Chabad Chossid Seriously Injured in Kiryat Malachi Fire

June 24th, 2014

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A fire broke out in a residential building on Aryeh Tzimuki Street in Kiryat Malachi on Tuesday, 26 Sivan 5774. A resident who is a member of the local Chabad community, a male in his 40s, was seriously injured.

Ichud Hatzalah EMT Manny Azriel reports “residents told us they heard an explosion and someone was burned badly as a result of a fall from a considerable height.

The victim’s name for tefilos is מנחם מנדל בן מרגלית.

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(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem/Photos: Yosef Chaim ben Tzion, News 24)

 

More Info On Fiery Crash Which left 3 Dead In NJ

June 24th, 2014

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There was a tragic crash shortly after 12:30 p.m. today on northbound Rt. 287 near the New York border. A tractor-trailer carrying a load of bricks struck the side of a disabled concrete truck that was being worked on in the right shoulder of the road. Two repair workers and the driver, all from the concrete company, were struck and killed while they were outside of the truck.

A silver Toyota Avalon was also struck by the tractor-trailer and remained in contact with the front of the tractor as it ended up on the right shoulder well ahead of the cement truck. Both of those vehicles caught fire and received heavy damage before being extinguished. The husband and wife in the Toyota and the driver of the tractor-trailer all escaped before the fire engulfed the cab. They received minor injuries and were treated at two local hospitals.

The investigation is still in the early stages and next of kin for the deceased have not been notified. The NJ State Police tells YWN that further information regarding the companies and individuals involved may be released on Wednesday, but those identities are being withheld for now until further interviews are conducted. The major part of the investigation will likely take weeks to complete.

In addition to the New Jersey State Police Totowa Station personnel, Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, Crime Scene Investigation Unit, and the Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Medical Examiner’s Office, and the National Transportation Safety Board are assisting in the investigation. The New Jersey Department of Transportation and Mahwah Police Department assisted at the scene and with traffic diversions.

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(YWN Desk – NYC)

Remarks By NYS Senator Felder On The Mayor’s Special Education Initiative

June 24th, 2014

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“Good afternoon. This is a historic day. Thousands of parents with special needs children throughout the entire city, throughout every neighborhood, have been going through a painful and torturous process for many years.

They and their advocates – who just never give up – have not pleaded for our pity, but rather for the services they deserve and that are mandated by law. Together with Republican Majority Leader Skelos and the New York State Senate, as well as my co-sponsor of this legislation in the Assembly, Helene Weinstein, and her colleagues, and of course, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been an advocate on this issue since probably before I was born — we are all united to make sure families and children with special needs get what they are entitled to and get it immediately.

Mayor de Blasio has a long history of expressing concern for the special needs population and their families, going back to the days when we served together as Councilmen. On the campaign trail, the Mayor reiterated that commitment to making this issue a top priority.

I have had extensive conversations with the Mayor about this, and he indicated that, more than ever, he will ensure that families and special needs children get their services expeditiously and compassionately. We all must and will continue to do everything humanly possible to help these families. I look forward to working with the Mayor. Thank you.”

(YWN Desk – NYC)

Mahwah: 3 Dead In New Jersey Accident On I-287

June 24th, 2014

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Three people have been killed and others suffered minor injuries in an accident on Interstate 287 in northern New Jersey near the New York state border.

New Jersey State Police Trooper Jeff Flynn says a tractor-trailer struck a cement truck that was disabled on the right shoulder of northbound 287 near milepost 66.5 in Mahwah Township around 12:38 on Tuesday afternoon.

Flynn says three men who had been standing outside the cement truck were struck and killed.

A pickup truck that was parked on the right shoulder by the cement truck was also struck.

Flynn says there weren’t immediate details on other reported minor injuries.

The accident is under investigation.

Traffic was being diverted to exit 59 northbound off of I-287.

