80 coppers and firemen charged in social security fraud


Too depressed, too ill to work

Eighty retired New York City police officers and firefighters were charged on Tuesday in one of the largest Social Security disability frauds ever, a sprawling decades-long scheme in which false mental disability claims by as many as 1,000 people cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to court papers.

Scores of those charged in the case essentially stole in plain sight, according to a 205-count indictment and a bail letter, collecting between $30,000 and $50,000 a year based on fabricated claims that they were completely incapacitated by serious psychiatric disorders. Many said that their actions in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were responsible for their psychiatric conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression.

But their Facebook pages and other websites, according to the court papers, tell a starkly different story.

The bail letter includes photographs culled from the Internet that show one riding a jet ski and others working at jobs ranging from helicopter pilot to martial arts instructor. One is shown fishing off the coast of Costa Rica and another sitting astride a motorcycle, while another appeared in a television news story selling cannoli at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

Indeed, prosecutors charge that they were coached by the scheme’s organizers to appear disheveled and disoriented during interviews, in which doctors initially evaluated their disability applications before finding them to be mentally disabled and incapable of any work whatsoever.

Read ’em and weep, folks. Weep for the legitimate needs of so many first responders dying of cancer because the city and state won’t admit to carcinogenic materials in building codes.

Save your anger for the scumbags who participated in the scam. Keep a cynical eye on the judicial processes convened to prosecute the ringleaders. These fine upstanding members of the NY legal community, independent experts who consult on compensating the injured and ill, folks chartered to represent the needs of working people. While stealing from the whole community.

Toilets explode in NYC apartment building, injuring four residents


He flushes the toilet from around the corner, now

A Brooklyn man was seriously injured by an exploding toilet in his co-op and remains so traumatized by the blown-up john that he uses a rope to flush from a safe distance outside the bathroom.

Pierre was knocked unconscious briefly and woke up covered in blood when the toilet exploded.

Michel Pierre was one of four tenants injured…at the Caton Tower development in Flatbush by powerful blasts from their bowls…

I’m afraid to flush the toilet right now,” said Pierre, 58, who was so punished by the porcelain that he needed 30 stitches to close shrapnel wounds on his head, arm and legs…

Pieces of ceramic, like bomb shrapnel, hit Pierre and shattered all over the room.

The water had been turned off that day in the 19-story building while a plumbing contractor installed a backflow prevention valve…

Pierre’s cuts were treated at Methodist Hospital. Two other injured tenants were taken to Kings County Medical Center and a fourth to Woodhull Medical Center, according to the source…

Pierre, an information technology specialist for a government agency, said he doesn’t know when he can go to the bathroom in peace again.

“I can’t stop thinking about it every time I look at the bowl,” Pierre said, who was relieved that he wasn’t sitting down during the fateful flush.

NSS.

Why conservatives hate New York’s Citi Bike

What is it about bike shares that so enrages conservatives? They’re just bikes! That people share! And yet the New York Post has a new story every day about the endless disasters that Citi Bike has brought upon the helpless populace of New York.

Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal called the Bloomberg administration “totalitarian” for … encouraging the riding of bikes, we guess…

But, in a way, the depth of conservative animosity for a bike-share program makes perfect sense. Because, as the Venn diagram above indicates, Citi Bike finds itself at the very nexus of five different things that conservatives hate:

Mayor Bloomberg: Conservatives hate Mayor Bloomberg, a cosmopolitan billionaire who thinks he knows better than them and has the right to control their lives. Bloomberg wants to take their guns, and, even worse, he wants to take their enormous sodas…

Healthy: Bike riding is healthy, especially when the alternative is sitting in a cab, train, or bus. But conservatives hate being told to be healthy. Look at how much scorn they have for Michelle Obama simply for encouraging kids to exercise more and eat more vegetables. As Americans, it is our God-given right to eat as much crap as we want, pass our medical bills onto the government, and then yell at the government for spending too much money on health care…

Sharing: So central to the concept of bike shares, they put it right in the name. But conservatives hate sharing — tax dollars, calamari, doesn’t matter…

Environmental: Bike are also good for the environment. This will please you if you think the environment actually needs help. But if you think carbon emissions and climate change are conspiracies (like 58 percent of Republicans) perpetrated by Al Gore and a handful of scientists at the University of East Anglia, then bikes are just lies on wheels…

Vaguely French: French people ride bikes, right? Like, more than other people? There’s something vaguely French about this whole thing. Doesn’t sit well.

