Tuesday, December 22, 2015

FDA overturns 30-year ban on blood donations by gay men

Written by Reuters

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled on Monday that gay men can donate blood 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man, overturning a 30-year ban aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The agency said people with hemophilia and related blood clotting disorders will continue to be banned from donating blood due to potential harm they could suffer from large needles. Previously they were banned due to an increased risk of transmitting HIV.

The agency said it has worked with other government agencies and considered input from outside advisory bodies, and has "carefully examined the most recent available scientific evidence to support the current policy revision."

The agency said it has also put in place a safety monitoring system for the blood supply which it expects to provide "critical information" to help inform future FDA blood donor policies.

"Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population," Dr. Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA's biologics division, said in a statement.

Several countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, have 12-month deferrals.

During the change in Australia from an indefinite blood donor deferral policy, essentially a ban, to a 12-month deferral, studies evaluating more than 8 million units of donated blood were performed using a national blood surveillance system, the FDA said.

"These published studies document no change in risk to the blood supply with use of the 12-month deferral," the agency said. "Similar data are not available for shorter deferral intervals."

The agency said its policies to date have helped reduce HIV transmission rates from blood transfusions from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million.

NYPD accused of destroying man's genitals

A Brooklyn man claimed that NYPD officers kicked him so hard that he had to have a testicle removed.

Corey Green, 32, was playing cards with friends in a Bedf-Stuy apartment on Saturday when cops entered looking for a robbery suspect, his father said to the New York Post, which added that Green reportedly walked away from police when he was asked to provide his identification.

Police then allegedly threw Green to the ground “and were kicking his genitals,” Green’s father said in the Post article. “They stomped his testicles into his stomach.”

A police spokesman, though, contradicted Green’s account, saying in a related New York Daily News report that Green ran into scaffolding after fleeing from police.

Green underwent surgery on Sunday to restore the blood flow to genitals, his lawyer Sanford Rubenstein said in the Daily News.

During that surgery, Green had one of his testicles removed, the Post added.

“This is certainly an outrageous example of wrongdoing, and we are calling on the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to present evidence to a grand jury,” Rubenstein was quoted by the Daily News.

Green was interviewed by NYPD Internal Affairs, Rubenstein said to the Daily News, which added that police said Green has 15 prior arrests.

New York City homicide rate for 2015 tops last year’s tally, data shows

In a week punctuated by the killing of a 2-month-old boy in the Bronx, New York City’s homicide rate has passed 2014’s record low tally, with 339 killings through Sunday, according to the latest NYPD data.

For all of 2014, New York City reported 333 homicides — the lowest number since the modern era of police record keeping began in the early 1960s. Criminal justice experts are predicting the city will record about 350 homicides by year’s end, an increase of just over five percent.

The city remains at a historically low level for killings as other major U.S. cities see large increases, said Prof. Eugene O’Donnell, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It is not a terrible place to be,” O’Donnell said. “They would like the city to be going lower . . . possibly this is as far down as we will go.”

Brooklyn has recorded 139 homicides this year, an increase of almost 17 percent over 2014.

Manhattan has also seen an increase of just over 17 percent to 40 killings. All other boroughs are recording fewer homicides with the 75th Precinct in the East New York section of Brooklyn showing the most of any precinct with 18 killings, still a 10 percent decline.

“Every murder is significant but in any context historically — the last two years, last five years — we are still at record lows,” said Richard Aborn, head of the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission.

“This is being done at a time when there are close to a million fewer police contacts with the public . . . . I think we are entering a new era of policing — precision policing.”

Sunday’s updated data included the killing of an infant boy in the Bronx. Cops arrested Jose Feliciano, 51, of the Bronx, on charges he killed the infant and dumped the child’s body in a wooded area of Dutchess County north of the city. Feliciano faces murder and manslaughter charges.

The latest 2015 homicide numbers include 12 reclassified cases, involving incidents that may have occurred decades ago but only recently were determined to be murders. The NYPD routinely includes reclassified cases in the current year homicide tallies. In 2014 cops included 12 reclassified cases and in 2013 had 15 reclassifications.

Overall, serious crime was down 2.1 percent through Sunday. Rapes continue to show an increase.

But the nearly six percent spike is being driven by a large number of old allegations only now being reported by victims, police said.

Experts believe the increase in rape reports has been sparked by publicity about the allegations against actor Bill Cosby, as well as NYPD outreach to victims. Without the older rapes, the city would actually see a decrease of about six percent in the crime, police said.

NYPD detective killed in Afghanistan suicide bombing

An NYPD detective died Monday while serving his third tour of duty with the U.S. Air National Guard.

Detective Joseph Lemm was a 15 year veteran of the NYPD who served the city in the Bronx Warrant Squad. Over the course of the past decade, Lemm was deployed three times, serving active duty once in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan.

He died Monday serving that second tour in Afghanistan.

"Detective Joseph Lemm epitomized the selflessness we can only strive for," said Commissioner Bill Bratton in a statement, "putting his country and city first." Bratton added the entire NYPD grieved the loss of Lemm, whom he called "a selfless public servant who dedicated his life to protecting others."

The NYPD said that Lemm leaves behind a wife and two children.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Shoppers enjoying the bustle of last-minute gift lines

Holiday shoppers in the city during the last Sunday rush before Christmas enjoyed the hustle in their last gasp for gifts.

“I think I always seem to shop at the last minute when everyone is hustling and bustling, it makes it feel more festive,” said Brooklyn’s Adelle Lopez.

Carrying an Old Navy bag, Lopez had just bought Christmas stocking stuffers: “two little things as Christmas toppers."

In front of Macy’s Herald Square Christmas display windows, Lopez laughed at the thought of making her way around the big block between Sixth and Seventh avenues, bouncing around to get last-minute gifts for acquaintances.

At crunch time, Lopez took also a moment to enjoy the sights in front of Macy’s.

A woman wearing a Santa hat in a makeshift store front outside, was selling Santa hats for $5.

“Santa hats, let’s buy them out,” she said over the lbuzz of fellow shoppers.

As families, tourists and New Yorkers took on the epicenter of New York’s holiday shopping scene, the added drop of temperatures over the weekend brought many feeling more holiday-spirited.

“Cold weather does bring out the image of Christmas,” Chris Randolph, 30, from the Bronx said.

Holding a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag as he waited on a subway platform, Randolph said he had been out earlier shopping with his girlfriend.

“I always wait till last minute, I always procrastinate, if it's super early. I work better under pressure. I can’t wait around,” he says.

Randolph said he and his girlfirend don’t like to play guessing games when it comes to presents, which is why they shop together. “We got exactly what the person wants,” Randolph said.

He said he will be done with his Christmas shopping by Wednesday and after that, he will come into Midtown, just to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.

For others, Sunday was about taking off from shopping and instead. walking around.

Michael Moss, a native New Yorker who now lives in Florida, visits the city around this time every year with his family.

“I’m walking around with my 8-year-old granddaughter, we’re checking out the Christmas display windows, and then we’ll go to Rockefeller… I want her to see the lights,” Moss said.