(AP)

Clarkstown Police Warn Of Car Break-Ins In Nanuet

June 24th, 2014

pdcThe Clarkstown Police Department has responded to several car larcenies in the Nanuet area over the last 2 weeks. Most thefts from motor vehicles are preventable. There are just a few things you need to do to prevent them. Once you realize the steps you need to take, we are counting on you to do them on a daily basis!

Practice T. L. C.

Take Out Valuables

If you can leave your valuables at home, do it. Otherwise, when you get to your destination, take your valuables with you. If you have to leave them in your automobile, put them in your trunk before you get to your destination.

Lock Your Vehicle

Enough said!

Close Doors and Windows

An open door or window allows a thief a quick and quiet way to enter your automobile. Take the time to make sure you closed everything.

The increase in motor vehicle larcenies is part of a national trend. The reason motor vehicle larcenies are on the rise is because people make it far too easy for a thief to gain access to their vehicle and make it so tempting to attempt entry by leaving valuables in plain view.

Thieves can quickly enter vehicles, often sight unseen. Many use the stolen items to help them get drugs to support their addiction. Increasingly, we are finding that thieves are using personal information found in vehicles to commit identity theft.

You might be surprised just what thieves are looking for, or what victims make available to them:

• Cameras, Laptop Computers, Cell Phones
• Car Stereos, Mail, CD’s, Purses
• Vehicle Registrations, Money, Jackets
• Gym Bags, Luggage, Briefcases
• Garage Door Openers

You can often choose where you park your vehicle. It is important to be aware of where you park. Thieves are looking for vehicles they can enter with the least possibility of someone watching and thereby alerting police.
Ideally, the best place to park is in your locked garage. Otherwise, here are other important factors to consider:

Don’t

• Don’t park where others cannot see your vehicle
• Don’t park in all-day unattended parking areas

Do

• Park in well lighted areas.
• Do join a Neighborhood Watch
• Do park in clearly visible areas

Other Safety Tips

• Mark your valuables
• Record your car’s VIN number
• Use anti-theft devices
• Do not have a key ring with your name on it

*** Report any and all suspicious activity by calling the Clarkstown Police Department at 845-639-5800 ***

Sullivan County: Boil Water Alert Issued For Thompson Water System

June 24th, 2014

bwThe State Health Department has issued a boil water order for the Cold Spring Road area of the Town of Thompson Water system.

All water for drinking and culinary purposes must be brought to a rolling boil before consuming because coliform bacteria was found in three consecutive samplings on June 16, 18 and 20. The state standard is that no more than one of the samples may be positive.

Whenever coliform bacteria is detected in a sample, follow-up testing is required to determine if other bacteria of greater concern, like E. coli, are present. E. coli was not found in this subsequent testing.

Harmful microbes in drinking water can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms.

An alternative to using boiled water is to use bottled water certified for sale in New York.

(Source: MidHudsonNews)

Chief Rabbinate Working to Lower the Price of Kosher Certified Foods

June 24th, 2014

lauChief Rabbinate of Israel spokesman Ziv Maor released a message to the media that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is working to lower the cost of kosher certified food products.

The Chief Rabbinate plans to approve more “veteran larger hechsherim” based in the Diaspora to permit more kosher imports in the hope this will lower prices. In addition, a committee has been working to find ways to use technology to lower the costs of supervision of milk from abroad towards increasing competition in the local marketplace and cutting costs to consumers.

Attending a meeting were Chief Rabbi David Lau Shlita, the director-general of the Ministry of Religious Services, the director-general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, as well as representatives of the treasury, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Religious Services and employees of the Chief Rabbinate’s Kashrus Division.

A team of Chief Rabbinate and treasury representatives has been working together in recent months with the goal of cutting the cost of food items in Israel in mind. The committee has learned there is a significant difference in the price of dairy products in Israel and abroad, prompting the rabbonim to look into the use of more cameras and other technological advances to provide kosher supervision from a distance towards cutting the costs involved in giving hashgacha.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is now formulating criteria towards determining which hashgachos from abroad will be accepted in Israel, hoping to add to the existing list. The Chief Rabbinate feels that additional imports with reliable hashgachos will increase competition in the marketplace and this will result in lowering of prices of local goods.

