost Madoff fortune, Picard is expected to employ a little-used legal tool, the "clawback" suit, to collect what remains of the alleged scheme's payouts for a more equitable redistribution, analysts say.

The track record for clawbacks is limited because Ponzi scheme victims are typically left with little that can be recovered. Retrieving funds can also be difficult if those who profit take their proceeds abroad, where the trustee may have no jurisdiction.

But there have been successful efforts to recover money. After the Bayou Management hedge fund, run by Wall Street stalwarts Samuel Israel III and Daniel Marino, collapsed in 2005, the court-appointed receiver managed to recover about one-third of the $450 million lost by investors.

In another case, groups affiliated with the Church of Scientology agreed in 2006 to pay back $3.5 million they received from former Santa Barbara money manager Reed Slatkin and others who invested with him. Slatkin is set for release in 2014 from the U.S. penitentiary at Lompac, where he has been serving time in connection with a $593-million operation in which money from some investors was used to pay off others -- the classic definition of a Ponzi scheme.

"The legal basis for the trustees being able to clawback is the allegation that the transfer of any of the proceeds to anyone in a Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent conveyance," said Bob Klueger, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in asset protection.

"The theory behind it is that if it was a Ponzi scheme, the trustee is not bound by any considerations of who got in early and who got in late. The trustee is permitted to treat everyone the same, take back all money invested and divide it up evenly among all the investors," Klueger said...more...