TIMELINES 6/20/13

Man arrested for possession of fake money orders
Rockland County resident Shae Stevenson was arrested in Clarkstown on June 10 after being discovered with over $1 million in counterfeit money orders. Stevenson was driving his SUV in Clarkstown when he was pulled over and briefly detained for possessing a suspended license. Upon searching the car, police discovered a duffel bag Stevenson attempted to keep from them containing 497 fake U.S. Postal Service money orders and 875 fake CVS Money Grams. Stevenson was arraigned on Wednesday. He stands charged with 1,372 criminal fraud charges of possession of a forged instrument, with a felony charge for each money order. After his arraignment, he was released on $5,000 bail and faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

Obama’s trip to Africa could cost taxpayers $100 million
In what might be the most expensive trip of his tenure, President Barack Obama’s trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3 could rack up anywhere between $60 million to $100 million in government expenditures. The trip, which is primarily meant to build relationships with the nations’ leaders and foster discussion on global health issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, will include expenditures from not only the president’s security detail but also military cargo planes airlifting 56 support vehicles, special bulletproof glass to outfit Obama’s hotel rooms, and other security and transportation measures. In addition, an aircraft carrier with a fully-equipped trauma center will be on call in case of emergency and fighter jets will fly overhead at all times to cover the airspace around the president’s location. Extra security expenditures also included counter-assault and sniper support to provide security during a safari, but that outing was later cancelled. According to Obama’s deputy national security advisor for communications Ben Rhodes, expenditures were often driven by Secret Service needs rather than presidential suggestions.

Man struck and killed by train in West Haverstraw
Haverstraw police identified jogger Anthony Quevedo, 29, as the man who was struck and killed by a train just north of East Railroad Avenue in West Haverstraw on June 14. Quevedo was captured on video cameras running between the rails before being struck at 11:46 a.m. He was declared dead four minutes later. According to investigators, Quevedo was wearing earbuds which might have been specially designed to block out background noise and it was probable that he did not hear the approaching train. Witnesses reported that people frequently run along the tracks in West Haverstraw. Though at least one witness attempted to warn Quevedo as the train approached and the train itself blew its horn to get the runner’s attention, Quevedo apparently did not hear. Police added that they do not believe the death was a suicide.

New NFL policy prohibits almost all bags from being brought into stadiums
In an effort to prevent terror attacks on crowded sporting events and prompted by a re-evaluation of security policies following the Boston Bombings the National Football League recently released a new set of rules on what can and cannot be brought into football stadiums. The list is extensive and appears to eliminate almost all containers. The NFL now prohibits carrying in any bag larger than the size of a person’s hand, coolers, fanny packs, briefcases, backpacks, luggage, computer bags, camera bags and seat cushions. Clutch purses and clear plastic containers such as Ziploc bags will still be permitted in stadiums, as will items such as smart phones, binoculars and cameras. The NFL will also be offering clear plastic bags for purchase at gate entrances and merchandising kiosks.

Tappan Zee Bridge dangler Michael Davitt sentencing delayed
Michael Davitt, who was found guilty on several charges related to his dangling from the Tappan Zee Bridge as protest in November 2011, must now wait until July 23 for sentencing. Davitt had been found guilty of charges including disorderly conduct, lesser trespass, reckless endangerment and obstructing traffic in April. He faces up to a year in jail. A lawsuit filed by Davitt for discrimination he claims to have faced from the county was also thrown out by a federal judge. The stunt was orchestrated to protest the loss of his county job and he has been a frequent and outspoken opponent of the county executive both before and after the event with incidents such as protests outside the County Office Building and removal from legislative sessions.