The statement read the Chief Rabbinate of Israel remains committed to cutting prices without compromising kashrus to compel the marketplace to lower prices to consumers.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

OU Applauds Sweeping Change in NYC For Families With Special Needs Children

June 24th, 2014

oulOU Advocacy’s work with New York state legislators promoting Special Ed legislation culminated with today’s announcement by New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of sweeping changes within the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for families with children with special needs.

The agreement between Speaker Silver and Mayor de Blasio ends the DOE’s practice of automatically challenging private school placements for children with special needs.

OU Advocacy partnered with Agudath Israel and the New York Catholic Conference to support the Special Ed bills before the New York State legislature. Last week, OU Advocacy and Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), brought a delegation of students with special needs and parents to Albany to advocate for the bills.

Key modifications to be implemented by the DOE in time for the upcoming school year include: expediting decisions about settling cases within 15 days; making tuition payments to parents on a monthly basis; providing a payment schedule to parents; reducing paperwork by only requiring parents to submit full documentation every three years; and refraining from re-litigating settled or decided cases, unless there is a change in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

“This agreement provides much-needed financial and emotional relief to parents who have, in the past, had to resort to costly, time-consuming and emotionally-draining litigation as their only option to secure funding for their children’s education,” said Jeff Leb, New York State Director of OU Advocacy.

“For too long, New York City parents of children with special needs—whose IEPs have approved placement in non-public schools—have suffered needlessly through endless litigation, financial uncertainty and educational instability,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, International Director of Yachad. “We are hopeful that today’s deal with help thousands of New York City’s families.”

The Silver-de Blasio deal was preceded by Special Ed bill S.7691 passing in the New York State Senate. Sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder, that bill included many of the details included in the Silver-de Blasio deal. A sister bill was sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein.

“We are extremely grateful to Speaker Silver and Mayor de Blasio for reaching this deal, to Senator Simcha Felder for sponsoring the Special Ed bill in the State Senate and ensuring its passing, as well as to Assembly Members Phil Goldfeder and Helene Weinstein for their unwavering support of the Special Ed bill in the Assembly,” Leb added. “We also want to thank Agudath Israel and the New York Catholic Conference for working with us to keep the concerns of families with children with special needs top of mind for our legislators.”

Noting that New York City had an opportunity to do “something foundational and right some wrongs,” Mayor de Blasio called the deal a “streamlined, parent-friendly, family-friendly, respectful approach.”

“Every child in this city deserves a quality education. But for years, parents of children with special needs have had to wait for the City to settle legitimate claims for tuition reimbursement. Today, we are turning the page, making changes that will ease the burden on these parents. We are cutting red tape, speeding up the process, and reaching outcomes that do right by families,” said Mayor de Blasio at today’s press conference.

“This is a great victory for our special needs children and their hardworking families,” said Speaker Silver. “For too long, parents of special needs children had to engage in a lengthy fight to get their children placed in a private school,” Silver said, adding that the deal “gives children with special needs the education they need and gives parents the emotional and financial relief they deserve.”

“We look forward to working with Mayor de Blasio’s team, particularly New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña” said Leb.

(YWN Desk – NYC)

Why A Grim US Economic Picture Is Brightening

June 24th, 2014

econWhen the government updates its estimate Wednesday of how the U.S. economy fared last quarter, the number is pretty sure to be ugly. Horrible even.

The economy likely shrank at an annual rate of nearly 2 percent in the January-March quarter, economists estimate. That would be its bleakest performance since early 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession.

So why aren’t economists, businesses or investors likely to panic?

Because most agree that the economy last quarter was depressed by temporary factors — particularly the blast of Arctic chill and snow that shuttered factories, disrupted shipping and kept Americans away from shopping malls and auto dealerships.

