Monday News Briefs from Eretz Yisrael

January 26th, 2014

ywnisrael.israel· DM Ya’alon is permitting building materials into Gaza following storm damage.

· Levaya of former Meretz leader and cabinet leader Shulamit Aloni took place at 16:00 in Kfar Shmaryahu.

· Anat Kam is released from prison after serving 2 years of 3 year sentence.

· A 20-week-old fetus inside a placenta was found in a parking lot on HaGalil Street in Beit Shemesh. Police are investigating.

· Police call on the public to assist in locating escaped mental patient Surgi Labit, who is viewed as a danger to the public. He was last seen in the Maalot area.

· A 56-year-old male is in moderate condition after being bitten by a viper snake in a hand. Experts report the unseasonably hot weather is bringing out the snakes.

· Jerusalem graffiti artist in custody after he boasted his actions on his Facebook page.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Gross Boys Remain in Very Serious Condition

January 26th, 2014

tehillThere is a ray of optimism as רפאל יצחק אייזיק בן מיכל opened his eyes in an ICU in Schneider Children’s Hospital and was able to communicate with doctors. According to a Ynet report, this occurred on Shabbos after doctors brought reduced the medication keeping him in a medically induced coma and connected to ECMO unit. Doctors asked him if he wanted a candy and he communicated he did.

Doctors point out however that despite the encouraging sign, the children, Refael and his brother חיים מיכאל remain in serious condition and the boys are far from being out of the life-threatening danger. Doctors add that when he is not in the medically induced coma he does hear but he did not speak or communicate definitively. When asked if he wants something he blinks his eyes, adding “this is far from seeing light at the end of the tunnel”.

Speaking to Kol Berama Radio on Sunday morning, 25 Shevat, R’ Shimie Gross explained that both his sons have responded to vocal stimulus B”H by squeezing his hand.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Taxpayer Advocate: Avoid Health-Care Tax Surprises

January 26th, 2014

taxIt’s not too early to start thinking about the tax implications of health care reform.

Did you buy health insurance through one of the exchanges? You might be eligible for a refundable tax credit. Taxpayers had the option of estimating their 2014 income to see if they qualified for the credit and then having it applied in advance to the cost of the premiums.

“We have an opportunity in the 2014 filing season to educate taxpayers about what they need to do during the year to avoid problems during the 2015 filing season,” National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said.

Her advice to those taxpayers: keep the exchanges advised if there are changes in your circumstances that could affect the subsidy.

“It could increase if you have another child and you want to be able to get the benefit of that,” she said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. “It could decrease if you have a significant pay increase, if your spouse gets a job, if a child is no longer covered on your plan.”

As a result, some taxpayers could end up owing the U.S. Treasury money when they file their 2014 taxes next year.

“It may mean that they would have a reduced refund, and many taxpayers depend on their refunds for various things,” Olson said. “They’ve used them for planning. They use them like savings, so that will be a rude surprise for these taxpayers. And we can avoid it by having them go into the exchanges throughout the year.”

But what about those taxpayers who don’t get refunds — between 75 percent and 85 percent do, she said — or those whose refunds aren’t big enough to cover what is owed if the subsidy is reduced?

In that case, “the easiest thing is you’ll have a refund the next year, and we’ll take it out of the refund the next year,” Olson said. “It’s a debt on the books. It’s an assessed tax, and we can collect it for 10 years and it’s just a computer offset.”

While her job is to take on the Internal Revenue Service where necessary, Olson said the agency’s role in verifying income for people applying for the health-care subsidy has been working well. “They have lessened the time in which they are able to give the answer to the exchange,” she said.

But she said there needs to be more outreach and education does need to be done about the Affordable Care Act. She called on the IRS to make its website more informative by offering more examples “so taxpayers can recognize themselves if you direct them to a page,” she said.

As for her own role, Olson said she speaks for taxpayers, interceding in individual disputes with the IRS and pushing for tax reform. She said she understands the agency’s constraints and won’t propose changes that are unrealistic. “But,” she said, “I’m not going to take as an answer, ‘Oh, this is too heavy of a lift.’”

There are 74 taxpayer advocates around the country — at least one in each state — who work with her, she said.

To qualify for taxpayer advocate assistance, you must show that you face a significant hardship — that the IRS is causing you economic harm, that its systems are not working or that your rights have been violated. “That gets you through the door,” Olson said.

Ask her what challenges taxpayers face and she answers emphatically, “Getting assistance from the IRS, getting service from the IRS.”

