December 11th, 2010

Def-Con4

One year after electing a Tea Party candidate, one of the wealthiest counties in America is broke.

Despite Wealth, Nassau County Is in Fiscal Crisis

MINEOLA, N.Y. — Facing a huge budget deficit when he took office in January, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano did not impose a hiring freeze. He did not stop borrowing to subsidize some of the richest school districts in the country. He did not eliminate the Police Department’s beloved mounted unit.

Instead, Mr. Mangano, a Republican who won one of the first upsets of the Tea Party era, did what he had promised: He cut taxes, adding $40 million to the county’s deficit, which has since reached nearly $350 million.

Now, with its bonds suddenly downgraded and a state oversight agency preparing to seize its checkbook and credit cards, Nassau is on the verge of a full-fledged fiscal crisis.


That things could get so dire in this wealthy county, where property taxes are the second highest in the nation, offers a lesson in what happens when anti-tax fervor meets the realities of disappearing revenues and a punch-drunk economy. At heart, though, the situation — like state budget crises in New York, New Jersey and Illinois — illuminates the troubles long-prosperous governments, with established interest groups and residents accustomed to high levels of services, face in adapting to protracted lean times.

“It’s the crisis of affluence,” said E. J. McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for New York Policy. “It’s not just a problematic old inner city that can’t get out of its old way of doing things,” he said. “What makes Nassau a microcosm of New York State is its high spending, high taxes, intransigent unions, a pronounced taste for debt, and a sense that too many people in both parties have a stake in keeping it all that way.”

Like Nassau, other localities across New York and elsewhere have suffered credit downgrades, as prolonged economic weakness has revealed deep structural problems, including unsustainable fiscal practices and looming pension obligations.

Here, though, many thought the bad habits had been corrected. Nassau’s last fiscal meltdown came in 1999, after years of unchecked spending growth paid for with mounting debt and one-time revenues like sales of county land.

It led to a $200 million deficit and a credit rating just above junk. It triggered a Democratic takeover of what had long been a Republican bastion. And it ended with a $100 million state bailout in 2000 and the creation of a watchdog agency, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, to oversee the county’s fiscal practices.

Under pressure from that authority, Mr. Mangano’s Democratic predecessor, Thomas R. Suozzi, raised property taxes, shrank the county work force and reduced the county’s reliance on borrowing to pay for operating costs.

But as the economy faltered in 2007, Mr. Suozzi, eyeing statewide office, began relying heavily on one-shot revenue generators.

He won short-term concessions from unions, like deferred salary increases, by extending a no-layoff guarantee through 2011. He resorted to borrowing to pay one of the county’s always onerous bills: the refunds given to residents who appeal their property tax assessments. And last year, up for re-election, he sidestepped a property tax increase by imposing a 2.5 percent tax on home heating bills.

That handed Mr. Mangano a campaign issue, which he rode into office. If he had any mandate, it was to scrap the heating bill tax and, as he put it, restore confidence in county government.

As things turned out, though, “Those two promises turned out to be at odds,” said Lawrence Levy, an expert on suburban politics at Hofstra University.

Mr. Mangano got rid of the energy tax. But he never came up with offsetting spending cuts. That sets him apart from Republicans elected in New Jersey and in Westchester County last year, who have warred with unions and made painful cuts in services.

Indeed, while Mr. Mangano was a beneficiary of an anti-incumbent taxpayer revolt, he was something of an insider, with 14 years in the county legislature and friendly relations with union leaders.

When he offered an early retirement incentive plan that took more than 100 police officers and 400 others off the payroll, he drew criticism for allowing highly paid employees to take advantage of the buyouts; some walked away with as much as $600,000.

Mr. Mangano defended his approach, saying that he cut the work force to levels not seen since the 1950s, and bargained aggressively for more-flexible work rules.

“Everybody wants to gloss over the fact that real savings have occurred in this administration,” he said in an interview. “Undisputable ones.”

And, he boasted, he accomplished them without cutting services — though the county is now threatening to cut off social-service agencies.

He also complained that his deep cuts in political appointments went unnoticed. But patronage, a fact of life since Nassau was carved out of Queens in 1899, has not been eradicated: after Mr. Mangano shrank the county attorney’s office, it awarded a $250,000 contract to the law firm that employs Joseph N. Mondello, the Nassau Republican leader. And he appointed former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato’s daughter as his commissioner of aging.

Mr. Mangano did win praise from fiscal experts for tackling costly age-old inequities in how Nassau subsidizes local services like schools and sewers. One change will make school districts and towns pay their share of the refunds of property taxes for the first time since 1948.

