Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Egyptian Plague

Egypt has long been susceptible to plagues. Though the incident of the Ten Plagues in the time of Moses is the most well known, plagues have afflicted Egypt numerous times since.

The typical pattern is that the plague originates elsewhere, but is somehow brought to Egypt, where it quickly mutates and expands and becomes epidemic, often afflicting lands beyond Egypt. Such was the case of the plague described by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War (he himself had a bout with the plague). The plague that affected the war between Athens and Sparta originated in Ethiopia or other parts up the Nile, came to Egypt, and then went to Libya and Greece.

Today, Egypt is afflicted with a different kind of plague. This plague is political unrest. In this case, the "plague" originated in Tunisia, and now, there is rioting and looting in the streets of Cairo. The regime of Hosni Mubarak is seriously threatened.

My comments:

(1) Egypt is, to be sure, a pharaonic dictatorship where human rights are severely restricted. Mubarak, like his predecessors Sadat and Nasser, is a corruptocrat who has allowed his people to languish in poverty, and cares only for his personal aggrandizement. But if his regime is overthrown, will the next one give the Egyptians any more personal freedoms? I remember the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, and, as we see to this very day, the Islamicist regime of Khomeini and his successors is far, far more repressive than that of the Shah.

(2) Senator Rand Paul has been talking about cutting aid to Israel as a means to help balance the Federal budget. This raises several issues:

(A) Without accusing the Senator of anything, my inborn Jewish paranoia makes me wonder whether Rand Paul's position is born of some sort of personal dislike for the Jewish people. I have never met Senator Paul (though I have personally met his father and the experience made me very wary of him, notwithstanding my approval of many of his "on paper" ideas), and am not in a position to make a conclusive judgment in that regard.

(B) American foreign policy has long been to provide aid to the Arab and Muslim nations in order to keep Israel dependent upon American foreign aid. All else being equal, if American foreign aid to Egypt and the other Arab countries is significantly reduced then much of the foreign aid dollars to Israel would become unnecessary.

(C) But all else is not equal. Specifically, if America cuts aid to Egypt, then it will surely seek out other patrons to fund it. These patrons can be Saudi Arabia or Iran.

(D) More to the point: If the United States pulls its funding from Egypt, then Russia and/or China would likely consider filling the vacuum.

This plague in Egypt will make lots of people very, very sick!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State Courts, Federalist Principles

New York City is now faced with a budgetary crunch. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as CEO of New York City, is now doing what any other CEO would and should do in such a situation -- he is looking for ways to cut expenditures. One such cost-cutting measure contemplated by the Bloomberg administration is the demotion and/or layoff of some Deputy Sheriffs. The Deputy Sheriffs, what with their union representation, went to court to attempt to keep their jobs.

And Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman (in New York, the Supreme Court is the LOWEST court of general jurisdiction, the trial court) issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the demotions or layoffs until a hearing is held and the TRO is lifted.

Bloomie didn't like the Judge's decision, and he was not reticent to express his mind, in relatively strident terms, on his weekly radio program. Specifically, he called upon Judge Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals (the Highest court in the State of New York), to step in and give Justice Goodman a talking-to.

For those unfamiliar with court procedures, this would constitute a significant circumvention of the normal order of things (and in fact would be highly illegal). According to the duly legislated procedures, Justice Goodman will hold her hearing, and then, if any party is dissatisfied, they can appeal to the Appellate Division. Then, and only then (and only if the statutory conditions for appealability pertain), can the case go to the Court of Appeals and be heard by Chief Judge Lippman.

And now, the New York County Lawyers Association has come down very hard against Bloomie's judge-bashing remarks.

I have mixed feelings about this all. On one hand, the Mayor should be able to control the NYC budget, and cut back on expenses. On the other hand, the Deputy Sheriffs have the right to fight to keep their jobs. And yes, Bloomberg's remarks were very high-handed, and I'll even go so far to say that they were unbecoming of a man who is supposed to set the public tone for law and order. But he does have certain freedoms of expression.

The NYCLA does have credibility, and has long occupied the moral high ground. After all, in the early 1950's, NYCLA admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender when the other leading lawyer's professional organization in New York City, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, effectively discriminated against Jews, Irish, Blacks and women (though ABCNY has certainly distanced itself far beyond that mindset during the ensuing years).

And Justice Goodman, whose accomplished career as a journalist did not come to an abrupt halt at her robing ceremony, does not seem to be fazed by Hizzoner's strident remarks.

What is now happening is precisely what "Publius" (it is uncertain whether it was Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) expounded in Federalist Paper No. 51, which was specifically addressed to the People of the State of New York and published in the New York Packet on 8 February 1788:

"To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places."

In other words, the various branches of the government must provide checks and balances upon one another so that no one branch oversteps its bounds.

