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Construction Unions Want More WTC Cash From Insurers

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Construction unions rallied to demand bigger payments from airline insurance companies to help rebuild the World Trade Center. The companies are currently help finance the new Freedom Tower, but the unions want insurers to pay for claims in a wider area of downtown Manhattan.

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Stories From My Grandfather, Stories From My Homeland

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HOST INTRO: Commentator Tenzin Shakya has been hearing stories about her family’s homeland, Tibet since she was a little girl. She says her grandfather’s stories have shaped how she thinks about Tibet — and its occupation by China.

It was 4 o’clock in the morning when my grandfather, Popo Sonam, awoke me. “It’s time to go for kora,” he said.  Kora is a Buddhist practice of praying and walking in circles, usually around a temple. I got dressed, put on a t-shirt and chupa, the traditional dress that Tibetan people wear.  since I was visiting my grandfather in Nepal, where many of Tibetan elders live, I decided to dress in proper attire. Also to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of old Tibetans starring me down and calling me “inji,” which means foreigner.  Of course as soon as Popo Sonam saw me with the t-shirt underneath my chupa instead of the traditional silk shirt, he insisted that I change. “If you’re going to wear the chupa, wear it right,” he said. “and while you’re at it, go braid your hair,” .

I argued against it. “Popo Sonam, times have changed and you must learn that we are not required to walk around with braids.” Little did I know, that an argument about braids would help me to understand my family’s history.

My family fled Tibet in 1960, a year after China invaded. Five years later, my grandfather traveled back to Tibet. He hoped that he would find it safe to return. Instead, he was captured by Chinese soldiers and forced to work in labor camps for 6 months. He had to plow fields, and clean up rubble left by the war. He had been a farmer in Tibet, so the work didn’t bother him. What really hurt him was being told by a young Chinese soldier to kneel, and remain still as he chopped off my Popo’s long braids. Traditionally, Tibetan men kept their hair in braids, too, wrapped around their head. For Popo Sonam, the braids represented his devotion to a centuries-old cultural tradition. But for the soldier, it represented the “old ways.”

Growing up as a Tibetan refugee, I’d heard much worse stories.  I’ve wept as Tibetan nuns shared their stories of being raped in prison by Chinese soldiers, while monks were forced to watch. They were political prisoners because they demanded freedom.

It’s hard not to resent the Chinese government.

Popo Sonam is a constant reminder of why I am hopeful about the future of Tibet. Popo Sonam never re-grew his braids but he did escape the camps six months later in 1965. And, he did it with the help of a young Buddhist Chinese soldier who empathized with his longing to be reunited with his family.

I’ve tried to visit Tibet twice; both times I was denied entry.  But when I listen to Popo’s stories, I travel. He is a window into a world I may never get to see.  Popo Sonam gives me hope, inspires me with his wisdom and compassion. He always tells me to focus on the good.

He’s old now, and every time I talk to him, he says his time is coming.

I fear his passing. Not only because I would lose my last remaining grandfather, but, because it would mean that the stories would come to an end.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Tenzin Shakya is planning a journey back to Tibet with her grandfather, soon.

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Sandy Victims Still Searching for Safe Haven

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HOST: Six months after Hurricane Sandy, nearly two-thousand people displaced by the storm are still living in hotels around the city. Both the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are ending their hotel program in the next month. Some evacuees will move into subsidized apartments. But, as Tenzin Shakya reports, others may be left homeless.

NARR: Miriam Alsaidi grew up in Staten Island and a year ago she says was getting by, living in her mother’s rental home. She had enrolled in a nursing program, and was only weeks away from taking her license test.  That was until,  Hurricane Sandy took over her life.

MIRIAM: What life is now is, we wake up, we live out of bags, and it’s such a headache. Whose clothes are in what bag, umm take the kids to school. I walk around and wander because we have nowhere to go.

NARR: Today, she is at her mother’s flood damaged home in Staten Island. The house is being renovated. The smell of fresh paint still lingers and the rooms are wide open, waiting for doors to be installed. It’s difficult to walk around from one room to another without stepping on something.


NARR: She has over a dozen trash bags full of children’s clothes and toys scattered all over the floor. Alsaidi is a single mother raising four children, all under the age of 10. They are usually a hand-full, and today she’s trying to stop her children from fighting.

AMB: Chaos. Her children are fighting over the I-phone and Miriam trying to calm them down.

NARR: Miriam’s family is one of the 346 families FEMA has been helping, paying for their hotel rooms since. But The federal agency has been trying to end the program for months now. Extensions are given needs, but Miram was cut off april 15.

MIRIAM: If it were me by myself, I wouldn’t complain. I can go, I can stay here if I want to. I don’t care about the toilet, I can walk to the gas station down the block, it doesn’t matter to me.

