Friday, August 19, 2016

Inside the White House Internship Program

New Legislation Helps Families of Homicide Victims with Funeral Costs

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that will make it easier for families of homicide victims to get help from New York State to bury their loved ones.

“Families experiencing a sudden and tragic loss should not have to also face the burden of burial costs,” Governor Cuomo said. “This legislation will help give the family members of homicide victims some peace of mind as they say their final goodbyes. I thank the sponsors of this legislation for their work in getting this passed.”

Under current law, only an individual who paid or incurred the burial expenses – a family member or person who owned a funeral home – can be eligible for reimbursement from the New York State Office of Victim Services. Funeral homes, however, are often associated with larger businesses operated by boards instead of individual owners, and are prohibited from filing claims.

The bill (S.7191/A.9762) changes that, allowing funeral home businesses to pay for burial costs on behalf of a family and then recover those expenses from the Office of Victim Services, which provides a financial safety net for innocent crime victims and their family members. The Governor signed the legislation yesterday.

The Office of Victim Services can provide up to $6,000 for burial expenses. Those costs covered by the agency include funeral services, burial plot, the deceased’s burial outfit, clergy fees, transportation costs for the deceased, obituaries, head stone, flowers, death certificates, church fees for religious services and flowers.

By law, a homicide victim’s family must utilize any existing insurance or funeral expense protection before seeking assistance from OVS. Between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, the agency approved 501 death claims. During this same period, OVS paid more than $1.8 million in funeral expenses.

Senator Patrick Gallivan said, “The loss of a loved one is devastating, especially when that person falls victim to crime. These changes give the families of crime victims peace of mind and takes the worry of funeral expenses off their shoulders during their time of mourning. They also ease the regulatory burden funeral home operators face when trying to meet the needs of these families. I thank the Governor for signing this bill into law, and Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes for her partnership.”

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “The amended statue allows funeral homes – whether owned by an individual or a corporation – to take on the burden of financial arrangements associated with a burial so families can concentrate on healing. This change to the law will bring relief to a family still reeling over the unexpected death of a loved one. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important piece of legislation into law and I thank co-sponsor Senator Patrick Gallivan for his work in getting it passed.” 

Source: Press Office, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

National Security Council Notes: World Humanitarian Day

The following statement was issued today by National Security Advisor Susan Rice. 

On World Humanitarian Day, we honor humanitarians across the globe for their compassion and their courage.  We remember the 22 UN and relief agency staff who died in a Baghdad bombing on this day 13 years ago as well as the nearly 4,000 other aid workers who have been killed, wounded, or kidnapped in the past two decades.  Humanitarians deserve our support, respect, and praise not just for their work, but for what they represent: our capacity to help those who are suffering, regardless of where they come from, what language they speak, or how they worship. 

Humanitarian crises are not distant tragedies.  Today, there are a record 65 million people displaced inside their own countries, living as refugees or seeking asylum. More than 130 million people across 40 countries are in need of humanitarian aid. The scourges that many flee - political repression, chronic violence, and natural disasters - cannot be defeated by building barriers but only by building hope and compassion. These are global challenges that demand collective action. 

And as world leaders gather at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, President Obama will convene a Leaders' Summit on Refugees, highlighting the United States' continued leadership on humanitarian assistance.  The Summit aims to significantly increase humanitarian funding, to double the number of refugees who benefit from resettlement or other humanitarian admissions programs, and to help empower refugees in countries of asylum - building on our commitment for a stronger, more accountable international humanitarian system capable of meeting today's unprecedented needs. 
Source: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary 

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Meeting

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held its August 2016 meeting, during which members discussed and voted on statements on a number of civil rights matters, including a recent settlement regarding Texan birth certificate issuance. 

Click here for video.

Source: C-SPAN

Aetna's Involvement in Health Insurance Marketplaces

The Hill's Peter Sullivan joins by phone to discuss Aetna’s decision to scale back its involvement in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces.

Click here for video.

Source: C-SPAN

'Flashback Friday': Combat Footage of the Korean War

Source: MilitaryPublicDomain

Trailblazers in Black History: Alfred Masters, USMC


Alfred Masters was the very first African American to serve in the United States Marine Corps. He was sworn-in on June 1, 1942, at 12:01am in Oklahoma City. His first training camp was Montford Point in North Carolina. He went on to obtain the rank of Technical Sergeant. 

Click here for additional information. 

