Newsday Scribble Live


  • Dobie: The kids are alright. Let them be.

    And the children shall lead the way.

    That’s the moral of the story in the Central Islip school district, where the election of homecoming king and queen has become a civil rights issue of sorts.

    To recap: Last fall, high school students elected Faith Shepherd, now 17, as homecoming king; Shepherd said she had come out as a lesbian when she was 13. After a local pastor complained about the students “violating tradition” and remarked that crossing gender lines causes “confusion” among young people, the school board asked the district to come up with a policy to limit homecoming kings and queens to “traditional gender roles.” Earlier this month, the board voted on the policy. Three members voted no and four abstained. So the proposal was rejected, as it should have been.

    On Wednesday, the pastor and a handful of followers stood outside the high school and held a protest against the board’s decision. That’s their right, of course. Students reacted to the opportunity to have a free speech debate in different ways. Some yelled at the protesters to “go home,” while others professed their affection for Shepherd and encouraged the protesters to “grow up.”
    Perhaps Superintendent Craig Carr should invite the protesters to meet with students for an exchange of ideas each might find illuminating.

    Ultimately, the students are correct. At a time when the country continues to move in the direction of greater tolerance and understanding, their simple vote spoke volumes. And none of them seemed confused about what they had done.

    The kids are alright. Let them be.
    by Michael Dobie edited by Amanda Fiscina 2/27/2014 10:12:04 PM
  • Dobie: DEC is right to revise swan plans
    A mother swan and her eight cygnets swim in the pond at the Charles T. Church Preserve, also known as Shu Swamp Preserve, in Mill Neck. The swans share the pond with geese, river otters, muskrat and snapping turtles. (Newsday/John Paraskevas)

    The state is revising its plan to eradicate mute swans, in a way that seems likely to leave some of the beloved birds in the wild.

    That’s a smart move, given the reaction that followed the release of the state’s plan.

    The state Department of Environmental Conservation received more than 1,500 comments, more than 16,000 form letters, and 30,000 signatures on various petitions. Plus, earlier this week State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) filed legislation to establish a moratorium on the killing of mute swans and require the DEC to conduct “independent” research before formulating a new plan.
    The DEC telegraphed its new intentions in a news release Friday, when it said:

    “In revising the plan, DEC likely will acknowledge regional differences in status, potential impacts and desired population goals by setting varying goals for different regions of the state. In addition, DEC will consider nonlethal means to achieve the management plan’s intended goals.

    In other words, mute swans likely will continue to inhabit some parts of the state in some numbers and the DEC will achieve whatever population size is deemed appropriate by some means other than killing — for example, oiling eggs so they don’t hatch.

    A DEC report issued in December found that the population of mute swans statewide peaked at more than 2,800 in 2002 and currently is estimated to be about 2,200. Roughly 1,600 are on Long Island, 400 are in the Hudson Valley, and about 200 live around Lake Ontario. The study found that the population seems to have stabilized on Long Island and declined in the Hudson Valley, while growing quickly around Lake Ontario. It also noted the potential for more population growth in the future and the environmental damage that can be done by swans.

    Mute swans were one of scores of species added last fall to the state’s list of nonnative invasive species to be outlawed or subject to restrictions. Although many environmentalists praised the additions as long overdue, support was not universal, particularly as it related to mute swans.
    Putting a hold on the eradication plan is wise. And the public will get to weigh in on the revised plan when it’s released, via another 30-day comment period.

    “We appreciate the strong response that the draft plan received, and it’s clear that New Yorkers recognize the importance of a comprehensive mute swan management plan that balances the interests of a diversity of stakeholders,” DEC commissioner Joe Martens said in the statement. “The revised plan will seek to balance the conflicting views about management of mute swans in New York.
  • Filler: Suffolk budgets rationally for red light cameras, unlike Nassau

    It looks like Suffolk County officials are taking a very realistic approach to budgeting revenue
    from speed cameras in school zones, which is very much to their credit…and very much to Nassau officials’ discredit.

    This matters because as Nassau County administrators and union representatives work to get a deal put together that would lift the wage freeze the Nassau Interim Finance Authority imposed three
    years ago, the big bones of contention are how much such deals will cost and h
    ow they will be paid for.

