White House Warns Obama Could Go Around Congress

January 27th, 2014

Pobresident Barack Obama will work with Congress where he can and circumvent lawmakers where he must, his top advisers warned Sunday in previewing Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.

Obama faces a politically divided Congress on Tuesday and will use his annual address to demand expanded economic opportunity. Absent legislative action, the White House is telling lawmakers that the president is ready to take unilateral action to close the gap between rich and poor Americans.

“I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a longtime Obama adviser. “The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress’ agenda.”

So the White House is eyeing compromise on some priorities, Obama advisers said. But the president is also looking at executive orders that can be enacted without Congress’ approval.

“The president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

The act-or-else posture bristled Republicans.

“The president has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy as opposed to moving to the political center,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP Senate leader.

Added Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: “It sounds vaguely like a threat, and I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance.”

With campaigns for November’s election on the horizon, there’s scant reason for the White House to be optimistic about Republican support for measures to revive a bipartisan immigration bill that has passed the Senate, an increased minimum wage or expanding prekindergarten programs.

Republicans looking to wrest control of the Senate and keep their majority in the House instead want to keep the focus on the struggling economy and Obama’s stewardship of it. The GOP is pinning hopes that voter frustration remains high and punishes Democrats on the ballot for Obama’s tenure.

“His economic policies are not working,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The White House has been signaling to Republicans that it would not wait for Congress to act. It also is betting Obama’s backers will rally behind his plans.

“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress,” Pfeiffer wrote in an email to Obama supporters Saturday.

Following the speech, Obama will travel to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee to promote the proposals he introduces Tuesday evening.

Pfeiffer appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and “Fox News Sunday.” Carney spoke with ABC’s “This Week.” McConnell was interviewed on Fox. Paul spoke with CNN and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Cruz spoke to CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

(AP)

AP-GfK Poll: Negative View Of Health Rollout Eases

January 27th, 2014

healMemo to the White House: The website may be fixed, but President Barack Obama’s new health insurance markets have yet to win over most consumers.

Negative perceptions of the health care rollout have eased, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. But overall, two-thirds of Americans say things still aren’t going well.

Of those who’ve tried to sign up, or who live with someone who has, 71 percent have encountered problems. But the share reporting success jumped to 40 percent from a meager 24 percent in December.

“Everything is not perfect; it takes time to work out the glitches,” said Carol Lyles, a homecare provider from Los Angeles who was able to get coverage as a result of the law. “If done right, I believe it will provide the services that are needed.”

The poll comes with about 60 days left in open enrollment season. The administration is playing catch-up to meet its goal of signing up 7 million people in new insurance exchanges that offer subsidized private coverage to middle-class households. So far, the markets have attracted an older crowd that tends to be more costly to cover. Younger people in the coveted 18-34 age group are still mainly on the sidelines.

While the poll did not find a turnaround for “Obamacare,” the trend offers some comfort for supporters of the health care law.

In December, 76 percent of adults had said the opening of the new markets was not going well. Such negative perceptions have now fallen 10 points to 66 percent.

Still, rave reviews remain rare.

Only 4 percent said things were going extremely or very well, while another 17 percent said things were going somewhat well.

Compare that to 38 percent who said the rollout had gone not at all well. Another 28 percent said things were not going too well. Add those together and it makes up two-thirds of the public.

“People were locked out of the system,” said Karyle Knowles, a restaurant server from San Antonio. “They weren’t able to access what they should have, which only added to the mayhem.”

The White House had hoped to bring the ease of online shopping to the daunting process of buying health insurance. Instead, the federal website serving 26 states froze up when it was launched Oct. 1. Some of the 14 states running their own sites also encountered problems. It took the better part of two months to straighten out the issues with the federal exchange.

The administration reported Friday that 3 million people have now signed up for private coverage through federal and state markets, and another 6.3 million have been deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage. It’s not clear how many of those were previously uninsured.

According to the poll, many website users have had a frustrating experience. Among those who’ve tried to sign up, just 8 percent say it worked well, 29 percent somewhat well, 53 percent not well.

The public’s take on the law itself is stable, with 27 percent saying they back it, 42 percent opposed and 30 percent neutral. Those figures are unchanged since December.

People who have tried to sign up are more positive than the overall public — 46 percent say they back the law, 31 percent oppose it.

But among the uninsured generally, there’s a more even divide, with 30 percent saying they support the law while 33 percent oppose it.