School boards howled. So, too, did nonprofit groups and colleges like Hofstra, when Mr. Mangano insisted they begin paying for sewer service — something taxpayers had previously provided them free.

Nassau is not alone in seeking to pass on costs for services to localities; states have imposed similar measures. Yet these changes will take years to deliver true savings.

For the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1, Mr. Mangano’s budget appears to include as many prayers as plans. He penciled in $60 million in givebacks from labor — surprising unions, who have contracts that run through 2015. Pressed on that point, Mr. Mangano said he would “order” union concessions, ignoring the idea’s dubious constitutionality and drawing biting mockery.

The budget also called for borrowing an additional $100 million to pay tax refunds, and counted on more than $20 million in new help from the state.


Officials at the Nassau Interim Finance Authority questioned the seriousness of the plan.

“Mineola, we have a problem,” Ronald A. Stack, the authority’s chairman, said at a public board meeting in late September, as Mr. Mangano sat in the front row, listening.

Mr. Stack has brought in former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to advise the authority on whether to seize control of the county’s finances, and if so, how. The law creating the authority says it “shall” take over if Nassau’s shortfall exceeds 1 percent of its budget — or about $26 million.

Mr. Mangano is pleading for more time, publicly saying he was personally negotiating with the unions for significant savings. Privately, he has been lobbying state lawmakers to let him raise the county’s sales tax by a quarter of a percent, which would generate about $60 million. Getting the sales tax increase, union leaders said in interviews, was a precondition for them to make concessions.

Moody’s, the bond-rating agency, is not waiting. On Nov. 4, it downgraded the county’s debt, citing $158 million in risks and weakening liquidity, and warning that even Mr. Mangano’s contingency plans required contingency plans.

This week, the situation grew more dire. Before heading to Disney World on Wednesday for a three-day golf outing and a fund-raiser, Mr. Mangano went to Albany, where he discovered what others said had been obvious: There would be no state assistance for Nassau now.

Mr. Mangano made the best of the setback, saying he would resume his quest for a sales tax and labor concession rescue package in the new year.

“January’s only a couple weeks away,” he said.

That is true. But the Nassau Interim Finance Authority is moving on its own, and has called its next meeting for Dec. 21.

Source.

A Teabagger turns out to be just another borrow-and-spend Republican pushing Trickle Down Economics? I'm stunned.
Murasaki Shikibu
  • homasse

It's not gay, it's 'flamboyant'!

Video Game Empowers Players To Talk Smack with Gay Stereotypes

Players losing in Heroes of Newerth 2.0 may find that they've had their "cherry popped" or taken part in a "three way" if the person they're playing against purchased the PC game's "flamboyant" audio pack.

The pack replaces the regular announcer's voice with a lisping effete man's voice. The phrases used in the game change the audio from things like "Blood Lust" to "Cherry Popper" and from "Hat Trick" to "It's a three way." The words also fly out across the screen in rainbow-colored letters.

The audio packs will be heard by the opponent of the person who purchased the pack, not the owner. So if I were to purchase the pack and play the game with you, you would be the one hearing those sound files.

Website Gay-Nerds.Com calls the pack puerile and insensitive, a misfired joke.

"The whole announcer schtick was meant to humiliate and taunt the other player and then they also decided to use an effeminate male voice, rainbows, glitter and an oversexualized gay stereotype," writer Paranoia says in his story. "Why not just call it the 'faggot' pack instead of the flamboyant pack? It's pretty clear what you're trying to make fun of. Calling it flamboyant doesn't hide anything."

Contacted for comment this morning, the developers had this to say:

"The flamboyant pack is one of many voice pack options that will be available for HoN 2.0 players. The intention of offering a wider range of voice packs, including the flamboyant pack, is to bring a broad representation of personalities to HoN that let gamers express and differentiate themselves."

Check out the audio pack for yourself at 4 minutes and 50 seconds into this Giant Bomb video above and decide for yourself if this audio pack goes too far.



Update: Pu Liu, S2 Games senior game designer, says on the Gay-Nerds website that the Flamboyant Pack was not meant as a way to target the gay community or anyone else.

"I'd like to start off with myself. I'm a straight guy, and I use DivA as my game handle, because well, I'm a freaking diva. I'm loud to the border of obnoxious, and I like to sing- poorly, but often and boisterously- anything and everything from Shania to Disney. I guess I'm an example of the "flamboyant straight guy" that some of you have mentioned throughout your discussion. I find the Flamboyant pack to be hilarious, and I select it for use because when I get a "Legendary" streak (5 kills in a row) and it says "DIIIIIVA!" I can go, "YES I AM!" I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have never perceived of the pack as "gay," but rather an awesome, fun, and flamboyant alternative to the really dark and hardcore classic announcer sounds. I'm totally okay with being called flamboyant; I'm a happy, optimistic, loud person, and I'm proud of it and I like to show it off. I am not alone on this at S2; a lot of my fellow employees are almost as awesome as I am, although they aren't as loud as I am. We do not take ourselves too seriously, and the flamboyant pack is a testament to our willingness to have fun with things.

