For Twins, a Double Shot at a Slot in Kindergarten

Nine sets of twins will be entering kindergarten at Public School 107 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the fall, more than its longtime principal, Cynthia Holton, could recall ever admitting at once.

Had the school enrolled every child who applied for a kindergarten spot, the abundance of twins might have become a curiosity for the first day of school and irrelevant, perhaps, to the world outside the neighborhood’s tight familial circles.

But the school has the 14th longest kindergarten waiting list in the city, and it is probably not the only city school with both a waiting list and several sets of multiples among incoming kindergartners.

Blame the twins?

Whenever there are more children than kindergarten slots, principals must pick from the pool of applicants at random, often through a lottery. Twins give parents double the shot, because once one gets in, principals generally admit the other.

Sibling preference is a longstanding tradition in the city public schools. But with twins (or triplets or quadruplets or quintuplets), the siblings come in all at once.

At P.S. 107, the nine sets of twins account for 18 percent of the school’s 2011-12 kindergarten class of 100 children. The school has 53 children on its waiting list, including five who live outside the P.S. 107 zone though their siblings attend the school. So even if the 18 twins were simply nine singletons, there would still be 44 children on the waiting list.

The city is considering moving the building’s sole full-day prekindergarten class elsewhere to make room for more kindergartners, which would certainly make a lot of parents happy — including Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor in charge of enrollment, whose son is No. 16 on the list, and the parents of the one set of twins that school officials said applied for kindergarten at P.S. 107, but did not get in.

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Behind Twittering Cobra, a Downtown Brooklynite?

Updated, 1:48 p.m. | We think we may have located the Bronx Zoo’s missing cobra.

Not the actual snake, of course, who remains frustratingly at large, but the snake’s Twitter-dominating alter ego, @BronxZoosCobra, who is set to pass 200,000 followers today. Locational slitherprints left on a photo the snake uploaded to Twitter were traced to a new apartment building near the Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge.

Late Wednesday morning, the world’s favorite smartphone-packing reptile refugee posted the sepia-toned photo at right from its alleged visit to Ellis Island. “A REAL photo on display of 1 of the immigrants to come through Ellis Island in 1900s,” it wrote. “@Jon_Favreau is immortal.”

The man in the picture bore a striking resemblance to the comedic actor and director Jon Favreau, who tweeted back, “Is this real!?!”

While Egyptian cobras are able to swim, computer evidence suggests that the cobra had neither swum nor taken the ferry to Ellis Island to compose its tweet. The photo, the only one it has ever uploaded, appears from the location data captured by Twitpic, the uploading service it used, to have originated from — or perhaps in the immediate vicinity of — Bklyn Gold, a 500-unit complex at Gold and Tillary Streets.

There are several possibilities here. Perhaps the Twitterer lives at Bklyn Gold. Perhaps he or she works in one of the hip commercial buildings nearby, home to Web-savvy outfits like Etsy and Electric Literature. Perhaps the photograph’s location data was generated when it was posted by someone else out in the Twittersphere at some other time. But in any case, it seems like a decent bet that @BronxZoosCobra, many of whose tweets are set in Manhattan, is operating out of Downtown Brooklyn.

The Times has attempted to contact the cobra via e-mail and is awaiting a reply. In the meantime, have you seen any cobras near the bridge lately?

Research was contributed by Tyson Evans.

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Obama facing mounting criticism over Libya

Top Obama administration officials are expected to face continued criticism Thursday over their handling of the crisis in Libya, and louder calls for a clearer explanation of U.S. policy in the war-torn North African nation.

The president, who returned home from a five-day trip to Latin America on Wednesday, has insisted that the goal of the U.N.-sanctioned military mission is strictly to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Specifically, the mission is meant to prevent a slaughter of Libyan rebels and other civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Obama, however, has also said the administrations ultimate objective is Gadhafis removal from power. U.S. officials have indicated they hope the dictator will be removed quickly by forces currently loyal to him, though they havent publicly called for a coup.

Gadhafi has a decision to make and the people around him each have decisions to make, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. We would certainly encourage that they make the right decision.

Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are angry over what they consider inadequate administration consultation with Congress before the start of the military mission, which began over the weekend. They also continue to have questions over the conflicts cost and consequences, as well as the U.S. endgame.

Obama himself conceded in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that Gadhafi could hunker down and wait it out even in the face of (the U.N.) no-fly zone, even though his forces have been degraded.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama Wednesday complaining that military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what Americas role is in achieving that mission.

In fact, Boehner said, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered.