The major elements of the health care law took effect with the new year. Virtually all Americans are now required to get covered or risk fines. Insurers can no longer turn away people with health problems. And the exchanges are open for business.

Enrollment in the Medicaid safety-net program is also rising. That’s partly because of a program expansion accepted by about half the states and partly as a consequence of previously eligible but unenrolled people now forced to comply with the law’s individual coverage mandate. Last week, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said his state plans to become the 26th to accept the expansion.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the full sample.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost.

(AP)

NJ Democrats Set To Merge Traffic Jam Probe

January 27th, 2014

chrNew Jersey Democrats will pool their resources by merging separate legislative investigations into allegations that Gov. Chris Christie’s aides blocked traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge to create backups in a nearby town to punish the Democratic mayor.

The Assembly and Senate plan to vote Monday to establish the joint bipartisan committee with power to subpoena people and correspondence related to the lane closings and abuse of power allegations. Chicago lawyer Reid Schar will serve as special counsel to the panel of eight Democrats and four Republicans.

“This is the optimal approach to ensuring the people of New Jersey get the answers they need to these questions about the abuse of government power,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, whose transportation committee was further along in its probe than a parallel effort in the Senate.

The U.S. attorney’s office stepped up a criminal investigation of the matter with subpoenas to the Christie for Governor re-election campaign and the state GOP, and probably others last week.

Twenty subpoenas issued by the Assembly panel remain pending and are due back next week.

Those reach deep into the governor’s office, the re-election effort and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that runs the bridge. None target Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate who has just begun a yearlong chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.

The governor has said he was not involved in the planning or execution of the scheme, which appears to have been authorized by his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and carried out by his No. 2 man at the bridge agency, David Wildstein.

Kelly has been fired and Wildstein resigned.

Two other Christie confidantes also were let go: His top deputy at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, resigned after telling a legislative panel the lane closings were for a traffic pattern study, and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien was told to step aside after he appeared to gloat over the traffic chaos in private emails released during the investigation.

Christie, who has a reputation for engendering loyalty and insisting on discipline among his subordinates, explained at a December news conference that he learned of his aides’ involvement when the subpoenaed emails were published.

(AP)

Report Spells Out NYC Mayor’s Pre-K Plan

January 27th, 2014

An administration report says Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to expand full-day prekindergarten would reach 53,000 New York City children who need it by September.

The Wall Street Journal reports that by the 2015-16 school year the program would be available to 73,000 children who need it.

The Journal obtained a copy of the report from the mayor’s office on Sunday. The mayor told the paper that the report “proves once and for all” that the plan can be implemented effectively “right away.”

The report provides the mayor’s most detailed analysis for a free, full-day pre-K program for every city 4-year-old. He’s proposed a tax on the rich to pay for it.

The Journal says the report leaves unanswered such things as where the new classrooms will be housed.

(AP)

Shuls Among Illegal Elad Buildings Being Destroyed

January 27th, 2014

cThe Elad Engineering Department is moving ahead with orders to raze illegal structures, including a number of shuls and yeshivos. YWN-ISRAEL recently reported that the Levyat Chen Shul was among the mosdos slated for destruction. Another shul on the list is “Raban Gamliel”. Mispallalim accuse City Hall of targeting Sephardi mosdos.

Talmidim of the Halichos Shlomo Yeshiva on Sunday morning 25 Shevat saw the destruction first hand as they headed with a Gemaras and shtenders in hand to City Hall, where they plan to continue their limudim and signal their act of protest.

Kikar Shabbos quotes Halichos Shlomo Director Shlomo Cohen saying the destruction is being done in coordination with the previous administration and with the full knowledge and approval of Mayor Yisrael Porush.

Cohen told Kikar the yeshiva is in a legal building and he has the permits from the administration of Tzvika Cohen. He admits that due to the increase in the number of talmidim, a beis medrash was built nearby but he had the approval of the mayor when this was done as recently as last month. Cohen accuses Porush of discrimination against Sephardim. He points out there are violation with the Ashkenazi Ohel Tamir Shul yet no one seems bothered however regarding the Sephardi mosdos, demolition orders are being carried out. Cohen adds that the loss of the building he added on is 150,000 NIS, adding many city residents build guest houses to rent for profit and nothing is done but here the mayor insists on removing the building.

Rabbi Moshe Sharon, mora d’asra of Levyat Chen explained there were negotiations and there was an agreement to wait until Sunday and permit things to take place in an orderly fashion. However, the city officials arrived on motzei Shabbos with a tractor and they razed the structure in violation of the agreement.