Source: Wikipedia

Donald Trump: I 'Regret' Not Choosing the 'Right Words'

Trump Campaign Chair Manafort Resigns

U.S. Says $400 Million Payment Was Used to Guarantee American Prisoners' Release

The Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that a $400 million cash payment to Iran in January was used as leverage to ensure the release of four U.S. prisoners.

The payment, part of a $1.7 billion settlement of a decades-long legal dispute before an international tribunal in The Hague, was announced on Jan. 17, a day after Tehran freed the four Americans and on the same weekend that U.N. sanctions against Iran were lifted.

The White House and the State Department have strenuously denied Republican accusations that the transaction amounted to paying ransom, insisting that the timing was coincidental. 

Click here for the full article.

Family Sues School Alleging Special Needs Student Forced into Terrorist Confession

The family of a special education student is suing a Long Island, New York, school district for $25 million, alleging their 12-year-old son was forced to falsely confess to belonging to ISIS and to planning to blow up the school.

The federal lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New York's Eastern District, accuses East Islip Middle School administrators of violating Nashwan Uppal's constitutional rights when they allegedly coerced him into saying he was a terrorist and had bombs, searched through his belongings and locker, and for a period of time refused to let him contact his mother.

Zika Infects 5 in Miami Beach, Governor Rick Scott Says

Zika is now spreading in two places in Florida — in Miami Beach as well as an area north of Miami, Governor Rick Scott confirmed Friday.

Five people have been infected by Zika locally in Miami Beach, Scott said at a news conference.

Florida health officials had earlier denied reports that Zika was spreading locally in Miami Beach. The local spread — meaning none of those infected had traveled to Zika-affected regions — strongly suggests that mosquitoes in the area have become infected with the virus and are biting people and spreading it. 

Click here for the full article.

NY Firefighters Dispatched to Help Battle West Coast Wildfires

A crew of 20 employees and volunteers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are heading to western states to assist in the containment of wildfires burning throughout the West Coast.

“Historically, New Yorkers seek to help whenever and wherever crisis looms and this crew upholds that important tradition by assisting in the control of these devastating wildfires,” Governor Cuomo said. “I commend these individuals for their bravery, and I look forward to their safe return home.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation employees and volunteers deployed will join crews from other states and will be assigned to fires where they are most needed. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Conservation sent two additional state forest rangers to assist in fighting western fires.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “The work of DEC’s firefighting team serves as a great example of how states can work together and share resources during times of adversity. I watched the staging operation this morning to wish our crews a safe and successful trip out west and will welcome the team home with much gratitude for their courageous work.”

The New York team is expected to be active in firefighting for two weeks. All personnel travel and administrative costs for the crew will be paid directly by the U.S. Forest Service or reimbursed to the state.

New York first sent a firefighting crew to assist western states in fighting large wildfires in 1979, and, on average, one or two crews have been sent to assist each year. In addition to helping contain the western wildfires and minimize damage, these crews also gain valuable experience that can be utilized in fighting wildfires in New York. 

Source: Press Office, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

More Nursing Homes in Western New York are Receiving Lowest Possible Federal Rating

One in three nursing homes in Western New York received the lowest possible score in the latest ratings from the federal government, a marked increase from a year ago.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave a 1-star rating to 26 of the region’s 74 nursing homes. The agency uses a 5-star scale to measure how well nursing homes deliver care to their residents.

One in five nursing homes in the region received a 1-star rating a year ago.

Statewide, one in five nursing homes received a 1-star rating in the latest ratings.

A Buffalo News analysis of the data found:

The region’s nursing homes, as a group, earned an average overall star rating of 2.5, compared to 3.11 for all nursing homes in New York State and 3.16 for all facilities in the nation.

The ratings for 26 nursing homes dropped in the past year: two facilities by three stars, eight facilities by two stars and 16 by one star.

Nine area nursing homes received the highest 5-star rating. Four of them – Harris Hill Nursing Facility in Williamsville, Autumn View Health Care Facility in Hamburg, Briody Health Care Facility in Lockport and the New York State Veterans’ Home in Batavia – have held the highest rating in each of the last three years.

Three of the 26 facilities with a 1-star rating have received the same score since 2014: Emerald North Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Buffalo, Niagara Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Niagara Falls, and The Pines Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in Olean. 

Click here for the full article. 

Source: The Buffalo News

Prisoners’ Voices Blocked and Censorship in U.S. Prisons

By Jaan Laaman

The United States is often called the country of prisons because we are five percent of the world’s population, but the U.S. holds 25 percent of all the prisoners in the world. Recently we have heard talk from the White House and Congress about the need to reduce this huge prison population, which is costing the taxpayers billions.