But his 27-year-old son, Ian, joked that he’ll be out Christmas Eve shopping.

“It just always turns out better that way. Crunch time to go and do things,” he said.

AmNY Express (12/21/15): It all comes down to housing

The St. Francis breadline started during the Great Depression and continues today, serving three to four hundred people a morning, many of whom are homeless.
"They feel safe here. People don't bother them as much," says Father Paul Lostritto, executive director of Franciscan Bread for the Poor, which administers the line.
Every morning, the line stretches multiple blocks leading up to this midtown church, where the homeless or hungry can get items such as sandwiches, coffee and oatmeal. Afterwards, "they hang out," says Lostritto, who says he tries to foster a sense of community. "They need help," he says, "they need guidance."

Brother, can you spare a policy initiative?

You won't hear many politicians skeptical of helping the homeless during the holiday season — it's a question of how best to deliver that help. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his new plan for how to help the homeless, who've been with us longer than the St. Francis breadline.
Since summer, the de Blasio administration has absorbed hit after hit about the homeless situation in New York. While he first seemed to downplay the extent of the crisis, the mayor is now tackling homelessness head on.
His focus on creating 200,000 units of affordable housing was always relevant to homeless individuals, but his supportive housing program, which aims to add 15,000 units over the next 15 years, is more direct. It matches people often living on the street or in shelters with cheap housing and programs such as mental health services.
He is rightfully proud of helping 22,000 individuals get out of shelters and into permanent housing.
But the most recent changes in policy came last week, with the resignation of the mayor's Department of Homeless Services commissioner and the announcement of HOME-STAT, a new homeless outreach program aimed directly at street homelessness — the 3-4,000 individuals who live entirely on the street, and are often the most visible symbols of homelessness.

Reaching out

HOME-STAT aims to get a much more accurate picture of the street-homeless by performing daily canvassing in the most high-impact areas, mainly Manhattan from Canal Street to 145th Street, in addition to quarterly counts. Outreach teams will be available to develop a "specific plan," de Blasio said, to help individual homeless people get the services they need or get off the streets. Outreach teams and NYPD units dedicated to the homeless will respond within an average of one hour to calls concerning homeless people who need help or who are being disruptive.
Some homeless individuals said they didn't expect to see much change.
"Housing," says Melvin Ashford. "That's the only thing I'm looking for."
Ashford, 57, says he's been on the street for five years. He says he avoids shelters for various reasons: gang activity, drugs, robbers.
"A roof over my head," says John J., who preferred to give only his last initial. "My own roof, not a city roof," John, 52, says.
Jonathan Martinez, 27, came to New York from New Jersey, hearing that conditions were better here. Besides housing, his immediate needs include a phone — "good Internet access with good speed," to allow him to make a good resume, which would allow him to get off the streets, where he says he feels under constant pressure from police.


Time will tell

The name HOME-STAT self-consciously echoes the policing technique that revolutionized the NYPD — CompStat, the data-driven style of policing admired and reviled in equal measures for its relentless focus on small pockets of crime and for its connection with broken windows policing.
Hopefully, the program will provide actually needed services, as opposed to simply identifying pockets of homelessness and sweeping the problem under the rug.
Most importantly, it should ultimately lead to homes.
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers. Subscribe at amny.com/amexpress.
Brought to you by @amNYOpinion

Holiday shoppers evacuated due to sickening smell

Fourteen shoppers were evacuated from a Secaucus Kohl’s due to sickening fumes late Sunday night.
Authorities are still working to determine the cause of the smell reported at a Kohl’s department store that led to an evacuation and to shoppers experiencing difficulty breathing, ABC has reported.

Police received a call of a chemical smell at the Kohl’s located at 3 Mill Creek Dr. around 9 p.m., Pix11 added in a related article, stating that the building was evacuated as a precaution.

Almost a dozen customers were examined in the parking lot, ABC stated. It was unknown whether any customers required being taken to the hospital.

Local fire, police and hazmat authorities were on the scene attempting to determine the smell’s source, Pix11 reported.

Officials said that there was nothing to indicate that the fumes were related to a gas leak, but the investigation is continuing, according to ABC.

Kohl’s locations will be open 24 hours a day until Christmas, Pix11 added.

AmNY Express (12/18/15): The music is underground

Jon Batiste wants you to think more about music. And he's willing to bring his talent anywhere to do that.

The music is underground

Today, Jon Batiste is the bandleader on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", but in 2011 he was a Juilliard student visiting his now-girlfriend, Suleika Jaouad, in the oncology ward at Mount Sinai.
As machines beeped around them, he and his band, "Stay Human", began to play. Soon the patients were dancing. Protective face masks were matched by grins. There was music in a silent place.
This gets at the heart of what Batiste is talking about when he talks about his "social music." Too often, in his view, we consume music passively, when really it should be participatory, and affecting. It should create a relationship. Batiste brought social music from the subway, where he recorded most of an album, to the living room screen via CBS, a platform that he hopes will channel the infectiousness of his live performances.
Recently, Batiste sat down with amExpress to talk about community-building, the future of music, performing on the L-line, and the best basketball courts in Manhattan (Riverside Park).
This interview has been condensed for clarity.

In New Orleans, where you grew up, music was a part of the community. Have you found that here?

My idea of what represents the New York community best was found in the subways. You have all of these different people taking public transit together, and they probably wouldn't be next to each other if it wasn't for that. So we decided to play in the subway.
The L train going to Brooklyn, that was a nice one. We played the A train up to Harlem through Washington Heights, we were on that train all the way to the top.


Tell us more about social music.

Social music is music without borders, it's music for the people, it's about bringing music to people where they need it; and people who want access to it get access to it. They receive it in their time of need. We're serving the people, and giving them something that we really feel like will enrich their experience on earth.

Is there someplace in New York that needs music?

I'm always discovering people and different communities that I'd love to bring social music into . . . I just don't have the time!

You have a full-time job.

I want to start getting back out into the streets. Just the time of it, and the energy that you have to put into that . . . The thing about jazz is it's so spontaneous, but it also has a really strong sense of shared responsibility.
The band has to feel ownership of it, so it takes a lot of thought and planning to create these spontaneous moments. It's tough to just go and do this, you have to really map it out.


Has the Internet changed how you think about music?

The Internet is something we haven't figured out how to accommodate. Culturally speaking, it's taken over us and we don't have control over it. People in our generation and younger are really attached to the Internet in a way that is affecting how they communicate and their personal relationships and otherwise.
I think social music is an attempt to get people to connect in a different way.
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers. Subscribe at amny.com/amexpress.
Brought to you by @amNYOpinion

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Teens smoked, drank, used drugs less in 2015: Study

Written by Reuters

A decades-long decline in teenage drinking and smoking continued in 2015 and use of some drugs by eighth-graders and high school students also fell, while marijuana consumption extended a five-year flat trend, according to results of a study released on Wednesday.

Teen cigarette smoking fell to its lowest level since the University of Michigan began doing its national survey on licit and illicit substances in 1975, according to a news release on the study, part of a series called Monitoring the Future.

