Hochul And Schumer Call On Army And Navy To Provide Ganjgal Valley Families With Briefing

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WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. – Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and United States Senator Charles E. Schumer today sent letters to Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus requesting briefings for the families of the five servicemen killed in the battle of the Ganjgal Valley of Afghanistan in September 2009.  One of the Marines killed was Williamsville native Marine Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Kenefick.

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“After personally receiving a briefing from the Army and Marines last month and learning about the ‘inadequate and ineffective’ decisions that led directly to the loss of life that day, I promised the families that I would keep fighting until they got these answers straight from the investigators,” said Congresswoman Hochul.  “The families of these brave Americans deserve no less, and I will not stop my efforts until they receive the proper closure.”

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“The families deserve to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” said Schumer. “We need to make sure that the full story of what happened to Gunnery Sergeant Kenefick and his four fellow servicemen is told, and told completely. I’m going to keep pressing DOD to ensure that family members of these heroes get the answers they’re seeking.”

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Four Americans – Marine Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Kenefick, Marine Corps First Lieutenant Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sergeant Edwin Wayne Johnson Jr., and Navy Petty Officer Third Class James Layton – lost their lives during the battle.  Army Sergeant Kenneth W. Westbrook later died from injuries sustained during the attack.

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Today’s letters are just the latest in a long line of efforts on behalf of the families, reaching back to this past September.

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Congresswoman Hochul’s office has been in regular contact with the families and the military in an effort to provide a better understanding of the circumstances of the events of that day.

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A copy of the letter sent from Congresswoman Hochul and Senator Schumer can be found here.

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Poloncarz Announces Erie County Will Receive Credit Rating Upgradae From Standard And Poor’s

Marks First Time Erie County Has Ever Held an “A” Rating from All Three Rating Agencies, Reflects County’s Financial Progress Under Poloncarz

ERIE COUNTY, NY—Today, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz announced that Erie County (“County”) has received a credit upgrade from noted Wall Street rating agency Standard and Poor’s Financial Services LLC (“S&P”).   The County received an upgrade from a BBB+ to an A- rating for its general obligation bonds, while affirming the County’s “stable” outlook.

In assigning the A- rating, S&P noted in its report several positive credit factors, including:  the current advisory status of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority; the County’s strong unreserved general fund balance; the approval of the current Four-Year Financial Plan 2012-2015; and a stable economic base with a below-average unemployment rate and continued taxable assessed value growth.  

S&P also noted several risks the County still faces, including: the County’s continued reliance on economically sensitive sales tax revenue as its primary revenue source; State limitations on property tax levy growth (ie, the 2% Tax Cap); increasing mandated costs, including Medicaid and pensions; and the County’s failure to negotiate a contract with its largest union since 2006. 

“I am glad to see that S&P has, again, recognized the financial progress that Erie County continues to make,” said Poloncarz.  “While S&P was encouraged by the projected budget surplus this year, they appropriately point out that we will still likely see a net reduction of fund balance for the year. Additionally, they note our overreliance on sales tax revenue and the failure to negotiate a contract with CSEA as risks going forward.”

S&P also notes that although the County anticipates a $27.3 million budget surplus for fiscal year 2011, the County will likely end the year with a net reduction in unreserved fund balance of approximately $6.1 million.  As the Comptroller’s Office pointed out in its review of the 2012 Proposed Erie County Budget and Four-Year Operations Plan for 2012-2015, the current administration appropriated a total of $33.4 million in fund balance in 2011, not just the $16.7 million disclosed in the 2011 Adopted Budget and new Four-Year Operations Plan.

During Poloncarz’s tenure as Comptroller, Erie County’s investment grade ratings from the three investment agencies that rate the County (S&P, Moody’s Investment Services and Fitch Ratings) have increased a total of 10 steps:

  • S&P’s has increased two steps, from BBB to A-;
  • Moody’s has increased four steps from Baa3 to A2; and,
  • Fitch’s has increased four steps from BBB- to A. 

Poloncarz added, “The public elected me as their fiscal watchdog during the height of the ‘Red-Green’ budget crisis and since then I have worked to restore the County’s financial standing and faith in the County Comptroller’s Office.  Under my watch, the County has increase its credit status a total of 10 steps from all “B’�ぢ” to now all “A’s.”  I find it a very fitting way to leave the Comptroller’s Office.”

Credit ratings help determine the interest rate and capacity at which Erie County can borrow money.  After the rapid decline in Erie County’s credit ratings following the “Red-Green” Fiscal Crisis, the County has opted to allow the ECFSA to borrow on its behalf because of the interest savings to the taxpayer associated with their superior credit rating.  However, these gradual upgrades make it more economically feasible for the County to begin borrowing for itself once again.

Rationale

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has raised its underlying rating (SPUR) on Erie County, N.Y.’s general obligation (GO) bonds to ‘A-‘ from ‘BBB+’ based on its recent history of positive operating results, contributing to what we consider a strong financial position. The outlook is stable. 