We're a fun loving bunch- we thought this would be fun, and that- and ONLY that- is the reason why the Flamboyant pack will be a part of Heroes of Newerth. We are not in a smoke-filled room going on about how awesome and "manly" we are, and the Flamboyant pack is certainly not a jab at a stereotype that we feel is "below" us- if anything, Flamboyant IS us."

--

Oh, puh-leeze to their excuses and their code words. And also, I raise my eyebrow at the "girly girl" pack the developer briefly mentions--seeing as these are voice packs used to taunt your enemies...yeeeeeeah. No.
11

RACIST OR ADORABLE?: Hip Hop Black Face Cupcakes

Food blog Eater brings us the latest in a slew of racist baked good controversies.
Purveyor of delicious foods to eat while lonely Duncan Hines made a minute and a half long ad featuring 7 newly chocolate glazed cupcakes beatboxing and autotuning themselves with tiny little eyes and cute little mouths.
And because these cupcakes share the most minimal of resemblances with Al Jolson, Duncan Hines is now being accused of making a racist cupcake ad. BLACKFACE CUPCAKES. We’re guessing these cupcakes are also REALLY GOOD AT SPORTS, RIGHT “DUNCAN”?
We’ve got the ad ahead. Take a look at it, and then our thoughts on whether or not these hand held snacks are actually “racist,” “delicious” or “deliciously racist.”

  source


OUR TAKE These cupcakes are not racist. Like, at all. They’re chocolate glazed cupcakes who sounds like Daft Punk, not Dr. Dre. What’s racist is that someone labeled them hip hop cupcakes, which they aren’t. They are robot autotuned cupcakes who happened to be chocolate flavored. The fact that some person, probably white, tacked on “hip hop” is not the fault of these diversity loving handheld snacks.
beauty

Madoff son found dead in NYC in apparent suicide

NEW YORK (AP) -- The eldest son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff hanged himself by a dog leash in his Manhattan apartment on Saturday, the second anniversary of his father's arrest in a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that swindled thousands of investors of their life savings, law enforcement officials said.

Mark Madoff, 46, was found hanging from a ceiling pipe in the living room of his SoHo loft apartment as his 2-year-old son slept in a nearby bedroom, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

Madoff, who reported his father to authorities, has never been criminally charged in the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history, that has snared a half-dozen Madoff employees.

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sunglasses
  • synesis

No justice, No Peace...

Student protester operated on after being 'hit with police baton'




A 20-year-old student underwent a three-hour operation to treat bleeding on the brain last night after being hit on the head by a police truncheon, according to his mother.

Alfie Meadows is said to have fallen unconscious on the way to hospital after being struck as he tried to leave an area outside Westminster Abbey during the tuition fee protests in central London. The incident has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Meadows was among 43 protesters and six police offices who were taken to hospital for injuries. Another six officers had minor injuries.

Susan Meadows, 55, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said her son was "hit on the head by a police truncheon. He said it was the hugest blow he ever felt in his life.

"The surface wound wasn't very big but three hours after the blow, he suffered bleeding to the brain. He survived the operation and he's in the recovery room."

Alfie, a second-year philosophy student at Middlesex University, had been with friends and trying to leave an area in which they were being kettled, said his mother, who had been at another part of the protest. He phoned her to say he said he had been hit on the head and was bleeding, she added.

"I got out of the kettle, met him and he told me all about it. He knew he had to go to hospital but he didn't initially know how bad it was. The policeman offered to get him an ambulance but he was in shock and didn't know how serious it was."

His mother, who stayed up all night with her son, said he was taken to hospital after his condition deteriorated. "The wonderful news is that Alfie is talking and doing very well.

"But he's got tubes coming out of him everywhere. He will be in hospital for quite a while, it was a very major thing.

She said she felt "very strongly" about the police behaviour, adding: "It's part of a pattern of the way in which these events are being policed.

"Alfie said to me before this happened 'Somebody is going to get killed'. It's very frightening."

The Metropolitan police said: "We are aware of a 20-year-old male with a head injury who is currently in hospital. The IPCC has been involved."