In fiscal year 2013, she said, nearly four out of 10 calls to the IRS did not get through to a live person who could help. The average wait time was 17.5 minutes.

Getting IRS assistance is particularly an issue, she said, when it comes to identity theft, which remains a major issue, although the number of cases has declined since the IRS put “significant screens” in place. When identify theft occurs, Olson said, the IRS needs to act more quickly and consistently to help victims.

“The taxpayer has already gone through an enormous amount of angst and huge inconvenience … and we do not recognize that in our customer service to them,” Olson said. Victims of identity theft typically speak to a different person each time they call the IRS, she complained, and “have to explain their situation over again.”

She said the agency should assign each case to one person who can see it all the way through.

As for electronic filing, Olson suggested that taxpayers look into the IRS’ Free File program, which allows people whose adjusted gross income is under $58,000 to file their taxes for free through the IRS site. For people whose income is higher, the IRS has Free Fillable Forms, which do the basic math but don’t walk you through filling out your returns.

“I don’t think I should have to pay to file electronically with the IRS,” said Olson, who uses the Free Fillable Forms. “That’s my duty as a taxpayer, and the IRS in the 21st century should make it available to me for free. It’s crazy.”

She urged taxpayers to check out tax preparers carefully before hiring one, and not to fall for promises of huge refunds. “It really becomes a ‘consumer, beware’ world,” she said.

In dealing with tax preparers, she offered these tips:

—Get a copy of your return. “If the preparer then alters the return after you’ve signed off on it, that’s proof that it was a false return that was filed.”

—Make sure the preparer’s name, registration number and address are on the return.

—Check with the Better Business Bureau or state consumer affairs agency to see if there are any complaints against the preparation firm or preparer.

“Even though that seems like some work upfront, if you get sucked into one of these preparer issues it can take over a year to get it resolved, and that’s just pain that nobody needs to go through,” she said.

(AP)

German TV: Snowden Says NSA Also Spies on Industry

January 26th, 2014

Edward SnowdenFormer NSA contractor Edward Snowden claims in a new interview that the U.S. agency is involved in industrial espionage.

German public television broadcaster ARD released a written statement before an interview airing Sunday night in which it quotes Snowden as saying that if German engineering company Siemens had information that would benefit the United States — but had nothing to do with national security needs — the National Security Agency would still use it.

ARD did not give any further context and it was not clear what exactly Snowden accused the NSA of doing with such information.

Snowden faces felony charges in the U.S. after revealing the NSA’s mass surveillance program. He has temporary asylum in Russia.

(AP)

Iowa Supporters Encourage Clinton To Run In 2016

January 26th, 2014

hilHillary Rodham Clinton hasn’t announced whether she will run for president in 2016. But her supporters in early voting Iowa are organizing anyway.

Top Iowa Democrats gathered Saturday in Des Moines to build support for a potential Clinton White House bid. Craig Smith, a senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary super PAC, says he wants to ensure Iowa support is in place should Clinton run.

The event’s hosts include the state chairs for Clinton’s 2008 campaign and President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Ready for Hillary is building a national network in preparation for a Clinton candidacy. Priorities USA announced Thursday it would back Clinton if she runs, a sign that senior members of Obama’s campaign team are lining up behind the former first lady and secretary of state.

(AP)

Bloomberg: Immigration Reform Key To GOP Future

January 26th, 2014

bloFormer New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said Friday that a Republican Party that ignores the nation’s Hispanics and balks at immigration overhaul does so at its political peril as Republicans pressured the House GOP to act this year.

“If you are against the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, you and your party don’t have a future,” Bloomberg said flatly at a forum on immigration with Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration.

National Republicans insist that the party must pass reforms and address the issue of the 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally to be competitive in presidential elections. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who suggested that immigrants “self-deport,” won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders are working on a set of principles on immigration that they expect to present to the Republican caucus next week at its annual retreat.

While the document has given new hope to immigration proponents, opposition still remains strong in the House, where many Republicans fear granting amnesty to those here illegally, worry about the political fallout in their districts and oppose giving President Barack Obama a long-sought legislative victory.

The forum sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was a fresh reminder of the divide within the GOP between national Republicans and many in Congress. It marked one of the first public events for Bloomberg since he stepped down as mayor.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform. To be blunt, we have a dumb system,” said Snyder, who described efforts in Michigan to grant visas to immigrants for work.

He said it would “turbo-charge” the economy in places like Detroit.

Gutierrez said that without immigration overhaul, “our workforce down the road doesn’t grow,” and argued that there was increasing recognition within the GOP that it must be the party of immigration.