North Rockland teen runs in spite of cystic fibrosis
omkins Cove resident Katie O’Grady has made a name for herself and inspired family, friends and coaches as an accomplished track runner in spite of the fact that she has struggled with cystic fibrosis since she was six. O’Grady had her start as a runner in seventh grade when she exhibited talent as a modified track runner before moving up to cross-country in eighth grade. Since then, she has become a three-time all section and all-cross country runner, even setting North Rockland’s 3,000 meter indoor record as a freshman. This comes in spite of frequent attacks of her illness, which affects the lungs, pancreas, and other internal organs. At times, the attacks can disrupt competitions and training. Katie has also used her talent as a runner to do charity work for others affected by illness. Last year, she raised over $5,000 in the New York City Half Marathon and finished second in her age group to inspire other kids with cystic fibrosis to stay active and on top of their conditions. Coaches and teammates often did not know about the severity of her condition, assuming it was asthma until relatively recently. Katie herself explained she never understood how severe the disease could be until she did a school report on it and realized her running had likely reduced its impact. Many only found out when a 5K run was organized by the local community to benefit both Katie and her mother Jackie, who has stage four colon cancer.

Undercover investigation reveals “torture” at foie gras factory
Animal rights activists with Mercy for Animals recently released a short video depicting conditions at a foie gras factory at Hudson Valley Foie Gras (HVGH), a major supplier for internet retailer Amazon.com, in an effort to expose animal cruelty in the foie gras industry.  The process of making foie gras requires the force-feeding of ducks to enlarge their livers with fat, a practice which has already been outlawed in California due to its perception as an unnecessarily cruel process. The footage, which was shot with a hidden camera between April and May 2013 shows workers shoving metal feeding tubes down ducks’ throats, dead and dying ducks and ducklings lying around squalid cages and thrown into trash bins, and half-stunned ducks being hung upside down for slaughter. Foie gras production has been the frequent target of lawsuits aimed at curbing the practice, including a recent case where California’s U.S. District Court upheld an Animal Legal Defense Fund suit against HVGF for violations of federal Lanham Act and California’s False Advertising and Unfair Competition Laws.

Cardiac screening for newborns approved by senate vote
The New York State Senate cleared a bill on June 12 requiring all birthing facilities in the state to screen newborns for congenital heart defects using a process known as pulse oximetry screening. The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Bill Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-On-Hudson) received overwhelming support from parents of children with such defects. Prior to the bill’s passage, a “Red Cape Rally” was organized with help from the American Heart association. Child survivors of such conditions dressed as superheroes as they and their parents met with state legislators to lobby in support of the law. Pulse oximetry screening uses a sensor beam applied to a newborn’s foot to detect the amount of oxygen in the blood. It is recognized as a more accurate and effective detection method than traditional practices such as ultrasound screenings and physical examinations. With approval from both the Assembly and Senate, the bill’s last step before passage will be the governor’s signature.

Movement seeks to end required alimony payments
An emerging group of interrelated movements in New York, Florida, and other states is seeking to reform alimony law, challenging the prevailing requirement that a spouse pay their ex’s alimony for the rest of their life. Reforms to the practice of alimony are expected to soon be heard in New Jersey’s legislature. A number of activists have come forward in support of reforms which adjust alimony based upon a husband’s earning potential, the earning potential recovered by a wife after the divorce and other factors which are seen as unfairly favorable to the higher earner in a relationship and disregard the earning potential of alimony recipient. The debate has also drawn in affected third parties such as “Second Wives’ Clubs” who argue their incomes subsidize their husbands’ first wives. Alimony critics argue that as gender roles and job prospects transformed since the mid-twentieth century, the income gap between men and women has narrowed and made many instances of alimony obsolete. Critics are challenging the new movement, arguing that low-earning spouses often need to reinvent themselves to re-enter the workforce, facing an uphill employment battle which requires financial support. Currently, most divorces do not require alimony payments due to the relative equality of spouses’ earnings.