News of the injury came as the National Union of Students condemned the violence but insisted demonstrations would continue. "Peaceful protest is an important part of democracy and NUS will continue to organise such actions where student voices are being ignored by the government," said its president, Aaron Porter. "We have consistently worked with the police to try to ensure the safety of protesters and the public at demonstrations. Violent demonstration is deplorable and counter-productive. We will continue to condemn it in the strongest possible way."

Jacqui Karn, an urban safety and policing expert, thought there had to be a re-examination of police tactics.

"The big question is how you can use police on horseback charging across when there are 14- and 15-year-olds in there," said Karn, who was among those kettled for more than six hours in Whitehall yesterday.

"There were troublemakers there and they were quite alarming but there were people trying to get out who were doing nothing. I feel my rights were completely contravened."

Although not a specialist in policing protests, Karn added: "There were quite a number of officers who said they did not agree with senior officers' tactics."

The NUS said it did not organise the protest outside parliament, having organised a rally on Victoria Embankment and a lobby of MPs. The protest in Parliament Square came at the end of a march by the University of London students' union.
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SOURCE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/10/student-operation-tuition-fees-protest

I was kettled at Parliament square and, like many others, beaten by police. After finally getting out at midnight, I was in A&E until 6am, having a head injury examined. Two fingers on my left hand are immobile. I'm currently watching bruises come out in places I didn't know I had. More, this is not exceptional. There are many others with similar injuries. I'd point out that the TSG were out in force yesterday, and were the mosr aggressive I've seen them in a long time; they're also responsible for innumerable deaths, from Blair Peach onward. They have never faced any reprimand.
king rad

Good news for a Saturday

Missing Brittany Smith coming home; Jeffrey Easley arrested in San Francisco



A hunt for missing Roanoke County 12-year-old Brittany Smith and her accused abductor ended Friday when a San Francisco store clerk recognized them from a wanted poster and called the police, who found them near a tent.

Brittany wasn't physically hurt, said Roanoke County Police Chief Ray Lavinder. Her slain mother's live-in boyfriend, Jeffrey Easley, 32, was nabbed without a fight and charged on a Roanoke County arrest warrant with abduction. Roanoke County authorities will swiftly move to extradite him to Virginia, Lavinder said.

"I'm happy, believe me I'm happy," Lavinder said Friday night. "All of us wanted so much for her to be safe."

"She's safe!" exulted Liz Dyer of South Boston, Brittany's grandmother. "We're so glad. We're bouncing off the walls."

full story here

This is a small thing but it's good news. And well, any missing child returning home is a win. Especially when they made it to the other side of the US.
hyppy

Czech gay asylum 'phallometric test' criticised by EU

The EU's leading human rights agency has sharply criticised the Czech authorities for using a controversial method of testing whether homosexual asylum seekers are genuinely gay. The Fundamental Rights Agency said the Czech Republic was the only EU country still using a "sexual arousal" test. Gay asylum seekers are hooked up to a machine that monitors blood-flow to the penis and are then shown straight porn. Those applicants who become aroused are denied asylum.

The agency said in a report that "it is dubious whether [the test] reaches sufficiently clear conclusions". It said the practice could violate the European Convention on Human Rights "since this procedure touches upon a most intimate part of an individual's private life".

The interior ministry reacted angrily to the claims, saying that the "phallometric tests" had been used in fewer than 10 asylum cases. The tests were always conducted under the supervision of experts, said the officials, and always with the asylum seeker's full written consent.

The case first came to light after a German court refused to deport an Iranian asylum seeker to the Czech Republic, saying as a homosexual he would be subjected to the test. The Czech government's human right's commissioner, meanwhile, has described the phallometric tests as "undignified".

Source BBC
Da Good Book

Sally Ann bans Harry Potter and Twilight toys

Calgary, Alberta - The Salvation Army says it refuses to distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys collected for needy children because they're incompatible with the charity's Christian beliefs.

The policy has alarmed a Calgarian who volunteered to sift through a southeast warehouse full of unused, donated items and was alarmed when he was told by Salvation Army officials that the two kinds of toys are "disposed of" and not given to other charities.

"I asked if these toys went to another charitable organizations but was told no, that by passing these toys on to another agency for distribution would be supporting these toys," said the man, who wouldn't give his name due to his occupation.

The man called himself an admirer of the Salvation Army and was impressed by the massive quantity of toys collected in city malls, schools and police stations through the Toy Mountain campaign.

But he questioned why the charity would be sifting out Harry Potter and Twilight toys, which involve sorcery and vampire themes, respectively.

"I was told to withhold a six-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, 'That's for the 10-year-olds,'" he said.

"I was shocked...war-themed toys and toys from TV shows and movies with far more violence than Harry Potter and these were considered appropriate toys?"