Only 7 percent of students in grades eight, 10 and 12 who were polled reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month, down from 8 percent a year earlier and the lowest level in 41 years of annual tracking.

"Such a reduction can translate eventually into preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths as well as many serious diseases," Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the study, said in a news release.

The study said increased taxes, advertising restrictions, smoking bans in many public places and quit-smoking campaigns are all paying off.

Forty percent of the students polled said they had used alcohol in the past year and 22 percent said they had done so in the previous 30 days - also the lowest levels since the study began in the mid-1970s. The one-year decline was not statistically significant, the report said, but the long-term decline is highly significant.

Students also reported declining use of heroin, synthetic marijuana, amphetamines and MDMA, which is known as ecstasy or Molly.

There was no change in consumption of marijuana, the most used illicit drug.

"After rising for several years, the annual prevalence of marijuana has more or less leveled out since about 2010," the report said.

The survey said 12 percent of eighth-graders, 25 percent of 10th-graders and 35 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months.

As far as more habitual use of marijuana, "one in every 16 or 17 high school seniors is smoking marijuana daily or near daily," the study said. "These rates have changed rather little since 2010 but are for three to six times higher than they were at their low point in 1991."

The study, funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health, surveyed 44,892 students in 382 secondary schools.

What were the most used emjois of 2015?

There is little to no doubt that emojis are slowly but surely taking over the English language. So as we approach the end of the new year, perhaps this is the best time to rank which emojis were leading the charge in the slow coup of our language.

Apalon Apps, an iOS app development company came up with this year's rankings after collecting data from its its Emoji Keypad app.

Here are the top 10 emojis as ranked by Apalon:
  1. 😂 Face with Tears of Joy
  2. 😍 Smiling Face with Heart-Shaped Eyes
  3. 👍 Thumbs Up Sign
  4. 😜 Face with Stuck-Out Tongue and Winking Eye
  5. 👏 Clapping Hands Sign
  6. Grinning Face
  7. 😘 Face Throwing a Kiss
  8. 💋 Kiss Mark
  9. 😃 Smiling Face with Open Mouth
  10. 😔 Pensive Face

City, upstate battle over funds delays MTA projects

The MTA’s capital plan is delayed again because of the state legislature’s call for parity in spending on upstate roads and bridges, as well as backlash in East Harlem over the timeline of the Second Avenue Subway.

The transit agency’s board approved the $29 billion plan in the fall, and a state panel has to review the $26.2 billion not funded by bridge and tunnel tolls, such as transit fares and subsidies. The MTA has not submitted the plan yet to the state Capital Program Review Board, which includes the state DOT commissioner and elected officials.

“Second Avenue is a concern. You’ve heard the dialogue on that,” said MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, talking to reporters after a board meeting.

“And then there’s a separate conversation … It’s the issue that the legislature is concerned about, you know, funding for highways and bridges at the same time they’re dealing with funding for transit.”

After the state agreed to give the MTA $8.3 billion for its capital plan, State Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemb. Phil Palmesano, whose districts represent part of the Finger Lakes region, called for upstate New York to have its fair share of dollars for roads and bridges.

“If Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are going to find billions of dollars for downstate mass transit in next year’s state budget, we want to make sure that local bridges and culverts across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout the state, receive a fair share of state assistance,” the two said in a statement.

O’Mara said on Wednesday that their position still stands.

East Harlem officials and community residents were also incensed when the MTA said tunneling for the Second Avenue Subway won’t happen in their neighborhood in the capital plan that the board approved until after 2019. They want that construction work to begin sooner.

The MTA had wanted $1 billion from the city for the East Harlem phase of the Second Avenue Subway, but then only budgeted $535 million when an agreement was reached. The MTA’s explanation was that the design work and movement of utilities was very complex.

Meanwhile, the holdup in the capital plan has already delayed three different contracts for its massive project to bring the LIRR to Grand Central, according to MTA documents. Called East Side Access, the $10.17 billion project also frees up tracks at Penn Station for Metro-North.

In the long-term, the money is needed for a slew of projects, from subway repairs to creating a new fare payment system.

Some MTA officials were frustrated that the capital plan was being stalled by the funding battle.

“The New York City region contributes the lion’s share of tax dollars to the state,” said Transit Rider Council chair Andrew Albert, who sits on the board.

“I certainly hope the capital plan is approved quickly, so we can get on with rebuilding and expanding this amazing transportation network, which is key to the economic survival of the region.”

Board member Allen Cappelli, who represents Staten Island, and said if there was no action by the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo soon, “a serious delay could jeopardize the operations of this agency.”

Legislators who represent New York City also urged a speedy resolution.

“It’s absolutely critical that the MTA’s capital plan funding come through without delay to keep our buses and subway system on track,” said Brooklyn State Sen. Daniel Squadron.

“We also must ensure that roads and bridges are funded, which have a significant impact throughout the state, just as the MTA capital plan does.”

The MTA board also approved its final budget for 2016 and four-year financial plan on Wednesday.

Four percent fare and toll hikes remain on track for early 2017, even as the MTA has gotten more money from real estate taxes, as well as its bridges and tunnels, than expected.

The MTA said that for operating expenses, it was concerned about the loss of revenue from sliding yellow cab ridership.

Taxis pay a 50-cent surcharge that app companies like Uber and Lyft do not pay. Those companies collect and pay sales tax on fares, which the MTA gets part of, but documents say it is significantly less than the surcharge.

In the long-term, the MTA needs capital dollars for a slew of other needs:
  • Bringing the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem
  • Keeping the subways in good condition
  • Creating a new fare payment system to replace MetroCard
  • New subway cars and buses
  • New Metro-North stations in the Bronx

'Will I ever get married?' Not if you live in New York City -- Sorry

Perhaps we're being a little dramatic, but if you grew up in New York City (or even moved here later), the New York Times thinks you are never ever getting married.

This goes for not only New York City, but pretty much every liberal bastion that resides in our morbidly single nation.

San Francisco? Sorry. Chicago? Sorry.

That's it folks! Time to give up. Buy some ice cream, get a cat, and stop shaving.

You're closed for business.

The New York Times writes:

"Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado."

These damning statistics come out of a Harvard study that looked at the lives of about 5 million people who moved in the 1990s and 1980s from rural areas to more urban areas.

The results were pretty damning.

The Times reports that "Children who grow in New York, among other places, appear less likely to be married by 26, less likely to be married by 30 and probably less likely to marry at any point."


Read the entire article from The New York Times

NYC homeless outreach workers to scour ‘every single block,’ offering services, responding to complaints, de Blasio says

Rapid-response teams will hit “every single block” in most of Manhattan, searching for homeless people and responding to public complaints within an hour, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

Inviting a handful of the “NYC Home Stat Homeless Outreach” workers clad in fluorescent-colored uniforms to the front of a business leaders breakfast, de Blasio said the teams would focus on the area of Canal Street to 145th Street in Manhattan and parts of the other boroughs. He said the teams would begin immediately.