Since then, the picture has brightened. Solid hiring, growth in manufacturing and surging auto sales have lifted the economy at a steady if still-unspectacular pace. That said, sluggish pay growth and a stumbling housing rebound have restrained the expansion. But the economy’s recovery continues.

“We had a very bad first quarter, but the first quarter is history,” says Craig Alexander, chief economist at TD Bank. “It doesn’t tell you where the economy is going, which is in a direction of more strength.”

Wednesday’s report will be the government’s third and final estimate of the economy’s first-quarter performance. Here are five reasons economists are looking past last quarter’s dismal showing and five reasons the economy still isn’t back to full health.

HIRING IS ROBUST

If the economy really was tumbling back into recession, you’d see businesses laying off workers — or at least clamping down on hiring. That isn’t happening. Employers are adding jobs at the fastest pace in 15 years. That’s a pretty clear sign that they see last quarter’s troubles as temporary. And layoffs are down. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, has fallen 10 percent since the first week of January.

WINTER BLAST

With summer in full swing, it might be hard to remember the brutal winter. But the cold damaged the economy last quarter. Spending on autos, furniture, clothes and other goods rose at the slowest pace in nearly three years. With snow blanketing building sites, home construction plummeted in January. Alexander estimates that winter weather slowed economic activity by about 1.5 percentage points on an annual basis.

Yet the impact didn’t reflect fundamental problems in the economy. Americans who postponed car purchases during winter simply bought cars during spring instead. Auto sales jumped to a nine-year high in May.

CLEARING OUT STOCKPILES

Another drag on growth last quarter was probably also temporary: Companies sharply cut back on their restocking of goods. That wasn’t unexpected. It occurred after companies had aggressively ramped up restocking in the second half of last year. The slowdown in the January-March quarter reduced annual growth by 1.6 percentage points, the government said. With growth strengthening since spring began, businesses are restocking at a faster rate again. Inventories grew 0.6 percent in April, the most in six months.

HEALTH CARE COMPLICATIONS

Last quarter’s economy will look bleak in part because the government needs to correct a mistaken assumption. It previously figured that health spending soared last quarter after many Americans obtained insurance on the Obama administration’s health care exchanges. But when data was released this month, there was no sign of such additional spending.

As a result, consumer spending probably grew at a 2.3 percent annual rate last quarter, not the 3.1 percent previously estimated, according to JPMorgan Chase. Consumers have accelerated spending since then: Retail sales surged in March by the most in four years — and again in April and May, boosted by auto purchases. This month, consumer confidence reached a six-year high. That’s a hint that spending will further strengthen.

MANUFACTURING GAINS

After slipping in the first quarter, partly because of weather-related disruptions, factories are making more machinery, cars, furniture and computers. They’re hiring and giving workers more overtime, which translates into bigger paychecks.

Jason Anderson of CertainTeed, a manufacturer in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, said sales of the company’s roofing shingles, siding, insulation and other building products have rebounded since last quarter. The company is building a 150,000-square-foot factory in Jonesburg, Missouri.

“We’re still optimistic about the growth trajectory of the United States,” Anderson says. “All our plans are still on track.”

___

Most analysts think the economy is growing at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the current quarter and will expand at a 3 percent rate for the rest of the year. The Federal Reserve foresees a similar improvement.

Still, that pace would leave growth for the full year at about 2.25 percent, only slightly above last year’s 1.9 percent. And despite all the positives, it’s worth keeping in mind that a truly robust economy wouldn’t be thrown off so much by severe weather.

Here are signs that the economy still hasn’t achieved full health:

HOUSING SLOWDOWN

At the top of most economists’ worry list is housing. Rising home prices and higher mortgage rates have put homes out of reach for many would-be buyers. Even for people willing and able to buy, there aren’t enough homes for sale. All of which has slowed purchases, which fell 5 percent in May compared with 12 months earlier.

Builders started work in May on just over 1 million homes at an annual rate, below the pace of the final three months of last year. The slowdown translates into fewer construction jobs, smaller commissions for Realtors and reduced sales of furniture, appliances and garden supplies.