Sounds about right to me. I don’t see a single issue here that hasn’t been raised by some AM radio nutball preacher or pundit.

NY Assembly passes strict gun control law 104 to 43


Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, L, and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.
Mike Groll/ Associated Press

New York’s Assembly on Tuesday easily passed the toughest gun control law in the nation and the first since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, calling for a tougher assault weapons ban and provisions to try to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who make threats.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed hard for the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday night. He is expected to quickly sign the measure into law.

This is a scourge on society,” Cuomo said Monday night, six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newtown tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. “At what point do you say, ‘No more innocent loss of life’?”

The measure, which passed the Assembly 104-43, also calls for restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns.

“This is not about taking anyone’s rights away,” said Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democrat, when the bill passed the Senate late Monday night. “It’s about a safe society … today we are setting the mark for the rest of the county to do what’s right.”

Another provision places requirements on therapists, psychologists, registered nurses and licensed social workers who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally. They would be required to report such a threat to a mental health director, who would have to notify the state. Any registered handguns — or registered assault weapons purchased before the ban — could be taken from the patient.

Though the Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said “It is well-balanced, it protects the Second Amendment,” some of the Tea Party demagogues who infest the Republican Party raised the usual NRA stink in opposition.

They failed to stop passage of the bill and Governor Cuomo will sign it.

Om enjoys the weekend with 7 stories – ranging from the Best Pickpocket in Las Vegas to Amazing Bowling!

Happy 2013 everyone. I am starting off a new year with the promise that I will try and share interesting stories to read every weekend. This week, I am starting with some fun stuff — pickpockets and resolutions.

A pickpocket’s tale: New Yorker’s Adam Green writes about master pickpocket Apollo Robbins of Las Vegas. It is just a delightful read and it also taught me a lot about a man and his devotion to his art/craft.

Jerry Seinfeld intends to die standing: Talking about devotion to one’s craft, this profile of Jerry Seinfeld is pretty eye-opening and educational.

Pre Globalism: Kevin Kelly talks about the ease of global tourism and our shrinking world. I quite enjoyed this post by ex-Wired editor who is also one of my favorite writers/thinkers.

The most amazing bowling story: Yeah, it is the quest for perfect score and how it almost killed Bill Fong. Great piece.

How do you explain machine learning and data mining to non computer people?: Good question — and great answers on this Quora thread.

Five things you can do to succeed in keeping your New Year resolutions: Deb Lee has some good tips that are worth noting.

Me, myself and I: Olivia Laing writes about the downsides and upsides of loneliness. Being an ex-New Yorker, I know what she means.

As ever, Om Malik is eclectic, offering interesting reads.

First same-sex wedding held at West Point Cadet Chapel

Cadet Chapel, the landmark Gothic church that is a center for spiritual life at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, hosted its first same-sex wedding Saturday.

Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, exchanged vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony, attended by about 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.

The two have been together for 17 years. They had a civil commitment ceremony that didn’t carry any legal force in 1999 and had long hoped to formally tie the knot. The way was cleared last year, when New York legalized same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama lifted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military.

The brides both live in New Jersey and would have preferred to have the wedding there, but the state doesn’t allow gay marriage…

The NJ legislature passed a law allowing same-sex marriage. Republican Governor Christie vetoed it.