“We’re going to go at this problem with everything we got,” de Blasio told the breakfast meeting of the Association for a Better New York, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

With the help of the police where necessary, the teams of social-services workers will seek to measure the extent of the problem, offer services and arrest lawbreakers.

There are currently 175 of the social services workers, and there will be 312 by March, according to the mayor’s office.

After the breakfast, Police Commissioner William Bratton said that in the new year he would be proposing legislation to address court-imposed restrictions on the NYPD’s ability to move along or arrest homeless people. As an example, he cited an existing law barring begging within a certain distance of a bank ATM. He said would expand that prohibition to any ATM, such as one at a bodega.

The city’s record-setting number of homeless people has become a political liability for de Blasio.

Excluding the more than 3,000 people who live on the street, the shelter population peaked this year at about 59,000, an increase from about 53,000 two years ago, when de Blasio was sworn in. It is now more than 57,000, mayoral spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said.

On Tuesday, De Blasio’s chief of homeless services, Gil Taylor, abruptly announced his resignation.

What are the worst cities in America for singles? All of them, so give up

Attention single people of America, a new list ranking the worst cities to be single in has been published and surprise, surprise it’s depressing as hell.

In short, it sucks to be single anywhere in America. Live in a small-ish town? It sucks. Live in a big city? Also sucks.

WalletHub, a finance blog, crunched the numbers and listed out the 150 cities using a complex system of “data sets,” “percentages,” and other things single people just don’t have time to try and pretend they understand.

“Our analysts compared the 150 most populated U.S. cities based on 25 key metrics to help you find and prep for the best dating opportunities this holiday season,” WalletHub wrote in a piece about its findings. “Our data set ranges from the percentage of singles to the number of online-dating opportunities to the number of attractions in each city.”

So what are the 15 worst cities for singles?
1) Yonkers, NY
2) Hialeah, FL
3) North Las Vegas, NV
4) Glendale, CA
5) Detroit, MI
6) Columbus, GA
7) Chula Vista, CA
8) Oxnard, CA
9) Jersey City, NJ
10) Aurora, IL
11) Newark, NJ
12) New York, NY
13) Port St. Lucie, FL
14) Philadelphia, PA
15) Brownsville, TX

To be fair, some of these cities are the worst cities for anything (we’re looking at you, Yonkers).

Most notably New York City falls at number 12 on the worst places for singles to live, which is surprising since as recently as May, The New York Times wrote an entire piece about how growing up or living in a city like New York essentially kills your chances of getting married.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this August The Washington Post published a piece about how it’s statistically likely that you’ll die single and alone.

Well, that’s not exactly what they said, but it’s close.

“Because there are more women graduating from college (about 34% more women than men graduated in 2012) the dating pool for straight millennial college graduates is severely skewed with about four women for every three guys,” Metro explained. “The odds get even worse if you consider denser markets like New York City, where there are an estimated three women for every two men.”

Looks like you’re really screwed!

NYPD officer Jacob Sabbagh arrested for sexually abusing girl under age of 13, indictment says

An off-duty police officer is accused of sexually abusing a girl between the ages of 10 and 13, a law enforcement official said.

Jacob Sabbagh, 33, was released without bail Wednesday after he was charged with the alleged abuse. The indictment charged Sabbagh with inappropriately touching the young girl’s private areas multiple times between June 2005 and June 2008.

A law enforcement official told amNewYork that the alleged abuse happened when the victim was between 10 and 13 years old, but that the victim reported the abuse when she was 16.

Sabbagh was charged with second-degree sexual conduct against a child, second-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He was released without bail, a law enforcement official said.

Sabbagh has been an NYPD officer for about six years and was most recently assigned to building maintenance, a law enforcement official said. He was suspended without pay, according to police.

An attorney for Sabbagh did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

NYPD will fight terrorism with 1,700 specially trained officers

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Wednesday the department will have more than 1,700 officers who are speciallytrained to take on active shooters by early next year, with thousands more receiving active shooter and alert training.

The department was briefed, as recently as this week, by a Parisian official who faced gunmen during the terror attacks there last month.

“At any given time in the city, we’ll have 3, 4, 500 officers who can very quickly get to the scene, whether it’s a soft target, a significant target ... and move in,” Bratton said, speaking on Randall’s Island at a training exercise for the newly formed Strategic Response Group. “You have to go in. Because if you’re not going in, they’re going to be killing all the time that you’re outside. We’re trying to improve the safety of our officers to the greatest degree possible to protect them in that mission.”

The SRG unit will assist precinct and borough commanders in fighting crime and facing crowd control situations, and also “assist in the event of an active shooter or a hostage barricade situation,” said Chief of Department James O’Neill.

They will use special equipment to detect explosives and radiation, as well as self-contained breathing apparatuses that allow air for 45 to 60 minutes.

Bratton said the newly deployed Critical Response Command unit will also expand their responsibilities to help assure the safety of businesses, or soft targets, and their employees.

Most important, Bratton said, is to keep the level of fear in “proportion to the reality.”

“As those [CRC] officers are standing protecting a building, they also will have the capacity to go in and survey the building — how to protect it, as well as give educational lectures to employees about what were you to do in the event of a terrorist or active shooter situation,” he said. “We need to be aware but not be fearful. We really cannot let them win by constantly spreading fear, letting it get out of control or out of proportion to the actual threat.”

Azealia Banks arrested after breast-biting club brawl

Rapper Azealia Banks was arrested Wednesday outside a Meatpacking District club after she allegedly punched a security guard and bit her breast.

Banks, 24, was kicked out of the Up&Down club shortly after midnight for a fight stemming from her refusal to get a hand stamp to enter a private invitation-only downstairs party, the New York Post reported, adding that a verbal altercation broke out when guards did not recognize Banks.

“There was a female security guard and a male guard,” a source said to the Post, adding they “didn’t recognize Banks,” who began “screaming at the top of her lungs, cursing” and using racial slurs.

Two bouncers escorted her out, the Daily News reported, and Banks punched one and bit the female bouncer on her breast.

“She attacked front-door people. She was like a crazy person – all over a stamp. She needs to relax,” a source said to the Daily News.

Banks was taken into custody on a misdemeanor charge of third-degree assault and held for evaluation, the Post added. She was arraigned and later released on her own recognizance.

Banks’ representatives have been unresponsive regarding the incident, the Post stated.

An Up&Down representative also declined to comment, the Daily News reported.

Want to live longer? Don't become president

It has frequently been speculated that presidents and other world leaders age faster while in office.

However, evidence to support this has remained anecdotal and limited to graying hair and wrinkles.

But a new study, published in the British Journal of Medicine, has shown that politicians elected to lead a country may experience premature death.

“A previous study of U.S. presidents found no evidence of accelerated aging. Our goal was to revisit this issue, focusing on a broad sample of countries and comparing world leaders to those who ran in elections but were not elected,” Anupam Jena, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study, told Metro. “We chose the latter as a comparison group because they are arguably similar in socioeconomic status but happened not to win election and therefore be exposed to the stress of leadership.”

Scientists examined the health-related issues of 279 elected leaders to 261 runner-up candidates from 17 countries. They calculated a number of years each competitor lived after the last election they took part in and compared this data to an average life span of candidates with the same age and sex. The results showed that elected heads of state lived at least 2.5 years less.