Other positive credit factors include:

  • · The current status of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (ECFSA), created in July 2005, which now has an advisory role after a control period ending in June 2009;
  • · The county’s strong unreserved general fund balance at fiscal year-end 2010 (year end: Dec. 31);
  • · Four-year financial plan, approved by ECFSA, that requires minimal use of fund balance for operating purposes; and
  • · Stable economic base with a below-average unemployment rate and continued taxable assessed value (AV) growth.

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The Navy’s ‘precedent-shattering’ Lesbian Kiss

In the U.S. Navy, there’s a tradition in which one sailor leaves the ship first to kiss his loved one on the dock. The homecoming kiss from the just-docked USS Oak Hill on Wednesday was a little less traditional, when two female sailors — Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, 23, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, 22 — briefly locked lips in front of cameras, in the first same-sex “first kiss” of the post-“don’t ask, don’t tell” era.

“It’s something new, that’s for sure,” said Gaeta, who had just spent 80 days aboard the USS Oak Hill. “It’s nice to be able to be myself. It’s been a long time coming.”

How do ships pick who gets the first kiss?
Typically, the sailor is picked by raffle. That was the case aboard the USS Oak Hill. Gaeta says she bought 50 of the $1 raffle tickets, and suspects that her crew-mates purchased a few more on her behalf. That’s not necessarily ballot-stuffing — Gaeta says she knows of sailors who each bought more than 100 tickets. “I think it was meant to be,” says Snell. Navy officials say this is the first time on record that a same-sex couple was tapped for the first homecoming kiss.
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Signs Point to Economy’s Rise, but Experts See a False Dawn


Joseph Sublett, the manager of a ConocoPhillips station in Little Rock, Ark., posted lower gas prices on Dec. 1. A collection of unexpectedly good economic data in recent weeks is welcome but may be the result of temporary factors, economists say.

In recent weeks, a broad range of data — like reports on new residential construction and small business confidence — have beaten analysts’ expectations. Initial claims for jobless benefits, often an early indicator of where the labor market is headed, have dropped to their lowest level since May 2008. And prominent economics groups say the economy is growing three to four times as quickly as it was early in the year, at an annual pace of about 3.7 percent.

But the good news also comes with a significant caveat. Many forecasters say the recent uptick probably does not represent the long-awaited start to a strong, sustainable recovery. Much of the current strength is caused by temporary factors. And economists expect growth to slow in the first half of 2012 to an annual pace of about 1.5 to 2 percent.
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Little Brown Bat Population Devistated

Over the past five years, little brown bats, and several other species, have died by the millions during their annual winter hibernation. A survey conducted at 42 sites last year and published in Bat Research News found that the little brown bat population fell from nearly 385,000 before the disease struck to 30,000, a decline of more than 90 percent. The northern bat’s numbers fell from about 1,700 to about 30, a 98 percent drop.

The absence of bats carries costs for agriculture. A single colony of 150 bats in Indiana ate about 1.3 million insect pests that prey on crops in a single year, according to a study, “Economic Importance of Bats in Agriculture,” published in the journal Science.

Using various models, the study’s authors — Justin G. Boyles, Paul M. Cryan, Gary F. Mccracken and Thomas H. Kunz — estimated that up to 1,320 metric tons of insects were not eaten because of the disappearance of a million bats. Using various models, the researchers calculated the bats’ worth to farmers at about $3.7 billion or more per year.
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In A Post-postal World, Christmas Still Delivers

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, cookies and pies baking and turkey roasting in the oven all have wonderful scents associated with them.  They evoke strong emotions in us as we move further and further into this season.  Believe it or not the post office also has its own special scent at this time of year.  At the end of a year in which the Postal Service announced plans to close thousands of facilities around the country comes Christmas: possibly the one time of year when everybody still pilgrimages to the post office.

The scent inside this squat federal building is not fir or cinnamon, but it does have its own particular holiday aroma: cardboard Priority Mail envelopes and packing tape.
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In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback Puts Tea Party Tenets Into Action With Sharp Cuts

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas is a career politician. He has served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

There’s no place like home, Dorothy said.  She clicked her heels together and whoosh ~ she was back in Kansas.  She lived in the heartland of the country where the people are down to earth and love their simple lives.

Much has changed in our counrty since then and Kansas is looking to return to a MUCH simpler life. 

 If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas.In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs have been cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposes President Obama’s health-care law. And that’s just the small stuff.

(Kansas is undergoing) a revolution in a cornfield,” said Arthur Laffer, the 71-year-old architect of supply-side economic theory and former economic adviser for President Ronald Reagan who is now working with the governor. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.”
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Gingrich Plummets in Polls as Voters Start Remembering Who He Is

Newt who?  Oh, yeah, that guy.  OH NO!

In a development that has imperiled his front-runner status in the Republican presidential race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has plunged in the polls as voters have begun to remember who he is.

According to a new poll released today, Mr. Gingrich fared especially poorly among voters who agreed with the statement, “Wait a minute, that guy?  He was an enormous dick.”