Among other things, Boehner asked whether it is acceptable for Gadhafi to remain in power once the military campaign ends.

If not, how will he be removed from power? Boehner asked. Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?

Boehner also posed other questions for the president. Since the stated U.S. policy goal is removing Gadhafi from power, do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your administrations objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized by our government? his letter said.

Another key House Republican called Wednesday for a withdrawal of U.S. forces, arguing that Obama had failed to rally public support for military action.

Mr. President, you have failed to state a clear and convincing explanation of the vital national interest at stake which demands our intervention in Libya, said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan. You have failed to state a clearly defined mission for our military to defend that interest. I believe you must pull our forces from the coalition immediately.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, sent his own letter to Obama on Wednesday, contending the president violated the 1973 War Powers Act and other constitutional restrictions against authorizing military action.

With all due respect, I can only conclude that your order to United States Armed Forces to attack the nation of Libya on March 19, 2011 is in direct violation of the War Powers Resolution and constitutes a usurpation of constitutional powers clearly and solely vested in the United States Congress and is accordingly unlawful and unconstitutional, McClintocks letter said.

Liberal Democrats in Congress have also expressed unease with the Libyan intervention, particularly in regard to the relative lack of congressional consultation and the prospects for an open-ended conflict.

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Reps. Barbara Lee, Mike Honda and Lynn Woolsey of California released a statement late Tuesday arguing that the United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya.

We will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace, they said.

Top Senate Democrats, however, continue to defend the administration, insisting that Obama moved methodically and carefully to assemble a strong international coalition capable of saving innocent lives and reinforcing the broader Middle East reform movement.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, told reporters Wednesday that Obamas pursuit of international approval was reminiscent of former President George H.W. Bush lining up global support before taking military action to drive Iraq from Kuwait in the early 1990s.

Obama has pursued a very prudent course of action, Durbin said. The United States is supporting unprecedented and long overdue change that is consistent with our national values.

Durbin noted that, if the conflict drags on, members of Congress could push for a vote of approval under the War Powers Act.

The United States is coming to the support and to the aid of a democratic movement in general, and trying to protect a population inside Libya to the extent that it is possible, said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

If the president hadnt taken the time to assemble a broad coalition in Libya, there would have been huge opposition in the streets of the Arab world, Levin said. Protests currently aimed at Arab dictators would have been turned against us.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, stressed the administrations intention to hand over leadership of the military effort to international allies as soon as possible.

U.S. operations have generally been limited to Americas unique capabilities relating to the establishment of a no-fly zone, he said.

Some analysts, however, echoed complaints about what they insisted was unclear administration guidance about ultimate U.S. goals in Libya and the methods being used in pursuit of those objectives.

Obama has been fairly muddy in what hes said, argued Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The president has been reacting frantically to events and being pulled hither and yon.

Boot predicted air power would not be sufficient to knock out the Gadhafi regime, and warned of a protracted and costly stalemate if the United States doesnt send in military advisers to help arm and train the rebels.

Obama may be hoping for a palace coup, Boot said, but I wouldnt bet on it.

Boot also stressed the need for more planning for a post-Gadhafi Libya. Theres a real danger of chaos and protracted tribal warfare if Gadhafi falls, he said. Al Qaeda may be able to exploit such a situation, he warned.

Boot blasted the White House for not really preparing the American people for the possibility that this could be a protracted and expensive conflict.

The public and the administration should not be going into this with rose-colored blinkers on, he said.

But Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told CNN that Obama has no interest in a full-scale war with Libya and every intention in keeping our mission there limited in scope and duration.

Mann also argued that Obama probably doesnt want a congressional vote of approval because it would heighten the public attention and the stakes involved.

Still, while Congress has no stomach for assuming responsibility for approving or reversing the steps taken by Obama, the president (would be) well advised to step up his consultation with the first branch of government, he said.

Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political scientist, argued Obama might have eventually paid a political price if he didnt intervene before Gadhafis troops took control of the last rebel stronghold in Benghazi.

Americans generally do not like to see protesters seeking political rights shot, wounded or killed, she said. Standing by and watching that happen, especially after the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone, would have made Obama look weak and indifferent to their struggle. (CNN)

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New York City: What’s Not to Love?

The news that New York City’s population grew by a mere 2.1 percent over the last decade has baffled some of the city’s denizens, but not left them speechless (really, what could do that to a true New Yorker?). For some residents of the city of Ellis Island, the Yankees, Radio City Music Hall and more, the idea that the world is not rushing to their shores is inconceivable, even just plain wrong, as Senator Charles E. Schumer said.