According to Jena, current candidates of the 2016 U.S. presidential election may also have to pay a mortality cost for being elected.

“The stress of governance could lead to earlier mortality as many studies suggest a link between stress and adverse health outcomes,” Jena added. “Also, the job is busy, which means investments in health could be less likely to occur. And the last possibility is assassinations, which tend to be very uncommon and do not affect our basic findings.”

In the future, scientists are keen to adopt this approach to study mortality risks in other potentially stressful jobs, such as CEOs.

AmNY Express (12/17/15): Action!

When civilians and police clash, video makes all the difference. Whether it's disproving an official account or broadcasting an action, video can shape the narrative.
It was a regular evening rush hour at Grand Central Terminal, as commuters chased trains out of the city while casting curious, sidelong, bemused or angry glances at nearby protesters. The group NYC Shut it Down was holding its most recent People's Monday — a weekly action to raise awareness concerning specific victims of police brutality.
This Monday, the group focused on Laquan McDonald, the Chicago teenager who was shot and killed by police last year.
For nearly a year, NYC Shut It Down has been using the grand stage of the train station as a backdrop for demonstrations against the numbing persistence of police shootings. The group started shortly after large-scale protests across the city over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Monday, after a call-and-response session recounting the facts of McDonald's life and death, NYC Shut It Down took to the streets. Inside Saks Fifth Avenue, the protesters held a 16-minute die in, representing the 16 shots police fired at McDonald. Eventually, they made their way to Rockefeller Center, where the police arrested five of the marchers. As has happened often in this year of protests, the arresting led to scrapes, bruises and contradictory accounts from protesters and police.
And also as usual, there was video.

Behind the camera

Keegan Stephan was following behind the protesters and shot video at the moment of one of the arrests.
After his post on social media, the requests starting coming in: mainstream media news desks from Manhattan to Berlin asking to buy or borrow the footage.
It's a common occurrence for Stephan, a paralegal who says he's been engaged in activism in the city for years, from Occupy Wall Street to environmental protests. With the Black Lives Matter movement, he felt it "wasn't my place to be a spokesperson" as a white man. Instead, he aims to support, document and share.
"The most important thing is to get the word out," Stephan says.
Stephan is one of a small group of protester-documenters in New York who uses his videos to keep attention on protests which have grown smaller over the last year but no less spirited.


A video is worth 1,000 words

Video evidence has been a crucial part of the Black Lives Matter movement, from footage of Garner's death to video of McDonald that contradicted police reports.
Every bystander with a cell phone can document — and broadcast — police-civilian interactions. The resulting videos are explosive tinder for the movement.
But the prevalence of cameras at the actions also help to publicize the movement's goals—whether or not the news cameras show up.
James Woods, another protester-documenter, says that this footage provides the "counter narrative."
After more than a decade in network TV, Woods became uncomfortable with the way mainstream outlets were covering the Occupy Wall Street movement — ignoring clashes with police in favor of dizzy hippies. So he went down to the encampment and told protesters they were getting "screwed."
"Congrats, you're the live streamer," Woods recalls being told. It "lit the fire," he says, and he's focused on protest movements on the left and right ever since — Tea Party to Ferguson.
That call to action is familiar to Ashoka Jegroo, who has become prominent in reporting from New York protests in the last year. At a protest he says he juggles activism and journalism, being "a character at the play," or "the chorus."

The cameras will keep rolling

Stephan's video captured the still potent tensions between protesters and police. His footage of protesters being roughly taken down and put into handcuffs made its way around his Twitter feed and onto the websites of mainstream outlets.
Video has fueled a movement built on long-simmering tensions and it will continue to keep the pressure on. As news broke that the trial of the first officer indicted in the death of Freddie Gray ended in a mistrial yesterday, Woods said he planned to go to Baltimore to document.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Myrtle McKenny's death deemed a homicide, stab wounds found on neck, cops say

The death of an 82-year-old Brooklyn woman who was found in her apartment last month was deemed a homicide on Monday after the funeral home found a stab wound on her neck, authorities said.

Police found Myrtle McKenney unresponsive on the kitchen floor of her Powell Street apartment in Brownsville on Nov. 9. Her personal doctor initially determined that McKenny had died of complications from diabetes and hypertension, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office said. Her body was then released to a funeral home, where workers found the stab wounds, according to police.

On Monday, McKenney's cause of death was ruled a homicide from a stab wound on her neck and "incised wounds of right upper extremity with blunt impact injuries of head, torso and right upper extremity," a spokeswoman for the ME's office said in an email.

No arrests have been made in connection with her death.

These luxury items are now every thief's must-have

Watch owners in New York are being victimized at an increasing rate as thieves target high-end timepieces more frequently.

There have been at least 132 cases of stolen or missing Rolexes this year, the New York Post reported. The watches were taken via gunpoint robberies, store grabs and women who pick up watch-wearing men in bars and strip clubs.

Most recently, a Sunday street heist cost one Manhattan man his $26,000 Rolex when he was robbed at gunpoint on Second Avenue, the Post stated.

“They’re using guns because no one’s stopping them,” a source said in the Post. “It’s less likely that the victim’s going to fight back when they have a gun pointed at them. It’s a crime of opportunity.”

Sunday’s theft, though, was just one in a long list of watch robberies over the course of 2015, many of which made news for their brazenness or unusual circumstances.

Earlier in December, Port Authority police arrested Leslie Sharbo, a contracted baggage handler at JFK, for stealing six Linde Werdelin collectible watches worth more than $130,000, Newsday reported, stating that one of those watches has yet to be recovered.

Just a few days after that arrest, the $590,000 Greubel Forsey timepiece belonging to Beverly Hills watch retailer Steven Rostovsky was allegedly taken by two prostitutes during a party in his room at the Baccarat Hotel, the Daily Mail reported.

Even more recently, thieves targeting Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand pop-up store near Columbus Circle made off with more than $173,000 worth of jewelry and watches, including three Rolexes, according to CBS.

“The number definitely jumps off the page,” a source said of the 132 incidents to the Post. The theft victims included 31 men who brought women back to their hotel rooms after meeting them at bars.

MTA’s M66 bus is slowest in NYC, wins Straphangers Campaign’s ‘Pokey Award’

The M66 crosstown bus is the slowest of the lot, winning the Straphangers Campaign’s annual “Pokey Award” on Tuesday, which highlights poor bus service throughout the city.

The route, which runs from one end of the city to the other and travels through Central Park, was clocked driving at the glacial speed of 3.1 mph at noon on a recent weekday, according to the group.

That, they said, is slower than turtles, who move up to 4 mph.

“The crosstown routes are as bad as they are because they deal with Manhattan traffic, but that doesn’t excuse the city or the MTA from trying to do what they can to make that line faster,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. “And time has shown with the city’s leadership, and the MTA’s leadership, that by doing things like having buses with three doors to board or paying your fare before you get on board ... all these strategies work.”

