Hillcrest Elementary lease temporarily OK until East Ramapo court date

Justice Thomas J. McNamara granted a stay for the East Ramapo School District on August 7, allowing it to continue renting the former Hillcrest Elementary School to Congregation Avir Yakov of New Square.

The stay will allow East Ramapo to continue collecting lease payments from Avir Yakov while they challenge a ruling from State Education Commissioner John King Jr. which nullified the congregation’s lease to use the building as a school for about 700 ultra-orthodox girls.

McNamara accepted the school district’s argument that their continued collection of lease payments would not harm the state’s interests and an immediate discontinuation of the school’s use would both displace hundreds of students just before the beginning of the school year and remove a vital revenue stream.

The school has been in the spotlight since an initial attempt to sell the school building in 2010 was thrown out by former Education Commissioner David Steiner for use of a fraudulent appraisal which undervalued the building. Similarly, the current lease nullification charges the school district did not seek the best possible rental deal.

King is expected to answer East Ramapo’s court challenge by October 18.

Schumer asks for funding to combat tick-borne illness

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) took time on August 11 for Center for Disease Control funding for research and education on a new tick-borne illness recently discovered in the Hudson Valley.

Schumer requested the Center for Disease Control allocate resources to research the Powassan virus, an ailment symptomatically similar to Lyme Disease, but without a known treatment. Powassan is still rare in the Hudson Valley, but has been a growing problem in the northeast United States since its discovery in Russia by Japanese scientists in 1997.

“We need to bring Lyme disease and the Powassan virus out of the weeds and better educate the public about how to keep themselves and their families’ safe,” Schumer explained.

Along with CDC research into Powassan, Schumer’s Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act also expand Lyme disease research and education on a federal level and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to put out an informative report on Lyme and Powassan aimed at doctors and other healthcare professionals.

U.S. Border Patrol footing the bill for illegal immigrant housing

Documents recently obtained by FOX News show a strained Border Patrol which has been stretched to its limit by a recent influx of migrants, to the point that they must rent housing for some undocumented persons.

The recent surge in immigrants has forced Immigration and Customs Enforcement to alleviate crowding in temporary processing centers such as San Ysidro by renting hotel rooms for dozens of undocumented families. Though many migrants remained near the Mexico-California border, some were moved to other areas as far off as Texas, Brooklyn and Florida.

On just one day last week, 200 migrants came through the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Though the exact cause of the recent influx is unknown, ICE agents report many are claiming “credible fear” of drug cartel-related violence is being used as a rationale to stay in the U.S. for the duration of asylum proceedings. Though “credible fear” is often a valid argument for asylum, ICE also reports it is often abused by migrants who use the claim to buy time before abandoning court hearings and disappearing into the U.S.

According to current figures, asylum claims have tripled in the past four years. However, most do not come from Mexico, and the recent surge in migrants has been considered by many with ICE to be highly unusual and likely a signal of some orchestrated effort.

Store owners might be hurt by Bloomberg’s new anti-tobacco efforts

Out of 100 surveyed NYC businesses, a significant majority reported their businesses would be adversely affected by Bloomberg’s new plan to ban cigarette advertising and discounts in stores, which would push the minimum amount for buying cigarettes in the city to $10.50.

The study, which was backed by the tobacco industry-funded Save Our Stores Coalition, reported about 70 percent of respondents to a telephone survey said their businesses would be adversely affected, 55 percent said they may have to eliminate jobs due to the law, and eighty percent of respondents said they believed the new law would encourage consumers to buy cigarettes on the black market or outside the city.

Though the city’s Department of Health has claimed the recent study is a Tobacco industry scare tactic, the city’s Chamber of Commerce has come out in opposition to the measures as well, arguing the survey validates vendor concerns over the economic impact of the new laws.

The new regulations are part of a renewed push to prevent teens and young adults from taking up smoking and include not only the advertising and discount restrictions, but also a bill introduced by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn which would increase the legal buying age for tobacco to 21.

FBI: Suspicious package at JFK contained beauty supplies

FBI spokesman J. Peter Donald announced on Sunday that a suspicious package that was believed to have sickened two customs workers at JFK International Airport contained nothing but beauty supplies.

After the employees were taken ill, an initial test indicated some possible cause for concern. However, further testing revealed no significant danger was present. FBI agents have since cleared the scene.

The Port Authority, which administers JFK, has not commented on the matter. Customs officials are referring inquiries to the FBI.

Hospital services improving statewide, according to watchdog group

The Niagra Health Quality Coalition recently released its 2013 New York State Hospital Report Card, revealing that hospital services are improving across New York State, but infection rates among patients is on the rise.

The study, which analyzed data from over 200 facilities, lists the state’s safest hospitals and problem hospitals which will require further observation. Though neither list included hospitals in the Lower Hudson Valley, New York-Presbyterian, which administers several hospitals in Westchester and Rockland, was included as one of the safest. Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern was noted for its low rate of accidental punctures and lacerations.

The statewide mortality rate has improved by 50 percent since Niagra’s first report in 2002, reflecting a significant improvement in coverage. Nonetheless, Niagra president and CEO Bruce Boissonnault argued the infection rate was “alarming” and required attention.