Those Deputy Sheriffs may well be cut from the public payroll, or they may continue to burden New York City's budget (and being that the New York City budget is heavily subsidized by infusions from Albany, the burden will fall more upon the taxpayers of the State than upon the City). Whichever way the matter is ultimately resolved, it will be done so in a manner that keeps too much power from being concentrated in the hands of too few. It may not be the most efficient way in the world, but given Mr. Bloomberg's proven propensity to play the nanny in the personal lives of his constituents, I'll take a little inefficiency over an unchecked appetite for tyranny.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rabbi Weinberg Memorial Tribute

We all need heroes, and Rabbi Noah Weinberg is one mine. I met him personally on two occasions, the details of which, highly positive and inspiring as they are, are also highly personal and shall not now burden the reader.

Given the high regard in which I shall always hold the Rabbi, the reader is now directed to a memorial tribute to Rabbi Weinberg by Jonathan Rosenblum. I am hard-pressed to put things any more eloquently.

May his memory be for a blessing!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tickling the Ivories

My daily reading menu includes the Federal Register. In the big law firms, one or more junior associates are stuck with that task, and they are expected to bring pertinent matters in the daily Federal Register to the attention of one or more partners. As a solo practitioner, it falls upon me to do the daily Federal Register duty.

In today's Federal Register, there is an item from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, "Designation Pursuant to Executive Order 13396 of February 7, 2006, 'Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.' "

The designation essentially freezes the United States property of Laurent Gbagbo and his wife and close associates. Gbagbo, for the uninitiated, is one of the contenders for the disputed Presidency of the Ivory Coast (or Cote d'Ivoire en Francais). His opponent, Alassane Ouattara, also claims victory in the disputed 2010 election. Most of the international community recognizes Ouattara as the legitimate winner of the election, though there were, to say the least, irregularities on either side.

I am no great fan of Gbagbo, nor of Ouattara. Africa is not noted for its effective governments or skilled native statesmen. I take no position as to who should be the rightful winner of the election. Neither of them can be trusted any further than one can throw the Empire State Building.

I am, however, concerned as to the baggage that Ouattara might be carrying. Gbagbo is a Christian. Ouattara is from a Muslim tribe and has connections to Burkina Faso. I am concerned that a regime under Ouattara might be more conducive to Islamist terrorist activity against the West than would a Gbagbo regime.

This is not to say that Ouattara should be opposed merely because he is a Muslim. It is not to say that he is not the legitimate winner of the Presidency of the Ivory Coast. It is not to say that the nations of the world should not recognize him as the President of the Ivory Coast. It is not to say that Gbagbo's insurgency should be tolerated by America and the world.

But on the opposite side of the African continent there is another election in progress as I write this posting. It is a referendum on the question of independence for Southern Sudan. By all accounts, a vote in favor of independence is almost a forgone conclusion.

But the Sudan conflict is also, in essence, a Muslim-Christian war. It is fair to ask the question as to the chances of a militant Islamic insurgency taking control in the nominally independent Southern Sudan. And it is fair to ask whether, in such an event, such an insurgency would be tolerated by Barack Hussein Obama and the world.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Rampage in Tucson

This shooting in Tucson has, of course, commandeered the front pages of the news media. My comments, in no particular order:

1. The media is making a big deal over the fact that a Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was seriously wounded. Relegated to the end of the story (if it is even in the story) is that there were six people actually killed -- including Judge John Roll, and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green. But now, it looks as though Christina will start getting more ink, but only because she was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, who served as Manager of the Phillies, Yankees and Mets.

2. The MSM has been implicitly -- and sometimes, explicitly -- blaming it on the various right-wing political philosophies that have been expressed of late. But the shooter was connected with some anti-Semitic organizations whose party lines have had more in common with the far left. Why aren't those people blamed?

3. Amongst some of circles I frequent, much has been made of the fact that Congresswoman Giffords is the offspring of a non-Jewish mother, and therefore not technically Jewish. This, to me, is both accurate and irrelevant! This should not be about my philosophical disputes, or anyone else's, with the so-called Reform Judaism; nor even about my political differences (or anyone else's) with Gabrielle Giffords (of which I have many). I respect Ms. Giffords as an accomplished woman who, notwithstanding her political orientation, has displayed far more rationality than many at either extreme of the political spectrum. I wish her the very best.

4. Judge Roll's murder was a tremendous loss to America's judiciary. But even if he had been a lesser legal light, his murder would still strike a blow to law and order.