The M66 carried an average of more than 12,400 riders on an average weekday and ranked 58th in terms of ridership out of 182 local bus routes. Straphangers surveyed a total of 40 routes for the report, leaving out five that were under construction or in the process of being upgraded to the Select Bus Service, or SBS.

Buses with SBS offer commuters the ability to pay at a machine before getting on, have fewer stops, and benefit from extended green signals at traffic lights, according to the MTA. They also drive in their own bus lane or busway.

And SBS bus routes are often 15-25% faster than their local counterparts, said Cate Contino Cowit, the campaign coordinator for Straphangers.

There are currently 10 SBS routes, with another 20 planned, a transit official said.

“We are continuing to work with the New York City Department of Transportation to increase the number of bus lanes and locations where buses would have traffic signal priority, further improving bus speeds,” an MTA spokesman said in a statement. “Our dispatchers use real-time data from our GPS-enabled bus fleet to monitor bus performance and adjust operations, and we are exploring how to further improve spacing between buses along these routes. However, buses are often constrained by the speed of traffic in front of them, especially around obstacles such as double-parked cars and delivery trucks.”

A representative from the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It’s happening. It’s New York so sometimes it happens at a pace that feels turtle-like, but it’s happening,” Russianoff said. “And this report is part of an effort to continue the momentum. New Yorkers put up with crummy bus service and we shouldn’t.”

In Brooklyn, the slowest bus was the B35, which moved between Brownsville and Sunset Park at about 5.8 mph. The Bx2, shuttles people between Kingsbridge and Mott Haven in the Bronx, travels at about 4.8 mph.

In Queens, the Q58 traveled at about 7 mph back and forth from Ridgewood to Flushing Main Street.

The S48 and S98 were the fastest of the slowpokes at about 8.2 mph as they drove between Mariners Harbor and the St. George Ferry in Staten Island.

The M1, M101, 102, and 103 busses tied for the group’s “Schleppie” award, which tracked the least reliable routes based on official transit statistics. About 37% of these buses arrived “with big gaps” in wait time, according to the group.

Will this City Hall shake up help solve New York's homeless problem?

The embattled head of the the city's Department of Homeless Services, Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, will be leaving his post at the end of the year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday.

The news came buried in an announcement about a "comprehensive review" of the city's homeless service agencies and programs.

Taylor's exit came as the de Blasio administration continues to confront vociferous criticism over New York's burgeoning homeless population.

"I feel good about how far I have been able to advance the work of this agency," Gilbert said, "and [am] committed to working with this administration to assist with this transition."

The Coalition for the Homeless said that the city's municipal shelter population "is now 86 percent higher than it was ten years ago" and that nearly 60,000 people live in the shelter system.

That same organization reports that "thousands" of others live on the street with "a large majority ... living with mental illness or other severe health problems."

Men make up at least 80 percent of New York's street population.

Announcing the shakeup, de Blasio said Taylor will continue to serve the city in an advisory role.

Banks will oversee both the Department of Homeless Services along with his current post starting in January.

AmNY Express (12/16/15): Fear is the name of the game

The email came in late Monday night, threatening not one Los Angeles public school but many -- bombs in lockers and nerve gas, an attack that would be "something big."
Los Angeles is 60 miles from San Bernardino, site of the terror attack that left 14 dead two weeks ago. Out of caution, the Los Angeles public school system, second largest in the country, closed.
The New York City public school system, the largest in the country, received a similar, simultaneous threat but made the determination that it was a "hoax." The schools remained open.
Police Commissioner William Bratton called it the work of someone who had watched a lot of "Homeland" but "not anything that we could associate with jihadist activity." At an unrelated press conference halfway through the school day, he and Mayor Bill de Blasio noted the seriousness of being vigilant but explained that the threat was not credible. De Blasio cautioned against overreaction and said, "we're not going to give in to the efforts by terrorists to change our lifestyle, change our values, change our democracy.""
Unfortunately, overreaction was the name of the game at last night's Republican debate.


The view from debate No. 5

The first line of the night, from otherwise halfway reasonable Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, set the tone for the proceedings: "The question is, how do we keep America safe from terrorism?"
Everything came back to terror: immigration; technology; political correctness.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz repeated over and over again the need "to keep us safe."" For the record, he's still in favor of carpet bombing. Donald Trump would beef up the military. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson said that the nation was in "grave danger." Referencing the L.A. school closures, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, "we have people across this country who are scared to death," and that if an office party in San Bernardino was a target then "everywhere in America is a target for these terrorists."
Ironically, amid all the bluster, one thing was missing from the debate: a comprehensive plan, or even gestures at one, for how the candidates would keep the proverbial "us" safe beyond building a wall or shutting the door to refugees entirely. In a debate that spent its first hour and a half entirely on foreign policy, no major strategies were presented beyond what we are already doing to defeat the Islamic State.
In one of the night's most pointed exchanges, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush attacked the king of bluster Donald Trump, who shielded himself as usual in vague phrasing and loose statements.
"You're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency," Bush said. "Leadership is about creating a serious strategy to deal with the threat of our time."
Alas, this elicited only a weak comeback, not sparks of strategy, leadership, or seriousness.

The threat at hand

Terrorism is a real threat. It is understandable for a school superintendent, responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of children, rattled by a nearby terror attack, to initially act with caution.
But it is even more important not to let that fear become blinding, or knee-jerk, or ill-considered.
Luckily, public schools in Los Angeles will be open today. "We now must get back to the business of educating our kids," said the superintendent.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

FAA: Drones must be registered with government by Feb. 19

Written by Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to heightened concerns about rogue drone flights near airports, unveiled a pre-Christmas rule on Monday requiring drone hobbyists as young as 13 years old to register their unmanned aircraft.

The new online registry will require current drone owners to register by Feb. 19, while anyone who acquires aircraft after Dec. 21 would need to register before their first outdoor flight. After registering, drone owners will receive an FAA identification number that they must display on aircraft weighing between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds (25 kgs).

The FAA's online registration site, which will be launched next Monday, will charge drone owners a $5 fee, which officials said is the same charge required for manned aircraft, including Boeing 747 jetliners. To encourage participation, the FAA will waive the fee for the first 30 days that the registry is open.

Federal officials see online registration as one way to address a surge of rogue drone flights near airports and crowded public venues that has raised safety concerns among authorities across the United States.

Two months ago, U.S. officials vowed to have a drone registry in place before Christmas, when unmanned aircraft are expected to be a popular gift, including for teenagers.

Drone experts have warned that registration could face legal challenges.

On Monday, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a group representing hobbyists, warned the new registry could violate a law approved by Congress in 2012 that prohibits the FAA from regulating unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, used by its members.

“AMA is disappointed with the new rule for UAS registration," said AMA Executive Director Dave Mathewson. The group went to court last year to challenge an earlier FAA decision to class small UAS as aircraft. The litigation is still pending.

Under the new regulation, drone owners 13 years and older are required to register their craft, while the parents of younger children must register them.

"Unmanned aircraft operators are aviators and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,"
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters in a conference call.

Failure to register can result in a hefty penalty, including civil fines of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and three years in prison.

