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Holocaust victims can still be helped, more than 70 years later

GLENS FALLS — More than 70 years after the Holocaust, there are still things people can do to help the Jews who were murdered.

People can help care for the abandoned cemeteries that hold the victims’ ancestors, said Dr. Michael Lozman, an orthodontist from Latham.

That was the message at Sunday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Congregation Shaaray Tefila. Lozman described his one-man effort to restore Eastern European Jewish cemeteries that had been abandoned ever since the Jewish communities there were destroyed during the Holocaust.

“What can you do for those Jews who were murdered? Restore their family cemeteries. It’s our obligation, our responsibility,” he said.

Lozman traveled to Belarus to see his father’s grave and found the cemetery overgrown and forgotten.

“It was appalling,” he said.

He went to the mayor of the village to ask that the cemetery be repaired, and the mayor told him he was welcome to do anything he wanted.

“He thought I was just a tourist. I got a weedwacker from Home Depot and some metal stars and came back a week later,” Lozman said.

It was the beginning of a journey that has led Lozman to spearhead repairs of 15 cemeteries — 10 in Belarus and five in Lithuanuia. He brings college students to each village at the end of a course on the Holocaust, and the students live in the village while chopping down trees, lifting up fallen cemetery stones and installing fences to mark the cemetery boundaries.

“They feel they’ve made a difference,” Lozman said. “They’ve invested their time in something that’s meaningful.”

For those who think a cemetery is meaningless when the community buried there has been wiped out, Lozman turned to letters written by Holocaust victims. In one, victim David Berger wrote, “If something happens, I would want there to be somebody who would remember that someone named D. Berger had once lived. This will make things easier for me in the difficult moments.”

He was killed in Lithuania in 1941, shortly after he wrote that letter to his girlfriend, who had escaped to Palestine.

Restoring the cemeteries of those victims’ ancestors was everyone’s duty, since the victims cannot do it themselves, Lozman said.

They should also be restored to keep the “tangible evidence that the Jews were there,” he said.

The cemeteries have been abandoned for so long that they are “dissolving into the surrounding fields,” he said, and erasing all trace of the vibrant Jewish communities that were once in all of those villages.

And the work creates some opportunities to remember the victims themselves.

On a visit to Grosovo, Belarus, he met a man who had kept a handwritten list of every Jew taken by Nazis from the village. The man wouldn’t let him copy the list, fearing that he would be punished for having it. But Lozman was able to persuade him to allow a photograph. Lozman later erected a memorial at the cemetery there, listing all of the murdered Jews from that village.

He’s pleased by the improvements at all 15 cemeteries that have been restored so far.

“It’s becoming places of respect, which is what they deserve,” he said.

Student Rabbi Stephen Slater, who led the event, called Lozman a “self-made ambassador.”

“I hope it will inspire people to take up their own projects,” he said. “It’s really nice to hear a hopeful story of what we can do.”

The event was also sponsored by Temple Beth El.

Appeals court: Electronic ballots covered by FOIL

A New York appeals court ruled Thursday that the state Freedom of Information Law covers the electronically scanned images of ballots taken from voting machines.

This is how it works: A person fills out a paper ballot, which doesn’t have his or her name or identifying information on it. The voter slips that ballot into a voting machine, where an electronic image is recorded. That image is saved onto two flash drives in a random fashion, which preserves anonymity. The paper ballot is then fed into a secure box underneath the machine. One flash drive is removed and given to the local board of elections. All the data is transferred over to a larger hard drive, and the now-blank flash drive can be used for another election.

Only after the process is complete can the vote be requested via FOIL.

The state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Third Department made the decision in the case of Kosmider v. Whitney.

In 2016, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Bethany Kosmider, a former supervisor of the town of Crown Point, sought access to the images of Essex County ballots and cast-vote records from the 2015 local election.

She was denied.

Essex County Attorney Daniel Manning claimed FOIL didn’t cover the access she wanted and that a court order was required.

In response, Kosmider wound up suing Essex County Election Commissioners Mark Whitney (Democratic) and Alison McGahay (Republican), as well as Bill Ferebee (R-Keene), who was then chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

In a phone interview Thursday, Kosmider said she wasn’t accusing anyone of malpractice and that she wanted the ballot images to conduct a study on how people vote.

Referencing a separate but tangential point, she said, “We’re a predominantly Republican county, and we voted for Obama. I just thought that was funny.”

State Supreme Court Justice Martin Auffredou issued an order to Essex County that it had to release the images and records on Jan. 19, 2017.

The county appealed the ruling.

Manning has told Sun Community News that the appeal was less about blocking transparency and more about respecting the privacy of voters. He said having the information readily available can create problems.

“That does interfere with a person’s right to have anonymity in their vote,” Manning said.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview Thursday that it seemed clear from the start that the images would be made available.

He said unless a person tells someone who they voted for, there really isn’t a way to trace a ballot to the voter who cast it.

“We should be concerned about privacy,” he said, “but there are situations, at least in my view, where there is no possible way to obtain a person’s identity.”

In an interview Thursday, Manning said it’s a little too early to say whether the county will try to appeal the case further.

“We only received the decision today, so I haven’t been able to discuss it with the board yet,” he said.

The court’s ruling was not unanimous. Justice Philip Rumsey dissented, saying FOIL doesn’t cover electronic images. This allows for the county to go to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

“We could appeal to the Court of Appeals,” Manning said, “but again, that decision hasn’t been made yet.”

As for his opinion on the ruling, he said, “I disagree with it. We’ve always tried to do what we thought the law said.”

Appellate Division Justice Stan Pritzker, a Supreme Court justice from Washington County, wrote the decision and opinion.

Washington County facing looming fiscal issues

FORT EDWARD — If WCC continues to not pay its taxes on the former General Electric Co. dewatering facility, money is going to be really tight for Washington County at the end of the year.

