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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Squaring Off in New Square

One of the more insular Jewish Chassidic groups are the Skver Chassidim. The group originated in the city of Skvyra, in the Ukraine. All of the physical migrations entailed the use of different alphabets, so there now are diverse spellings in English, including (but not necessarily limited to) Skvir, Skwere, Skvre, et cetera. In the 1950's, the Skvirer Rebbe, Yaakov Yosef Twersky, founded a settlement in Rockland County, New York, called New Square. The word "Square" is yet another variant of the name, and has nothing to do with the familiar quadrilateral polygon.

Following Rabbi Yaakov Yosef's passing in 1968, his son, Rabbi David Twersky, has been the Skvirer Rebbe.

As reported here, here and here, Aron Rottenberg, a resident of New Square, prefers to worship at a synagogue other than the one run by the Skvirer Rebbe. The venue where Rottenberg prefers to pray is an "orthodox" one, where men and women are separated by a structure (a mechitza).

[For the record, my own personal preferences: Except under the most extenuating circumstances, I will not pray in any minyan (group of at least 10 Jewish men) that is not a kosher minyan, that is, there must be some sort of physical separation between men and women. In my own congregation, the mechitza is made of several units on casters, which can be and are moved out of the way after the prayer service so that tables can be set up, et cetera; most of the men sit with their wives afterward. And our mechitza has curtains, through which the men can discern their wives on the womens' side, and vice versa.].

But Aron Rottenberg's venue of preference is not the Skvirer Rebbe's, and so, he and his family have been the objects of harassment in the insular community of New Square. The harassment, which has included slashed tires on the car, and broken windows, has now culminated in an arson attack, in which Rottenberg was burned over half his body.

Rottenberg has lawyered up, having retained Michael Sussman, Esq., to represent him.

In 2000, Hillary Clinton, following meetings with political apparatchiks from New Square, received 1359 out of 1369 New Square votes for her campaign for Senate. In 2001, some incarcerated fraudsters from New Square miraculously received some pardons from outgoing President William Jefferson Clinton.

Mike Sussman, Esq., believes (and I agree) that the local law enforcement authorities, who, I note, have been less than enthusiastic about responding to Rottenberg's complaints about vandalism at his house, cannot be counted upon to properly handle the situation, and that some Federal investigation is warranted.

The perpetuator, Shaul Spitzer, was the Skvirer Rebbe's butler and lives/lived in the Skvirer Rebbe's house.

My comments (in no particular order):

1. Spitzer, who now stands charged with assault, arson, and attempted murder, is also hospitalized with 3rd degree burns. Maybe he's a contender for the Darwin Award.

2. I have never personally met Rabbi Twersky, the Skvirer Rebbe, but a number of friends whose views I respect have met him. My tentative assessment of him (subject to adjustment upon receipt of further definitive and reliable information): He is not an inherently evil man, but his past inobjectivity is coming back to haunt him. He no doubt hoped that all of those inconvenient broken windows, slashed tires and verbal insults would induce the Rottenberg family to relocate to some place outside of New Square. He no doubt did not envision that matters would get out of hand the way they did.

3. Right now, Rabbi Twersky and the leadership of New Square are clearly in damage control mode. Mike Sussman, Esq. will likely exact some sort of significant financial tribute from Rabbi Twersky and/or organizations controlled by Rabbi Twersky. If Rabbi Twersky is praying for Aron Rottenberg's speedy recovery, it is motivated as much by his concern for asset conservation as it is by goodwill and decency.

4. Rabbi Twersky and the Skvirer Chassidim cannot have things both ways. If they wish to be insular in order to avoid the corruptive and evil influences of the outside world, then they cannot commit violent crimes and do other acts which cannot help but draw the attention of the outside world.

5. And, speaking of insularity, where did Shaul Spitzer, the Rabbi's butler, get it into his head to try to set fire to the Rottenberg homestead? Certainly not from the Internet, which is banned in New Square.

6. And, speaking of banning things in New Square, the Skvirer Rebbe's word is law in New Square. If he and his apparatchiks can deliver virtually all of the vote to a political candidate, then it cannot be said that he had no control over the vandalism and other depredations committed by his followers against the Rottenberg family.

7. I have more than a little discomfort over the concept of hate crime statutes. Not because acts motivated by hatred shouldn't be punished, but because there is too much potential for the hate crime statutes to be abused by prosecutors, and not applied in a uniform and even-handed manner. I nevertheless note, with applause and approval, that Mike Sussman, the Rottenberg's lawyer, has been using the term "hate crime" in his speeches and writings.