According to one campaign source, the Gingrich campaign has begun seeking the support of people with mental disorders and other memory issues that make it hard for them to retain basic information.

“The problem is, most of those people are currently running for President,” the source said.
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Congresswoman Hochul To Distribute Food And Toys To Families At Lockport Salvation Army

Tomorrow, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, Representative from New York’s 26th Congressional District, will join Major John Wheeler, Commander of the Lockport Salvation Army, to distribute food and toys to families in need. 

During this holiday season, Congresswoman Hochul is encouraging Western New Yorkers to reach out to different charitable organizations and help those less fortunate in any way they can.

EVENT:  Congresswoman Hochul to distribute food and toys to families in need at the Salvation Army of Lockport

DATE:            Thursday, December 22, 2011
TIME:             11:45 AM
WHERE:        Lockport Salvation Army
                         50 Cottage Street
                         Lockport, NY

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Reps. Higgins, Slaughter, Hochul & Reed Welcome Release of Pilot Fatigue Rules

WESTERN NEW YORK – Representatives Brian Higgins (NY-27), Louise Slaughter (NY-28), Kathy Hochul (NY-26) and Tom Reed (NY-29) welcomed today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) of the much-awaited completion of landmark new rules to address pilot fatigue. 

“The National Transportation Safety Board has identified pilot fatigue as a problem for over two decades,” said Congressman Higgins, “so this rule was long overdue.  Nonetheless, we are pleased that the day is finally here when everyone who has fought tirelessly on behalf of those who lost their lives in the crash Flight 3407 will see the fruits of their labor.  I join my Western New York colleagues in celebrating the release of the pilot fatigue rule to ensure that the American flying public can feel safe that the person sitting in the cockpit when they board that plane is adequately trained, prepared and rested.”

“Today marks a very important day in pilot safety,” said Congresswoman Slaughter. “Finally, guidance has been provided by the FAA that will help assure the American public that when they step into a plane, their pilot is well-rested. I am proud to have worked on the legislation that required this rule and amazed by the work done especially by the family members who worked through their grief to make the skies safer for us all. While I’m pleased we have a final rule on pilot fatigue, we know from the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, that it was not the only factor contributing to the tragic crash in Clarence two years ago. There must be more done to address pilot training, especially on techniques as basic as how to fly in ice when landing in Buffalo.”

“Today’s rule has been a longtime coming for the Flight 3407 families, and all members of the flying public,” said Congresswoman Hochul.  “I thank the families of the victims for all the work that’s been done to increase the safety of our skies.  While today’s announcement is good news, there’s still much more work to be done to ensure a tragedy like Colgan Air Flight 3407 never happens again.”

“I appreciate that the FAA is finally moving on these overdue fatigue rules and I commend the families of the victims for keeping this matter in the forefront,” said Congressman Reed.  “These rules serve as a step forward for safety and I thank the FAA for their work.”

Pilot fatigue was a contributing factor in the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which took place in Clarence Center outside of Buffalo in February 2009.  After the tragedy, Western New York Representatives, along with the Flight 3407 families, led a fight for legislation to reform aviation safety.  Congress passed aviation legislation which, among other things, required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to update flight-and-duty time rules and set minimum rest requirements for airline pilots by August 1, 2011.  The DOT missed that deadline but local Congressmembers kept up the pressure, leading a letter signed by nearly 100 Members of the House of Representatives urging completion of the rules. 

Below is a summary of the new time, duty and rest requirements, based on fatigue science, announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation today: 

  • Additional rest time: The new rules require a ten-hour minimum opportunity for rest prior to the duty period, a two-hour increase over the current rules.
  • Changes in the definition of rest time: The rule also calls for measuring a pilot’s rest period differently so that pilots can receive at least eight hours of sleep during that rest period.   The current system calculates the commute time it takes for pilots to get from airports to hotels as rest time.
  • A decrease in maximum duty time: Pilots currently can be on duty as long as 16 consecutive hours.  Under the new rules, maximum duty time would range between 9 and 14 hours, depending on the start time and number of flight segments.
  • Addressing cumulative fatigue: Provisions direct weekly and 28-day limits on the amount of time a pilot may be assigned any type of duty. Pilots would be given at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis, a 25% increase over the current rules.
  • Airline responsibility & training: Last year Congress directed airlines to develop a Fatigue Risk Management Plan.  Companies will also be required to provide training updated every two years.
  • Personal responsibility:  Pilots will need to attest they are fit for duty as they sign the flight plan.

The rules requirement is for passenger airlines; however the FAA is encouraging air cargo companies to voluntarily adopt these rules.  Western New York’s Representatives were hopeful the rules would be a requirement across both industries. 

Members of the Western New York delegation noted these changes are a long-time coming.  Pilot fatigue rules have been on the National Traffic Safety Board’s (NTSB) Most Wanted List for over twenty years.

Click here to access the FAA fact sheet on the new rules.

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