Meeting payroll will be a delicate balancing act, said Treasurer Al Nolette.

“It’ll be damned close,” he said. “If the current climate continues, first quarter of ’19 will be a little sketchy.”

He wants to have $9 million in savings each year so that there is cash flow for payroll, pension payments and other big bills that hit before the county gets tax revenue in February each year.

For example, in December he must pay about $3.2 million to the state for the employee retirement system, while also continuing to pay all the employees.

County officials now project they will have just $6 million in savings next winter if WCC doesn’t pay its tax bills. The county must pay the town, village and school district whenever a taxpayer doesn’t pay. WCC’s tax bill to those entities this year is $3.8 million. WCC owns the land that GE leased for its dredging operation.

Despite the financial problem, county officials stressed that they do not plan to lay off or furlough employees.

First of all, there are not enough nonessential personnel to lay off. Their salaries wouldn’t be enough to make up $3 million, said Budget Officer and Easton Supervisor Dan Shaw.

And in any case, he doesn’t want to lay off or furlough anyone.

Instead, he wants the supervisors to cut back on spending throughout the year.

If worst came to worst, the county could borrow against its upcoming tax revenue to make payroll, said county Administrator Chris DeBolt.

Nolette said that would be the worst possible option, because the county would pay interest on the money. It often takes a municipality years to dig itself out of the hole of borrowing money every year to make it through to tax time.

But it’s an option, Shaw said.

“There’s not a good answer to your question that would make anyone feel good,” he said after a Finance Committee meeting in which he outlined the bad news.

“We have some serious issues,” he said.

After the meeting, he explained that the problem hasn’t hit yet, so there’s still time to improve the county’s finances.

“We have a situation that is looming in the future,” he said. “We have to look at needs. ... We have to be very mindful of how we approach our finances.”

The county can’t make WCC pay its taxes. The company is embroiled in a lawsuit with the town of Fort Edward over its assessment. Until that case is closed, either through a judicial decision or a settlement, the county cannot seize the property to sell at auction.

WCC officials have said they do not have the money for the taxes because they aren’t making any money at the site. But Shaw was not moved by this argument.

“We don’t care. They could sell it,” he said. “That’s what you do when you have a property and you can’t pay the taxes.”

The issue has been brewing for years, even before WCC stopped paying its taxes this year. The supervisors have been spending some of the county savings every year, prompting Nolette and Shaw to repeatedly warn that soon there would be a financial crisis if they didn’t change their ways.

Nolette warned last year that the county wouldn’t have enough savings for cash flow in about four years.

“WCC has turned up the heat,” Nolette said. “But before WCC even came on the radar, they had a spending problem. This has just sped up the problem significantly.”

Even if WCC began paying its taxes again tomorrow, Nolette said, the county supervisors must spend less.

At the same meeting at which the cash flow problem was discussed, supervisors decided to add two positions, for a total additional cost of $70,000. Only Nolette, Shaw and Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff spoke against the expenditures.

Shaw begged the supervisors to wait and put the new positions in the 2019 budget. The positions are for a cybersecurity officer and to replace the director of data processing with a higher paid chief information officer.

“The world’s not going to end if we don’t do it today,” Shaw said.

But Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien said the positions are important.

“Yes, I understand the tax levy. I understand the tax cap. But we have certain services we need to provide,” he said.

US to hit Russia with new sanctions for aiding Syria's Assad (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase “Mission Accomplished” to describe a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, even as his aides stressed continuing U.S. troop involvement and plans for new economic sanctions against Russia for enabling the government of Bashar Assad.

Stepping up the pressure on Syria’s president, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated the sanctions, to be announced today, would be aimed at sending a message to Russia, which she said has blocked six attempts by the U.N. Security Council to make it easier to investigate the use of chemical weapons.

“Everyone is going to feel it at this point,” Haley said, warning of consequences for Assad’s foreign allies.

“The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life,” she said. “The fact he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop.”

Trump tweeted Sunday that the strike was “perfectly carried out” and that “the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term ‘Mission Accomplished.’” He added that he knew the media would “seize” on the phrase, but said it should be used often. “It is such a great Military term, it should be brought back,” he wrote.

Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished” on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.

Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.

Haley made clear the United States won’t be pulling troops out of Syria right away, saying U.S. involvement there “is not done.”

Haley said the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests, defeating the Islamic State group and having a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

“We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things,” she said.

Haley said the joint military strike “put a heavy blow into their chemical weapons program, setting them back years” and reiterated that if Assad uses poison gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France wants to launch a diplomatic initiative over Syria that would include Western powers, Russia and Turkey. Speaking on French television BFM and online site Mediapart, Macron stressed that the French diplomacy is able to talk with Iran, Russia and Turkey on one side and to the United States on the other side.

He said, “Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain.”

The nighttime assault on Syria was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and British allies a “military crime” and “act of aggression.” The U.N. Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the three Western allies.

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians April 7 in Douma. The U.S. says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Assad tweeted while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the early morning barrage.

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” said Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

Meanwhile, The leaders of Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon said Sunday that Western airstrikes on their ally, Syria, have complicated prospects for a political settlement to the country’s seven-year conflict.

A day after the U.S., Britain and France bombarded sites they said were linked to a chemical weapons program, Assad appeared briefly on state TV, seemingly unfazed by the military action — and even reportedly in high spirits.

Assad told a group of visiting Russian lawmakers that the strikes were accompanied by a campaign of “lies and misinformation” against Syria and Russia in the U.N. Security Council.

Moscow and Damascus are waging the same “battles” against terrorism and “to protect international law based on respect of the sovereignty of countries and the wills of people,” Assad said in comments carried by state media, an apparent jab at the three Western allies.