Yet there are signs that the housing market is stabilizing. Price gains are slowing. And mortgage rates have dipped. That could boost sales in coming months.

In fact, data released this week suggested that this may already be happening. Sales of new and existing homes jumped in May.

HIGHER GAS PRICES?

Another threat: Middle East turmoil, particularly in Iraq, could cause oil and gas prices to spike. That would leave consumers with less money to spend on other goods and could limit growth. Crude oil prices hit a nine-month high Thursday. Gas prices averaged $3.68 Monday, about a dime higher than a year ago.

STAGNANT WAGES

While layoffs have fallen back to pre-recession levels and hiring is steady, the economy still isn’t delivering what most Americans probably want most: A decent raise. Average hourly pay, adjusted for inflation, slipped 0.1 percent in May compared with a year earlier. It’s still slightly lower than when the recession ended in June 2009. Flat pay limits consumer spending, which drives about 70 percent of economic activity.

LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT

Despite the pickup in hiring, 3.4 million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer — more than double the pre-recession figure. Some may find jobs as the economy recovers. Others will give up searching and return to school, retire early or care for relatives. Economists worry that the longer people are out of work, the more their skills erode. Having many former workers permanently frozen out of the job market can slow growth. Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen expressed concern that long-term unemployment could create “permanent damage” to both those suffering through it and the broader economy.

UNEMPLOYMENT NOT AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS

The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.3 percent, a five-year low, from 10 percent in October 2009. But much of the drop has occurred because many people have given up on their job searches, retired or stayed in school and never started looking. The government counts people as unemployed only if they’re actively seeking work. The rate has tumbled in large part because many of those out of work aren’t being counted as unemployed, not because hiring has soared. The percentage of Americans working or looking for work has reached a 35-year low.

(AP)

R’ Yaakov Shapira: Eckstein’s Money is Not Kosher

June 24th, 2014

shapiraRosh Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav Rabbi Yaakov Shapira Shlita is counted among the voices against accepting funds from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and his organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The dati leumi community is divided as to accepting funds from the organization, with some leading poskim approving while others say accepting funds is prohibited.

The matter is more relevant today than in the past as the Ministry of Education is accepting funds from the organization to assist in funding summer camps, camps that many dati leumi families rely upon for their children. As such, families are asking their rabbonim if one may send one’s child to such a camp.

Amid growing criticism and opposition to accepting funding, Rabbi Eckstein recently stated that any organization that does not want their money should not take it.

In a schmooze with talmidim, Rav Shapira explained the matter of accepting funds from this organization becomes an issue from time-to-time. He told talmidim that the organization is run by Christian missionaries, quoting his late father, HaGaon HaRav Avraham Kahana Shapira ZT”L. “My late father and teacher expressed strong opposition to accepting money from the organization. One of the heads of the organization was in our home once, and he was forced to leave in disgrace. My father and mentor zt”l even sent an open letter to rabbonim in northern Israel” the rosh yeshiva explained.

The rav ended his talk by comparing the fund to the sin of the meraglim, stating “To our sorrow, there are always people looking for heterim and explanations for one thing or another. Can one who receives money from them know with absolutely certainty there will be no influence? This was the meraglim, ’באותו שעה היו כשרים’ and later, as the Maharal explains, when they were messengers of the evil they themselves became evil”.

Recently, Shomron Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, a prominent dati leumi posek, spoke out. He explained that the goal of the fund is to make the State of Israel dependent on Christianity and this is why one must not accept their Money.

In a recent article in the weekly BaSheva Newspaper, the mora d’asra of Yishuv Har Bracha, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed Shlita, a noted posek as well, expressed his opinion and he is not opposed to accepting funds from the organization run by Rabbi Eckstein.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Archivist: IRS Didn’t Follow Law With Lost Emails

June 24th, 2014

irsThe Internal Revenue Service did not follow the law when it failed to report the loss of records belonging to a senior IRS executive, the nation’s top archivist told Congress Tuesday.