“It has a tremendous history, and it is beautiful. That’s where I first heard and said the cadet prayer,” Fulton said, referring to the invocation that says, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”

The ceremony was the second same-sex wedding at West Point. Last weekend, two of Fulton’s friends, a young lieutenant and her partner, were married in another campus landmark, the small Old Cadet Chapel in West Point’s cemetery.

Fulton has campaigned against the ban on gays in the military as a member of two groups representing gay and lesbian servicemen and servicewomen. She graduated from West Point in 1980, a member of the first class to include women.

She served with the Army Signal Corps in Germany and rose to the rank of captain, but left the service in 1986 partly because she wanted to be open about her sexual orientation. President Obama appointed her last year to the U.S. Military Academy’s Board of Visitors.

Nice to see the US Military continue to march into the 21st Century at a faster pace than some political chickenhawks. For those of us who lived through the end of Jim Crow in our military, the result isn’t a complete surprise. Unlike some politicians, the Pentagon accepts the law of the land – instead of trying to slink back into the past.

Candy maker’s “Jolly Lollys” are marijuana-based — Busted!

With Halloween right around the corner, police said several University at Buffalo students were having a special treat of candy-flavored marijuana when they got spooked by a raid Thursday.

Alexander J. Zito was throwing a party for the students at his Delaware Avenue apartment when Buffalo narcotics detectives arrived to discover chocolate-flavored marijuana, hard candy containing marijuana, 640 “Jolly Lolly” marijuana lollipops and 5 pounds of regular marijuana…

Zito, 26, allegedly arranges to obtain the marijuana on trips to California under the guise that it is for medicinal purposes and then has it shipped here through the U.S. Postal Service. Medical marijuana in California is legal under state law, but that is not the case in New York…

Though Zito claimed to be unemployed for two or three years, he apparently was prospering. Police found records indicating his rent was paid six months in advance and the furniture in his residence was brand new. Business cards, Mulhern said, also were found stating Zito was the proprietor of a medical marijuana shop in San Diego…

But different forms of marijuana were not the only thing Zito had, police said. Hashish and crack cocaine also were found at his residence. He was charged with felony possession of marijuana and cocaine.

Now, if we were rid of the anachronistic and absurd laws making this behavior illegal, he could have turned himself into Buffalo’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

Albeit, in a decriminalized environment, Zito would have had to conform to useful business protocols – like paying taxes.

Arcane law challenged by three protestors arrested for wearing masks in a demonstration

The crowd had gathered outside the Russian Consulate in New York, awaiting the sentencing in Moscow of members of the punk protest band Pussy Riot.

Some held aloft placards proclaiming their solidarity with the band members; others strummed guitars. Many in the crowd that day in August wore the same sort of brightly colored balaclavas worn by the women in the band.

The choice of apparel led to the arrest of some demonstrators, who were charged with disorderly conduct and with violating an arcane provision in the loitering law that makes it unlawful for three or more people to wear masks in public.

Now, a lawyer for three women arrested that day says he is preparing to challenge the constitutionality of the law, which he argues should not apply to peaceful protesters

Mr. Siegel said his arguments would differ from those used in previous challenges. Instead of stating that his clients needed to hide their identities with masks because the ideas they were spreading are controversial, he said, he will assert that the masks themselves were integral to the message the three women were communicating.

The ban on masks in New York State dates to 1845, when it was adopted in response to events in the Hudson Valley, where local tenant farmers disguised as American Indians had attacked and killed landlords. The law includes exceptions for masquerade parties and similar events…

The law has been litigated several times over the past decade or so, with state courts, federal courts and appeals panels seesawing back and forth over whether it can be fairly applied.

It’s nice to sit back and say the law can be applied in a couple different directions. Over time that established no useful precedent and that’s what Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence is all about. So, it comes down to First Amendment rights. If a mask of any sort is demonstrably part of your protest, you should be able to wear it.

