Archive for the tag 'constitutional rights'

With the news of the former National Security Agency’s (NSA) Edward Snowden being granted asylum in Russia, WNYC thought it would be interesting to go Brighton Beach to get reactions from former residents of Russia and Soviet Union.

For those who haven’t been closely following the story, Snowden, 29, was a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before landing a job with the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who does work for the NSA. In a stunning report by the Guardian, Snowden blew the whistle on what he believed were constitutionally illegal activities undertaken by the NSA.

In his position, Snowden discovered that the NSA had the capability of casting a vast surveillance net with the power to record and store the private digital information of every American citizen. Snowden also revealed that the NSA was looking to expand its surveillance powers and decided to blow the whistle so that Americans, and the world at large, would know the true extent of of the operation.

Fearing for his safety, Snowden bolted for Hong Kong and then to Russia, seeking asylum from U.S. authorities, who want to bring him in on charges of treason and espionage. A majority of political leaders on both sides of the aisle and President Barack Obama have defended the NSA programs as being vital to win the war on terror.

The WNYC report includes reactions from Russian immigrants range from sympathy to mistrust. Take a listen above and let us know what you think of the irony of a U.S. citizen taking refuge in a country that Americans have assailed for decades over human rights violations.

church

A bill that would release FEMA funds to houses of worship damaged by Superstorm Sandy has been stalled in the Senate since last March. The Jewish Daily Forward is reporting that because of the holdup, many religious institutions are left waiting before they can proceed with any more repairs.

Late last February, we reported that the House of Representatives passed a bill that would alter FEMA’s rules to provide emergency funding for religious institutions. At the time FEMA objected to the measure on grounds that it was unconstitutional. Congressman Jerrold Nadler echoed these sentiments in his opposition to the bill, which caused a backlash from Jewish groups who had been lobbying hard for its passage.

While the bill eventually passed in the House, it has since stalled in the Senate with many lawmakers unwilling to debate a bill that might challenge key principles embedded in the First Amendment, namely the separation of church and state. As a result of the hesitation, those waiting for the money have begun to lose hope:

“Our hands are completely tied waiting for the state to give us the money we so desperately need to rebuild,” said Levi Pine, director of operations for the Russian American Jewish Experience, a local group housed in a heavily damaged Jewish center. “For many, Sandy is a thing of the past; for us still waiting, it’s something we deal with daily…”

“There are thousands of members just looking for morale,” Pine said. “FEMA would simply help build morale. Everyone’s basically feeling like orphans. And we get mixed messages from FEMA.”

Despite the logjam, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) have put forward new legislation which has been described as a counterpart to the original House bill. The Senate bill would free up FEMA spending for physical repairs and systems needed in houses of worship but exclude spending on religious items like Bibles, Torahs or Korans. Gillibrand and Blunt hope that the new limitations would represent a compromise to those who fear that the legislation would violate the First Amendment.

“Faith-based groups deserve the same opportunities to receive federal disaster aid as other nonprofit organizations,” Blunt said in a statement.

In the meantime, volunteers have tried to pick up the slack and help repair religious buildings damaged in the storm while others have moved on from waiting for government intervention entirely:

At RAJE, leaders enlisted the help of Third Day Missions, which is led by the Rev. Daniel Delgado of Staten Island and coordinates Christian volunteers from around the country to help with recovery work. Pine was thankful for their help, but he also said that they couldn’t be expected to provide the same level of work as professional contractors. He added that with volunteers, it’s often unclear how many will come each week and what tasks will get done…

Jeffrey Goldfarb, a member of Young Israel of Kings Bay, in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, helped his congregation put together applications and forms for aid. The building incurred $70,000 in damages and recently reopened its main sanctuary through the use of borrowed funds. “The minute I saw the bill, I thought it was interesting,” he said. “I thought it was a great thing to do, but it’s just terrible that it’s taken this long.”

