Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday violence erupts across country

CHICAGO — A police officer responding to a call of alleged shoplifting at a  Chicago-area store Thursday shot the driver of a car that was dragging a fellow cop, authorities said — just one of several reports of violence ahead of Black Friday, according to reports.

In the Chicago case, police shot the driver just after 10 p.m. Thursday after responding to a call of two people allegedly shoplifting clothes from a Kohl’s store in Romeoville, Police Chief Mark Turvey said at a news conference in that southwest Chicago area suburb.

“As officers approached the front door, one of the two subjects ran out the door into the parking lot” and the officer chased him to a waiting car, Turvey said.

“The officer was struggling with the subject as he got into the car and then the car started to move as the officer was partially inside the car. The officer was dragged quite some distance. He couldn’t get out,” Turvey said.

The wounded driver and the dragged officer were both taken for hospital treatment of non-life-threatening shoulder injuries, and three people were arrested, Turvey said.

Videos of the chaos have also emerged online, with one showing shoppers at an unidentified Walmart getting violent over discount items, according to Mediate.

Other clips on YouTube reportedly shows crowds storming a Walmart in Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, and shoppers getting violent over tech bargains in Forth Worth, Texas.

In New Jersey, police say they pepper sprayed and arrested a man at a northern New Jersey Wal-Mart after a Thanksgiving shopping dispute.

Authorities say 23-year-old Richard Ramos became “belligerent” while arguing with a Wal-Mart shopper over a television Thursday night, and then attacked a Garfield police officer when the manager called for help.

Police tell The Star-Ledger that officers used pepper spray to subdue the Passaic man. No one else was injured.

Police say the store was packed with Black Friday shoppers at the time of the incident.

Ramos is charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

In California, a San Bernardino police officer was hurt breaking up one of three fights at a Wal-Mart between two shoppers, after the store let thousands of people enter ahead of its scheduled 8 p.m. opening — a decision that cops said sparked the chaos, the San Bernardino Sun reported. Store managers said 3,000 people were jamming the front entrance of the Rialto store, the paper reported.

Warning: Bad Language

That officer suffered a broken wrist.

And in Virginia, an argument over a Wal-Mart parking space in Claypool Hill ended with a 35-year-old man being stabbed in the arm, leaving a wound that cut “down to the bone,” local TV station WVVA reported.

Meanwhile, a father faced felony child neglect charges last night after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted a baby left alone in a car outside a Best Buy store.

The incident happened about 5:30 p.m. Thursday near Orlando.

Authorities say trooper Edy Rivera saw the infant in a car seat inside a locked car. He went into the store, looking for the vehicle’s owner. When no one came forward, he broke the vehicle’s window and got the baby boy out.

A short time later, officials say 34-year-old Haider Darwash returned to the vehicle. He told troopers he thought his wife had the baby. She was located standing in line at another business in the shopping center.

More than a dozen major retailers from Wal-Mart to Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving Day and planned to stay open through Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. As a result, crowds formed early and often throughout the two days.

Beckham’s hazing: I was forced into sex act at Manchester

David Beckham was forced to perform a humiliating sex act while looking at a photo of soccer legend Clayton Blackmore during a bizarre homoerotic hazing ritual, the soccer star admits in a new documentary.

As a teenager, Beckham suffered through the creepy initiation ritual  – while other players watched and cheered —  before joining Manchester United’s youth team, he said.

“Everyone had an initiation that you had to go through on the youth team, that was one of the most uncomfortable ones,” Beckham said, according to UK’s Metro.

“The fact that I had to look at Clayton Blackmore’s calendar and do certain things, while looking at Clayton Blackmore — I mean it was embarrassing to talk about!” he said.

Beckham describes the  ritual in  ”The Class of 92″ documentary, which tells the story of six players on his team who sparked a generation of soccer stars. It will air on Sunday.

He talked vaguely about the sordid ceremony  but wouldn’t go into specifics.

“I was embarrassed when I was saying it on camera let alone talking about it more. But it’s something we all had to go through,” said Beckham.

“It was definitely something I wouldn’t like to go through again.”

Beckam is now married to former Spice Girl singer Victoria Beckham.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Buzz Lightyear injures worker, Spider-Man punctured

He soars with ease to infinity and beyond, but Buzz Lightyear couldn’t get down Central Park West without a cart in his entourage running over a rope holder’s foot Thursday morning.

The accident at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sent the rope holder — a Long Island school teacher — to the hospital, but didn’t mar the occasion for thousands of thrilled and chilled parade-goers, who crowded Midtown’s skyscraper canyons in near-freezing weather.

“It hit me from behind,” injured rope-holder Keri O’Connell told The New York Post of the red cart that was accompanying the “Toy Story” star when it accidentally ran over her right foot at West 75th Street.

“I was holding the balloon. I was in front of the of the car. All of a sudden, I was pulled down and the car was on my foot,” O’Connell said.

“I was like `Get it off, get it off, get it off!’

A Good Samaritan put pressure on her injured foot and elevated it, before an ambulance whisked O’Connell away.

Spider-Man, too, suffered a potentially devastating injury — a deflated left arm from being punctured by a Central Park tree at 77th Street — but was able to finish the route with his clipped wing.

Despite the mishaps and the blustery weather, parade-goers remained as buoyant as the balloons.

“It’s fabulous!” said Natasha Berbreen, 47, an Upper East Side decorator who watched the parade with her sons John, 9, and William, 7

“We saw the turkey on the lead float, which was great. I put my kids in scarves and hats and we’re in the sun, so it’s perfect. We came right when it started. We saw Jimmy Kimmel and Sandra Lee and Kelly Pickler. It’s fun! We’re not too cold.”

The New York Police Department had been poised to yank the parade’s 16 helium giants if sustained winds exceeded 23 mph and gusts topped 34 mph. But calmer winds prevailed.