Occasionally you might hear a prisoner’s voice on some media platform, usually a Human Rights or community outlet. These present words are written by Jaan Laaman. I am a long held political prisoner presently locked up in the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. Let me be very clear, prisoners have a hard time getting our words and thoughts out from behind America’s many, many prison walls. While prisoners do have a legal right to express their thoughts and report on issues and abuses, actually getting your words out is often very hard or impossible.

All incoming and outgoing prisoner communication, postal mail, phone calls and some restricted email services that some prison systems allow, are all opened and monitored. This is authorized by regulations and law. Further censorship and outright blocking of communications and publications, also routinely occurs in prisons throughout this country.

Letters, magazines and books critical of government policies and wars are often not delivered, even if official policy states that prisoners are allowed these materials. Sometimes a prisoner has all his or her phone or email communications arbitrarily shut off for months. While an official appeal channel is usually available, these are biased at best and could easily be labelled a kangaroo court process. Communications would be shut down for months, even if the prisoner ultimately wins appeal and has his or her communications restored.

Censoring, restricting and flat out blocking communications, especially of political prisoners, is a harsh and dangerous reality going on now, in prisons all across this country. My own voice, which has previously been heard on radio and in print over many years, has been almost totally cut off since February. No official explanation has been given, other than, that prison authorities do not like my commentaries and essays. Freedom of speech---Freedom of expression, for America’s prisoners is a constant struggle!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Nina Simone on 'Blackness'

This video was published on YouTube on February 29, 2016. 

Born on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone received a scholarship to study classical piano at the Juilliard School in New York City, but left early when she ran out of money. She turned her interest to jazz, blues and folk music and released her first album in 1958. In the ‘60s, she became identified as the voice of the civil rights and wrote songs about the movement. She died in France on April 21, 2003.

Source: Same Passage

Baltimore’s Law Department Fires Well-Known neo-Nazi Lawyer


After the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that Glen Keith Allen, an attorney with neo-Nazi ties, was hired by the Baltimore City Law Department, the city terminated his contract. Allen was hired to defend the city in a lawsuit alleging that police officers withheld and fabricated evidence to wrongfully arrest and convict an African-American man for a murder he apparently did not commit. News of Allen’s work with the department comes just one week after the Department of Justice’s blistering report documenting deep racial disparities in policing in the city.

Click here for the full article. 

Source: The Southern Poverty Law Center 

Donald Trump, Poll Watchers and Voter Fraud

By Richard Cohen

Donald Trump has in recent days raised the specter of massive voter fraud, saying that he could lose in Pennsylvania only if “in certain sections of the state they cheat.” And he’s proposed a remedy: volunteer poll watchers.

It’s a remedy that’s now being trumpeted by white supremacists and far-right conspiracy theorists.

The great irony here is that we have far more to fear from efforts to combat voter fraud, including the potential for an army of Trump poll watchers, than we do from any actual voter fraud.

The claim that the integrity of our electoral system is threatened by people voting more than once, by pretending to be someone else, or by voting when they are not eligible has been a favorite of right-wing politicians and pundits in recent years.

As is well known by now, there is virtually no evidence to support the claim. Nonetheless, 15 states this year will have new voter restrictions in place to combat the phantom problem, just in time for the presidential election. The total would have been 17, but federal judges this summer struck down North Carolina’s law – possibly the harshest in the country – and blocked another in North Dakota.
Courts also have ruled against all or parts of voter restriction laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Kansas in recent months. But those remain largely in effect pending further court action.​ 

Click here for the full article. 

Source: The Southern Poverty Law Center

Rare Zika Complication Hits 30 in Puerto Rico; CDC Expects More

Thirty people have been diagnosed with a rare paralyzing condition caused by Zika virus infection in Puerto Rico, the territory's health department said Thursday.

And Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden says he expects even more cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome in Puerto Rico because the virus is infecting so much of the population.

"We think there will be as many as 200 additional cases, given the overall number of infections there," Frieden told NBC News. 

Click here for the full article.

‘Meant To Be’, by Rabbi Marvin Hier

In an excerpt from 'Meant To Be', the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and  its Museum of Tolerance remembers growing up on the Lower East Side.

It has been more than 50 years since I left New York City’s Lower East Side. But that immigrant neighborhood of crowded tenements, synagogues, kosher delis, and Yiddish theaters has never left me. The people and places I first encountered on its bustling streets did not just form a backdrop to my childhood; they shaped my view of the world and my place in it. Every decision I’ve made, every project I’ve undertaken, can be traced back to those endearing characters on Cannon, Columbia, Grand, Delancey, Essex, and Henry streets.