Rav Sharon is now accusing Porush of making empty promises to get elected. “When he wanted votes he came here and then we were totally legal. He knew how to find us 15 times, using every possible opportunity to muster up votes.”

Rabbi Gadiel Yosef, mora d’asra of Raban Gamliel says “We discussed this during the previous administration, with the latter authorizing the building. The mayor took part in these meetings along with his aide Yishai Klein and the city engineer, quoting them saying ‘If only all violations [in the city] would be like yours. You view this shul as the Beis HaMikdash’.

Deputy Mayor and Shas leader in Elad Tzuriel Krisfel defends Porush, telling Kikar Shabbos the mayor is working to restore order as the illegal construction in the city has reached “catastrophic proportions”. Krisfel questions how so many ignored the requests from the previous administration to come to City Hall in an effort to correct and address building violations. Krisfel says it must be understood the games are over and future illegal structures will share the same fate. There will be zero tolerance to illegal construction and this includes everyone without exception.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Talmidei Yeshiva Injured in MVA Heading to the Dead Sea – Tefilos Requested

January 27th, 2014

daven2.jpgFour talmidei yeshiva were injured on Monday morning 26 Shevat 5774 on their way south, to the Dead Sea. Their vehicle was involved in an accident at Zohar Junction. One of the injured was reportedly in serious condition, one moderate and the others light. An IDF helicopter was summoned to transport the seriously injured talmid to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital trauma unit.

Magen David Adom released the following statement: “We received a call for an accident at Zohar Junction at 7:59. EMTs and paramedics were dispatched and they treated male in his 20s with head injuries. He was intubated and his respirations were assisted. A chopper was summoned to transport him to the hospital. The others are listed in moderate and light condition.”

The three others were transported to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva. The victim transported to Hadassah was taken into emergency surgery to address his head injuries.

The talmidim are from Yeshivas Ateret Yisrael. The tzibur is asked to be mispallel for אריה לייב בן טובה לרפואה שלמה. His condition is reported to be “very serious”.

As we go to print:

The name “Chizkiyahu” has been added so please be mispallel for חזקיהו אריה לייב בן טובה.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Israel Antitrust Authority: Safeguarding the Natural Gas Market from Monopolies

January 27th, 2014

Israel Antitrust Authority Director-General Professor David Gilo referred to the entry of Delek and Noble Energy to the Leviathan reservoir, and to the options available to the antitrust authority in its effort to create competition in the natural gas market in Israel: “The goal is that in the near future, the market would enjoy competition and avoid being at the mercy of a monopoly. In our discussions with Delek and Noble, we demanded that competition in the near future be established via an independent player with at least 70 BCM, with prospects of finding an additional amount of gas amounting to 26.6 BCM.”

Professor David Gilo clarified that, if Delek and Noble do not meet the conditions required for effective competition, action will be taken against them in court for their removal from Leviathan. Such action would be necessary to achieve at least some degree of competition in the long run, after litigation over the issue, that could take five to six years, is resolved.

Within this context, the Director General stated that “Parallel to this initiative, we have built the foundations in advance in order to prepare the market for the emergence of such a new competitor in the near future. We have limited the contracts between the existing gas partnership and its customers so that all customers in the Israeli economy, including the Electric Company, would be able to enjoy competition between the incumbent partnerships and the new player. Our vision involves a combination between creating a substantial competitor in the short term on the one hand and opening existing gas contracts for such competition on the other.”

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Yaakov Solomon Steps Down as ‘Tov’ Leader in Beit Shemesh

January 27th, 2014

11The head of the Tov party in Beit Shemesh, Aaron Solomon, announced he is stepping down. The announcement was made at the end of last week and it takes effect immediately. Solomon is not planning to run in elections should the Supreme Court order repeat elections in the city.

Tov failed in its election bid in the municipal elections. The party did not earn any seats in the city council.