“We had wind meters stationed throughout the route,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Each of the giant balloons had a sergeant assigned to monitor its progress from 77th Street, down Central Park West, and then over to Sixth Avenue, where the parade ended in front of Macy’s at 34th Street.

The balloons flew at five feet below the maximum height to further protect them from buffeting.

“We were a little concerned about the cross currents — the canyon effect — so, it was determined just to be on the safe side that it stay 5 feet shorter than the maximum height, until they got down to Central Park South then turned onto Sixth Avenue,” Kelly said.

“I’d be very disappointed without the balloons,” said Maryann Mccrumb, 50, who traveled all the way from Florida to watch the parade.

“I’m very excited, even if I’m freezing cold,”

The parade started 9 a.m. at 77th Street, went down Central Park West, then bustled over to Sixth Avenue, ending in front of Macy’s at 34th Street.

Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade’s 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971.

The city enacted strict rules after fierce winds in 1997 caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to topple a light pole and seriously injure a spectator.

Security was high, with extra police personnel and monitoring equipment, the commissioner said.

Asked if he was going to march in the parade after this year, which is expected to be his last as head of the NYPD, Kelly said playfully, “I’m going to hold one of the balloons next year. I’ve already committed to hold a balloon.”

Which one?

“Snoopy,” he answered.

Guccione Jr. seen as Maxim CEO choice

After a rough patch, Alpha Media’s deal to sell Maxim magazine to newly formed Darden Media appears to be back on track.

What’s more, industry veteran Bob Guccione Jr. is expected to be named as the new CEO of the lad mag.

“They expect to close in the next seven to 14 days,” Guccione told Media Ink just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Guccione made his name at the helm of Spin magazine and also started now-defunct men’s magazine Gear. The son of Penthouse founder and former owner Bob Guccione Sr., the younger Guccione’s
most recent gig running Discover Media ended in 2007.

The pending arrival of Guccione would seem to spell the end for Ben Madden, who has been running Maxim as its president through the sale process run by Alpha, which is owned by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

The word on the street was that the sale had stalled because one of the financial backers behind Calvin Darden Sr. — a retired UPS executive who sits on the board of Coca-Cola and Target and who was once dubbed one of the most powerful black executives in America by Fortune — was getting cold feet.

When the unidentified backer pulled out, industry sources said the entire deal was put in jeopardy.

“There were some issues, but he’s been replaced,” Guccione said, referring to the unnamed financial backer.

Industry sources said that Calvin Darden Jr. is also expected to play a role in the newly formed Darden Media; however, Darden Jr. denies having any role or title in the company.

Darden Jr. has a checkered past. In 2005, he was convicted of stealing nearly $6 million from securities firms and investors, including former NBA star Latrell Sprewell and musician Nelly.

He had to forfeit a multimillion- dollar mansion in Glen Cove, LI, and lost the leases on his Lamborghini and Porsche, which ran $200,000 a month.

Of his conviction, Darden Jr. said, “As far as my past is concerned, I’d prefer to leave it precisely there — in the past.”

An email to Darden Sr. was not answered by presstime.

7 ways to win on Black Friday

Black Friday is upon us — the day we give into our inner animal instinct for the almighty bargain.

But many people don’t know how to win at Black Friday and lose out on the big sale. Shopping expert Mark Ellwood, the author of “BARGAIN FEVER: How to Shop in a Discounted World,” gives us the scoop on landing all the big deals. His mantra? Never pay full price for anything ever again. Here are his secret tips for shopping both in store and online:

1. Target what you want TODAY
Stalk the racks today, before the sales start, to work out what you really want. “You need to go into the store on Wednesday and take photos of everything you want to pick up on Friday,” Ellwood says.

This way you will avoid buying stock that the store pushes out on Friday just to get rid of it. “Most of the stock for Friday is brought in just for that day. You don’t want to get suckered into buying a fake bargain.”

2. Be friendly — and assertive
When shopping in store, become friends with a sales associate and don’t ever be too shy to ask for a discount. “You would be astonished how many secret sales you can unearth just by being polite,” Ellwood says. “Tell them you want them to be your personal sales assistant, so they can make a commission off you.” Sales associates often hold the best deals in the back for their favorite, regular customers. Why not try and become one?


3. Shop for home goods and coats
Ellwood advises looking for pots and pans, because stores want to get rid of bulky housewares that take up the most room on their shop floors. “On Black Friday cookware will be deeply discounted.

Pots and pans are bulky and they want to move the inventory out of there quickly.” And for practical reasons, grab a coat. “This year will be the coldest winter since 1962,” Ellwood predicts. “Coats won’t go on sale again until January.”


4. Close your browser — and score a bigger deal
If you’re shopping online and you don’t buy the items in your cart within the first 10 minutes, the retailer will likely reward you with an even bigger deal. “You have to register with a site, put all that stuff into a cart and close the browser,” Ellwood says. If you close the browser, the retailer will often send you an offer for a coupon code or free shipping to further entice you to buy.


5. Make use of your apps
Turn to sites like Shop-It-To-Me and PoachIt to win deep discounts on coveted goods. Shop-It-To-Me does all the bargain research for you. Simply tell it what you want to buy from different retailers at the price you want to pay, and you’ll be alerted each the item goes on sale. PoachIt, meanwhile, gives you coupon codes for retailers when you’re shopping on their sites. Ellwood says he once scored an extra 20 percent off while browsing through PoachIt. “I use the PoachIt app whenever I shop online,” he says. “When you order something and hit the button it will display every coupon available on the internet.”

6. Twitter stalk your deals
Follow your favorite sellers on social media. And check out twitter feeds like @slickdeals and @dealnews that tell you where the best deals are each day. “These twitter accounts literally forward the promos directly to you,” Ellwood says. “All your favorite brands do it, too.”