The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. The measure stalled in the GOP-led House, where Republican leaders have insisted that they will take a piecemeal approach.

“It’s up to the leadership,” said Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, “if Boehner wants to get it done. He is an accomplished politician. He’s been around a long time. He’s got a tough hand, but that’s what leadership is all about and his tactics will be what he’s comfortable with.”

Randy Johnson, vice president of the Chamber and the point person on immigration, said Boehner is working on a unified document that the GOP caucus could back.

Unclear is how the principles translate into legislation and how far it would go. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the No. 3 leader in the House, expressed support this week for legalization for many of the immigrants here illegally while Democrats have pressed for a path to citizenship.

An unusual coalition of business, labor and evangelicals has lobbied hard for immigration legislation. Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, has said immigration overhaul is a top priority this year. Donohue met with Boehner last week.

The issue is also crucial to several House Republicans whose districts have seen an increase in Hispanics and who are concerned about their re-election chances.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who met with Boehner earlier this month, said the speaker is “very committed to getting it done and getting it done this year. He quoted Boehner as saying, “There’s no good time to do it, so let’s just get it done now.’”

(AP)

NJ Politicians Complain: Super Bowl Program Ignores Host State

January 26th, 2014

sbFootball fans who think they’re coming to New York City for the Super Bowl will find plenty of activities, parties and attractions. What they won’t find is a stadium, or the actual game.

That’s because it’s being played in New Jersey, but some angry politicians say you’d never know it, judging by the promotional materials from the NFL.

New Jersey’s perceived slight by its famous neighbor began moments after the NFL announced in 2010 that the 2014 Super Bowl would be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford – about 10 miles outside of Manhattan.

But it reached a fever pitch this week when the NFL unveiled its design for the official game program and tickets – a shot of the New York City skyline – with New Jersey a small speck in the distance.

‘‘Apparently, the NFL needs a geography lesson,’’ Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) said at a press conference with Sen. Cory Booker and other elected officials held to denounce the NFL’s design and reprimand players and broadcasters who refer to the Feb. 2 game as the `New York Super Bowl.’ Menendez also took issue with the ‘‘tiny sliver of Jersey City’’ visible in the program cover, adding; ‘‘You’re kidding, right?’‘

Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL who took pains to point out he lives in New Jersey, sent a long list of the NFL-supported Super Bowl activities happening in the Garden State. He insisted that the program and ticket design featured Jersey City, and said the Super Bowl logo prominently shows MetLife Stadium with a view toward New York City, adding that other promotional decor displayed both New York and New Jersey.

But the program design – in which Jersey City can be found if you’re looking for it – hit a nerve that was made raw almost immediately after the 2010 announcement that the nation’s first cold-weather Super Bowl would be played in New Jersey; news which was heralded on the cover of New York City’s tabloids as the `New York Super Bowl,’ and is repeatedly referred to by sportscasters as such.

Gov. Chris Christie chided then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s glee at the announcement, and expressed exasperation with the New York-centric coverage of the Super Bowl host city announcement.

‘‘I look where that stadium is, and it’s New Jersey, and when everybody gets on the train or in their cars or on buses, they’re going to be coming to that game in New Jersey,’’ Christie said at the time.

Christie hasn’t commented on the latest flap over the NFL’s New York-centric designs, as his administration is dealing with an ongoing controversy over politically motivated lane closures in September at the George Washington Bridge that were prompted by a member of Christie’s office emailing; ‘‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.’‘

In a nod to both controversies, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, is running a contest for readers to redesign the NFL’s program cover by offering a sample design of their own: a photo of the New Jersey Turnpike, accented by Meadowlands tumbleweeds, over the caption: ‘‘Time for some traffic problems in East Rutherford – Super Bowl XLVIII.’’

(AP)

Leader: Egypt to Have Presidential Elections First

January 26th, 2014

imagesEgypt’s interim president announced Sunday that the country will have presidential elections before parliamentary polls, promising that a rise in “dark terrorism” won’t derail a transition to democracy following a July 3 popularly backed military coup.

According to Egypt’s newly adopted constitution, those elections are to be held before the end of April, with the parliamentary polls held before end of July.

In a brief televised speech, Interim President Adly Mansour said he will ask the election commission to open the door for presidential candidates to register as stipulated in the constitution.

The announcement, an amendment to the military-backed road map adopted after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, was expected. Many think that the army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi will run for president. Ecstatic crowds gathered across the country Saturday in government-sponsored rallies marking the third anniversary of the start of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, with many openly calling for el-Sissi to run.