Solomon wrote to supporters “After much consideration and before the court announces a decision I have decided to step down for personal reasons.” He expressed his hope that the ruling city council will maintain a “listening ear” regarding the problems of the city’s residents.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem / Photo: Facebook)

Monday AM Gaza Border Bomb Attack

January 27th, 2014

ywnisrael.israelA bomb was detonated earlier this morning, Monday, 26 Shevat 5774 against an IDF patrol in the Kissufim area. B’chasdei Hashem there were no fatalities or injuries. There was damage to the border fence from the explosion.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Planned Expansion of Menachem Begin Highway

January 27th, 2014

bhOfficials in Jerusalem City Hall and the Ministry of Transportation announce a planned lane expansion for the Menachem Begin Highway in the southbound direction, the direction from the capital towards the southern capital and Gush Etzion. The Begin Highway (Route 50) will be widened from three lanes from Kiryat Moshe Interchange to Golumb Junction. Work is to begin immediately and last three weeks. Other areas of the road in the southbound direction will be expanded from two to three lanes as well.

The work will be ongoing during the day and night so delays are to be expected in the coming weeks.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Soldiers Released from Kaplan Hospital on Shabbos

January 27th, 2014

khOn erev Shabbos YWN-ISRAEL reported that 16 members of a crew on board an IDF Navy Dabur patrol boat were injured as a result of a blaze. B’chasdei Hashem none of the injuries were serious and the soldiers were discharged from Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot on Friday night, well after the beginning of Shabbos. The young officer who accompanied them to the hospital did not know what to do for the frum soldiers, who explained it was Shabbos so they could not drive back to the Port of Ashdod, their base, and the hospital had no way of accommodating them.

While the navy does remain the least religious branch of the IDF, there is a growing presence of religious soldiers due to an expanded hesder yeshiva program that began a number of years ago.

The following report released by Kikar Shabbos was written by Yisrael Yaakov Yeret and it is directly related to this report.

My father had a dream his entire life, to open a motel in Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot to prevent chilul Shabbos. This dream was realized over 16 years ago Baruch Hashem, providing a solution to many religious people who must be with patients over a Shabbos or yomtov.

When the IDF personnel of the boat that caught fire were released on Shabbos, some were in quandary. The soldiers were treated in Kaplan Hospital and told they can go home. It was late Friday night and they did not know what to do. They could not remain in the hospital and they could not be transported back to the Port of Ashdod, their base.

The officer began searching for a solution and it was decided the motel was the only way to accommodate them, despite the late hour. The soldiers arrived at the door at 11:30 PM Friday night. They knocked lightly, aware of the late hour. The door opened and the first question was “do you want something to eat?” A table was set and a Shabbos meal appeared. As they were eating they were told “don’t worry, we have arranged beds for you. It will be fine”.

The female officer was amazed, citing that “What compels one to remain in a hole like this an entire Shabbos, just to see to it that those who are stuck have their needs taken care of”.

She continued, explaining in her eyes it is amazing that people leave the comfort of their home and remain in the motel all Shabbos to see to it that anyone seeking the Shabbos service is accommodated, without receiving any remuneration for the service.

It was truly a Kiddush Hashem to see how the young officer’s eyes had been opened by the chain of events and how the hesder soldiers had their Shabbos needs addressed.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Torani Garin in Lod Attacked by Vandals

January 26th, 2014

slThe members of the torani garin, the dati leumi residents of Lod, were targeted by vandals on Shabbos. Tires of 14 of their vehicles were slashed during Shabbos in the Ramat Elyashiv neighborhood of the city. This is the latest attack in a string of act of vandalism directed against these residents, who are moser nefesh to continue building, bringing Yiddishkheit to the city and working to prevent non-Jews from overrunning the city. The members of the torani community held a motzei Shabbos protest during which they called on law-enforcement agencies to protect them and their homes.

The vehicles targeted were parked on Golumb and Katzenelson Streets, home to most of the members of the frum community. They noticed what had occurred as they headed to shul on Shabbos.

Police crime scene investigators were dispatched in an effort to gather evidence. Members of the garin explain their numbers have doubled in the past year, and this has many local Muslims less than pleased. The frum residents add that in the past, the police response to vandalism attacks has been less than it should be.

Community resident Baruch Silver exclaimed “It is not important who did this. We were promised patrol efforts will be increased and security cameras will be installed”. Silver explained they decided on the protest after the last incident. They feel the slashing of tires of so many vehicles cannot be permitted to pass quietly as so many of the previous attacks have.

Mayor Yair Rabibo held an urgent meeting on motzei Shabbos after learning of the attack and he met with representatives of the torani community.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

IDF Admits to a Surplus in Manpower

January 26th, 2014

idfAccording to a Yediot Achronot report the IDF admits to a surplus in manpower, particularly Homefront Command units. As a result of the need for fiscal belt-tightening in the IDF, it is likely the military will curtail the service of tens of thousands of soldiers. It appears that tens of thousands of soldiers have been inducted and there is nothing for them to do.