7. Clear the cache
While it’s good to follow your favorite brands around the web, you probably don’t want them following you. A loaded browser with history of your favorite items can be death to a good sale.

“You never want the store to know too much about you. Online shops use your personal information to customize pricing,” he said. “When you’re shopping somewhere like or any other retailer always use Google Chrome in Incognito Mode.”

Fashionista has leg amputated so she can wear high heels

A brave Long Island fashionista who was born with a club foot but dreamed of wearing “gorgeous high heels” did the unimaginable — she had her leg amputated so she could teeter around in stilettos.

Mariah Serrano, a 22-year-old assistant designer for American Rag, underwent the painful procedure — and she doesn’t regret it one bit.

“The fashion rule is that you take off three pounds for every inch of your heels and I was like ‘Oh my God, I look dumpy,’” she said.

“I wanted to be a sexy teenager in high heels but I knew it couldn’t be.”

Beyond the discomfort of walking on a disfigured leg that was becoming increasingly painful with age, Serrano struggled to look like the other girls in her high school who often called her “gimpy.”

“I felt silly in pictures, I was the only one in these shitty little ballet flats,” she recalled.

“I had to wear all sorts of braces. It was uncomfortable and frustrating because they weren’t solving the problem and I often felt embarrassed.”

The glamour girl wore patterned knee highs and flashy tights to mask her deformity. She even died her hair pink to distract people from staring at her leg. She eventually stopped going to classes and was home-schooled.

“Kids are mean,” she said. “It made things very hard.”

“A lot of times I felt left out because I loved to dance and go out.”

But even more mortifying for the teenage girl, was being forced to wear sneakers to prom.

“I was really devastated in the mall,” she recalled, after shopping for four hours to find a chic shoe.

“I was of course sad, it sucked. Obviously I was a teen and I dramatized it but I thought it was the end of the world.”

She began seriously considering amputation in April 2009 after a specialist suggested that a prosthetic leg would be more comfortable and could work better with heels.

“As soon as he said it, I thought this is exactly what I need,” she said.

“I was obviously in shock, but it felt like a good situation.”

She teetered on the idea until her doctor handed her an article about a pair of prosthetic legs that Alexander McQueen designed for athlete and model Aimee Mullins.

“He was the reigning queen of fashion and that was exciting and reassuring and much easier to accept,” she said.

Serrano went through the amputation in June 2009 and wore her first pair of heels about six months later on New Years Eve.

“I remember the first I stood up and walked around in heels,” she said.

“I wore Alice + Olivia basket woven wedges. It was amazing.”

It’s still difficult for her to walk in heels, so her shoe collection is controlled. She can only wear two-and-a-half to three inch heels.

She started a blog called “Confessions of a One-legged Fashionista” where she details pulling off stylish looks with a prosthetic leg.

She said she wants to incorporate her prosthetic leg into fashion design. Her brother Mason started a charity called the Octopus Project that raises money for prosthetic research.

“I’m appreciative of this experience,” she said.

“For me, it was an amazing solution to have control over my life again.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Decision on parade balloons will be day of parade

The Green Goblin couldn't bring down Spiderman, but New York's notorious winds might.

Blustery conditions forecast for Thanksgiving Day could dash the hopes of millions of revelers hoping to catch the giant versions of Spiderman, Spongebob or Pikachu who are among a lineup of 16 biggest balloons set to appear at Macy's 2013 parade.
While millions of travelers nationwide face delays as severe weather warnings are issued for Tuesday and Wednesday, Thanksgiving Day is predicted to be dry in New York, albeit cold, with gusty winds of between 15 to 25 mph in the morning, which could blow up to 40 mph before decreasing in late afternoon.
These conditions could force organizers to ground some of the biggest names in its famed fleet of helium giants.
Macy's released the following statement: 
"The decision on whether the giant balloons will join the line-up is made based on real-time on the scene weather data not via forecasts.
We are closely monitoring the weather as we do each year. Based on the city's guidelines, no giant character balloon will be operated when there are sustained wind conditions exceeding 23 mph and wind gusts exceeding 34 mph. At this time, it is too early to make any determinations on the flight of the giant balloons. On Thanksgiving morning, Macy's works closely with the NYPD, who, based on real time weather data and the official regulations determine if the balloons will fly and at what heights.
Regarding the "degrees" of grounding, each giant balloon flies at different heights based on the current weather conditions. If we are under the cut off threshold and the giant balloons join the line-up, each will fly at their individually designated height for the actual wind condition being experienced that moment."

Commuter Alert: Port Authority toll hike Sunday for EZ Pass drivers

Starting this Sunday, the Port Authority will 75 cents to the EZ Pass toll for all of its bridges and tunnels.

That means off-peak tolls will go to $9, while peak tolls will rise to $11.
The cash price will remain the same: $13.
Tolls for trucks are also going up.
All rates apply to the Lincoln & Holland tunnels, the George Washington, Bayonne & Goethals bridges, and the Outerbridge Crossing.
Peak hours are weekdays from 6-10 a.m. and 4-8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Off-peak hours are all other times.
It is the third in a series of five Port Authority toll hikes that will end in 2015.

Some Turkey Safety Tips from 7online

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Was lesbian waitress lying about anti-gay note?

A gay server at a New Jersey restaurant who made headlines when she claimed a couple did not tip her because of her lesbian lifestyle may have some explaining to do.

A couple came forward to say they were the ones who Danya Morales waited on at the Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater, and they produced a receipt and credit card statement showing that they in fact did leave a tip – about 20 percent of their bill before taxes, New York’s WNBC-TV reported.

Morales, a former Marine, posted a photo on Facebook that showed a bill with a line drawn through the space for a tip and a hand-written note that said, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.”

The Facebook post – since removed, along with most of the rest of her timeline – generated a media firestorm and prompted sympathizers to send donations to Morales, who claimed she would donate some of the cash to The Wounded Warriors project.