NARR: But She says she wishes she could do more for her kids.

MIRIAM: My kids you know their reality is. Oh where are we sleeping tonight, they ask me. Where are we going tonight? It’s just I hate it.

NARR: The Department of Housing and Urban Development has teamed up with FEMA in providing evacuees with the option of subsidized housing. But Miriam still doesn’t qualify.

MIRIAM: Housing, the problem with that is, I have no income so they can’t give me a house with no income.

NARR: Giselle Routhier is a policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless in New York. She says Mariam’s case is not special. In fact most of the families remaining in hotels now are classified as low income, which means they earn about $22,000 per family of four. Many evacuees are still dependent on temporary shelters. They can’t afford to pay rent.

ROUTIER: Many are could be forced to enter the shelter system where there already are a record number of homeless families from even before the storm. REALITY SAD: That’s going to be the reality for a lot of folks.

NARR:  just a few blocks away from Miriam’s mother’s house, on Midland avenue, is the lot where the home of Aiman Youseff   used to be. Now all that remains is debris and his dog in the backyard.

AMB: Come here daddy, whistles… more whistling and calling the dog.

YOUSEFF: Is it, is it possible you know, for a person to live in that house for 20 years and to lose everything, is it really you know.

NARR: Youseff’s place is two blocks away from the beach. He says he was in his home when Sandy hit. He remembers that day vividly.

YOUSEFF: The water was in the house six-feet, my mom was going under water. I dived into the water, took an extension cord from the outlet. I got my mom, and lifted her up.

NARR: Youseff and his mother made it to their neighbor’s second floor and survived the storm. His one-floor home however was not salvageable. The city demolished it shortly after. Since then, his family has been living in a hotel room funded by FEMA’s hotel program. He says he’s trying to pull together the money to  rebuild his home.

YOSUFF: I have in my account about $40,000 to build a $300,000 home. Ah, haha we need magic here, with this number Maybe I don’t know. Another zero will help but uhh I don’t know what to say.

NARR: Youseff was running a small electronics business from his garage. But with that gone, he’s going to have to start a new job. Because he was a homeowner, he’s able to secure an apartment for now. Routhier, of Coalitions for the Homeless, says some evacuees will not have that option. She says the city needs to understand the evacuees’ needs better, and until then the hotel program should not cut.

ROUTHEIR: We’re hoping… ummm asking the city, and pushing the city to extend this deadline until such when all families have been relocated into permanent housing.

NARR: The program was never meant to be a permanent solution. It is meant to give evacuees some time to get back on their feet; it’s been running for 6 months now. While this may work for people like Youseff, who’ll be able to rent, evacuees in Miriam’s situation will remain in limbo.

Tenzin Shakya, Columbia Radio News.

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City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Plans To Revamp The City’s Transportation System

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City Council Speaker and Mayoral candidate,Christine Quinn announced her plans to improve the city’s transportation system. Quinn laid out some ambitious goals. And as Tenzin Shakya reports the first step will require new legislation.


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Local Syrians Help Refugee Children Find Relief

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As the conflict in Syria enters its third year, millions are still displaced and living in refugee camps on the borders or neighboring countries. Aid organizations say attention needs to be paid on the lasting impact it on Syrian. Some local Syrian Americans are returning to inner cities where violence is rampant and relief aid is scarce.  Tenzin Shakya reports.


NARR: The Syrian conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s military and the opposition group’s uprising has killed over 70,000 people. Nearly 6000 of those reported dead are children. A recent report released by Save the Children says the war has hit the children particularly hard.

UENUMA: It really is a children’s crisis, but it’s easy for their suffering to go un-noticed.

NARR: Save the Children’s Francine Uenuma says for those who’ve survived, four out of five have lost a family member. Many of them in the refugee camps have seen the war firsthand.

UENUMA: When they first cross over they depict very violent things. These children have experienced, shellings and bombings and violence that no child at that age should experience.

NARR: Uenuma says you can see the effect when the children draw what they’ve seen.

UENEMA: There’s one drawing that a Syrian refugee child did, where you see big tanks and helicopters and things in the air and you see men holding weapons, something over their shoulder. What’s sad is that next to it, you see a small stick figure lying on the ground.

 NARR: Much of every day life is on hold for refugees. In some cities such as the Aleppo, 6 percent of children are going to school. Uenuma says those figures are startling, because as recently as two years ago Syria had one of the highest education rates in the region.

UNEMA: A lot of the refugees that I have spoken to, they left Syria because of the danger and because of the struggle to survive. It is not primarily driven by politics it is because, they like everybody in Syria they are suffering from the conflict.