Source: Silvercore Training / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: What we have in Congress — to paraphrase the iconic line from “Cool Hand Luke” — is a failure to legislate. That was quite evident last week after the Senate failed to expand existing gun laws without infringing on the Second Amendment. On top of everything else, because of undue filibustering rules, a 45 percent minority — too afraid to challenge the all-too potent National Rifle Association — defeated the will of the majority.

The American people — pardon the phrase — should be up in arms over legislation that would have strengthened and expanded background checks for gun sales.

With the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre still fresh in our minds, it was disgraceful, albeit not shocking, that nearly four dozen senators did nothing to assuage the painful memories of victims’ families or the overwhelming support of the American public in a clear cut triumph for the National Rifle Association.

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A Bushmaster AR-15, one of the three firearms the Newtown killer used to ambush his defenseless victims. Source: barryt83 / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: When I wrote my first column about gun violence in the wake of the fatal Columbine shootings years ago, I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Similar incidents happened before and were likely to happen again. I’ve written seven since then. Here’s number eight.

By now, I thought, Congress would at least have set stricter federal standards to reduce the chance of it recurring. Sensible, necessary laws are passed to ensure public safety with speed limits, penalties to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to requiring licenses, registrations and, in most states, insurance for motor vehicles. But when it comes to guns, the attitude is far too restrained.

In and around the annual commemorations to the victims of 9/11, the inevitable question is: “Do we feel safer?” That query relates to potential terrorist attacks. However, after last week’s slaughter of 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that question is also pertinent to our glut of guns. Americans own an estimated 300,000,000 of them.

Are we any safer? When people are massacred in small town schools and movie theaters, is there any safe haven from potential tragedy?

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Source: AP Photo

BETWEEN THE LINES: When Mitt Romney became the Republican’s designated presidential nominee following his victories in the spring primaries, the party’s conservative wing seemed as lukewarm about the former governor as they were four years ago for maverick Senator John McCain. In a calculated move to counterbalance his moderate credentials, and emulating what McCain did four years ago, Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan, a Tea Party favorite, as his vice presidential running mate.

But even that didn’t seem to matter much because, after weeks of campaigning, until the first presidential debate, Romney trailed or was tied in nearly every poll. As a matter of fact, in the days leading up to the Denver debate, a lack of enthusiasm clouded the GOP.

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Entrance to the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Numerous artists and performers have been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. None of them, however, or any performer for that matter, has ever had the distinction of having an extensive exhibit at the National Constitution Center (NCC).

After almost three years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, when it was heralded as a “must see” for his fans, “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen” debuted last winter at the Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it ended a nearly seven month run earlier this month.

A Springsteen fan a decade before he achieved superstardom, I intended to see the exhibit that featured scores of artifacts and memorabilia from the New Jersey rocker’s four decade career, but I never made the trip to Cleveland. My regret was assuaged when it was announced, about a year ago, that at the Constitution Center would host the exhibit. I finally saw it last month, accompanied by one of my oldest friends — in longevity and years — in my inaugural visit to the center.

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Some might consider this porn. Well, I wouldn't. But someone could, right? (Source: City Hall News)

State Senator Marty Golden doesn’t want you killing kittens with taxpayer dollars. Or making angels weep. And he certainly doesn’t want you going blind.

That’s why Golden is calling on the Brooklyn, Queens and New York Public Library systems to establish stronger policies to halt access to pornographic websites on public computers in library branches throughout the city.

“Allowing anyone to view pornographic materials on a public computer in one of our library branches here in Brooklyn, or anywhere else in New York City, is appalling,” Golden said in statement issued today. “Libraries are for the community to enrich their educational pursuits, not be a place to go so to download pornography. ”

What’s all the hubbub about? Keep reading.

sheepsheadsShame

A distinction to be proud of? We think not.

Sheepshead Bay’s two state senators – Carl Kruger (D) and Marty Golden (R) – remain the only Brooklyn-area representatives standing against gay marriage in New York.

Of the nine members of the Brooklyn delegation to the State Senate, seven have publicly stated support for same-sex marriage rights, according to a survey by NY1. The majority of state senators from all five boroughs and Westchester support the bill, as do the majority of residents statewide, according to one poll. Continue Reading »