But the husband and wife showed NBC 4 a copy of what appeared to be the same receipt – for the same amount at the same time on the same day – that showed them leaving an $18 tip on the $93.55 bill, including tax.

They also produced a credit card statement showing they had been billed for the full amount of the bill plus the tip.

“We’ve never not left a tip when someone gave good service, and we would never leave a note like that,” the wife told the TV station.

The husband even said he didn’t vote for Gov. Chris Christie because he didn’t support gay marriage.
“Never would a message like that come from us,” he told NBC 4.

Morales, meanwhile, was sticking to her story – sort of.

“I don’t know, all I know is what I’ve been saying,” she told the station.

The restaurant said it was aware of the couple’s claim but had no comment.

Morales didn’t immediately respond to a Facebook message left by The New York Post.

Veteran handler mauled by tiger at Steve Irwin’s zoo

The tiger that attacked an experienced cat handler at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo on Tuesday had been raised by him since it was a cub.

Shocked witnesses told of seeing Dave Styles grabbed and dragged into the pool inside the tiger enclosure just after the daily show while he was apparently wrestling with the animal.

During the attack Mr Styles – who has worked with big cats since 2005 – was bitten on the neck while in the water, suffering several puncture wounds near vital blood vessels and significant blood loss.

Last night he was in a Queensland hospital in stable condition after being flown from the Sunshine Coast by a rescue helicopter.

Witness Carly Fritsch, of the Gold Coast, said the cat seemed to being trying to keep the man in the water after its initial grab at him.

“(The trainer) was wrestling with one of the tigers and it suddenly grabbed his shoulders and lunged at his neck,” she said, adding other zoo workers quickly came to the rescue.

Witness Jake D’Olimpio, 14, from Perth said perhaps four other workers physically fought to separate the pair in the water.

“One of them was hitting it with a stick,” Jake said.

Ms Fritsch said when the injured trainer stood back up “you could see he had been pierced.”

About half the crowd from the scheduled tiger show had lingered after its end to watch some more action as trainers played with the big cats — an event which was being filmed for the BBC.

Doctor Andy Haggerty said: “The gentleman was obviously a seriously ill man.”

Director of Australia Zoo Wes Mannion said the senior tiger handler had raised the male tiger since it arrived at Australia Zoo as a cub.

Australia Zoo would not reveal which tiger was responsible.

The Zoo’s website says it keeps three Bengals and eight Sumatrans.

“Our priority is the well-being of the handler, who is a valued member of our Australia Zoo family,” Mannion said.

“At the time of the incident, our emergency response team were on the scene immediately. They acted professionally and calmly. My hat goes off to them.”

Styles has been working with tigers since 2005 after making the switch from marine mammals.

This story originally appeared on

Cop who bought homeless man boots promoted

The kind-hearted cop who bought a pair of boots for a barefoot homeless man on a frigid night last November was promoted Tuesday to Detective.

Larry DePrimo, 26, who made headlines around the world last year for stopping to help a shoeless Jeffrey Hillman on a frigid in Times Square and bought him a pair of all-weather boots and thermal socks, was promoted to detective in an afternoon ceremony at 1 Police Plaza.

“It’s a dream come true,” DePrimo said. “I look down and it’s still unreal to me.”
DePrimo, who hasn’t seen Hillman since his charitable incident, would still like to meet up with him.
“I’d shake his hand and ask him if he still wants to grab that coffee or some dinner,” DePrimo said.

DePrimo was transferred from patrol with the 6th Precinct to working in the Queens Warrant Squad where the nick name “Boots” still sticks.

“The name tag in my office says, ‘Larry Boots DePrimo, Queens Warrant Squad,” DePrimo said with a big smile.

Though he gained a lot of recognition for his good deed, his father, also Larry DePrimo, was quick to point out that the act of kindness wasn’t the only reason he was promoted.

“It’s important to remember Larry is not becoming detective today because he done something nice a year ago, his service record also speaks for itself too,” the senior DePrimo said.

MANH, M7 bus, Broadway, Central Park South, 6 & 7 Avs-Thanksgiving Day Parade/Set Up

b/d M7 buses detoured due to the parade from 2:30 PM Wed to 3PM Thursday. Details at

Gridlock Alert for November 27

Wednesday, November 27 is a Holiday Gridlock Alert Day, one of the heaviest vehicular traffic days of the holiday season. Residents, commuters and visitors are strongly advised to use mass transit.
The remaining gridlock alert days for this holiday season are:
  • Wednesday, December 4
  • Friday, December 6
  • Thursday, December 12
  • Friday, December 13
  • Wednesday, December 18
  • Thursday, December 19
  • Friday, December 20

Thanksgiving Day Parade Street Closures

The following streets in Manhattan will be closed from 9 am to Noon on Thursday, November 28th:

  • Columbus Avenue between 81st Street and 77th Street  
  • Central Park West between 81st Street and 86th Street 
  • 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
  • 76th Street and 77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
  • 71st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue

  • Central Park West between 81st Street and east side of Columbus Circle/59th Street
  • 59th Street between Columbus Circle and 6th Avenue
  • Broadway between Columbus Circle/59th Street and 58th Street
  • 58th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
  • 6th Avenue between 59th Street and 34th Street
  • 34th Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue

  • 3rd Street between 6th Avenue and 10th Avenue
  • 34th Street between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue
  • 35th Street between 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue
  • 36th Street to 38th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
  • 39th Street and 40th Street between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue
  • 7th Avenue between 33rd Street and 40th Street

Revisions to the times or locations of these closures may be made at the discretion of the Police Department.

CIA released Gitmo inmates as double agents

WASHINGTON — In the early years after 9/11, the CIA turned some Guantanamo Bay prisoners into double agents then sent them home to help the US kill terrorists, current and former US officials said.

The CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families and millions of dollars from the agency’s secret accounts.