NARR: Most aid organizations have to work along the restricted government-held areas, and along the borders. Individuals can cross the border more easily than large organizations. That’s where Syrian Americans like Mohammad Khairullah steps in. He’s the mayor of Prospects Park in New Jersey, just north of Paterson where many Syrians live. In this YouTube video he thanks local donors for helping him get baby formula inside Syria.

ACT YOUTUBE: Thank you for your generosity and your contribution. You’re helping feed children for two months.

NARR: He says he’s raised over $20,000 and is heading back to his hometown, Aleppo, later this year. Khairullah left Syria with his parents when he was five years old. The conflict then, in the late 80’s and early 90’s was different but similar in many ways. Particularly seen through the eyes of a child.

KHAIRULLAH : To this day, I remember the tanks in the streets. I remember hearing airplanes flying over. You’d hear the gunshots I remember asking where my father was, it is very difficult looking for your father at night and not finding him, so imagine these kids who will never see their parents.

NARR: Khairullah relives those memories every time he sees pictures of children killed in the conflict. He says it’s a constant reminder for him and reinforces his drive to go back and help his country.

KHAIRULLAH: A lot of the relief organizations are doing their work along the borders where it’s safer for them. A city like Aleppo that has over four million people, not much aid is getting there. We have to help them out.

NARR: Mohammed says its not just about bare necessities. For him, it’s about protecting the future of his country and fighting the oppressive regime.

KHAIRULLAH : This is the majority of the Syrian people seeking their freedom. People have to defend themselves. Human Rights are universal. They don’t apply in one country and not the other.

While aid groups continue to work around the borders, Khairullah says he’ll keep going back to Syria for as long as it takes. Tenzin Shakya for Columbia Radio News.


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Freshly-Signed Law Expands Protections for LGBT Women

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HOST: President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act into law yesterday. Though the law has existed since 1994, the renewed act expands protection and funding to additional victims of domestic violence. Tenzin Shakya reports.

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GOP Members Shift Opinions on Gay Marriage: Trend or Fad?

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TENZIN SHAKYA: Gay marriage has become a divisive issue within the Republican Party since the November elections. Just last week, over 130 prominent members of the GOP signed legal briefs challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. I spoke with Bill Kristol, editor of the political magazine The Weekly Standard, and a political commentator on Fox News. He says it’s a healthy debate to have, but that a majority of the party members still oppose it.

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Court Ponders Possible Threat to Civil Liberties

Court Ponders Possible Threat to Civil Liberties

Chris Hedges

Outside of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, journalist Chris Hedges attacks the Obama administration’s record on civil liberties on Feb. 6, 2013. Hedges is suing the government over provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act. (Tenzin Shakya/Uptown Radio)

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Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral arguments challenging a controversial statute that allows the military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved with terrorism. In September, a lower court ruled against this provision, saying it violates the First and Fifth Amendments. Now the court’s will decide whether to let that ruling stand.

Tenzin Shakya reports:

A three-judge panel heard oral arguments from lawyers of former New York Times war correspondent Chis Hedges and six other plaintiffs. The government’s attorneys argued that the provision is part of an existing law which allows the military to detain enemy combatants in times of war. But Hedges’ lawyers argued that this provision is different because it involves citizens being detained by the military without due process. They say this is unconstitutional. New York University law professor Burt Neuborne says the Supreme Court has already approved this kind of detention.

“The government has the power to detain people indefinitely at Guantanamo, who have been found after a fair procedure to be enemy combatants. What they’ve said is that you can’t hold them forever.  The usual law is you can hold them for as long as the fight is going on. It can’t mean that the war goes on forever and that you can never be let out,” he said.

Critics say the problem here is, the language on who qualifies as an enemy combatant is too vague. Jesselyn Raddack was a whistle blower in the Bush Administration. She’s now the director of the National Security and Human Rights division at the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group.

“I believe terms like traitor, turn coat, terrorist sympathizer and enermy of the state are undefined and therefor it would create a lower standard than innocent until proven guilty,” Raddack said.

At a press conference outside the court last week, plaintiff Chris Hedges accused the government of what he defined as the “lack of care on citizen’s civil liberties.”

“The deterioration of civil liberties under the Obama Administration has complete continuity with the attack on civil liberties under the Bush administration, in fact, under the Obama Administration it has been worse,” Hedges said.

The appeals courts will now have to decide whether to uphold the lower court’s decision, or keep the law as is. NYU’s Burt Neuborne says that the federal government can fix this, but it’ll need to create new institutions first.

“It’s not rocket science. Maybe we should have a national security court that does this. Some organ somewhere that can check the executive. Lets build some other institution to do it. The one unacceptable thing is to leave it the way it is now, where the militarty essentially does it without any real check,” he said.

A ruling should be expected sometime this spring.

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