“Any agency is required to notify us when they realize they have a problem,” David Ferriero, archivist of the U.S. during a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing.

In June 2011, former IRS executive Lois Lerner’s computer crashed, resulting in the loss of records that are sought in investigations into the agency targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. At the time, the agency tried to recover the records, but without success.

Republicans have questioned the timing of the hard drive crash, suggesting key records sought in the investigation have conveniently gone missing.

In a rare evening hearing before the same committee Monday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he has seen no evidence anyone committed a crime when the agency lost emails that might shed light on the targeting of tea party and other political groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Pressed by a congressman, Tuesday, Ferriero would not state that the IRS broke the law. He would only say that the agency didn’t “follow” the law.

“Federal agencies are responsible for preventing the unauthorized disposition of federal records, including their unlawful or accidental destruction, deletion, alteration, or removal from federal custody,” he said. “When an agency becomes aware of an incident of unauthorized destruction, they must report the incident to us.”

The National Archives and Records Administration did not learn about the lost records until earlier this month, Ferriero said.

Tuesday’s was the third hearing held since it was disclosed on June 13 that some of Lerner’s emails were missing due to a hard drive failure. Lerner has refused to answer questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

Monday night, committee chairman Darrell Issa, of California, subpoenaed White House counsel Jennifer O’Connor to testify about her time at the IRS from May to November 2013. While at the IRS, O’Connor helped the agency gather documents related to the congressional investigation.

On Tuesday, Issa called O’Connor a “hostile witness.”

O’Connor disagreed. “I’m definitely not hostile,” she said.

Later in the hearing, Issa said he consulted with another member who is a former prosecutor and the proper term to describe O’Connor is a “non-cooperative witness.”

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, on Tuesday said the Obama administration is not helping Congress get to the truth over the IRS’ close scrutiny of conservative groups and the agency’s recent revelation that it lost emails related to that probe.

“They’ve not only not fully cooperated, they haven’t done a damn thing to help us get to the truth of what really happened,” Boehner, of Ohio, said. “Lois Lerner refuses to tell us the truth, and then all of sudden, ‘Oh my goodness, we lose two years’ worth emails.’ Listen, I grew up in a bar, this doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

Lerner headed the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The Oversight Committee is investigating the handling of applications from tea party and other political groups. In May, the House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. Congressional investigators want Lerner’s emails to see if there is evidence that anyone outside the IRS was involved.

Koskinen said there was no evidence that Lerner intentionally destroyed the emails. To the contrary, he said the IRS went to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on Lerner’s computer, even sending it to the agency’s forensic lab.

In 2011, the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen said. He said Lerner’s hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed.

The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 period because she had copied in other IRS employees. Overall, the IRS said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013.

The IRS inspector general is investigating the lost emails, Koskinen said.

(AP)

Lapid Threatened & Vote on Forced-Feeding of Hunger-Strikers was Postponed

June 24th, 2014

lapChairwoman of the Knesset Interior Committee Miri Regev on Monday, 25 Sivan refused MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi to show a video of force feeding a prisoner in America’s Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. This followed a recent committee majority to instruct physicians to administer sedatives to administrative prisoners suspected of involvement in terrorism who are hunger striking to permit force feeding them.

After being refused, Tibi took his case to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein as well as the Knesset legal advisor. He calls on them to intervene to permit airing the video in committee session. Tibi feels the video is an eye opener and it is likely to change the minds of supporters of the new directive to force feed prisoners.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid become involved, protesting that it appears the committee was trying to bulldoze the regulation along while banning legitimate debate and opposition to the directive. He warned that since this is the case, he and his colleagues will vote against it in Knesset, making certain to torpedo it. Regev decided to hold off on a vote and the committee will address the matter once again next week.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

A Challenging Job For US Special Forces In Iraq

June 24th, 2014

ussolU.S. teams of special forces going into Iraq after a three-year gap will face an aggressive insurgency, a splintering military and a precarious political situation as they help Iraqi security forces improve their ability to battle Sunni militants.