8. I have lived in communities where Jewish people were a small minority. Jew-on-Jew hatred such as that practiced in New Square is totally alien, totally offensive, and totally unthinkable to me.

9. If Aron Rottenberg gets the treatment he did for praying at a different venue than the Rebbe's own shul, then what treatment would be accorded to those who are known to vote for candidates other than those blessed by the Rebbe?

Aron Rottenberg's lawyer has been using the term "hate crime." But there is another term he should be thinking, if he is not actually saying it. And that term is "Racketeering!"

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

License Tag gets Tagged

As reported here and here, Avrohom Eliezer Friedman's stolen car was returned to him as a result of a curious Florida police officer, whose interest was piqued when he saw "GMAIL" on the car's license tag. The officer, whose name has not yet come to my attention, punched in the tag alphametrics, found that the car was stolen, and made the arrest. The car was returned to Avrohom, and the car thief presumably was taken into custody.

Nice work, Florida Cop!!!

But look at the license tag in the pictures. It is a Florida Specialty License Plate. Not just any Florida Specialty License Plate, but a Florida Police Benevolent Association license plate, complete with the Florida PBA logo.

I am not, have never been, and have no plans to be in the car stealing business. Nevertheless, it would seem to me that when one is not in compliance with the law, the last thing one should strive to be is interesting to a law enforcement officer. Simple common sense must inescapably conclude that a car with PBA tags is inherently interesting to a law enforcement officer. Therefore, if I were in the car stealing business, I would make it a point to NOT steal cars with PBA tags on them.

My friends and acquaintances in the law enforcement field tell me that many a perp has been collared because some bored cop got curious and checked something out.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Tax Fraud on Film

Right now, the American religious Jewish community's big domestic story (the big international one, of course, being Barack Hussein Obama throwing Israel under the bus on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to Washington) is the sentencing in Iowa of filmmaker Wendy Runge to 10 years for tax fraud in connection with claiming false tax credits for films she shot (or, apparently in some cases, didn't shoot) in Iowa. Everyone seems to be portraying Wendy as a naïve victim of circumstance, and suggesting, none too subtly, that anti-Semitism played a role in the sentence.

Yes, I do believe that the sentence is a bit on the stiff side. And, having grown up in an environment where Jewish people were in the minority, I am fully aware of the mechanics of anti-Semitism in places away from dense Jewish populations, and cannot totally eliminate it as a possible element. One take on this all, with which I largely but not totally agree, is an "Open Letter" in the 5 Towns Jewish Times by Rabbi Binyamin Goldfarb.

It must be remembered that Wendy seems to have a sense of entitlement to swindle the government. She has shown no credible contrition. And it is not just Wendy! We have had lots more, from diverse quarters of the so-called "religious" Jewish world (you have read them, and I shall not now glorify them by linking to them). As mentioned elsewhere, they may be insular, but they are not more religious than I am. Jewish law prohibits stealing, even when the victim is a sovereign government or an insurance company.

Hardly a week, and nary a fortnight, passes without some sort of entreaty in the snail mail, e-mail or in person to help some poor, hapless religious Jewish boy (or, now that Wendy is going to the slammer, girl), from a fine family, who is unjustly incarcerated because he or she didn't comprehend the complexities of the tax laws. And quite frankly, I am tired of it! Might all of the money the Jewish community contributes to these tax and revenue cheats be put to better use in feeding, clothing and sheltering some poor and needy Jewish individuals and families who obey the law?

So let's compare Wendy's sentence to some other recent ones (I haven't the time to do any detailed research on this):

Roger Waldner, who swindled more than $1.7 million in a bankruptcy proceeding, got a 120 month sentence (that's 10 years, for the mathematically-challenged).

And, on 17 May 2011, the very same day Wendy got her sentence imposed, Dr. Mark E. Hopkins, who caused the IRS a tax loss in excess of $2.1 million, was sentenced in a different court by a different judge to 120 months (10 years) in prison.

The sentence imposed upon Wendy Weiner Runge, who cheated the State of Iowa out of about $1.9 million in tax credits, may well be harsh. But it certainly is in the ballpark as far as prison sentences go.

I have long been a firm believer in the maxim that if you cannot do the time, then don't do the crime!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

One misunderstood tenet of Anglo-American jurisprudence is the principle that in a criminal prosecution, the accused is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. It is a legal fiction whose purpose is protect the Constitutional rights of the defendant by compelling the prosecutor to prove each and every element of the crime for which the defendant stands accused.