In his response to the report, MK (The Movement) Elazar Stern explains this is fine for as long as combat soldiers serving a full term of service receive adequate compensation.

Military correspondent Yossi Yehoshua reports the IDF is weighing a dramatic change in its compulsory service. This will entail curtailing the service of many homefront administrative personnel whose services are not viewed as being essential. Their service will be cut by a number of months, most likely as much as a year. They will most like serve two years instead of three. A committee has been established and it is headed by an officer of the rank of brigadier-general to determine what will be done with the surplus in manpower. The committee will submit its recommendations to Chief of Personnel Branch Major-General Orna Barvibai.

The report quotes officers expressing concerns that this will deliver another blow to waning motivation. “It is already difficult inducting the youth into combat units and this will make it more difficult” a senior officer is quoted saying, adding “This is a problematic message for the young so we must proceed cautiously.”

Other commanders feel that one who has volunteered for a combat unit is not going to reverse his decision because a friend is going to serve less time in a non-combat setting. They feel that curtailing the service of non-combatants will not have an adverse impact on the combat soldiers providing the latter get an increase in salary. “It is not acceptable for a combat soldier to [only] earn 800 NIS monthly” a senior officer adds. “A non-combatant earns less but he can work since he sits home all day. This is a disgrace” the senior officer is quoted saying.

This report will have ramifications beyond the induction of chareidim for it may signal a further deterioration of the “people’s army” concept that has been the flagship of many who feel IDF service is not just compulsory, but a privilege.

It appears that while those volunteering for elite combat units remain highly motivated, primarily the dati leumi community, there is a discernible lack of motivation among those being inducted into non-combat units, including many administrative posts. In actuality, many soldiers have learned they can disappear and no one will detect their absence since they simply do not have anything to do, leading to the decline in motivation as they come to realize they are simply wasting time.

The report quotes a “senior officer” who admits this is the case, calling it the “hidden unemployment” in the IDF. The officer refers to “thousands of soldiers who come for two to three hours four days weekly…” He explains that many of these soldiers are AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) two or three times until discharged, or some land out in jail and that is even more costly for the military.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Will the Super Bowl generate $600M for NYC region?

January 26th, 2014

sbWill the snowy New York City area really reap an estimated $600 million economic boost from the Super Bowl? Probably not.

Despite such lofty predictions, sports economists say the financial impact of the Super Bowl could be fall far below expectations, in part because visitors often spend their cash at NFL-sponsored or corporate events rather than at tourist attractions. Some hotels say Super Bowl bookings are running behind what they hoped for, prompting them to ease demands for minimum stays and room deposits. And academic studies show that at best, past Super Bowls generated tens of millions, not hundreds of millions.

“Move the decimal point one place to the left,” said Robert Baade, a professor at Lake Forest College in Illinois, who has studied the Super Bowl’s impact on local economies. “The NFL says $500 or $600 million? I think $50 to $60 million would be a generous appraisal of what the Super Bowl generates.”

The NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, which has worked closely with the NFL to prepare for the Feb. 2 game, has claimed in the yearslong run-up that it would generate $500 to $600 million for the region, but it refused to provide any information on how it tabulated that estimate. An NFL spokesman said the league does not conduct economic impact studies on the Super Bowl.

A study Baade conducted in 2000 showed that the average Super Bowl from the 1970s through the late ’90s only accounted for about $32 million each in increased economic activity at the most. The study, which examined tax revenue and other economic factors before and after the Super Bowl, concluded that the 1999 Super Bowl in Miami, for example, only contributed about $37 million to the South Florida economy.

The NFL, by comparison, claimed that 1999 game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons generated $396 million, the study said.

County sales tax data in Jacksonville showed hardly any increase in 2005 when it hosted the Super Bowl compared to non-Super Bowl years, according to a study conducted by Philip Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida.

“No one’s ever been able to find a footprint that an event occurred,” he said.

Porter found that visitors spend money at NFL-funded events and buy NFL-branded memorabilia during Super Bowl week instead of frequenting local establishments.

Die-hard Denver or Seattle fans won’t necessarily attend a Broadway show or visit the Statue of Liberty during their stay, as tourist attractions often report lower attendance than usual during major sporting events. They’re more likely to visit Super Bowl Boulevard in Times Square, which is filled with NFL-sponsored activities that funnel money directly back to the league.