The Army Green Berets, expected to make up much of the U.S. force, have been assessing and training other militaries for decades as a core part of their job. But while much of what they will be doing in Iraq will be familiar, it will be complicated by the stunning collapse of the Iraqi military, left leaderless by internal Sunni-Shiite divisions.

Experts suggest that while the elite commandos may be able to stop the immediate deterioration of Iraqi forces, it will require a far broader effort to quell the deep sectarian divide in the country and put systems in place to build more professional military leadership.

The U.S. and Iraq on Monday reached a key agreement on legal protections that will enable up to 300 special operations forces to deploy in the country. Two teams of 12 members each are already in Iraq and could begin their assessment this week, and another four teams are expected to go into the country soon.

“They will be very good at improving the immediate tactical proficiency of some of the Iraqi military, but they will be less prepared to address the long-term health of the Iraqi army,” said retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who was in charge of training Iraqi forces in 2007 and 2008. In essence, he said, the U.S. teams will be “sharpening the tip of the spear, but not replacing the rotted staff with a new one.”

In a string of battlefield victories, the Sunni militants have captured several key towns in the north and on the border with Syria, sending Iraqi troops fleeing. Abandoned by military leaders who may have felt alienated by the Shiite-led government, troops ran, leaving their weapons and equipment.

“It’s a rapidly deteriorating situation,” said Rick Nelson, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s a hot war. They have to get in and help stop the bleeding to get the Iraqi forces to be able to maintain stability and security in the country.”

Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers, head of Army Special Forces Command, said Green Berets currently are conducting training missions in 30 countries and do so in more than 150 nations each year. Highly trained in special warfare and counterinsurgency, the teams routinely are used to help other countries build and improve their militaries.

The latest Iraq mission, Rogers said, is more akin to what special forces have been doing in Afghanistan and the Philippines and what they did in Iraq during the war years. But it’s a bit larger than similar missions going on around the world, including a number of countries in Africa.

Rogers, who served in Iraq, said the assessment phase will be important in determining how to go forward but, “having some experience with that, I think that we will rather quickly understand where we need to apply our assistance.”

The teams will determine how the U.S. can best help the Iraqi forces, then the additional teams will deploy. They are expected to help the Iraqis improve their military systems and commands, but not embed with the fighting units or engage in direct combat.

Rogers also noted that a number of U.S. special forces have served in Iraq.

“The relationships that we have with the Iraqis, at least those that I had while I was there, were very strong, and I’m sure that we’ll be able to capitalize on this as we go back in,” Rogers said.

Still, Dubik said that while the commandos will provide important short-term help for the Iraq forces, they will not be sufficient to solve the problem. Instead, he said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs to make several critical political moves, including disbanding the office of the commander in chief, which has been blamed for roiling sectarian divisions and pushing a Shiite agenda.

U.S. officials are also pressing for a government transition that will better empower the minorities and bring the country together, thus conceivably avoiding a civil war.

The legal agreement signed Monday was needed to get the special forces into Iraq.

The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Iraq had outlined acceptable legal assurances for the short-term mission in a diplomatic note ensuring that troops will not be subject to Iraq’s judicial process. Instead, if there are any problems, troops would be subject to the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The legal protections are similar to those provided to U.S. diplomats and troops working out of the embassy, officials said,

White House spokesman Josh Earnest drew a distinction between the current situation and the administration’s desire to have the Iraqi parliament approve immunity for American troops when the U.S. was looking to leave a residual force behind in 2011. Iraq refused to sign that agreement and the U.S. pulled all but a small number of forces out of the country in December 2011. Fewer than 200 troops, largely providing security, have remained at the U.S. Embassy as part of the Office of Security Cooperation.

“We’re dealing with an emergency situation — that’s the first part — and there is an urgent need for these advisers to be able to do their work on the ground in Iraq,” Earnest said, adding that they are going in at the request of the Iraq government.