5. A number of pundits and commentators (many of whom do not merit such an honorific) have been blaming the shooting on Sarah Palin's public pronouncements using firearms metaphors. I am willing, to an extent, to find possible validity to the theory. After all, words and ideas do have consequences. But quite notably, one of these people who has been blaming the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck has been none other than Jane Fonda. I daresay that Hanoi Jane's extreme and public statements some years ago, before the Internet age enabled the quick and expeditious communication to the masses, contributed to the killing of far, far more Americans and South Vietnamese. Jane Fonda, no less than Sarah Palin, ought be held to the same standard, and called to account for her lethal statements.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Til Divorce Do You Part

My own marriage has been going strong for 20+ years, and when the nearly 3-year courtship period is tacked on, my wife and I are somewhat closer to 30 than to 20. We consider ourselves to be very blessed and fortunate, but we have had to work very diligently to make it work.

Within our socioreligious circle, the divorce rate seems to be on the increase. In a conversation this past Shabbat, my wife and I counted three children of our contemporaries, whose weddings we attended, who are now divorced. Our son, who now is living out of the house in his apartment (with a roommate), will likely be in the marriage market in the relatively near future.

By all indications, the divorce rate is on the increase, in all population sectors. And regardless of how strong one thinks his or her marriage may be, anyone who claims to not be at least somewhat frightened by this rising divorce trend is not being totally honest.

Divorce has a way of messing up and complicating all aspects of life. The very first Slip Opinion issued by the New York State Unified Court System in Calendar Year 2011 is just one example of this. The case is Simkin v. Blank, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op. 00001. Here, a divorce has further complicated some of the damage done by Bernie Madoff.

I don't have any particularly useful answers to the divorce crisis. But my wife and I at least are doing our part by staying together, resolving the problems that continually arise between us, and striving towards compatible life goals. The fact that we love one another is immaterial, but it certainly makes it all far, far more enjoyable.

There is (1) a dissenting opinion in this Appellate Division decision; and (2) it reverses the decision of the trial court. On those two grounds, the case may be appealed to the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, the highest Court in the State. Given the dollar value involved, such an appeal is more likely than not.

Ah, the things I am missing by staying married (and by not having invested my money with Bernard Madoff).

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Meaning of Christmas & New Year's Day

I, of course, do not celebrate the Christmas holidays. Nevertheless, to say the least, many of my friends and neighbors do, and this I do not begrudge them. Many of my neighbors spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on outdoor seasonal displays, which they no doubt have done with due regard for the household budgetary needs.

One of my neighbors whose outdoor accoutrements run towards the more ornate on the street has, among his several illuminated holiday themes, a Knights of Columbus "Keep Christ in Christmas" display. This I find not one bit offensive in the least, and I have told this particular neighbor as much. The more that the Christ is kept in Christmas, the more Jewish people will realize that it is not our holiday, and that we have our own holidays to celebrate.

And the more Christians will realize that Jewish people have a right to live in the so-called "West Bank" of the Jordan River. After all, more than 2000 years ago a Jewish baby was born to a Jewish family in the town of Bethlehem, which is located there. Contrary to what the Muslims and their allies and dupes would have the world believe, we Jews do in fact have a long, strong and documented connection to the territory from which our enemies now seek to exclude us.

When Christians celebrate Christmas, then, they are confirming and affirming the Jewish people's right to live in all of the land of Israel! So yes, all you Knights of Columbus, please do keep the Christ in Christmas!

And, if Christmas was the first day, then the eighth day is New Year's Day, which in fact is celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of a Jewish boy born to a Jewish family in the land to which the enemies of the Jews now deny we have any historic connection.

Fast Forward 2010 years (there being no Year Zero under the common era dating system):

The New Year's Eve celebration in New York at Times Square drew hundreds of thousands of people, both locals and visitors from around the country and the world.

As mentioned in a prior posting, I endeavor to avoid such crowd situations. This year, however, it was totally out of the question, because New Year's Eve fell on Friday night, which is my religious Sabbath and all that it entails.

So where do I stand on the Times Square festivities?

First of all, New Year's Day is, for me, an administrative new year because that is upon which the world operates. It means, for example, that I need to get my financial records in order so that I can do my tax returns. It has no religious significance to me (though, as mentioned above, it certainly does hold religious significance to others).

Secondly, I am saddened by the number of Jewish people out there who were desecrating the Sabbath. I would like to see more Jews observe the Sabbath, and maintain the kosher dietary laws. Unfortunately, achieving that ideal would require so many of my fellow Jews to make so many changes which they are not yet ready to make in their personal and professional lives, and in their interpersonal relationships. I can and do invite and encourage; I cannot (and do not even attempt to) compel.

Having said this, I view the Times Square events last night quite positively. For one thing, the participation in the event by many visitors from around the world provided some much needed economic stimulus for the region.

More importantly, the enemies of America, of the Jews, and of civilization do not want there to be any New Year's Eve festivities (except as targets for catastrophic high-carnage acts of terrorism). Had the celebration not come off, then it would have been a victory for the Muslim extremist elements.

It is important to continue and develop that tradition of Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest, and, hopefully, others to follow into the far future. And so, to all, I wish a Happy New Year!

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