Economic impact studies commissioned by past Super Bowl host committees — based largely on spending surveys distributed among fans at the game — claimed that the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., generated a record $500 million and the 2006 game in Detroit brought in about $274 million. But those studies, which aren’t made publicly available, are widely disputed by economists.

“Here’s how the NFL gets the huge numbers that they get. They ask the people, ‘How much are you spending while you’re here?”‘ Porter said. “They ought to be asking: ‘How much did we sell you while you were here?”‘

The Super Bowl is a weeklong business bonanza for people who work in marketing, advertising, product development and sales, said Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University.

“The Super Bowl has a life of its own as a trade show apart from a football game,” Boland said. “It’s about 10 days of celebration, trade show and tourist event, and then it’s a game. And not necessarily the same people attend both.”

Experts note that the pre-game madness may also deter tourists or business travellers who might ordinarily plan a visit to the host city.

In New York, some hotels realized by mid-autumn that the expected surge in bookings had not materialized, so they began to scale back, in some cases reducing required minimum stays from four nights to two and ending demands for non-refundable room deposits. Rates for the week leading up to the game, which had been at a premium, were dropped back to normal pricing.

Kate Martin, general manager of the Hotel Chandler in midtown Manhattan, said the hotel was only 50 per cent booked during Super Bowl weekend, with fewer than usual bookings lined up for the week preceding the game.

“All of the anticipation and the hype about what this was going to bring for hotels in New York City has not materialized,” she said.

Part of the problem lies in the tri-state area’s large hotel room inventory, which at 150,000 rooms is at least triple the inventory seen in the past 10 Super Bowl host cities, said Adam Jones, a director at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. That leaves more lodging options for visitors and makes it harder for hotels to jack up rates.

Still, some hoteliers are more sanguine about the prospect of a football-fueled revenue jump. Langham Place Hotel, a luxury hotel on Fifth Avenue, is approaching the Super Bowl like another holiday, with prices on par with New Year’s Eve at about 20 per cent higher than normal. As of two weeks before the big game, the hotel was not yet sold out, with 70 per cent occupancy for the days leading up to the game.

“For us, it’s a bit like another holiday,” general manager Francois-Olivier Luiggi said. “Suddenly you throw another Thanksgiving in the middle of a cold winter.”

Economists say that’s the one bright spot for New York City: The months of January and February are usually the most sluggish tourism months of the year, so it’s possible the game might provide a boost.

Another potential benefit — exposure — could also be muted. While prior host cities in less populated cities, such Indianapolis and Jacksonville, have been enticed by the chance to showcase themselves on a worldwide stage, there’s no evidence that the game has any lasting brand impact for any city, said Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.

And in any case, more exposure isn’t exactly something New York City needs.

“You can’t say that a Super Bowl is going to put New York on the map,” he said.

(AP)

Stabbing Attacks Leads to Decision to Equip Police with Ceramic Flak Jackets

January 26th, 2014

mishDue to the recent sharp increase in stabbing attacks, the decision has been made that police in the Shai (Shomron-Yehuda) district will be equipped with ceramic flak jackets.

According to the new operating protocol, all personnel getting out of vehicles and standing in “sensitive security areas” will wear a ceramic vest, particularly police directing traffic.

When asked to verify the report, Shai District officials stated “We are not in the habit of advertising what measures are being taken to protect officers”.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Health Law Tricky For Parents Of Medicaid Kids

January 26th, 2014

obcFamilies shopping for health insurance through the new federal marketplace are running into trouble getting everyone covered when children are eligible for Medicaid but their parents are not.

Children who qualify for Medicaid, the safety-net program for the poor and disabled, can’t be included on subsidized family plans purchased through the federal marketplace, a fact that is taking many parents by surprise and leaving some kids stuck without coverage.

A California man says he was given false assurances that his children could be covered by the same plan he picked for his wife and himself, and a Florida father says his daughter is going without coverage while he waits for answers.

And in New Hampshire, some parents who’ve enrolled in private plans for themselves alone are finding out later that their children aren’t eligible for Medicaid after all, leaving their kids with no options.

“The children are getting stuck in this spot where we’ve enrolled the parent, but we can’t bring the children back on the family plan,” Maria Proulx, senior legal counsel for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire, told a state advisory board panel this month.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to say how the system is supposed to work for families and what problems have emerged. But a regional manager for CMS acknowledged the problem at the same New Hampshire meeting and said the agency is working on it, as did Proulx in a later interview.