Officials also noted that the force being sent in now is much smaller than the several thousand that the military planned to leave there after 2011.

(AP)

NYC: Mayor de Blasio & Speaker Silver Announce New Steps To Help Families Of Students With DIsabilities

June 24th, 2014

debMayor Bill de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced a package of administrative changes that make the process easier and less contentious for parents who are entitled to reimbursement of tuition for their child’s special education program. The changes will affect parents whose children attend special education programs outside of public schools in order to receive necessary services.

The special education placement process has been fraught with contention and litigation in recent years. The changes announced today will simplify and expedite the process for families with valid claims. The Department of Education is committing to render decisions about whether to settle cases within 15 days, to expedite reimbursements to parents, and to limit the paperwork they are required to submit. The changes were developed in consultation with Speaker Silver and the New York State Assembly.

“Every child in this city deserves a quality education. But for years, parents of children with special needs have had to wait for the City to settle legitimate claims for tuition reimbursement. Today, we are turning the page, making changes that will ease the burden on these parents. We are cutting red tape, speeding up the process, and reaching outcomes that do right by families,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Each and every child in this state is entitled to a sound, basic education. Unfortunately, our public school system is not always able to accommodate children with special education needs, and many parents must turn to non-public schools. For too long, parents of special needs children had to engage in a lengthy fight to get their children placed in a private school. Parents have had to sue the City for reimbursement of tuition, placing an undue financial burden on these families. Worse yet, parents have to fight this battle year after year. On behalf of the Assembly Majority, I thank Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, who has led the way on this issue for many years, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, our Education Committee Chair, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, for his commitment to New York City’s children. This is a great victory for our special needs children and their hardworking families,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“The Department of Education is committed to ensuring that all students with disabilities receive the programs and services they need to thrive academically, socially and emotionally,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “This agreement will make the settlement process more efficient and help reduce the uncertainty and waiting for payment, which can be a strain for families with valid claims for tuition reimbursement.”

The action plan announced today will implement the following changes by September 1, 2014:

Expedite Decisions: Where settlement is appropriate, DOE will seek settlement within 15 days of receiving notice of parent intent to unilaterally place their child in a school.

Reduce Extended Legal Battles: The DOE will refrain from re-litigating settled or decided cases, unless there is a change in the IEP placement recommendation. The DOE will avoid unnecessary litigation in cases where the agency is unable to offer a placement, or when a child is about to enter the final grade of a school.

Reduce Paperwork: Instead of requiring parents to submit full documentation every year, the DOE will only require that paperwork every three years, allowing for income eligibility updates to be made each year, as needed.

Expedite Payments: DOE will make tuition payments on a monthly basis when required by a program, and it will provide a payment schedule to parents following any settlement. Once parents win a claim for tuition reimbursement, the DOE will pay the tuition while the DOE appeals that decision to a higher level of review.

(YWN Desk – NYC)

Speaker Rejects Appeal on Behalf of Knesset Employee Supporting Terrorists

June 24th, 2014

tibiA request from MK (Ra’am-Ta’al) Dr. Ahmed Tibi on behalf of the Knesset employee who posted his support for terrorists was rejected by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

The employee used his Facebook page to write “320 Palestinian administrative prisoners are hunger-striking are viewed as captives of Israel. They must be charged with crimes or released immediately. That you sit in an office and wear a suit, calling yourself president or a leader does not mean you aren’t a terrorist”.

When his firing was announced, it was also pointed out that this was not his first infraction and he was warned in the past that a repeat of this offense would result in his dismissal.

Tibi however was not basing his request on the content of the employee’s opinion, but the fact that “many Knesset employees have posted their own personal opinion in the past and they have not been fired”. Dr. Tibi cited this includes right-wing extremist views, but no one seemed bothered. The Arab MK feels the employee is being discriminated against because he is Arab.

Edelstein explained that the rules state specifically that an employee of Knesset may not publicize his/her personal political views, backing the decision to fire the employee.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)