People often wonder how an attorney can represent a criminal defendant the attorney knows is guilty. The answer is that the attorney's client is the United States Constitution. It is a criminal defense attorney's job to hold the prosecution to the standards of the United States Constitution.

Does this mean that many guilty people walk free? It certainly does. But there need to be limitations on the government's power, and the famous (albeit misunderstood) presumption of innocence is one such bulwark against tyranny.

Which brings us to the case of the People of the State of New York v. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. [For the truly clueless out there, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, now stands accused of sexually assaulting a chamber maid in his Manhattan hotel room.].

The French Government's official and unofficial statements implore the public and the media to keep in mind the presumption of innocence. And not inappropriately so.

Nevertheless, it was not until after France signed onto the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1953 that the French jurisprudence system extended that same presumption of innocence to criminal defendants. Under the Code Napoleon, the accused was guilty until proven innocent.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Buying the Election only if He Wins

In 1898, the City of New York was formed from five counties, to wit, Richmond, Bronx, New York (Manhattan) Queens and Kings (Brooklyn). The eastern towns in Queens were loath to go along with the deal, so, following approval by the New York State Legislature, they broke off and became Nassau County.

Today, Nassau County is one of the wealthiest in the United States. It is also one of the most inefficiently run. So inefficiently, that in 2000, the New York State Legislature, itself no paragon of governmental efficiency, created the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority ("NIFA") as a nanny to oversee the County. NIFA has activated its nanny role by declaring a "control period," and now, the County government needs NIFA's approval when it decides how many sheets of toilet paper to tear off to wipe its toochas.

Nassau County owns a structure known as the Nassau Coliseum, which is, among other things, the home ice rink of the New York Islanders, and also a venue for various entertainment events and shows. But the Coliseum has, since its opening in 1972, deteriorated. There is no serious question that a complete rebuild would be more cost-effective than a massive large scale repair.

Charles Wang, the owner of the Islanders, has threatened to move the Islanders away from Long Island unless the Coliseum is rebuilt.

So now, the County proposes to float bonds for $200 Million to finance not only a new Coliseum, but also a major league ballpark. Such a bond issue must be approved by the voters, and also by NIFA. The electoral process for the vote would cost somewhere between $800,000 and $1,200,000.

Wang has said that he would reimburse the County for the cost of the election -- provided that the bond issue is approved by the voters.

I believe that the whole system of professional athletics is bass-ackward. I do not per se oppose professional athletics, but do not believe that the taxpayers should subsidize the business. This is particularly so in Nassau County, whose government has already demonstrated its fiscal incompetence.

Moreover, athletics at the high school level has similarly gotten to be too much of a burden on the taxpaying populace [Disclosure: I was a varsity letterman in high school.].

If the purpose of organized athletics at the high school level is to develop character of the athletes, then the high school teams do not need all of the expensive high end accoutrements which have become the norm. If, on the other hand, the purpose of organized athletics at the high school level is to develop professional athletes, then the big league professional athletes should subsidize the high schools' athletic budgets.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang's conditional offer is, in my book, the equivalent of tendering a bribe.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tax Relief in the Growler

Most bills introduced in the Congress or the state legislatures, if they do become law, undergo many changes between initial introduction and their final wording. Accordingly, I usually do not get too excited about bills introduced in Congress.

Nevertheless, some bills are worth watching. HR-1675, introduced on 2 May 2011, is one of them. This bill, if enacted, would reduce the excise tax on beer.

If indeed this measure passes, then it would be good for lots of L'Chayim, Cheers, Salud, Slainte, Na Zdrowie, Prost, Mabuhay, Genatzt, Skal, Saude!!

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Images and Imaginations

I was not going to post on the topic because it has gotten too viral, but I've had too many questions posed to me by various and sundry people in various and sundry situations over the past 48 hours, and certain matters need to be set straight. There will be no hyperlinks in this posting, lest additional contributions be made to the current feeding frenzy.

The White House released a photo of Barack Hussein Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room, watching the mission to take out Bin Laden unfold. The Yiddish language newspaper Die Tzeitung, based in Brooklyn and directed to an insular religious Jewish readership, published the photo, but with the images of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Audrey Tomasen photoshopped out of the picture. Die Tzeitung is one of those newspapers that does not publish photographs of women, based upon its interpretation of certain religious prohibitions, and the fear that men who look at such photographs might likely entertain various impure thoughts and fantasies.