“This is an important issue, and we’re not taking it lightly,” she said. “Even if this impacts only one family … it’s a big deal and we want to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”

The federal government sets minimum guidelines for Medicaid eligibility, but states can choose to expand coverage beyond that. In some states, parents must have significantly lower incomes to gain Medicaid coverage for themselves than they would to get coverage for just their children, either through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program — also known as CHIP — the low-income health insurance program for children who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

In North Port, Fla., Russell Clouden was thrilled to find a better, cheaper family plan through the new marketplace, then stunned to realize his 14-year-old daughter wouldn’t be enrolled because she might qualify for Florida Healthy Kids, the state’s version of CHIP. The federal government still hasn’t transferred roughly 90,000 Medicaid files over to Florida officials, including Clouden’s daughter’s, so she still doesn’t have insurance.

“Based on your income, they’ll separate your kids from your primary policy and they shift them off to Medicaid or Healthy Kids and there’s no way you can bring them back,” said Clouden, whose daughter is an accomplished equestrian jumper.

“I’m kind of in limbo with her because I’m just hoping she doesn’t get injured or sick,” said Clouden, 53, who runs a restaurant franchise. “Without insurance, you’ve kind of got a knot in your stomach watching her jumping.”

Insurance broker Matthew Dinkel in Fort Myers, Fla., said he has about 15 clients in Clouden’s position.

“I have worried parents literally calling and texting me every day asking for an update,” said Dinkel. “They canceled their old plans that covered their entire family and now they have coverage but their kids don’t.”

Jessica Waltman of the National Association of Health Underwriters said her group has raised the problem, and others, with federal officials and asked for a dedicated hotline or email address for insurance brokers to get answers.

“It’s a nationwide issue that we’ve heard time and again, and it could have very significant coverage issues for families,” she said.

Marc Jobin, a construction consultant in southern New Hampshire, said the process has been so confusing, he’s put off a decision for himself, his wife and their two children, even though he’s seen premiums that are significantly lower than what they pay now.

“We’ve been hesitating for two months now because the information is not clear,” he said. “Around the holidays, we were thinking, ‘let’s do this, let’s sign up,’ and then the latest problem is now our children will probably be thrown into the state health care system, but nobody knows what that means.”

Mary Ann Cooney, associate commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, urged those awaiting Medicaid decisions to call their state offices directly. She said her office has been getting incomplete application information from the federal government, making it harder to contact people to determine their Medicaid eligibility, but situations are improving and the office is reaching out to hundreds of people each day.

“There’s a real light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

But in the meantime, children are going without coverage. In California, Robert Clark said when he applied by phone through the Covered California marketplace, he was assured that his two children would be on the plan he picked. But he later got separate notices from the insurance company and Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

He called Covered California again and was told the person he’d previously talked to there was wrong and that his children had to be enrolled in Medi-Cal. Clark, the president of a Menlo Park technology company, doesn’t like that prospect because the doctors his children have seen since their births don’t take Medicaid.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “We’ve probably spent several days’ worth of time on hold.”

Instead, he’s exploring whether he can enroll his children in individual, unsubsidized plans through Covered California. He recently found out his original application was “hung up,” so he plans to resubmit a fresh application, but in the meantime has lost out on coverage for January.

“My daughter is in gymnastics,” he said. “If she falls on her head, we need to be covered.”

(AP)

Conviction Handed Down in the Murder of the Head of Haifa Chevra Kadisha

January 26th, 2014

chnThe Haifa District Court on Sunday morning 25 Shevat 5774 convicted Beit Shemesh resident Yitzchak Hazan in the murder of Benny Hasa, the director of the Haifa Chevra Kadisha. He waited outside the victim’s home three years ago and when he saw him fired a gun five times from close range. The court ruled the defendant lied repeatedly in his testimony and the conviction is handed down after there is no longer a reasonable doubt that he did not commit the murder. The court pointed out that the defendant lied so often during the trial his attorney simply did not know how to present the case.

Police uncovered the gun in a wall in a mikve and testing revealed the defendant’s DNA on the weapon. It was established that was the gun used in the murder. This was coupled with cellular telephone conversations to tie the defendant to the murder. Justice Moshe Gilad admits the motive for the murder was not revealed during the trial and the court is not ruling out he was simply paid for his services, to take the life of another R”L but did say it does appear the murder was related to a land dispute as was first reported.