    NIFA would prefer that any deal to lift the freeze save just as much as the wage freeze itself
    does, through changed work rules, benefit levels or wage scales.

    But county and union officials have, in addition to trying to find a way to make granting annual raises as cheap as not granting them, promoted ways to increase revenue  to pay for lifting the wage freeze. The flaw in that argument is that  the county, with an annual deficit running between $80 million and $100  million, needs more revenue even with pay scales stuck. Even if County Executive Edward Mangano and his administration  can bring in more money, that doesn’t mean it should go to cops and other union workers. Property owners who’ve been waiting for tax refunds for years might like to have a crack at that new revenue, too.

    But before you can decide where new revenue ought to go, you have to  project how much it’s going to be. Or you could, as advocates for a deal now on the table have been, just wish upon speed cameras as if they were shooting stars.

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently proposed that both Nassau and Suffolk counties get speed cameras in school zones. Nassau has actually budgeted revenue of $8 million to $12 million per year from such cameras in its multi-year plan.

    But in the context of a new deal to lift the wage freeze, proponents say  Nassau’s cameras can bring in $32 million per year, which would be 64 tickets per school day for each camera, at $50 each, and with a 100 percent collection rate.

    Suffolk officials, it turns out, are estimating that each of their cameras will ticket 20 people per day, and collect on about 70 percent of the violations.  And if you apply those numbers in Nassau, you get the $8 million to $12 million per year revenue estimate that the county itself included in the multi-year plan, before visions of thawing wage freezes began dancing in their heads.
  • Mayor goes upstate
    seeking pre-K tax, but gets
    charter school smackdown.
  • Malaysia backtracks.
    Again. Investigation?
    More like Keystone Kops.
  • City settles suits.
    First police, now firefighters.
    Warm fairness embrace.
  • Federal courts should continue to put Guantanamo detainees on trial

    by Alvin Bessent

    Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is on trial right now in  lower Manhattan for conspiring to kill Americans.
    His lawyers wanted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9-11 attacks, to testify, but a federal judge  decided today not to allow it.

    If you didn’t know all that, you’re not alone. The trial has been as quiet and uneventful as the hundreds of other terrorist trials conducted in  federal courthouses since 9-11.

    Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about back in 2009 when U.S. Attorney  General Eric Holder announced plans to put Mohammed on trial in lower  Manhattan. Holder dropped the idea like a hot rock when real estate and business interests and a chorus of elected officials wailed about the potential disruption and security concerns.

    Mohammed and dozens of others have been in prison at Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade without being convicted of anything. The federal courts have proved they’re up to the job.

    We should let them do it. Put  the detainees on trial, convict the guilty and then properly bury them  in prison.

    It’s the American way.
  • What was a bigger mistake, endorsing teacher evaluations or supporting medical marijuana? Round 2 of editorial madness is posted -- make your picks now:
  • Fred Phelps died today.
    So, picket his funeral?
    Better: Just ignore.
  • Still vulnerable.
    Long Island, months past Sandy.
    Nor’easter coming.
  • Hope blossoms and wanes.
    On words said and said again.
    A credible lead.
  • Texting-while-driving law doesn't go far enough

    So the state of New York is going to go after new drivers and those under 21 who text while driving, with a conviction bringing a three-month loss of one’s driver’s license. A second conviction would result in a one-year suspension.

    That’s all well and good, but what about the rest of us? It’s not like the over-21 crowd is better at driving while they’re texting. A texting driver is a menace, period. If we’re going to pass legislation targeting the practice, we should target everyone who does it, not just the young.

    Here’s a piece on the debate written back in January when Gov.
    Andrew M. Cuomo made the proposal. It was problematic then, and still is now.

  • Petrone's pension move saves Huntington money

    Before you lash out — and a lot of you have — at Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone for starting to take his pension while still on the job, consider that he’s actually saving the town money by doing so.

    With Petrone taking his $63,000-a-year pension early, Huntington no longer will have to make payments for him into the state pension system.
    Last year’s contribution was $34,000. So town taxpayers will save roughly that amount this year and every year going forward (the state system, of course, pays the actual pension).

    That’s not to say the whole deal doesn’t feel a bit unseemly.
    But it’s legal. Petrone, whose town salary is $162,509, is not subject to a state law banning elected officials making more than $30,000 from collecting a pension without a waiver because he started serving before the law was passed in 1995.