It was a risky gamble. Officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.

For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, the program was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf.

At the same time the government used the risk of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.

The program was carried out in a secret facility built a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The eight small cottages were hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus.

The program and the handful of men who passed through these cottages had various official CIA code names.

But those who were aware of the cluster of cottages knew it best by its sobriquet: Penny Lane.

It was a nod to the classic Beatles song and a riff on the CIA’s other secret facility at Guantanamo Bay, a prison known as Strawberry Fields.

Nearly a dozen current and former US officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret program publicly by name, even though it ended in about 2006.

Some of the men who passed through Penny Lane helped the CIA find and kill many top al Qaeda operatives, current and former US officials said. Others stopped providing useful information and the CIA lost touch with them.

When prisoners began streaming into Guantanamo Bay in January 2002, the CIA recognized it as an unprecedented opportunity to identify sources. That year, 632 detainees arrived at the detention center. The following year 117 more arrived.

“Of course that would be an objective,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former top CIA analyst who spent time in 2002 assessing detainees but who did not discuss Penny Lane. “It’s the job of intelligence to recruit sources.”

By early 2003, Penny Lane was open for business.

Candidates were ushered from the confines of prison to Penny Lane’s relative hominess, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a small patio.

Some prisoners asked for and received pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed — not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress.

The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them collectively as the Marriott.

Current and former officials said dozens of prisoners were evaluated but only a handful, from a variety of countries, were turned into spies who signed agreements to work for the CIA.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.

The US government says it has confirmed that about 16 percent of former Guantanamo Bay detainees rejoined the fight against America. Officials suspect but have not confirmed that 12 percent more rejoined.

It’s not clear whether the men from Penny Lane are included in those figures. But because only a small number of people went through the program, it would not likely change the figures significantly either way. None of the officials interviewed by the AP knew of an instance in which any double agent killed Americans.

Though the number of double agents recruited through Penny Lane was small, the program was significant enough to draw keen attention from President George W. Bush, one former official said.

Bush personally interviewed a junior CIA case officer who had just returned home from Afghanistan, where the agency typically met with the agents.

President Barack Obama took an interest in the program for a different reason. Shortly after taking office in 2009, he ordered a review of the former detainees working as double agents because they were providing information used in Predator drone strikes, one of the officials said.

Infiltrating al Qaeda has been one of the CIA’s most sought-after but difficult goals, something that other foreign intelligence services have only occasionally accomplished. Candidates for Penny Lane needed legitimate terrorist connections. To be valuable to the CIA, the men had to be able to reconnect with al Qaeda.

From the Bush administration descriptions of Guantanamo Bay prisoners at the time, the CIA would have seemingly had a large pool to draw from. Vice President Dick Cheney called the prisoners “the worst of a very bad lot.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said they were “among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth.”

In reality, many were held on flimsy evidence and were of little use to the CIA.

While the agency looked for viable candidates, those with no terrorism ties sat in limbo. It would take years before the majority of detainees were set free, having never been charged. Of the 779 people who were taken to Guantanamo Bay, more than three-fourths have been released, mostly during the Bush administration.

Many others remain at Guantanamo Bay, having been cleared for release by the military but with no hope for freedom in sight.

“I do see the irony on the surface of letting some really very bad guys go,” said David Remes, an American lawyer who has represented about a dozen Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo.

But Remes, who was not aware of Penny Lane, said he understands its attraction.

“The men we were sending back as agents were thought to be able to provide value to us,” he said.

Prisoners agreed to cooperate for a variety of reasons, officials said. Some received assurances that the US would resettle their families. Another thought al-Qaida had perverted Islam and believed it was his duty as a Muslim to help the CIA destroy it. One detainee agreed to cooperate after the CIA insinuated it would harm his children, a former official said, similar to the threats interrogators had made to admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

All were promised money. Exactly how much each was paid remains unclear. But altogether, the government paid millions of dollars for their services, officials said. The money came from a secret CIA account, codenamed Pledge, that’s used to pay informants, officials said.

The arrangement led to strategic discussions inside the CIA: If the agency’s drones had a shot at Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would officials take the shot if it meant killing a double agent on the American payroll?

It never came to that.

The biggest fear, former officials involved with the program recalled, was that a former detainee would attack Americans then publicly announce that he had been on the CIA payroll.

Al Qaeda suspected the CIA would attempt a program like this and its operatives have been very suspicious of former Guantanamo Bay detainees, intelligence officials and experts said.

In one case, a former official recalled, al Qaeda came close to discovering one of the double agents in its midst.

The US government had such high hopes for Penny Lane that one former intelligence official recalled discussions about whether to secretly release a pair of Pakistani men into the United States on student or business visas. The hope was that they would connect with al Qaeda and lead authorities to members of a US cell.

Another former senior intelligence official said that never happened.

Officials said the program ended in 2006, as the flow of detainees to Guantanamo Bay slowed to a trickle. The last prisoner arrived there in 2008.

Penny Lane still stands and can be seen in satellite photos. A dirt road winds its way to a clearing.

The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone. The complex is surrounded by two fences and hidden among the trees and shrubs of Guantanamo Bay.

It has long been abandoned.

Lovebirds to marry after both changed genders

When a man loves a woman, it doesn’t matter if he was born a she and she was born a he — just ask Mark and Jessica Lynn Cummings.

The Florida lovebirds met in 2011 and are getting hitched next year – after each changed genders.

Muscle-bound Mark was born a girl with wavy brown hair and a pretty smile called Maritza Perdomo, while blonde Jessica was once a tow-headed boy named Shawn O’Donnell.

But Mark, 49, a dedicated weightlifter and occupational therapist, transitioned in 2003 and is now legally recognized as a man.

And Jessica, 39, underwent an operation to remove her testicles earlier this year and is now officially a woman who is already using her future hubby’s surname.