But FAA officials said they intend to focus on encouraging compliance through a "Know Before You Fly" public education campaign backed by some manufacturers, retailers and local law enforcement.

Rogue collection bins banned

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill banning the placement of clothing collection bins on public property, the bill’s sponsor announced Monday.

The bill requires maintenance for bins placed on private property and mandates fines for non-compliance, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) announced.

The bins became a political issue when they began popping up on city streets overnight and were often left overflowing with clothes or garbage, often without any indication of who owned them.

“Some of these bins are eyesores because they are not maintained by their operators, and serve as trash receptacles and graffiti magnets,” Braunstein said in a statement.

The bill also requires disclosure of whether a bin is operated by a non-profit organization or a for-profit business, according to the announcement.

“Fake charities are benefiting from the generous nature of our community by misleading people into believing that their donations are going to help those in need of assistance,” Braunstein said.  “This law will ensure that fake charities no longer benefit from their deceptive actions.”​

Bill Cosby lawsuit: Comedian files counter-suit against seven women in defamation case

Written by Reuters

Bill Cosby on Monday sued seven women who had accused him of defaming them, saying they lied when they accused him of sexual assault.

The countersuit, filed in U.S. district court in Springfield, Massachusetts, contends that the women defamed his "honorable legacy and reputation" by accusing him of sexual misconduct.

More than 50 women have come forward to accuse the actor, best known for his role in the 1980s television hit "The Cosby Show," of sexually assaulting them after plying them with drugs or alcohol.

Cosby has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has never been criminally charged. Many of the alleged incidents occurred decades ago and, so the statute of limitations for prosecuting them has long run out.

"Relying solely on unsubstantiated accusations, counterclaim defendants have engaged in a campaign to assassinate Mr. Cosby's reputation and character by willfully, maliciously, and falsely accusing Mr. Cosby of multi-decade-old purported sexual misconduct," the 78-year-old actor's attorneys wrote in court papers charging the women with defamation, tortious interference and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Cosby's countersuit to the lawsuits - first filed in December 2014 and charging him with libel, assault and slander - seeks unspecified financial damages. The suits contend that Cosby slandered his alleged victims by calling them liars when they publicly accused him of sexual assault.

"Bill Cosby appears to be going to war against women who have sued him in Massachusetts and who allege that he has victimized them," said attorney Gloria Allred, who represents several women who have sued the comedian, thought not the people involved in the Massachusetts case. "Such a tactic will not deter courageous women from fighting the battle against him."

Cosby testified in 2005 that he had obtained the sedative drug Quaaludes, popular in the 1970s, with the intention of giving them to young women in order to have sex with him, according to court documents unsealed in July as part of a separate legal proceeding against him.

Subway sex crimes see drastic increase: NYPD

Subway sex crimes have seen a nearly 20 percent increase this year as police list sexual touching, lewd behavior and voyeurism as the most common offenses.

According to the NYPD, a greater number of gropers, flashers and voyeurs on the city's subway have led to an increase of 106 reported incidents compared to last year, to nearly 700 total, the Evening Standard reported, adding that, since July, the rate of offenses has more than doubled.

NYPD Deputy Chief Vincent Coogan said that the rising number of complaints and arrests is due to passengers taking cellphone photos of perpetrators, according to the New York Post, which added that Roger Reid, a Level 3 sex offender with 31 previous arrests, was again arrested this month because a victim took his photo.

“Many of these crimes come to light when officers observe elements of a crime and intervene,” Coogan said in the Post.

By late July, subway sex crimes increased by around 7.5 percent compared to last year, the Post reported, but newer figures indicate that the rate has now jumped to more than 17 percent.

Jodi Galan, of Woodside, Queens, said that the increase does not surprise her.

“It’s because these perverted guys grow up entitled and think nothing will happen to them. When I see a police officer, I tell them if some guy is staring at me. I don’t take chances,” she was quoted in the Post.

AmNY Express (12/15/15): How a homeless shelter landed in Kensington

It was a college dormitory, home to students from Adelphi, Brooklyn College and NYU. Before that it was an assisted-living facility.
But 385 McDonald Ave. was a vacant property partially hidden by trees for more than a year — until yesterday, when it opened as a homeless shelter for families with children.
The transformation to a shelter was a quick one: the city's Department of Homeless Services announced the shelter's location just before Thanksgiving, surprising many in the neighborhood.


Birth of a shelter

More than 57,000 people sleep in shelters citywide. New York's right-to-shelter mandate guarantees people a place to sleep — but right now there isn't enough space.
Under these circumstances, when shelter vacancy drops under a certain percentage, the Department of Homeless services forgoes the normal procurement process for creating new shelters and puts up emergency temporary space, pending a review.
This is how the shelter came to Kensington, a quiet and diverse neighborhood home to Bengali, Mexican, Pakistani and Hasidic Jewish enclaves. Residents say homeless people in the neighborhood are rare.
Some in Kensington originally reacted negatively, particularly given the sensation that the shelter was a done deal.
A bustling elementary school across the way also gave pause to some who worried about overcrowding and who might be joining their community.


Withstanding a crisis

This summer all eyes were on a homeless situation that Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to be saying wasn't getting worse, even as he prepared an affordable housing program to remedy it.
Part of the problem is that there are two segments of the homeless population with often divergent needs: the shelter dwellers who are without housing and are served by the city's shelter system until they, hopefully, can move on to something more permanent. And the unsheltered: the street homeless. The number of unsheltered individuals is harder to determine — at this time the city relies on a once-yearly nighttime count performed by volunteers. It is the street homeless who are often the most visible.
It is this image of a homeless individual — street sleeping, sometimes mentally ill, hardened, disheveled, often male — that many communities are concerned about when a homeless shelter is opening down the street, even when that's not the population meant to be served, as in Kensington.
Even the specter of that segment of the homeless population arriving can make communities nervous.
Of course, this is also the population that needs the most help, particularly when cold weather arrives.

Can we change the status quo?

The Kensington shelter will house families with children, forced out of their homes for one reason or another and faced with nowhere to go. Now, they'll have rooms of their own. Contractors are still at work finishing kitchens and other improvements to the freshly painted building, with wide windows, airy spaces, small balconies facing the Foodtown across the street.
Many in the community have come around to their new neighbors, placed there with local input or not. Some have taken up a collection for items such as diapers and sheets.
"It's just families," says Jon Brause, 41, a financial professional who lives near the shelter. While he thought it might change the dynamic of the neighborhood, he noted that other things have changed it, too, such as the influx of movie crews. "It's a diverse community. This just adds to the diversity."
"Let them have shelter," says Joseph Dbet, who works across the street. He shrugs his shoulders. "Why not."
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Monday, December 14, 2015

Maybe all MBTA trains should be driverless: expert

BOSTON- Reports that a Red Line train went barreling through four stations without a driver on Thursday gave riders quite a stir this week. The mishap, believed to have been caused by operator error, birthed an MBTA controversy that was big even for an agency used to dealing with commuters’ scorn.