  • Two more districts pile up excess surpluses

    Last week, the editorial board wrote about a series of state comptroller audits that faulted a half-dozen or so school and fire districts on Long Island for budgeting practices that created excessive surpluses with no clear plans to spend the money or return it in some way to taxpayers. Since then, the comptroller has released two additional audits of special districts on Long Island that did pretty much the same thing.

    The North Shore Public Library — which serves Shoreham, Wading River and Rocky Point — from 2006 to 2012 accumulated surpluses of nearly $14 million, about two-thirds of its operating funds during that time, according to Thomas DiNapoli’s office. The amount far exceeds state limits on such surpluses. Information about the surpluses was not made public, said the comptroller’s office, which faulted library officials for a lack of transparency.

    Library officials said the money was intended to fund benefits for future retirees. But they never informed the public of that intention, which is critical since the public votes annually on the budget. This year’s vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

    The other case involved the Oysterponds school district, which the comptroller’s office said accumulated surplus funds over a four-year period equal to 11 percent of the ensuing years’ budgets. That’s nearly three times the legal amount, and led to a critique that the school board improve its budget oversight and management.

    As we noted in the editorial, state law on surplus limits exists to protect taxpayers. When those limits are exceeded, the district should give the money back, one way or another.
  • No funds? No problem.
    Nassau approves labor deals.
    Love those magic acts.
  • Remember when ping
    was the other half of pong?
    Now, a macabre ghost.
  • Bayville Bridge brouhaha

    A lot of things in the world are "unconscionable." Closing The Bayville Bridge for five hours - especially five non-rush hour hours - to film an episode of "The Blacklist" isn't one of them, no matter what a well-intentioned civic leader says.
  • Central Islip schools' budget battles

    The budget process in the Central Islip school district has been contentious for a few years now. This year’s go-round is proving to be no exception.

    The board of education postponed a vote on the 2014-15 budget during Monday night’s meeting after board members and other district officials could not — or would not — answer basic questions posed by residents regarding such things as the amount of money being spent on teacher raises and how many Advanced Placement courses were being planned, as reported by Newsday.
    That’s unacceptable, and a delay was wise if it means residents will get answers at the next session.

    It also was clear during Monday’s meeting that residents — and some board members — were concerned about a recent state comptroller’s audit that found the district had underestimated how much revenue it would bring in, and overestimated how much it would spend, resulting over five years in combined surpluses of $25 million — which exceeded state limits.
    At the same time, the school board increased the tax levy by 9 percent when it could have used the surplus funds to keep taxes down.

    As Newsday’s editorial board noted recently, state law setting limits on surpluses protects taxpayers and if a district salts away too much money, it should return it to taxpayers one way or another.

    On that note, the proposed budget for 2014-15 does reduce taxes by an estimated 0.
    62 percent. But it doesn’t seem to provide funding to reduce class sizes, another sore spot for residents.
  • Afghanistan shooting a teachable moment for young journalists

    In some courses at Stony Brook University School of Journalism, professors point students to the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that shines light on the often difficult and dangerous work of gathering the news. The CPJ website keeps a running count of journalists killed doing their jobs around the world — 14 so far in 2014, 1,054 since 1992.

    Fred Bruning, a journalism faculty member at Stony Brook, emphasized that point recently. He emailed his students a story about the shocking fatal shooting on Friday of Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, and the wounding of AP reporter Kathy Gannon, by an Afghan police commander.

    “Most journalists do not face mortal danger,” Bruning, a former Newsday staff writer, wrote to his students. “Those who put themselves in harm's way demand our respect and gratitude. The valor of Niedringhaus and Gannon underlines the importance of our mission and explains, in part, why the highest standards are imposed and maintained at the journalism school. No matter the circumstances, we must do nothing less than strive for the excellence and commitment represented by these two brave people.

    “Remember them when you tackle the next story. Demand of yourselves nothing but the best.