I’ve been in some gigantic anti-war demonstrations where the Bread-and-Puppet Theatre folks supported individual puppets a dozen feet high and completely encasing their upper body and heads. Sure as hell some ambitious DA who wants to be mayor will go ahead and prosecute a puppeteer – if the law is left standing.

New York strip club seeks ‘dramatic arts’ tax exemption

A New York state strip club says it should not have to pay tax, claiming an exemption for the performing arts…But the New York state tax department and an appeals court say $124,000 owed by Nite Moves does not fall under an exemption for “live dramatic or musical arts performances”.

Tax officials say the club paid taxes on non-alcoholic drinks but must also pay for admission and “couch sales”.

The exemption claimed by Nite Moves is usually applied to theatre performances or ballets.

The club is expected to ask a cultural anthropologist who has studied exotic dance – and visited the club – to testify on its behalf at the New York Court of Appeals.

An administrative law judge had previously ruled that “the fact that the dancers remove all or part of their costume… simply does not render such dance routines as something less than choreographed performances…”

The tribunal said there was not enough proof that the dances were choreographed. An appeal court which upheld the tribunal’s ruling added that club dancers did not need to have formal training.

It is expected that the high court will take about a month before issuing a decision.

No doubt they will review video evidence daily – to, um, aid in their eventual ruling.

Cripes, this takes me back almost to when I moved my personal blog over here to WordPress. Back in 2008. The critical issue in Iowa was whether or not stripping was an art form – which therefore allowed public performances.

New York Governor proposes decriminalizing marijuana

Governor Andrew Cuomo on has proposed cutting the penalty for public possession of a small amount of marijuana, a change in state law that would defuse some criticism of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy in minority communities.

With three weeks remaining in the legislative session, Cuomo said his bill to reduce the criminal misdemeanor to a violation with a fine up to $100 would save thousands of New Yorkers, disproportionately black and Hispanic youths, from unnecessary arrests and criminal charges.

“There’s a blatant inconsistency. If you possess marijuana privately, it’s a violation. If you show it in public, it’s a crime,” Cuomo said. “It’s incongruous. It’s inconsistent the way it’s been enforced. There have been additional complications in relation to the stop-and-frisk policy where there’s claims young people could have a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, where they’re stopped and frisked. The police officer says, ‘Turn out your pockets.’ The marijuana is now in public view. It just went from a violation to a crime.”

New York City prosecutors and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whose offices handled almost 50,000 such criminal cases last year, endorsed the Democratic governor’s plan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the bill largely mirrors the city police directive issued last year for officers to issue violations, not misdemeanors, “for small amounts of marijuana that come into open view during a search.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said it will help them redirect limited resources to serious crime, and key Assembly Democrats expressed support. Some opposition is expected in the state Senate’s Republican majority…where blah, blah, blah.

According to advocates for decriminalizing it, 14 states, including Oregon and Massachusetts, have lowered penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana to civil fines in a movement that began in the 1970’s. Since 1996, 16 states, including California, have legalized its use for medical conditions, though New York has not…

Republican objections aren’t worth considering. They’re the same boilerplate crap reactionaries have been spouting about morality since the 19th Century. Being out of touch with reality on more than one issue is the only consistency that party is presently capable of.

Decriminalizing marijuana is so overdue as to be a farce. How long has it been, by the way, since the United States played a leading global role on any social issue? Even our position as leading advocate for democracy has been compromised countless times since the days of Joe McCarthy and accusations that defending our Bill of Rights meant you were unAmerican.

Decriminalizing drugs would mean up to a 47% reduction in the size of the prison population here in New Mexico. Decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level could mean two things fiscally: savings of over $8 billion spent on prison inmates nationwide + easily over $8 billion intake from marijuana sales taxed at the same rate as tobacco = $16 billion in government coffers derived from sensible regulations instead of archaic morality and hypocrisy.

Yes, Cuomo is getting ready for a presidential run in 2016. Another reason Republicans will take silly outdated positions on his proposal.