The general has not yet made a formal announcement. He would have to quit his post as defense minister before launching a campaign.

But Egypt remains divided, as seen by the widespread clashes that struck across the country Saturday as well. Egyptian officials said Sunday that the death toll from the clashes was now 49. Three soldiers also were killed in an attack Sunday in the lawless Sinai Peninsula, the state news agency reported.

The July 3 coup toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed government. A Brotherhood-led coalition has held near-daily protests since his ouster, demanding Morsi be reinstated. The protests have often devolved into violence.

The continued protests, coupled with a rise in terrorist attacks, continued to challenge authorities. Mansour said Sunday that the rise in terrorist attacks against police and military will not derail the country’s transition to democracy.

“These terrorist attacks aim to break the will of Egyptians,” he said. “I tell those terrorists your despicable acts will not realize their goals.”

He vowed that the government will fight the violence “relentlessly” and “mercilessly.”

Mansour also said he appealed to the prosecutors to review the cases of detainees held without charges from protests, including university students, to ensure that those held for no reasons are released. Thousands are believed to be locked up following an intense government crackdown on dissent.

(AP)

Mayor de Blasio Hires Avi Fink and Pinny Ringel As Staffers In The Mayor’s Office

January 26th, 2014

pinny and BDBMayor Bill de Blasio has not filled up his administration yet, but Twenty-four of the 32 people who worked for him as Public Advocate got a free entry to the Mayor’s office, according to payroll records released Friday.

The records show that a total of 60 people have been hired and placed on the payroll in Mayor de Blasio’s office since he was inaugurated. 20 of them are already drawing paychecks, yet listed with positions that include the words “Final Assignment TBD.”

“Our transition staff is at work each day helping to carry out duties for the transition and assisting the administration while simultaneously being considered for jobs inside of the administration,” Mayor de Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams told the Daily News.

Avi Fink, Mr. de Blasio’s senior Jewish advisor was appointed to one of the most high ranking positions in the administration, working for the Mayor as deputy director of Intergovernmental Affairs under Emma Wolfe, with a yearly paycheck of $93.6K.

Fink, who Mayor de Blasio counts as one of his most trusted advisors, was chief of staff to State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky; he served as director in Anthony Weiner’s district office, handled the campaign of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley for Congress and most recently was deputy chief of staff in the public Advocate’s office and a senior adviser to Mr. de Blasio’s mayoral campaign.

Pinny Ringel, who served as a community Liaison for Mr. de Blasio as Public Advocate, is also employed at the Mayor’s office for a yearly paycheck of $65K, yet with a position yet to be determined. Ringel, who’s the first Hasidic staffer in the Mayor’s office, is expected to serve as a Jewish Liaison in the Community Affair Unit under Commissioner Marco A. Carrion, sources tell YWN.

Ringel had worked in Former Councilman and now State Senator Simcha Felder’s office from 2002 to 2010. He then joined the office of the Public Advocate. In 2012, Ringel served for a short time as Community liaison and chief of staff to former Senator David Storobin, before returning to the public Advocate’s office just in time of Mr. de Blasio’s announcement that he’s running for Mayor.

According to Ami Magazine, before embarking in the mayoral campaign, Pinny received a bracha from the Belzer Rebbe, Shlit’’a: “You should be Nosei Chein (find grace) in people and may your chassidish levush (Hasidic attire) serve you well!”

(Jacob Kornbluh – YWN)

In Address, Obama to Focus on Economic Opportunity

January 26th, 2014

1foodstampobamaStruggling to generate second-term momentum, President Barack Obama will use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to announce new executive actions on job training and retirement security, while prodding a divided Congress to work harder on expanding economic mobility for middle class Americans.

Obama’s broad themes — described by the White House as opportunity, action, and optimism — may find some support among Republicans, who also have picked up the inequality mantle in recent months. But as Congress barrels toward the midterm elections, there’s little indication the president will win over the GOP with his legislative policy prescriptions, including a renewed push to increase the minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education.

With its grand traditions and huge prime-time television audience, the State of the Union offers Obama an opportunity to start fresh after a year where his legislative agenda stalled, his signature health care law floundered and his approval rating tumbled. The president has cast 2014 as a “year of action” but has yet to show the public how he’ll ensure that’s more than just an empty promise.

Previewing the president’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “He’ll certainly aim high. Presidents ought to aim high.”