The unlikely couple said it was love at first sight.

“With Jessica I have found true love for the first time in my life. It’s like something you see in the movies. Because she has gone through the same journey as me she knows the pain and suffering that it can be to be a transgender person,” Mark said.

“Now I don’t believe being transgender is a curse and I want to make other trans people feel good about themselves. If people want to judge us for our relationship I would say, what makes your relationship better than mine?”

Like her husband-to-be, Jessica suffered discrimination and painful gender identity issues growing up – even attempting suicide before owning up to her family that she was transgender.

“Growing up knowing I wasn’t who people said I was left me feeling alienated and alone. I couldn’t see a way out, it was the worst feeling in the world,” she said. ”For years I thought I was a gay man, but now I know who I am and Mark completes me.”

After years living as a man, at age 35 Jessica told her family that she was trapped in the wrong body.
“It took months before I could finally tell my parents, but I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for. Only my grandmother really stood by me,” she said ruefully.

“Meeting Mark helped me to fully accept myself and love who I am as a trans woman. Our relationship is the kind that people dream of – our first kiss was magic,” she said.

The first time she saw her future husband, Jessica thought he was a hunk – but never guessed he had been born as a girl.

“When he told me I was wanted to know more about him,” she gushed.

Mark said the unique nature of their backgrounds had made them more simpatico.

“To the outside world we are a normal heterosexual couple, but being transgender I feel like we are even more in tune with each other. Having been a female I can understand what Jessica is feeling and vice versa,” he said. “We share this incredible bond, which is almost like sharing the same brain.”

And Mark admitted that before meeting Jessica he was a virgin at age 48.

“Losing my virginity to Jessica is something incredibly special that I’ll never forget,” he blissfully recalled.

Now the pair has each other’s name tattooed on their bodies.

Mark, who as Maritza was a female bodybuilder before surgery made him a man, now calls Jessica his “princess’ and relishes his role as her protector.

“I love fulfilling the role as Jessica’s provider and protector. I love taking care of her ,” he said. “Going through all the pain we’ve been through it’s almost like we were rewarded by being placed in each other’s lives.”

The couple, from Wilton Manors, Florida, hosts Transition Radio — a show aimed at raising awareness about discrimination and other issues transgender people face.

Pack your bags, Alec! MSNBC fires Baldwin over anti-gay slurs

Alec Baldwin has been fired by MSNBC, sources say.

The rage-aholic’s weekly show, “Up Late With Alec Baldwin,” has been canceled because of the actor’s foul-mouthed rant at a photographer he called a nasty name.

“The decision has been made. He’s gone,” an insider at the cable channel said. “The [parent company] Comcast guys have decided. Word is spreading through the building.”

Baldwin’s dismissal was decided on partly because of his diva-like behavior toward co-workers, a source said.

Besides demanding a humidifier because he claimed the air at 30 Rock was too dry, Baldwin alienated staffers when he demanded a separate makeup room being used by a woman with cancer who is sensitive to hairspray.

When Baldwin was told he couldn’t have his way, he allegedly bellowed at the top of his lungs, “I don’t give a f - - k if she has cancer or not, I want that f - - king makeup room.”

As Page Six of the New York Post scooped a week ago, Baldwin’s ratings were weak. His last show, featuring Debra Winger, pulled in just 395,000 total viewers.

A spokesman for Baldwin quibbled with the term “fired,” but confirmed, “The show is not coming back. He had questions on whether he wanted to continue.”

Baldwin was difficult to reach in Hawaii, where he is filming a movie.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wanted: $1 rent for ‘naked roommate’

Oh the perils of doing stuff online.

Whether it’s dates, housemates or finding a job the internet is a wild place.

An online listing for a penthouse in Washington DC is the latest ‘unique offer’ to catch our eye.

The landlord decided to rent their Chinatown penthouse for just $1 per month.

The only catch? The new tenant has to be “very attractive” aged 26 or under and happy to be a “naked roommate,” The Daily Dot reports.

“I’m a male looking for another male (straight or bisexual w/girlfriend preferred, but masc gay is cool too) to be my naked roommate,” read the original ad, which has now been removed.

“Sounds crazy, but this is for real.”

The ad went on to say the arrangement would be mostly “looking,” but some “touching” will be required – the legality of which is murky at best the Huffington Post reported.

We’ll just back away slowly and keep browsing the classifieds.

This article originally appeared on

‘I didn’t kill drug addict Michael Jackson’: Conrad Murray

Michael Jackson’s deadly Doctor Feelgood insisted that The King of Pop gave himself lethal doses of anesthesia after pleading for more drugs.

In his first interview since getting out of jail, Dr. Conrad Murray gave himself a pass for Jackson’s June 25, 2009, death in Los Angeles from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.

“I did not kill Michael Jackson. He was a drug addict,” Murray told The Daily Mail newspaper of London. “Michael Jackson accidentally killed Michael Jackson.”

Murray, convicted of involuntary manslaughter for The Gloved One’s shocking demise, disputed successful prosecution claims that he put Jackson on an IV drip of propofol.

The doctor said Jackson begged him that day for “milk” – their code word for propofol – before he “reluctantly gave the pop icon a minuscule” 25mg injection.

“I received a phone call at 11:07 a.m., and when I left Michael at 11:20 a.m., he had a normal heartbeat, his vital signs were good,” Murray said. “I left the room because I didn’t want to disturb him.”

Murray added: “I believe he woke up, got hold of his own stash of propofol and injected himself. He did it too quickly and went into cardiac arrest.”

Murray painted a sad picture of Jackson’s final days as a physically broken 50-year-old filled with dread and self-doubt.

Jackson barely had control of his bodily functions, according to his doctor.

“He wore dark trousers all the time because after he went to the toilet he would drip for hours,” Murray said.

