President Urges Americans to Volunteer This Holiday Season
The president and first lady asks Americans to remember the troops who are serving throughout the world and to remember that the holiday spirit of giving.
by Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
President Barack Obama gave his annual Christmas message Wednesday and used the moment to ask Americans to remember the troops who are serving the country far from their loved ones.
"Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays," the president said with first lady by his side in a pre-recorded message, NBC News. "But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family."
The president, who champions community service, also used the moment to urge Americans to volunteer.
"For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us — to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper," he said.
The president and first lady planned to visit to a Marine Corps base in Hawaii, where Obama and his family are on their annual vacation, the Associated Press reports. According to AP, some 600 troops from various military branches were gathered to hear from Obama after being served Christmas dinner.
Obama also said that he called 10 troops stationed in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to thank them for their service and the incredible sacrifices they make every day, AP reports.
Michigan Jews, Muslims volunteering on Christmas
DETROIT (AP) — Jews and Muslims have been volunteering around metropolitan Detroit to help their Christian neighbors celebrate Christmas.
The Detroit Free Press says about 1,000 Jewish and Muslim volunteers from a number of congregations collaborated Wednesday on Mitzvah Day, the largest single day of volunteering by the local Jewish community. The Michigan Muslim Community Council is coordinating volunteers from its communities.
The volunteers are helping social service agencies at about 40 sites throughout the day.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit has sponsored Mitzvah Day for two decades, and Muslims have been part of the effort for the past five years.
Mitzvah means "commandment" in Hebrew and is generally translated as a good deed.
Cameras that scan Greeneville streets are subject to a policy designed to maintain privacy
by Greg Smith
Norwich - The idea of a series of surveillance cameras monitoring public areas was unnerving to some when it was first proposed in the Greeneville area more than a year ago.
But those cameras have been there for a year, and a dozen new cameras now watch the daily goings-on in the downtown area.
There have been few complaints, according to police, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut says the police department appears to have taken appropriate measures to protect citizens' rights with their recently released usage policy.
The newest cameras were installed by Norwich Public Utilities earlier this month above Franklin, Main and Boswell streets and at Franklin Square and Howard Brown Park. They are linked to police department headquarters by the utility's fiber optic lines, which were installed throughout the city as part of the municipal area network to support the utility's own high speed and broadband systems.
The department's policy, still in its draft form, says the cameras are to be used solely for overt monitoring of public areas, "where no reasonable expectation for privacy exists." The policy is available on the city's website and outlines procedures for their use and storage of the video from the 16 cameras now in place. Police say they plan to keep recordings for 30 days before being destroyed unless the video is to be used as part of an investigation or prosecution.
"This policy is a solid one," said ACLU staff attorney David McGuire. "It really is great that the department is recognizing the potential privacy ramifications of the system. The 30-day retention period is absolutely key and prevents a massive buildup of data."
Norwich Police Capt. Patrick Daley said the intent of the cameras is to help solve crimes, perhaps even deter them. The four cameras that were strategically placed in Greene ville more than a year ago, he said, have in some ways helped to clean up an area that residents say hosted drug dealing and prostitution.
"You can see the change when you drive through," Daley said.
Daley refers to the cameras as a "force multiplier," which coincides with a community policing program that has three teams of two officers situated in targeted locations across town. Daley said the department has already used cameras in Greeneville in several cases, including a narcotics investigation and a motor vehicle accident.
Daley said the cameras cannot be used for traffic enforcement since state law does not allow it. McGuire said the ACLU has consistently fought efforts of the legislature to introduce red light cameras that can read license plate numbers and issue tickets.
Emergency dispatchers and detectives are the only ones with immediate access to the monitors linked to the cameras.
The 12 new cameras, all with the ability to tilt and pan, were paid for through a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant.
Money has become increasingly available to municipalities for surveillance, McGuire said, and with the relatively inexpensive new technology, more departments are using cameras. They come with dangers of misuse, something more Americans are realizing with revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.
An important aspect of any policy at the municipal level is to ensure proper training and to keep logs that show who accessed the video and why it was accessed to ensure it was strictly for law-enforcement purposes, he said.
"With the technology available today there are cameras with the ability to track people," McGuire said. "Some even have infrared options."
Those kinds of technological advances bring with them more opportunities for abuse.
"We're trying to be transparent as possible," Daley said. "We're cognizant of the fact people are suspicious of cameras. It's a pretty clear policy showing the cameras will be used for legitimate purposes and not to abuse civil liberties."
New London has several, mostly outdated, cameras monitoring the waterfront and are in the early stages of exploring what areas need coverage or deserve better coverage, said New London Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard.
Reichard said he has visited a few sites across the state and talked with one company that has done projects in Bridgeport, Manchester and Madison, among other places.
Captive American Warren Weinstein feels 'totally abandoned and forgotten'
by Ed Payne
Saying he feels "totally abandoned and forgotten," kidnapped U.S. government contractor Warren Weinstein called on President Barack Obama to negotiate for his freedom in a video released by al Qaeda on Christmas.
The 72-year-old Weinstein was abducted from his home in the Pakistani city of Lahore in August 2011.
In the 13-minute video provided to the Washington Post, Weinstein appeals to the President, Secretary of State John Kerry, the American media, the American public and finally his family.
"Nine years ago, I came to Pakistan to help my government and I did so at a time when most Americans would not come here," he said. "And now, when I need my government, it seems I have been totally abandoned and forgotten."
This is the second video with him making a direct plea to the Obama administration. The first was released in May 2012.
Dressed in a light gray jacket and black cap, and sporting a full beard, Weinstein spoke with little emotion, saying he's not in good health, has a heart condition and suffers from acute asthma, before adding that "the years have taken their toll."
"Needless to say, I've been suffering deep anxiety every part of everyday, not knowing what is happening to my family and not knowing how they are and because I am not with them."
Weinstein said his captors have agreed to let his family visit him, but only if Obama agrees to do the same for al Qaeda members held by the United States.
"Unless you continue to try to get President Obama and his administration to actively pursue my release, we may never see each other again," he said.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said Washington will not bargain with al Qaeda. There was no immediate response from the Obama administration on the latest video.
Weinstein was captured after his kidnappers managed to overcome the three security guards who were protecting him.