Obama has been tinkering with the speech in his typical fashion, writing out notes long-hand on yellow legal pads and scribbling edits on drafts typed out by his speechwriting team. The White House has heavily promoted the address on social media sites like Instagram, posting photos of Obama working in the Oval Office with lead speechwriter Cody Keenan. Aides are also working on an interactive version of the speech that will run online and feature charts and statistics about the president’s proposals as he’s speaking.

While each of Obama’s speeches to Congress has centered on the economy, the challenges have changed as the nation has moved away from the deep recession. Corporate profits and the financial markets have reached record highs, but many Americans are grappling with long-term unemployment and stagnant salaries.

Obama has struggled to gain traction on Capitol Hill for many of the economic initiatives he supports, including reinstating unemployment insurance for more than one million Americans who have been out of work for a long period of time. With that in mind, White House officials say the president’s speech will include announcements on policies he will undertake on his own. While officials would not detail the specific initiatives, they did say they would center on job training and boosting retirement security.

“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an email to supporters Saturday.

The president is also expected to announce steps to address long-term unemployment, including a plan to generate commitments from the private sector to hire people who have been out of work for extended periods of time. Obama is expected to hold an event at the White House next week focused on that effort.

But broader initiatives will still need congressional approval, including increasing the minimum wage and expanding early childhood education programs. Both initiatives stalled after Obama first announced them in last year’s State of the Union address, but aides say they see glimmers of hope for progress this year, particularly on minimum wage. Obama has previously backed raising the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

“These economic issues are breaking out,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to the White House. “People are very focused on more support for workers in this tight economy.”

Obama is also expected to renew his call for Congress to overhaul the nation’s patchwork immigration laws. The effort gained momentum last year when the Senate passed a landmark bill, but the legislation stalled in the Republican-led House. While passage of a comprehensive immigration law would mark a significant achievement for the president, he’s expected to be largely restrained in his public efforts in order to give GOP lawmakers room to maneuver on an issue that had proven to be politically challenging for the party.

The president will also tout the so-called Obamacare health law, which has rebounded somewhat after a disastrous launch in October. The administration announced Friday that about 3 million people have enrolled in federal- and state-run health insurances exchanges, though the percentage of young, healthy people signing up will likely need to increase by the March 31 deadline in order to keep costs down.

In keeping with tradition, Obama will travel the country to promote his agenda in the days after the State of the Union address, with stops planned in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee.

Republicans have their own ideas for what they’d like to see Obama outline Tuesday. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said the GOP wish list includes “expanding trade, approving the Keystone pipeline and promoting education and skills training for those still struggling in this economy.”

The traditional State of the Union response from the president’s opposing party will be delivered this year by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House. The move appears to be in part an effort by Republicans to ratchet up their appeals to women, who have sided with Democrats in large numbers in recent presidential elections.

While Obama is currently balancing several high-profile foreign policy matters, international issues are expected to get only a brief mention in Tuesday’s speech. The president is expected to note that the long war in Afghanistan will formally end later this year, though he’s not expected to announce any decisions on whether to keep some American troops there after 2014.

Obama will also tout progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran, which are scheduled to resume in February, and may press Congress to hold off on a new package of economic sanctions while the talks are in progress. The president has cast the negotiations as the best chance for peacefully revolving the international community’s nuclear dispute with Iran, but even he has said the odds of reaching a comprehensive agreement are only 50-50.

(AP)

Feds: NY Schools Should’ve Stopped Anti-Semitism

January 25th, 2014

hcrFederal prosecutors say education officials from a Hudson Valley school district didn’t fully respond to claims of anti-Semitic harassment at its schools.

The New York Times reports Saturday government lawyers say in court papers that they’ve got enough evidence to show officials in the Pine Bush Central School District ignored signs that greater action was needed beyond punishing individual students.

The school district has denied it condoned anti-Semitism and asked a judge to rule in their favor in a federal lawsuit brought by families of students who say they were discriminated.

Lawyers for the district didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Times.

The state police and state Davison of Human Rights are investigating the allegations.

The district has schools in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties.

(AP)

Arizona GOP Censures McCain For ‘Liberal’ Record

January 25th, 2014

McCain-Kosel.jpgThe Arizona Republican Party has formally censured Sen. John McCain, citing a voting record that they say is insufficiently conservative.

State party spokesman Tim Sifert says the resolution to censure McCain was approved by a voice-vote Saturday during a meeting of state committee members in Tempe. The resolution needed signatures from at least 20 percent of state committee members to reach the floor for debate.

Sifert says no further action is expected.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers declined to comment on the censure.

According to the resolution, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate has campaigned as a conservative but has lent his support to issues such as immigration reform and to funding the law sometimes known as Obamacare.