The study is unique in that it covers all hospital patients, rather than previous studies which examined only Medicare recipients and is risk-adjusted to allow for comparisons in spite of the health of patients.

U.S. Attorney General announces significant changes in drug policy

The U.S. Justice Department will cease efforts to impose mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug offenders, according to Attorney General Eric Holder announced on August 12.

Calling past approaches to drug policy “ineffective and unsustainable” in a speech before the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco, Holder explained his department would end mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug prosecutions unconnected to large-scale organized crime networks. Instead, such suspects would be charged according to the individual nature of crimes.

Holder argued the effort was an immediate first step in a critical examination of the justice system. The changes will aim to fix racial disparities in sentencing and alleviate prison overcrowding. Other initiatives include an expansion of “compassionate release” for non-violent offenders, alternatives to incarceration such as community service and new guidelines for federal prosecutors to determine when federal charges will be pursued.

Calls for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences have long been popular with liberals, but have recently gained popularity with conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Stop-And-Frisk struck down by federal court

A federal judge ruled on Monday that NYPD officers systematically targeted minorities for stop-and-frisk in a discriminatory manner, dealing a critical blow to one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s biggest and most controversial law enforcement efforts.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin issued a decision arguing there was “overwhelming proof” that NYPD officers were being directed to target minorities by their superiors and ignoring systematic abuses of civil rights. While she maintained the practice itself was constitutional, she directed the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee reforms in policy, training and supervision, as well as a pilot program requiring officers to wear cameras.

Bloomberg continued to argue the practice saves lives, said the ruling exhibits “disturbing disregard” for officers’ crime-fighting efforts and argued undermining the law could send New York back to its notoriously crime-ridden era during the 1980s and 1990s. He has already vowed to appeal the decision.

Though stop-and-frisk existed before Bloomberg’s administration, incidences surged when he took office in an attempt to clamp down on crime. An all-time high of 684,330 stops were recorded in 2011, most of which involved black or Hispanic males. Of all stop-and-frisks, only ten percent are reported to end with arrests, and a smaller fraction of those are for weapons-related offenses.

NSA programs “touches” 1.6 of all internet traffic

In an attempt to defend its warrantless surveillance program, the NSA inadvertently raised more questions on August 9 when it explained in a memo that the agency only “touches” 1.6 percent of all internet traffic.

According to the memo, the NSA touches 1.6 percent of traffic, but only accesses 0.025 percent for review. Hence, they argue the surveillance programs examine only 0.00004 percent of world internet traffic.

The definition of “touching” information was not elucidated and could mean anything from cursory analysis to storage. In addition, the 1.6 percent figure, while dwarfed by the total size of information on the internet, is still sizable. In comparison, Google states that it has indexed only 0.004 percent of all internet traffic, meaning the NSA’s scope is much larger than even the biggest websites.

The targeted nature of the NSA’s programs has also been argued to reveal still more than the raw percentage of total traffic. According to Jeff Jarvis of the Guardian, communications-the NSA’s primary focus-account for 2.9 percent of all U.S. internet traffic alone.

“So, by very rough, beer-soaked-napkin numbers, the NSA’s 1.6% of net traffic would be half of the communication on the net,” Jarvis wrote.

Stephen Moore of WSJ: Budget sequester is a success

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, news commentator Stephen Moore argued the national budget has peaked and is set to reverse course over the next few years, owing in large part to the sequester cuts.

According to Moore, cuts to the federal budget were made possible with the debt ceiling vote of 2009-2010, which set a $2 trillion cap over the next decade and paved the way for further cuts with the recent sequestration and future cuts also provided by the law.

“Already the deficit has fallen from its Mount Everest peak of 10.2% of gross domestic product in 2009, to about 4% this year,” Moore explained. “That’s a bullish six percentage points less of the GDP of new federal debt each year.”

Among the biggest cuts were slashes to discretionary spending, a ten percent reduction through 2012 and 2013. Moore explained $50 billion in savings might be realized in 2013, with further savings continuing in the near future so long as fiscal conservatives actively enforce the new laws.

Families of killed Seal Team 6 members accuse Biden of leaking information

A helicopter brought down by Afghani insurgents and killed 38 men onboard, including 22 members of Seal Team 6, the unit which famously killed Osama bin Laden three months prior, has generated suspicion from families and prompted a Congressional inquiry. Now, some of the suspicion has been placed on Vice President Joe Biden for an alleged security leak.

Biden announced Seal Team 6’s involvement in the operation two days after the 2011 raid at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank. According to Karen and Billy Vaughn, whose son Aaron was killed when the helicopter was shot down, Aaron contacted them less than a day after Biden’s statements and urged them to wipe their social media and suggesting their lives were in danger.

“This is not Uncle Joe and he’s not some senile old grandfather,” Billy Vaughn said. “He is the second in command of the most powerful country in the world and he needs to take responsibility for the comments he makes and quit being given a pass.”

Charles Strange, whose son Michael was killed in the crash, similarly reported that his son believed his life was in danger after the statement. Strange explained his son’s team believed an internal leak was released which posed a serious threat to the team’s safety.

According to an official Department of Defense report, the families’ assertion that the helicopter was deliberately sent into an ambush were unlikely and assert a lucky shot from a low-level fighter brought down the aircraft.

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