    A funeral for Niedringhaus will be held on Saturday at a monastery near her birthplace in Hoxter, Germany.  As journalism students here at home, including several in an editing class I teach at the university, continue their assignments in the final weeks of the semester, they might remember her and take reassurance that their work is indeed worthwhile.

    by Lawrence Striegel edited by Sam Guzik 4/10/2014 5:51:17 PM
  • Shaming neighborhood bullies

    I was thrilled by the sentence an Ohio judge handed out, to have a man sit on a busy street corner with a sign saying "I am a bully." Which of us hasn't experienced neighborhood bullies, making lives miserable for the people around them?

    In one neighborhood I know, there's a man who has set up spotlights to shine in his neighbors' windows, as well as loud alarm buzzers on every conceivable door and window. It gets very noisy. The neighbors call the police, but that only seems to make him more determined to do harm.

    Do you have a story about a neighborhood bully? Or a good idea about how to stop them?

  • Bessent: 'We’ve got to make them afraid of us'

    With that call to arms former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he’s bank-rolling a new, grassroots group that will punish elected officials who oppose reasonable gun laws.

    He committed $50 million this year to Everytown for Gun Safety, envisioned as an counterweight to the NRA that will be driven largely by moms.  Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is folding her group in Bloomberg’s.

    When reasonable new gun laws, like background checks at gun shows, were thwarted in Congress even as the nation mourned the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, it became clear that an emotional appeal to commonsense was not enough to change the political calculus.

    There are members of Congress who genuinely believe there should be no restrictions on Second Amendment gun rights. But there are also weasely members who do the NRA’s bidding simply because they’re afraid that if they don’t the gun industry front group will target them in their next election.

    Bloomberg wants to beat the NRA at its own game.  His group has a ways to go to match the NRA’s fervor,  organization and political muscle. But $50 million is a good start.
  • Stony Brook $pends on the arts

    The last few years have seen a growing emphasis in educational spending on STEM programs, and with good reason. The country desperately needs more people trained in science, technology, engineering and math, a need that will only increase with time.

    But in the midst of that embrace of our high-tech future, it’s nice to see that some schools are still investing in the arts and humanities.

    In a letter sent Friday afternoon to Stony Brook University faculty, staff and students, president Dr.
    Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced the details of a new initiative that will see the school spend $1 million over the next four years on the arts, humanities and social sciences.

    The initiative consists of four programs: six fellowships for social sciences graduate students, three humanities faculty fellowships, a guest artist residency program that will provide an opportunity to bring two artists in residency to Stony Brook, and 25 travel awards for faculty to present papers at national or international conferences.

    “I have enthusiastically embraced these initiatives for their potential to promote innovative research and creative endeavors by both faculty and graduate students and make an impact on scholarship that can be measured and evaluated,” Stanley wrote in the letter.

  • Bessent: Obama’s Keystone foot-dragging is stark-naked politics

    Everything in Washington is political but some things are just nakedly partisan. President Barack Obama’s decision to delay his decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until after the November election falls into the in-the-buff category.

    The 875-mile pipeline would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. There, it would connect with existing pipelines to deliver the crude to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Because it would cross the border into the United States, deciding whether it will serve the national interest falls to Obama. But it’s a no-win political proposition for Obama.

    The project pits two influential Democratic constituencies against one another.

    Environmentalists concerned about climate change and oil spills want Obama to kill the project. Labor unions want him to approve the $5.4-billion project to create jobs. With elections in November that could determine control of Congress, Obama and other Democrats are loath to offend either interest group. So the White House strategy has been to delay, this time citing a legal challenge.

    In February, a Nebraska judge invalidated a state law that allowed the governor, rather than the state’s Public Service Commission, to approve the pipeline’s route through the state. If the Nebraska top court agrees, the state PSC will have seven months to review the route. Obama said Friday he will wait for the litigation to play out before giving the pipeline his thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

    But is the pipeline in the national interest or isn’t it? Obama should stop the foot-dragging and make that call. If he kills the project, the litigation would be academic. If he approves it, and then the small group of landowners that sued wins in court, the PSC could force changes in the route through Nebraska.