Several Republican county committees recently censured McCain.

(AP)

3 Dead, Including Gunman, After Md. Mall Shooting

January 25th, 2014

A man carrying a shotgun opened fire at a busy shopping mall in suburban Baltimore on Saturday, killing two employees of a skate shop and then himself as panicked shoppers ran for cover, police said. Five others were injured.

Police were still trying to determine the identity and motive of the gunman who killed a man and a woman, both in their 20s, at a skate shop called Zumiez on the upper level of the Mall in Columbia.

Witnesses described hearing gunshots and screams as shoppers ducked into nearby stores and hid behind locked doors. Many found cover in stockrooms and barricaded themselves until the arrival of police, who searched store to store. By late afternoon, the mall had been cleared of shoppers and employees.

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said at a news conference that authorities had difficulty identifying the gunman because of concerns he might be carrying explosives and were proceeding with an “abundance of caution.”

“We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident,” he said. “We do not have a motive.”

Someone called 911 at around 11:15 a.m. to report a shooting at the mall. Police responded to the scene within 2 minutes and found three people dead — including the apparent gunman near a gun and ammunition — either inside or outside the shop, which sells skateboards, clothing and accessories. McMahon said police were confident there was a single gunman.

Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at Zumiez.

Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, said in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son’s birth.

“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.

He said he had spoken with his daughter, Brianna’s mother, earlier in the day, but didn’t know who the gunman was or whether the person knew his granddaughter.

“It’s senseless. It’s totally, totally senseless,” he said.

He described his daughter’s family as a military family that had moved frequently and had been in Colorado before moving to Maryland about two years ago. He said his granddaughter was on good terms with her son’s father, and they shared custody.

“I mean what can you say? You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away,” he said.

Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks released a statement that the company is making counseling available for employees in the area.

“The Zumiez team is a tight knit community and all of our hearts go out to Brianna and Tyler’s families,” he wrote.

Howard County General Hospital said it had treated and released five patients. One patient had a gunshot wound, while at least three other patients sustained other injuries.

The mall is at the center of the town that’s a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, and it typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. It was busy with shoppers and employees when the shots rang out before noon.

Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter’s 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.

“My husband said, ‘Get down!’ and the girl that worked in the store said, ‘Get in the back,’” Harding said. That is where they hid until police searched the mall and signaled it was safe to leave.

The mall was closed to the public as police looked in each store for people who might still be hiding, McMahon said. It will remain closed at least through the night.

McMahon said it wasn’t clear whether the gunman and victims knew each other. He said officers did not fire any shots when they arrived at the scene. Asked if the gunman shot himself, the chief answered: “That is certainly what it appears to be at this point.”

Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Md., was with a friend getting facials for a “girls’ morning out,” she said. “The only thing I heard was all the people running and screaming and saying ‘There’s a shooter! There’s a shooter!’” she said.

Wearing a gel face mask, she and her friend hid in a Victoria’s Secret store.

People were directed out of the mall and into a parking lot, where some boarded a bus and others walked toward their cars. Some people were seen crying. McMahon said detectives were interviewing witnesses as they emerged from the mall.

Laura McKindles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.

Allison Cohen, who works at the apparel store Lucky Brand Jeans, said she always felt safe at the mall.

“I truly never thought something like this would ever happen here,” Cohen said. “It’s really, really shocking.”

(AP)

16 Injured in Fire on Board IDF Naval Vessel

January 25th, 2014

dvA fire broke out on a Devorah patrol boat during the afternoon hours of erev Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim 5774. 15 crew members were injured as a result of their efforts to extinguish the blaze. All but one was listed in light condition. the 15th is listed in light-to-moderate condition.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office reported the injured personnel were transported to a local hospital and they were discharged over Shabbos.

According to the investigation’s preliminary findings, the fire began in a motor of a water cannon used to distance fishing vessels from illegal waters.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

A Pig’s Head Sent to Italy’s Great Synagogue

January 25th, 2014

igsA number of Jewish institutions in Rome, Italy including the city’s Great Synagogue received a delivery of a pig’s head, leading to outrage among the members of the city’s Jewish community. The packages arrived on erev Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim 5774. The event appears to have been timed to coincide with the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed on January 27th. Other recipients of the pig’s head include the city’s Jewish Museum which has a Holocaust display and the Israeli Embassy in Rome. Also included in some of the packages was a letter addressed to Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl praising the Holocaust. In at least one of the cases a phone call accompanied the delivery of the package, warning it contained a bomb. The bomb demolition technicians finally opened the package, only to discover the pig’s head.