The increase to the city’s eight million residents amounts to about 167,000 newcomers, which is, give or take, what a few subway trains might accommodate during any given rush hour. “Could that really be possible?” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, after claiming an undercount by the census.

Whether the numbers are wrong is up to federal number-crunchers. But tell us: for natives and the long settled, is the city as crowded as ever to you, or has it lost some of its charms? And for the newer transplants, those who arrived with the suitcases and dreams and passion that E.B. White elucidated, why come to the New York City of now, with all its problems and hidden bliss? The floor is yours.

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Vintage Signs Head Home (for Sale) After Year in Police Custody

William LeRoy and his lawyer trudged up a short flight of dusty stairs in a former factory on a dead-end street in Queens. Behind a steel mesh barrier, a man in a pork-pie hat waited at a counter with his ledger. He had heard something about Mr. LeRoy.

“Oh, you’re the sign guy,” he said. “Go out to the loading dock out front.”

One year and 11 days earlier, Mr. LeRoy had been visited in his store, Billy’s Antiques and Props on Houston Street in the East Village, by the police. They informed him that the old subway signs he was selling — a mainstay of his business for years — had been stolen from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They took away 109 signs and charged him with felony possession of stolen property. The district attorney’s office dropped the charges in September, but did not return the signs to Mr. LeRoy because it was not satisfied that they were rightfully his.

Wednesday afternoon, after a six-month detour through the more obscure corridors of the criminal justice system, at the New York Police Department property retrieval unit on Pearson Place in Long Island City, Billy LeRoy got his signs back.

Seventy-four of them, anyway. The other 35 are being returned to the transportation authority because it remains convinced that they might have been stolen. “These are the signs that they were comfortable turning over,” said Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

But first, Mr. LeRoy, a suave 51-year-old with gelled hair, a black leather jacket and a silk scarf and pocket square, had to wait some more. He smoked a cheroot on the loading dock. His wolfhound, Twilight Zone, sat patiently in the back of a van.

His lawyer Lea Spiess flipped through the paperwork.

“Billy, they are keeping nine Wall Streets,” she said.

“They’re keeping all the good ones — Brooklyn Bridge, 42nd Street, World Trade Center — more than coincidental, I’d say,” Mr. LeRoy said ruefully. “Every yuppie wants Wall Street.”

The broad outlines of the case are this: Mr. LeRoy said he bought the signs from a contractor, known to him only as Mike, who had been hired by the M.T.A. to get rid of them. The M.T.A. said the signs should have been returned to the agency for possible sale to the public. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case because they could not bring it to trial as quickly as legally required (not, they emphasized, because they thought the defendant innocent of all charges).

But the city’s administrative code requires people who want confiscated property back to prove that they are the rightful owner. And courts have ruled that being cleared of criminal charges does not entitle them to the property if the authorities doubt their right to it.

When Mr. LeRoy’s lawyers asked the judge in his criminal case to order the signs returned to him, the judge said that she did not have the authority to do so and that he might have to sue the government to recover his property — at greater cost than the signs were worth. The judge wrote that the situation violated Mr. LeRoy’s rights to due process and urged the State Legislature to change the law.

Finally, though, Mr. LeRoy’s lawyers — Ronald L. Kuby and Ms. Spiess — the district attorney and the transportation authority came to an agreement. Mr. Kuby said he had to look in three boroughs before he found the signs in Queens.

At the loading dock, Mr. LeRoy watched as a team of workers handed the signs over to his assistants.

“This is going to cost me $400 to hire these guys and the extra truck to get my property,” he said. “It’s the arrogance of these suits. They should be delivering this stuff back to me.”

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Do state and local governments feel our pain?

The most recent benchmarked data does little to evidence that state and local government is recognizing the true impact of the recent recession. As shown in the chart below, as private sector employment in the nation and the Delaware region dropped from 2007 through 2009, state and local government employment continued to grow.

While total private jobs in the U.S. fell 4.2%, state and local government jobs across the nation rose 1.3% (and Federal government jobs jumped 3.4%). The same pattern occurred in Delaware where private sector employment fell by over 20,000 as state and local government added almost 1,000 net new positions.

As benchmarked 2010 data becomes available, we will be able to see if state and local government is reacting slowly due to contract obligations, or if politicians simply are reluctant to lose the votes of government employees. Preliminary national data for 2010 is encouraging with private sector jobs up 1.1%, and although Federal employment is also up 1.0%, state and local government employment dropped by -1.3%.

Dr. John E. Stapleford, Director
Center for Economic Policy and Analysis
[email protected]

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