The facts so far suggest the operator, a T veteran of more than 25 years, rigged his controls – a swivel-mounted throttle – with some kind of cord. That choice, investigators believe, was the first in a series of errors that ended up sending what’s since been called the “ghost train” on its now-infamous journey.

T-minders noticed the error within a minute, killed power on the track and averted disaster. No one was hurt (the operator sustained minor injuries when he was clipped by his runaway train). The T pledged to never again let another train leave the station without a driver. But maybe that's the wrong idea. Maybe, an expert told Metro, trains shouldn’t have drivers at all.

“It’s not crazy,” said William Messner, a mechanical engineer at Tufts University specializing in automatic control systems. “From a technology standpoint, it’s certainly doable. It’s a question of expense, really, and of course public acceptance of autonomous trains.”

Around the world, he said, there are transit agencies whose use “driverless” trains are that way on purpose, or will be soon.

Passengers on Vancouver’s SkyTrain can board fully automated rapid transit.

An elevated tram in Oakland hoists passengers on its Airport Connector in driverless cars pulled by cables.

Officials in Mexico City are studying the use of automated gondolas as an alternative to building a subway.

By the mid-2020’s, the London Underground expects to welcome fully driverless trains to the “tube.”
None of those cases are apples-to-apples comparisons, of course. And the MBTA, with its ancient infrastructure, is not exactly the perfect case study for robotic retrofitting, Messner admitted.

“This system was not designed to be autonomous,” he said.

Converting to an automated system could also come with an enormous price tag – this for a system currently facing a widening budget deficit and an expensive list of needed repairs.

"The MBTA has a $7.3 billion maintenance backlog. Our primary focus is to continue making the investments necessary to bring the existing vehicles and infrastructure into a state-of-good-repair," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email.

Parts of the system are automated already – problems began for the “ghost train,” remember, when a glitch in the signal at Braintree station would not let the train pass. The train rolled away from the station only after its driver left the train to flip a “bypass” switch and override the system, officials have said.

Flipping that switch also overrode an automated system that would have stopped Thursday’s runaway train, had it come across another train ahead of it on the track, according to the T.

But converting to a full-on automated train system, Messner argued, could make for a safer, more efficient commute by removing or reducing the risk of human error altogether.

After all, he said, as we learned last week, the old-fashioned train-driver-working-a-throttle method leaves open the risk of controls being manipulated.

“It’s clear we’re more vulnerable than we like to believe,” Messner said.

Commuters could save more than $400 a year on MetroCards under new law

Commuters can save hundreds of dollars next year on their MetroCards when a new law goes into effect, officials said Sunday.

Businesses and nonprofit employers with 20 or more full-time staffers will be required on Jan. 1 to let workers use their pretax dollars to cover their transit costs.

The average rider can save up to $443 a year in taxes if they buy an unlimited MetroCard every month, which costs $116.50.

It had been optional for employers to give workers that benefit.

The Riders Alliance launched an online calculator on Sunday at the Union Square station that helps straphangers figure out how much money they can save. Other groups such as the Straphangers Campaign and elected officials were there as well to explain the new law to riders.

"Everyone should know that the new law puts real money back in the pockets of riders for the subway and bus service they're already using," said Zachary Arcidiacono, a Riders Alliance member who works for the TWU Local 100, which represents many MTA workers.

A subway rider who makes between $47,000 and $101,000 a year would save almost $40 a month in taxes by using the benefit. The employer also sees its taxes reduced for each worker who signs up and would save almost $9 a month in payroll taxes.

The Department of Consumer Affairs is giving employers a six-month grace period before the agency starts enforcing the law on July 1. Companies are exempt if their workers are unionized because their benefits are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Chain businesses will be covered by the new law. The DCA will calculate whether a company has 20 workers by counting all full-time workers in all its business locations in New York City.

Young New Yorkers get crash course on fatherhood

The last thing Kaeron Reyes-Little wants is for his son Darius to repeat his mistakes, of which Reyes-Little said he had more than a few.

"The basic stereotype of young men of color in New York?" the 25-year-old said, "I was a very good example of that."

But a few close calls with law enforcement and school authorities didn't prepare Reyes-Little for his biggest challenge yet: being a teenage dad. He dropped out of school at 17 and, having grown up without his own father, said he began focus exclusively on his son's well-being.

It's a challenge many of the young men who step have stepped into classrooms organized by the CUNY Fatherhood Academy have come to grips with since the program launched in 2013. Even more of them will get to do the same as the de Blasio administration announced a total $2.1 million investment into the initiative.

That means the program will grow outside of its home in LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City and offer its services to young fathers between the ages of 18 and 25 at the South Bronx's Hostos Community College and Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

"Many of these guys are learning to be adults while they're parents," said Raheem Brooks, the program's coordinator. "They're basically learning on the job."

The free, four-month workshop has participants inside a college classroom three days a week, with each father getting a crash course designed to push their educations and parenting skills.

Many of the students are able to pursue their GED, while other get a hand with college applications and financial aid to pursue higher studies. They also learn how to change diapers.

Having dropped out at 17, Reyes-Little did odd jobs to pay for his son's needs. He managed to get a GED on his own, but pursued the academy after he heard one piece of advice.

"This whole time I felt like my life is over after having a kid, and that I should just do what I can to take care of him," he said. "But then I realized I can give him a better life and make sure he's okay by also taking care of myself."

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery praised the Fatherhood Academy's work when he joined students to celebrate the city's investment. He told Metro New York that investment and confidence in the program's ability to reach young men of color is reflective of the fathers' own willingness to ask for help.

"The normal narrative is that they not show vulnerability, don't ask for help — that's not being a man," Buery said. "These young men are really defining what it means to be a man, to stand up and say, 'I want to be a better father.'"

"It's hard — there's no rubric," he added, "but these young men are getting something really any father can benefit from. They are trying, and we have to meet with them halfway. It's our loss when we don't answer their call."

The de Blasio administration pointed to a series of successes over the year for academy participants, including a 61 percent average pass rate for high school equivalency exams — higher than the statewide 56 percent.

Even so, Brooks readily admits not everyone passes the program, nor is the program necessarily for everyone. After a rigorous screening process and weeks of workshops, some young men come back to retake exams and see gradual improvement.

"Each person has their version of success," he said. "Some just want to pass a test, or be a part of a graduation ceremony, or find employment or go to college. You come in here with one goal and often come out with something else."

Reyes-Little didn't step through the doors with any real expectations, he said. A few months later, he graduated and began his full-time studies for an associates degree in philosophy.

He pays the bills by working for the same academy that helped him, and earned a scholarship to pay his tuition — all while trying to be a single father present in his son's life.

At home, Reyes-Little looks in on Darius as the 7-year-old takes a break from reading the second Harry Potter book to watch a movie one recent Sunday morning. The two will get ready for school by the evening, and Reyes-Little will do what he can to help with his son's math homework.

Math was never Reyes-Little's strongest subject, but he jokes he's just barely able to still help his son.

He'd rather talk about Immanuel Kant in between Harry Potter chapters.

"I'm just concerned he's going to pass me," he said, "hopefully not by the time he's 8."