Rome’s mayor decried the acts of hate and expressed shock and stated the responsible parties bring embarrassment to all residents of the city. The mayor spoke with the city’s Jewish leaders and decried the acts against the Jewish community. Police are investigating.

The local media in Rome also reported anti-Semitic graffiti painted on a city building.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Concentration Camp Transport Train Added to Netanya Memorial

January 25th, 2014

aushwNetanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar said, “The memorial sites established in Netanya are a moral dictate, and they pay homage to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust”

On Thursday, 22 Shevat 5774, at the end of a complex and sensitive mission, an authentic German train car that was built in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and was used by the Nazis to transport Jews to the concentration camps, was brought to Bet Yad L’Banim.

The Nazis used the train cars to transport millions of Jews around Europe to their deaths at the concentration camps. The conditions were generally cramped with over 100 people in each car and lacking event the most minimal conditions such as ventilation, food or water. The journey usually lasted between 24 and 48 hours, and the passengers were quickly removed from the cars and taken to their deaths. Approximately 1.5 million of them died en route on the diabolical journey.

The car, known as “munchen12-246″ was found in 2013 by entrepreneur and site preservation expert Roni Dotan and Tatiana Rosa, who specializes in commemorating the Holocaust’ and Rachel Friedman from Netanya. They brought it to Israel through their volunteer efforts, based on the belief that displaying this car would strengthen knowledge and help commemorate the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust.

Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar was also a driving force behind this effort, after hearing from Dotan that a cargo car had been found in Germany. The Mayor, who is strongly committed to commemorating the Holocaust, decided to work actively to bring the car to Netanya – as permanent testimony to the obliteration of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

After the initial contact with Dotan, Netanya Municipality decided to adopt this important project and to invest the resources required to purchase, restore and bring the car to Israel. Additionally, Netanya Foundation solicited donations for the project. After tough negotiations between Netanya Municipality and the parties in Germany, the agreement was signed about six months ago.

“Netanya Municipality believes it is of the utmost importance to lead projects that document and commemorate the memories of the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust,” said the mayor and added, “We will never forget the millions of pure souls who through no fault of their own were brutally murdered at the hands of the Nazis. The memorial sites established in Netanya are a moral dictate, and they pay homage to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust. I would like to thank all of our partners in this unique project, which is an eternal memorial to those who lost their lives and serves as an important educational tool.”

Therefore, after being transported from the Port of Ashdod accompanied by a delegation of dozens of motorcyclists from the Israeli Motorcycles Club, the Israel Police and Netanya Municipality, the car was placed at Netanya’s central memorial site, next to Bet Yad L’Banim, home to the National Memorial for Fallen Ordinance Corps Soldiers (the military corps adopted by Netanya), the Alexandroni Brigade Memorial that was erected at the site of the division’s high command during the War of Independence, the memorial marking the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany (inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin) and the memorial to terror victims.

In this manner, the location of the car (at Yad L’Banim) underscores the “commemoration path” and commemoration stations between Holocaust and rebirth.

As noted above, the car will serve as a “living” monument and educational center dedicated to the Holocaust that will also display documentation on Netanya residents who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Additionally, to preserve and pass down the heritage, school children will visit the site; further education for teachers and workshops will be held there; permanent and temporary exhibitions will be displayed, and all delegations of students making the trip to Poland will visit. Extensive information about the car, the processes of transporting the “Jewish shipments” to the crematoria, the modern technologies used by the Germans to implement their “final solution,” testimonies by the car, statements made by survivors and more will all be on display as well.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Another Tragedy in Yerushalayim R”L: An Infant was Niftar on Shabbos Morning

January 25th, 2014

candle914According to the Ichud Hatzalah report, when responders arrived at the home of the infant in the Bucharim area of the capital he was unconscious. The call came in for assistance on David Street.

Responders found a 3-month-old unconscious infant in cardiac arrest upon their arrival. Resuscitation efforts began and were continued during transport but doctors pronounced the child dead in the emergency room.

The report adds the parents informed responders the child lost consciousness after a number of days with a fever.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

GOP Leaders Shorten Presidential Nominating Season

January 24th, 2014

NYS GOPRepublican leaders overwhelmingly voted Friday to shorten their presidential selection process in an attempt to minimize damage from GOP candidates attacking each other.

“This is a historic day for our party,” RNC chairman Reince Preibus declared.

He said the changes would not allow Republicans to “slice and dice” each other for six months or participate in “a circus of debates.” Republican candidates participated in 27 debates for the 2012 nomination.