There was our family dentist, Dr. Celnicker, who cut costs by making temporary fillings from yesterday’s newspapers. “Moishele,” he said to me one day as I looked past my scuffed saddle shoes and out the window to Clinton Street from his reclining dental chair. “Do you want me to use the sports section, or would you prefer the movie section?”

“I wouldn’t mind Joe DiMaggio’s box score!” I answered.

Across the street, the Syd and Howe Candy Store sold chocolate syrup that made the best egg creams in the neighborhood. Every Friday, cars lined up on Houston Street, trunks opened wide, waiting to be filled with two-gallon glass bottles. One afternoon as I was sipping an egg cream at the soda fountain, a Chassid barged in waving a bottle overhead. “It’s just milk and chocolate—it’s kosher, right?”

“Absolutely,” replied Joe the Fountain Man. “Just don’t drink it with a fleishig [meat] kugel.”

Harry the Pickle Man was a fixture of the neighborhood. My buddies Willie Lehrer, Sheldon Miner, and Seymour Brier and I would sometimes meet at his stall between Sherriff and Columbia streets, and tussle for the best positions around Harry’s stout wooden barrel. Convinced that the bottom of the barrel yielded the most flavorful pickles, every woman had the same request for Harry, better known by his Yiddish name, Hershele:

“Please Hershele, zei a zoy gut [be so kind] and give me nor fin hintin [only from the bottom].” 

As I watched Hershele submerge each glass jar—and the sleeves of his heavy wool coat—into the dilled brine, I decided it must be the wool that gave his pickles their unique flavor.

Some of the great Jewish sages of our generation lived on the Lower East Side. Strolling down East Broadway, you might overhear your neighbor offering, “A gutten tag, Rebbe” (Have a good day, rabbi) to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the world-renowned Lithuanian rabbi and scholar. Or you might see a young mother waiting outside the famous Boyaner Rebbe’s shul to beseech him to say a special prayer for her sick child. 

Click here for the full article. 

Source: Tablet Magazine

Cuomo Signs Legislation Authorizing Teens to Make Organ Donations

Governor Andrew Cuomo today signed legislation (S.5313-A/A.4990-B) authorizing sixteen and seventeen years olds to make organ donations upon their death. The legislation includes appropriate safeguards that enable parents or legal guardians to rescind the decision if the minor dies before age 18.

"With thousands of New Yorkers still waiting for the gift of life, we continue to focus on making organ and tissue donations available to all those in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By authorizing 16 and 17 year olds to make the selfless decision to become an organ donor, we take another significant step to grow the state's Donate Life registry and create opportunities to save lives."

Current law provides that the minimum age to make an anatomical gift in New York State is 18. As such, New Yorkers who apply for a learner's permit at age 16 or 17 cannot register for the New York State Donate Life Registry. By allowing 16 and 17 year olds to register, New York is opening up the registry to an entirely new population which will subsequently increase donation rates.

Senator Kemp Hannon said, "I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important legislation into law and ensuring that 16 and 17 year olds throughout this state are able to take the heroic step of becoming organ donors. Right now, there are so many New Yorkers in need of this lifesaving gift and this law plays an important role in expanding New York State's Donate Life Registry so ill New Yorkers can be connected with the organs they so desperately need."

Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz said, "Many young adults would like to be able to become an organ and tissue donor. This law will allow New Yorkers 16 years and older to enroll in New York's Donate Life Registry. Parents will, of course, still be able to provide final authorization. New York is in the midst of a public health crisis where the need for organs for transplant far exceeds the supply. The state can now reach out to more people and do a better job to promote organ donation. One single organ donor can save the lives of 8 people. I am pleased that this will now become state law." 

Source: Press Office, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

President Obama to Travel to China and Laos

President Obama will travel to China and Laos September 2-9, 2016.  This trip will highlight the President’s ongoing commitment to the G-20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation as well as the U.S. Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific.

In China, the President will participate in his final G-20 Leaders’ Summit, where he will emphasize the need to continue building on the progress made since 2009 in advancing strong, sustainable, and balanced global economic growth.  He will underscore the importance of G-20 cooperation in promoting a level playing field and broad-based economic opportunity.  The President will also conduct in-depth meetings with President Xi Jinping of China in Hangzhou, where the two leaders will discuss a wide-range of global, regional, and bilateral issues.

President Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Laos, where he will participate in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.  Additionally, he will have bilateral meetings with President Bounnhang Vorachith and other key officials to advance U.S.-Lao cooperation on economic, development, and people-to-people ties, among other areas. The President also will participate in the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative Summit, where he will hold a town hall meeting.  During the ASEAN Summit, the President will discuss ways to strengthen our economic cooperation with the countries of Southeast Asia, which collectively represent America’s fourth largest trading partner and further enhance our collaboration on regional and global challenges.  At the East Asia Summit, the President will coordinate with the region’s leaders on efforts to advance a rules-based international order.

This visit also will support the President’s efforts to expand opportunities for American businesses and workers to sell their products in some of the world’s fastest-growing markets. Central to this effort is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the high-standards trade agreement that will unlock key markets to American exports and cement America’s economic leadership in the Asia-Pacific.

This is the President's eleventh trip to Asia since taking office in 2009. 

Source: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary

Progressive Issues in Campaign 2016

Demos Action President Heather McGhee discusses how progressive issues are playing out in campaign 2016. 

Click here for video.

Source: C-SPAN

The Republican Party and Climate Change


Former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), who has embraced the concept of global warming, discusses why he believes his fellow Republicans should work with Democrats on efforts to reduce climate change.

Click here for video.

Source: C-SPAN

Printed Biblical Verses Is A No-No To Have On Your Military Desk

 Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling

By Ryan Velez

In a decision called “ridiculous” by her representative, a Marine has lost her federal appeal after being court-martialed for refusing to take down biblical verses from her desk, reports The Daily Mail.
Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling lost a 2014 court-martial at her base in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, largely after her refusal to remove said verses. While she challenged this action in federal court, on Wednesday, she was told that she had lost after it was ruled that the order was not a “substantial burden” on her First Amendment rights.

“We reject the argument that every interference with a religiously motivated act constitutes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military court, in a 4-1 decision.

“In this case, the record does not clearly address whether (Sterling’s) conduct was based on a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ or motivated by animosity toward her chain of command,” it added. “Military orders are presumed to be lawful and are disobeyed at the subordinate’s peril.” 

Click here for the full article. 

Source: (via Your Black World News) 

Can Christian Colleges/Universities And The LGBTQ Community Work Together?

By Victor Ochieng

Christian colleges and universities outline specific policies that they believe provide the foundation for their respective educational missions. Some of these schools strongly oppose same-s*x romantic relationships. There are some private religious academic institutions allowed to enforce their unique policies, some of which include not employing gay or lesbian teachers. In some cases, these schools refuse to provide housing for students in same-s*x relationships.
Ironically, many of these private academic institutions accept tuition fees from government loans and grants. This has led many critics, including some human rights groups to claim that the government is supporting discrimination in the name of religion, with some saying that by providing loans and grants to students in these institutions, the government is subsidizing discrimination.

Because of such policies, students whose beliefs that contradict those of their schools go through painful experiences. In fact, it pushes some of them to consider transferring to other academic institutions or even reconsider their religious belief, their future, or relationships. Fear of being reprimanded by the administration forces some not to openly talk about their s*xual orientation or beliefs. 

Click here for the full article.

Source: (via Your Black World News)

Saving Our Youth: Inside the Fight Against Gang Violence in Detroit

This video was published on YouTube on July 15, 2016. 

Source: WXYZ-TV Detroit | Channel 7

Trailblazers in Black History: Alice Coachman, Olympic Champion

This video was published on YouTube on Oct 23, 2012.
In 1948, Alice Coachman became the first African American woman to win a gold medal, after leaping 1.68 meters (5 ft 6⅛ in) in the finals of the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics. 
In this episode, civil rights icons Tommie Smith (1968 Gold Medalist) and Minnijean Brown Trickey (member of the Little Rock Nine), discuss how Coachman's achievements were far more significant than just a gold medal in sports.

Source: Team USA

As Technology Shifts, More Layoffs Loom at Tech Companies

Cisco's announcement on Wednesday that it plans to lay off 5,500 employees is unlikely to be the last round of Silicon Valley pink slips as hardware companies struggle to keep up with rapid technology shifts, analysts and recruiters said.

Companies that traditionally have made most of their money selling computers, chips, servers, routers and other equipment are especially vulnerable, analysts say, as mobile applications and cloud computing become increasingly important. 

The Cisco layoffs come in the wake of Intel's announcement in April that it was laying off 12,000 workers. Dell said in January it had shed 10,000 jobs and is expected to make further cuts after it closes a $67 billion deal to acquire data storage company EMC.