I make no apologies for Die Tzeitung and other publications that have "no photos of women" policies. I do not now seek to distance myself from them (though in many respects they themselves have already done the distancing). I shall not now dissect the logic, and the flaws therein, of the notion that the Torah prohibits the publication of photographs of women. I take no position as to the propriety or ethics of altering a photograph released to the media with the stipulation that the photograph not be altered. And I do not now analyze whether the implementation of the aforementioned policies do or do not constitute a debasement and degradation of women.

I do, however, note (in no particular order) that:

A. I do not consider the subscriberships of Die Tzeitung and similar-minded publications to be more religiously observant than I am. As alluded to in previous postings, I keep the Sabbath, eat kosher, wear a kippah on my head, and my wife covers her hair.

B. This matter has drawn a significant amount of media attention upon groups that, by their own unabashed admission, seek insularity.

C. Said media attention has collateral impact upon those of us who are also Torah-observant Jews, but who have not problems with photographs of women (provided that the woman in the photograph is not immodestly or provocatively dressed or demeanored).

D. The media attention generated may well redound to the detriment of the insular groups the news publications in question identify with. Specifically, these same insular groups, which are not known for providing their people with a high degree of self-sustaining vocational skills, are dependent in no small part upon the generosity of charity-givers and/or the politicians. The current ridicule may well dissuade, to one extent or another, the continuation of such generosity, particularly in thin economic times such as those which currently prevail.

In its public apology, the sincerity of which I do not question but the efficacy of which I do, Die Tzeitung described the White House's photograph as "iconic." But if indeed a photograph is truly "iconic" then Die Tzeitung's editors cannot expect their manipulation of it to go unnoticed.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Negotiating with Terrorists

Seems that French President Nicolas Sarkozy now threatens to recognize a so-called "Palestinian" state if Israel doesn't restart the negotiations.

Never mind such would amount to suicide on the part of Israel, and never mind that there is no such thing as the "Palestinian People," and never mind that Israel has the right, nay, the duty, to exist in the land G-d gave the Jewish people.

But if indeed Israel is "occupying" the land of Judea and Samaria (never mind that the land is not occupied, but liberated), then Sarkozy has some of his own negotiating to do regarding the separatist political movements in some of the lands which France now occupies. These include the Occitans, Corsicans, Basques and Bretons. This does not even begin to address the overseas lands occupied by France as an oppressive colonial power, including but not limited to Wallis & Futuna and French Guiana.

So come on, Sarko, get your toochas to the negotiating table!

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Jewish American Heritage Month

Lots of my friends are getting all celebratory over the fact that May is officially Jewish American Heritage Month. President Barack Hussein Obama has once again this year issued a Presidential Proclamation to that effect, and the Library of Congress even has a dedicated website on it.

On one hand, it is not a totally bad thing for the government to recognize the contributions of its Jewish citizens, and send out the metamessage that Jews are not bad people. This is far, far better than is officially done by certain other governments of now and yore, Islamic and otherwise. It is far, far better than U.S. Secretary of State (and later, President) James Monroe's rescission in 1813 of Mordecai Noah's appointment as U.S. Consul to Tunis because he did not want to offend the Bey of Tunis on account of Noah's Jewish faith. [N.B. That excuse doesn't wash because the Bey himself had Jewish representatives in his service, including Aaron Nunez Cardozo in Gibraltar.]. And during his brief tenure as U.S. Counsel to Tunis, Mordechai Noah did have some respectable successes in diplomatically controlling the predations of the Barbary Pirates (who were the Muslim terrorists of the day).

But, proud as I am of the Jewish contributions to America and to the world, this Jewish American Heritage Month thing is not without its uneasiness for me.

Specifically, at what point is the line crossed, and the U.S. government becomes more than just a recognizer of, but a definer and arbiter of the Jewish history and culture and people? They have already done this with the African-American race, and, quite insidiously, now have the Native Americans boxed into being a race of purveyors of tobacco and gambling (and, unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of prostitution).

Moreover, the Government's exemplars of Jews on the website include few if any religiously-observant ones. Which wouldn't be so bad if so many (though not all) of the nonreligious ones they did feature were not so antithetical to the true American values of strength and self-sufficiency.

And, in a broader sense, anything in the hands of Barack Hussein Obama is suspect.

Especially if it is Jewish lives!

I do not need the U.S. government to define my heritage. I do not need the U.S. government to tell me when to celebrate my Jewishness! It is all well and good that May has been declared Jewish American Heritage Month, but in my book, EVERY MONTH is Jewish American Heritage Month!

And so, while I am not without my appreciation of Obama's Jewish American Heritage Month proclamation, I cannot party too heavily over it. Someone's got to be the designated driver, to get people home safely after the party is over!

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