Iowa and New Hampshire will retain their coveted spots atop the presidential primary calendar, and South Carolina and Nevada also secured top spots, as they have in the past, as part of a larger plan that could significantly reshape the 2016 presidential election.

The vote came as the Republican National Committee works to create an easier path to the White House for its next nominee roughly a year before campaigning begins in earnest for the next presidential contest. While President Barack Obama’s second term began just one year ago, prospective Republican candidates already have begun visiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that hold outsize influence because of their early positions on the primary calendar.

New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are scheduled to host the first four contests in February 2016 under the new schedule, while the remainder of the nation’s 46 states and territories would vote between early March and mid-May. The party’s national convention is expected in late June or early July, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm.

Officials from early voting states praised the plan, which establishes strict penalties for states that jump out of order, as Florida did in 2012.

Republican national committeeman Steve Duprey of New Hampshire described the changes as an “effective death penalty for any state that tries to jump the calendar.”

“This will be the best protection that New Hampshire has ever had for its primary,” he said.

The shift comes during the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, a collection of party leaders and activists from every state that controls the GOP’s national infrastructure. The group expects to finalize additional changes, including setting a new date for its 2016 national convention, later in the year. Among other changes, the RNC intends to dramatically reduce the number of presidential debates and have more control over the moderators.

“Big reforms are coming to our presidential nominating process — reforms that put Republican voters, not the liberal media, in the driver’s seat,” Priebus said.

GOP leaders also complained that the party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, was forced to suffer through a lengthy and expensive primary process that ultimately hurt his ability to compete against Obama. An earlier convention date, for example, would allow the party’s next nominee to access millions of dollars of general election cash months earlier.

Not everyone was pleased with the changes, which were approved by a 153-to-9 vote.

“I think we’re going too far in shortening this process,” Republican committeeman Morton Blackwell of Virginia said. “We need an adequate amount of time in order for presidential candidates to be tested.”

Committee members gathered in Washington this week also began considering the location of its 2016 national convention.

Representatives from four contending cities — Las Vegas, Denver, Kansas City, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio — offered gifts and parties to help secure an early advantage. Las Vegas’ bid, fueled in part by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, gave GOP officials complimentary wireless Internet access and goodie bags with fleece jackets and leather binders.

The RNC is expected to select its next convention location no earlier than this summer.

(AP)

Mayor de Blasio: NYC Will Handle Next Snowstorm Better

January 24th, 2014

bsNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is vowing to learn from mistakes made in response to this week’s snowstorm.

Several neighborhoods, including Manhattan’s Upper East Side, were not plowed effectively, snarling traffic.

Some areas of Staten Island still had snow-covered streets Friday, three days after the storm that left up to 11 inches of snow on the city.

De Blasio denied that Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty’s job was in jeopardy. Doherty, who also worked for ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg, is serving in an interim capacity.

De Blasio personally inspected the Upper East Side in the wake of the storm. He says he’ll do the same on Staten Island.

The mayor also says it is a coincidence that some of unplowed neighborhoods did not vote for him in November’s election.

(AP)

PM Netanyahu Attends Special Conference in Davos on the Cyber Issue

January 24th, 2014

bibi2Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on erev Shabbos 23 Shevat 5774,at the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, attended a special conference on the cyber issue that was held under the heading “Risk and Responsibility in a Hyperconnected World”. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and dozens of senior managers from around the world also attended.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was invited to address the conference, said that in the hyperconnected world in which we live, there are endless opportunities which are challenged by relentless attacks. He said that this was a global threat that had to be dealt with. The prime minister noted that Israel has hundreds of companies that were established in recent years and which concentrate on defensive technologies. He added that Israel was interested in sharing this know-how and invited conference participants to work together with us.

Mr. Netanyahu updated participants on the Digital Israel project which the Government approved last month in order to find innovative ways to provide digital services to the public via the use of advanced technologies that allow for the rapid transfer of high-volume content over a fiber-optic (or other) infrastructure.

The initiative will facilitate public links with, and accessibility to, the education, health and social welfare systems in the State of Israel while reducing geographic and social gaps, thus drawing the periphery closer to the center. In the future, the initiative will be expanded to other relevant government ministries. The initiative will also promote the infusion of technological tools in both the business and public sectors, including in small businesses by (inter alia) encouraging online commerce and sharing information, reducing bureaucracy and using online means to improve public service efficiency without having to leave one’s home. The initiative is being led by the Prime Minister’s Office, including Director-General Harel Locker and Deputy Director General Yossi Catribas.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

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