“You want to know how close Michael and I were? I held his penis every night. I had to put a condom catheter on him because Michael dripped urine. He had a loss of sensation and was incontinent.”

‘There’s a bomb on the plane’: Unruly passenger

A man caused panic on a flight when he repeatedly yelled “there’s a bomb on the plane.”

The terrifying outburst was caught on camera by another passenger as the plane waited on the tarmac at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

The unidentified man began shouting after police tried to eject him from the plane following reports he was being disruptive, local TV network WPTV reported.

Charles Davis, another passenger, told the network: “Everybody was nervous when you hear something like that you start doing a lot of soul searching.

“I’m sure for me anyway, ‘cause you don’t know what the next two minutes was going to hold.”

This article originally appeared on

Vatican unveils the bones of St. Peter

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican publicly unveiled a handful of bone fragments purportedly belonging to St. Peter on Sunday, reviving the scientific debate and tantalizing mystery over whether the relics found in a shoe box truly belong to the first pope.

The nine pieces of bone sat nestled like rings in a jewel box inside a bronze display case on the side of the altar during a Mass commemorating the end of the Vatican’s yearlong celebration of the Christian faith. It was the first time they had ever been exhibited in public.

Pope Francis prayed before the fragments at the start of Sunday’s service and then clutched the case in his arms for several minutes after his homily.

No pope has ever definitively declared the fragments to belong to the Apostle Peter, but Pope Paul VI in 1968 said fragments found in the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica were “identified in a way that we can consider convincing.”

Some archaeologists dispute the finding.

But last week, a top Vatican official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said it almost doesn’t matter if archaeologists one day definitively determine that the bones aren’t Peter’s, saying Christians have prayed at Peter’s tomb for two millennia and will continue to, regardless.

“It’s not as if pilgrims who go to the altar (of Peter’s tomb) think that in that moment in which they profess their faith that below them are the relics of Peter, or of another or another still,” he told reporters. “They go there to profess the faith.”

During the excavations, archaeologists discovered a funerary monument with a casket built in honor of Peter and an engraving in Greek that read “Petros eni,” or “Peter is here.”

The scholar of Greek antiquities, Margherita Guarducci, who had deciphered the engraving continued to investigate and learned that one of the basilica workers had been given the remains found inside the casket and stored them in a shoe box kept in a cupboard. She reported her findings to Paul VI who later proclaimed that there was a “convincing” argument that the bones belonged to Peter.

Top Vatican Jesuits and other archaeologists strongly denied the claim, but had little recourse.

“No Pope had ever permitted an exhaustive study, partly because a 1,000-year-old curse attested by secret and apocalyptic documents, threatened anyone who disturbed the peace of Peter’s tomb with the worst possible misfortune,” Bartoloni wrote.

The Vatican newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, published excerpts of the book last year, giving his account a degree of official sanction.

In 1971, Paul VI was given an urn containing the relics, which were kept inside the private papal chapel inside the Apostolic Palace and exhibited for the pope’s private veneration each June 29, for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Sunday marked the first time they were shown in public.

‘Unfireable’ female FDNY firefighter quits

The female FDNY probie who was allowed to graduate from the Fire Academy without passing a required running test has quit.

Wendy Tapia, 31, resigned Thursday after trying again — her sixth attempt — to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes or less, officials said.

“She didn’t make the 12-minute cutoff,” an FDNY spokesman said. “She’ll return back to EMS ranks.”

Tapia was one of five women among 285 new firefighters who graduated from the FDNY’s Randall’s Island training academy on May 17. The class of EMTs and paramedics was hailed as one of the most diverse ever.

She was assigned to Engine No. 316 in East Elmhurst, Queens, but never worked a shift. After recovering from a foot injury, she went on light duty and continued training for the run. She failed it five times, last on Halloween, clocking 12 minutes 23 seconds.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, at the behest of United Women Firefighters, a group of active and retired FDNY women, gave Tapia another chance to pass the test on Dec. 2. But on the heels of a Post article on her special treatment, Tapia tried again early, and then threw in the towel.

“It’s really not about her, it’s about preferential treatment,” said Paul Mannix, president of Merit Matters, a firefighter group that opposes hiring quotas. “People are encouraged that she won’t be fighting fires, not because she’s a woman, but because she couldn’t meet the standards.”

McCann, Yankees agree to five-year deal

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are on the verge of completing a bold upgrade behind the plate, agreeing to terms on Saturday with free-agent catcher Brian McCann on a five-year contract worth at least $85 million.

McCann, widely regarded as the top available catcher on the market, will need to pass a physical before the deal becomes official. The Yankees have not made an announcement regarding the signing.

The deal includes a vesting option for the 2019 season that could push its overall value to $100 million, a source confirmed to It also contains a full no-trade clause.

McCann, who will turn 30 on Feb. 20, spent each of his first nine Major League seasons with the Braves, making seven All-Star teams and winning five Silver Slugger Awards. The signing will cost the Yankees their first-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, as McCann had been issued a qualifying offer by the Braves, and Atlanta will receive a compensation round pick.

In 102 games last season, he hit .256 with 20 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .796 OPS. McCann's left-handed power stroke figures to fit nicely in Yankee Stadium, restoring some of the punch that the Yankees sorely lacked from their catchers this past season.

New York struggled to find offensive production from its catchers, giving extended playing time to Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine after declining to match the two-year, $17 million contract Russell Martin found with the Pirates.

With general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi agreeing to try their defense-first catching alignment, the Yanks' backstops produced an overall line of .213/.289/.298 with only eight home runs and 43 RBIs.

McCann projects to lean more toward the levels of power production that the Yankees received from Martin and, before him, fan favorite Jorge Posada. McCann has hit at least 20 homers in each of the last six seasons and owns a career split line of .277/.350/.473.