The Sally Ann refuses to distribute the Twilight and Harry Potter toys because of their wizardry, vampire and werewolf content, said Capt. Pam Goodyear.

"The Salvation Army is based on Christian principles, so these things are not in line with those," said Goodyear.

But she said the charity delivers those toys to other agencies that then distribute them.

"They're distributed in another manner where parents can choose," she said, though she couldn't name any of those other agencies.

And she said it has been Sally Ann policy not to distribute war toys like plastic guns, though many of those decisions are made by the local ministry unit operating the warehouse.

Goodyear said the charity should inform donors which toys it chooses not to distribute.

"There are always learning opportunities," she said.

"But in my 20 years with the Salvation Army, this has never been an issue," she said.

Edmonton Sun

WikiLeaks: Not like we didn't know this already, and yet...

WikiLeaks cables: Vatican refused to engage with child sex abuse inquiry
Leaked cable lays bare how Irish government was forced to grant Vatican officials immunity from testifying to Murphy commission

Heather Brooke
The Guardian, Saturday 11 December 2010

The Vatican refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating the clerical abuse of children and was angered when they were summoned from Rome, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks reveal.

Requests for information from the 2009 Murphy commission into sexual and physical abuse by clergy "offended many in the Vatican" who felt that the Irish government had "failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations", a cable says.

Despite the lack of co-operation from the Vatican, the commission was able to substantiate many of the claims and concluded that some bishops had tried to cover up abuse, putting the interests of the Catholic church ahead of those of the victims. Its report identified 320 people who complained of child sexual abuse between 1975 and 2004 in the Dublin archdiocese.

A cable entitled "Sex abuse scandal strains Irish-Vatican relations, shakes up Irish church, and poses challenges for the Holy See" claimed that Vatican officials also believed Irish opposition politicians were "making political hay" from the situation by publicly urging the government to demand a reply from the Vatican.

Ultimately, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (equivalent to a prime minister), wrote to the Irish embassy, ordering that any requests related to the investigation must come through diplomatic channels.

In the cable Noel Fahey, the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, told the US diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes that the Irish clergy sex abuse scandal was the most difficult crisis he had ever managed.

The Irish government wanted "to be seen as co-operating with the investigation" because its own education department was implicated, but politicians were reluctant to press Vatican officials to answer the investigators' queries.

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Source

in b4 Minchin video. God, Benedict is a fucker. Of all the stuff I was expecting to come out of the cable leaks, though, I wasn't really figuring there'd be shit like this.
David Thewlis - santa hat

Family Gets Bill For Food Stamp Mistake

Missouri family is asked to pay back thousands of dollars in food stamps that the state mistakenly said it qualified for

A military family living in the Kansas City metropolitan area got help from the state of Missouri to pay the bills, but now the state wants the money back.

Courtney Edwards said she and her husband living base housing at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base and were having trouble raising four children on a sergeant's salary. She said they applied for food stamps and were approved twice.

"We went and applied and we said, 'The worst they can say is no," she said. "They said they approved us for $330 a month. Huge help."

She said the state approved them a second time six months later.

"And then we reapplied and were sent a denial letter stating that we made too much, but our pay never changed," she said.

The state has since told the family that they should repay $4,724.


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source
video report of the story
turkey dance

Six-Month Old Seth Getting Surgery Afterall

Just wanted to report some good news regarding the previous entry about Seth Petreikis, the infant in Indiana who was denied life-saving surgery through Medicaid.

An Indiana father whose son needs an expensive life-saving operation said he's filled with gratitude for the outpouring of support his family has received.

NBC Chicago on Wednesday broadcast and published the story of young Seth Petreikis. The boy was recently diagnosed with Complete DiGeorge Syndrome, a rare and fatal condition which prevents the body from fighting infections or viruses.

Medicaid has denied the family's appeal to cover the costs of surgery -- which will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- deeming it experimental.

But donations are giving the family a chance at a Christmas miracle. By Thursday morning, more than $16,000 had been donated to the Seth Benjamin Fund. By 8 p.m. Thursday, that amount had grown to $110,000.

"I cannot express my gratitude, in words, how grateful I am to the Chicagoland area for all that they have done for Seth," said the boy's father, Tim Petreikis.

Anyone interested in helping can submit contributions to the Seth Benjamin fund at any Citizen's Financial Bank, account No. 2847677. Donations can also be made through the family's website, SethBenjamin.org.

[Source]

It's great to see this happen and hopefully, others who are caught within the system can get help as well.

ETA: I should add this also: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/10/AR2010121006921.html

The insurance company that manages Indiana's Medicaid program is paying for the surgery themselves! That wasn't mentioned in the previous article. Sorry about that.