    But Obama should just say yes to the pipeline and worry about possible changes in the route when, and if, it comes to that.

    by Alvin Bessent
  • Bessent: Despite court ruling, Zohydro ER foes must stay determined

    The Zohydro rebellion must not be deterred.
    The movement to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its potentially disastrous decision to allow the sale of Zohydro ER — a high-dose, extended-release, pure hydrocodone painkiller — hit a snag when a federal court ruled that Massachusetts can't ban sales of the drug. The ruling took effect Tuesday.
    But despite that setback, the furor over approval of a medication so ripe for abuse has not abated.
    Twenty-nine state attorneys general, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman, have sided with the FDA’s own expert advisory panel in imploring the FDA, the Obama administration or Congress to reverse the approval of Zohydro until it has been made tamperproof. It should only be sold in a form that cannot be crushed into a powder. The concern is that drug abusers will snort or inject the drug in powder form. Legislation to reverse the FDA's approval of Zohydro has been introduced in Congress.
    Prescription abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. It’s an epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid painkillers, such as hydrocodone, accounted for 16,600 overdose deaths in 2013 — more than heroin and cocaine combined. So the FDA’s decision to approve Zohydro for sale starting March 1, without requiring a tamperproof form, is just bizarre.
    Hydrocodone belongs to a group of addictive drugs that include morphine, codeine and heroin. So does oxycodone, the drug in the painkiller OxyContin that since 2010 has been sold in pills that can't be crushed into powder. Try to crush them and they become a gel or paste not easily snorted. It should be the same with Zohydro.
    Used as intended, the extended-release Zohydro could be great for people in severe, chronic pain. But it could be made available for those with a legitimate medical need without inviting abuse if the FDA would simply require crush-proof formulations.

    Not doing that defies common sense.

    By Alvin Bessent
  • Amityville defers budget pain

    So the Amityville board of trustees kicked the can down the road on the village’s 2014-15 budget.

    When we last checked in, the board of the financially struggling village had asked its police union to reopen a contract with four years left on it to help balance Amityville’s books. Village officials said then that if the union did not agree the village could be left with three options — double-digit tax increases, a control board, or bankruptcy.

    Well, the union did not agree. So the board came up with a fourth option. It deferred $391,000 in pension contributions, got some other labor savings through attrition and cheaper hires, and managed to cut a projected 6.17 percent tax increase to 2.47 percent, the village’s cap figure. The board reasoned that the many residents still suffering from Sandy and depressed assessed values and still dealing with big tax increases in previous years needed a break.

    The problem is that the savings are mostly of the one-shot variety, the budget is still in structural imbalance, there still is no major investment in roads that are 10 years beyond their life cycle, and Amityville desperately needs two new ambulances and a pumper fire truck. On the plus side, assessed values could rebound and the village could gain some new revenue by getting the vacant former Brunswick Hospital site redeveloped (CVS wants in).

    With police spending equaling about a third of Amityville’s budget, figure the union will be getting another call next year.

  • What do you think about Nassau County's proposed land sale in Bethpage? Tweet us at #NewsdayOpinion
  • Amazing column on Reshma, a paranoid schizophrenic has risen above her illness to fight for others @PeterGoldmark
  • GALLERY: Cartoonists respond to the NBA banning Donald Sterling

  • Fires, shots, dozens dead.
    Ukraine being ripped apart.
    Nervous wait: What’s next?
  • Girls in a schoolhouse.
    Passengers on a jet plane.
    Long gone. World helpless.
  • Now that the number of uninsured is falling, will Americans become healthier? @NewsdayOpinion @Newsday
  • The editorial board just met with @EPAregion2 and talked LI wetlands, sewers, Sandy funds. Which affects you most?

  • 66 years later #LI 's still having this debate... May 8, 1948 @Newsday editorial on some "south shore snobbery" #tbt

  • Baldwin’s biking bust.
    Carnival? Stupidity?
    Thy name is Alec.
  • Crucial school election in Hempstead tomorrow -- a district cheating its kids of decent education @newsdayopinion
  • #Hempstead says good riddance to crooked school board regime. Finally change can begin
  • #bookcon2014 in hall waiting for Veronica Roth. The reading world is young, female and enthusiastic. Must find column topic #newsday
  • Buzz Feed writer says LI best thing about NY but ranks Montauk only 18 of 60 reasons. Never on the beach at sunrise?
  • The #WorldCup isn't just about soccer. Here are 10 goals that changed the world:
  • Can't claim I called #Cantor loss. Did point out he was running scared and it was affecting immigration policy.
  • Thanks to @Newsday Editorial Board for great conversation today in Melville.

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