The indictment says that Hazan waited for the victim outside his home and when he saw Hasa and his wife get out of their car, he fired at the victim at close range. Hasa was hit with four bullets. Police in May 2012 announced they found the man they believed responsible for the murder, Hazan.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

First-Class Stamps Rise To 49 Cents Today

January 26th, 2014

uspsIt’s going to cost you a few pennies more to mail a letter.

The cost of a first-class postage stamp is now 49 cents – 3 cents more than before.

Regulators approved the price hike in December, and it went into effect on Sunday.

Many people won’t feel the increase right away: Forever stamps are good for first-class postage at whatever the future rate.

The last increase for stamps was a year ago, when the cost of sending a letter rose by a penny to 46 cents.

The Postal Service lost $5 billion last year and has been trying to get Congress to let it end Saturday delivery and reduce payments on retiree health benefits.

(AP)

PHOTOS: Menachem Stark Z”L Remembered At Krula Dinner In Williamsburg

January 26th, 2014

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Hundreds of Williamsburg residents gathered Saturday night to pay tribute to businessman Menchem Stark z”l
at the annual dinner of Krula mosdos in Williamsburg. Stark was abducted and murdered a few weeks ago.

Stark’s devotion to his family and the chinuch of his kids, was highlighted in the speeches given by the Krula Rebbe shlit”a and by the principal of the yeshiva where Stark’s kids learn. The principal recalled that on the night of his murder, moments before he left his office, Menachem called him up to receive an update on the the education of his kids.

Among the honorees were, renowned community leader Rabbi Abe Friedman, who received a “nezer askunas” from the grand Rabbi of Krula for his exceptional service to the community in general and the mosdos in particular.

Rabbi Friedman spoke warmly about the tireless dedication of the many askanim in the community, who know no night or sleep in serving the community. He further noted that the award given is not a personal one, but one he shares with many.

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(Jacob Kornbluh – YWN)

Law Proposed for Autistic NYC Boy Who Vanished

January 26th, 2014

autisimThe federal government would pay for GPS tracking devices for autistic children under legislation proposed Sunday by Sen. Charles Schumer and named for a New York City boy who wandered away from his school three months ago and was found dead in a city river.

“Avonte’s Law,” named for 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, would provide $10 million to pay for the high-tech device that could be worn on the wrist, kept in a wallet or sewn into clothing.

Avonte walked away from his Queens school in October and his body was found in the East River earlier this month. About 200 mourners gathered Saturday for his funeral and investigators are still trying to determine how he died.

“We can’t change the past, but we can take necessary steps to ensure we learn from this and put in place programs that will ensure that no parent and no child has to go through a similar nightmare in the future,” Schumer said at a news conference in his Manhattan office, joined by Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, and grandmother Doris McCoy.

About half of autistic children are prone to wandering, according to research published in 2012 in the journal Pediatrics, and wandering has led to the deaths of more than 60 autistic children since 2008. About 90 percent of the wandering fatalities in recent years have been drowning victims, according to the National Autism Association.

Groups that advocate for autism-affected families have made it a priority to increase awareness of wandering. The study found that half of parents with autistic children never received advice or guidance from a professional on how to cope with wandering. Experts have recommended precautionary measures, including autistic children wearing ID bracelets or tracking devices.

“Lord knows, if we had known within a matter of minutes where this boy was when he had walked out in a school, we might not be here,” said David Perecman, an attorney for Avonte’s family who has been speaking on their behalf. “Never again.”

Avonte’s mother smiled faintly as she listened to Schumer’s proposal, which he said might have saved her son’s life. He plans to introduce the legislation on Monday.

The program would resemble one that Schumer said has successfully kept track of people with Alzheimer’s disease using a computer-programmed alert system. That program signals police departments when someone wearing the device leaves a place where they are supposed to be.

Each device costs about $85, plus a few dollars in monthly fees, the senator said, adding that hundreds of families with autistic children already have used privately funded tracking devices.

Michael Rosen, executive director of New York-based Autism Speaks, attended the news conference with his 26-year-old autistic son, Nicky.

As a child, “he would race across the street to a neighbor’s living room … and he’d end up all of a sudden tearing apart their living room, or he’d be across the street on a roof because he was attracted to heights,” Rosen said of his son. “You can’t turn your back for one second.”

One in 88 American children had some form of autism spectrum disorder in 2008, according to the latest estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 78 percent increase compared to 2002.

Rosen and other experts say the increase is due to better and broader diagnoses, plus awareness and other unknown factors. The group supports Schumer’s legislation.

(AP)

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