Cashman said during this month's General Managers Meetings that he "absolutely" expected to tender Cervelli a contract offer, so it is likely that Cervelli and Romine will compete next spring to serve as McCann's backup, with Stewart becoming more of a non-tender candidate.

The timing of the deal was somewhat of a surprise. McCann and his agent, BB Abbott, were not expected to make a decision until at least the Winter Meetings next month in Orlando, Fla., with the Rangers, Angels and Red Sox also considered to be in play for his services.

Instead, ESPN New York reported that McCann visited with the Yankees on Tuesday, and that was enough to convince him to jump at an offer that represents the largest annual value contract ever given to a free-agent catcher at $17 million per year.

The Yankees' signing of McCann is the first splash in what the club expects will be a busy offseason, reorganizing after New York was absent from postseason play for just the second time in the last 19 years.

Team president Randy Levine had said earlier in the week that Cashman was engaged with "five or six free agents," a group that included McCann as well as second baseman Robinson Cano, who remains one of the Yankees' top priorities.

However, the organization's public statements sent a clear message to Cano's camp that it was preparing to fill other needs while waiting for Cano to back down from his reported demands of a 10-year deal worth in excess of $305 million.

In addition to Cano and McCann, the Yankees are believed to have targeted an array of starting pitchers that include Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka, while engaging the representatives for infielders Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta, plus outfielders Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson.

Weekend Bridge and Street Closures – November 23-24

The Brooklyn Bridge will be closed to Manhattan-bound traffic from 9 pm on Saturday until 6 am on Monday. Motorists should consider taking the Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, or the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (MTA-tolled facility).

One tube of the Hugh L. Carey Brooklyn Battery Tunnel will be closed from 9 pm Friday through 5 am Monday. One lane will be open in each direction in the remaining tube. Motorists should expect delays.

Two southbound lanes and one northbound lane on West Street/9A in the vicinity of the Vesey Street Pedestrian Bridge will be maintained from 10 am to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday.  One lane in each direction will be open to traffic from 10 pm Friday to 10 am Saturday, from 10 pm Saturday to 10 am Sunday and from 10 pm Sunday to 5 am Monday to facilitate a NY State DOT overhead bridge removal operation. During this weekend project motorists exiting the Hugh L. Carey Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into Manhattan and destined for northbound West Street will be detoured to Trinity Place to Church Street.
Detailed information on weekend street closures will be available on the DOT web site at:

I was a victim of the knockout game

Photography intern Israel Blizovsky had just finished taking pictures at a Crown Heights engagement party when a hulking teen he was passing on the sidewalk cold-cocked him without warning.

“He was very strong. I was in shock,” said the 19-year-old from Beersheva, Israel. “I saw a large group of black teenagers coming. I moved to the side to let them pass. Then, all of a sudden, when I was passing right next to them, I felt a punch in the face.

“They just kept walking. They were all laughing,” he told The New York Post through a Hebrew translator.

“They said something right after he punched me, but I don’t understand English. It looked like they were making fun of me.”

Blizovsky, whose tooth was chipped by the blow, is one of at least six Jewish people who have been attacked as part of a “knockout game” in the three weeks leading to the start of Hanukkah Wednesday, Brooklyn leaders said.

The brutal game — sometimes called “polar bear hunting” — has been on the rise across the country, with bystanders, usually white, suckerpunched for sport by black youths.

In Brooklyn, religious Jews appear to be the targets.

Fueled by Internet videos of the beatings, “knockout” attacks have also been reported in Chicago, Hoboken and Lansing, Mich.

In Jersey City, a 46-year-old man died in September after a sucker punch sent his head into an iron fence.

Blizovsky, who stands 5-foot-2 and weighs less than 100 pounds, was working for the COLlive community-news Web site and carrying a Nikon D600 camera when he was assaulted on Crown Street Nov. 14 at 9:30 p.m.

The gang, he said, ignored his expensive equipment.

“They didn’t look deprived,” Blizovsky said. “They didn’t look poor. They just looked like they wanted entertainment.”

Asked why he thinks he was targeted, he said: “[Jews] look gentle. We look like we won’t fight back.”

Local rabbis, witnesses and victims say there have been at least eight unprovoked attacks on Jews in Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park since Oct. 11, with six after Nov. 6.

Early Friday, an Orthodox Jew was jumped by four thugs after he heard them yapping about “knockout.”

“One of them stepped out towards me and, with a closed fist, hits me in the face,” said Shmuel Perl, 24.

“As I was able to walk away from them, they called after me, ‘Come back. I can do this. I will knock you out.’ ”

One man was arrested on charges of assault and aggravated harassment as bias crimes in the attack.

On Nov. 9, a 78-year-old Midwood woman was socked in the back of the head while pushing her great-granddaughter’s stroller on Avenue L and East Fifth Street. Fearing a repeat, she hasn’t left her home since.

“It’s scary,” her son-in-law said. “You’re 78, and someone hits you with a closed fist with all their might.”

The NYPD said it was aware of seven of the eight attacks.

“Our Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating these incidents,” a spokesman said. “There have been increased patrols in the 71st Precinct” in Crown Heights.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Friday, “We are trying to determine if [the knockout game] is a real phenomenon . . . We have to be concerned about when you highlight an incident or a type of criminality, some people will simply try to copy.”

An NYPD source said he expects the department to “downplay the incidents.”

“Look, we’re at the end of the road,” he said. “All [Kelly] has to do is run out the clock the next five weeks. The last thing anyone wants is a major racial eruption in the last five weeks of the administration.”

Barry Sugar, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, says he has been asking Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio for help with anti-Jewish attacks since August to no avail.

“We were concerned that the candidates weren’t aware of what was happening,” he told The Post.

“We made several attempts to reach out to Mr. de Blasio, but our overtures were not met with any kind of response.”

As for Blizovsky, who returns to Israel Monday, he vowed to be “more prepared” for his next visit to the Big Apple.

“I’ll bring a Taser.”