Open data guidelines released by Cuomo Administration
Governor Andrew Cuomo released a new set of open data guidelines for government records on June 13, making New York the first state to take such a step. Earlier in March, Cuomo issued Executive Order 95, which directs all state agencies to review and catalogue all of their collected data. The site open.ny.gov was released as a companion to the order, gathering together all releasable state, federal and local data in one central location, as well as providing provisions for participation by other government entities such as localities. The state also established GitHub, an open-source platform for public comment and discussion on New York government affairs. The moves come at a particularly conspicuous time, with both state and national transparency debates continuing over the continued efforts to clamp down on recent corruption scandals in New York state and local politics and the controversial NSA data-gathering PRISM program.

NSA claims data-gathering foiled terror plots, critics challenge assertion
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers citedNew York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi and Mumbai terror attack plotter David Headley as two examples of terrorists stopped using recently-leaked NSA surveillance techniques, but critics have already chimed in to point out the claims might not justify the program. Though both cases did utilize the broad data-mining operations recently revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the role of the NSA was revealed by individuals close to the operatiosn to be marginal at best, with more traditional techniques such as tip-offs and clue-driven investigations into suspicious activities. Among others, former British foreign office Foreign Minister David Davis explained the assertions regarding Zazi were “misleading” and claimed most work was done through warranted surveillance, while an anonymous former CIA operative explained Headley was also detected and monitored using traditional methods and that the NSA program had no role. Top intelligence officials have been attempting to justify the program with concrete examples of success stories, but have met with limited success due in part to an unwillingness to discuss specifics. Claims were also recently made that the program prevented plots in the U.S. and more than twenty other countries, but the location and nature of the threats was not disclosed.

Boston terror training exercise postponed due to Boston Bombings
Operation Urban Shield, a training exercise which would have been in its third year in 2013, was postponed due to the Boston Bombings, which eerily mimicked certain aspects of the original scenario. The 24-hour training exercise, which often involves cooperation between Boston Police and other local law enforcement bodies, was slated to occur two months after the bombings. It would have featured a scenario involving backpack bombs left by a fictional militia group called the Free America Citizens and examined detectives’ investigative skills and ability to work with members of other law enforcement bodies. A $200,000 Homeland Security grant was set aside for the exercise and the money is expected to roll over for next year’s Urban Shield tests. In spite of the similarity to this year’s terror attack, the scenario is expected to remain largely the same.

Ray Kelly says Snowden had right idea
Unlike other U.S. law enforcement officials, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has reportedly voiced agreement with Edward Snowden’s decision to leak the National Security Agency’s phone and Internet data-collection plan to the public. He feels the program needn’t be kept a secret from citizens. According to Kelly, the public would have understood and accepted the need for the program had they been told about it. Days before Kelly made these statements, Attorney General Eric Holder angered New York officials with his suggestion that the NYPD stop-and-frisk program be given a federal overseer. It has been suggested that Kelly’s comments come in response to Holder’s recommendation, as it is not the first time the NYPD’s tactics under Kelly’s supervision have been questioned.

Plant explosion in Louisiana
Terrorism is not suspected in a chemical plant explosion that happened last Thursday in southern Louisiana. The cause of the blast that killed at least one person and injured 77 others is still unknown. The deceased has been identified as Zachary C. Green, 29, of Hammond. Of the 77 injured, 51 had been released from area hospitals by Thursday evening. Workers mainly suffered from burns, cardiac and respiratory problems, and bruises. Some of the injuries were critical, but most were minor. Nearby Dutchtown High School went into emergency lockdown after hearing the explosion, and residents in the area report having seen flames 100 to 200 feet in the air. The blast occurred at 8:37 a.m. on Thursday and the owner of the plant, The Williams Company Inc., was able to account for all of its over 300 hundred workers by that afternoon. While workers were being evacuated, ten stayed behind in an explosive-proof area in order to shut off valves and insure the plant’s safety. The plant produces ethylene and propylene, essentials in the petrochemical industry. There were no dangerous levels of chemicals surrounding the plant immediately following the blast, but monitoring of the air continued into Thursday afternoon.

Cuomo announces formation of Financial Restructuring Board, reformed arbitration process
Governor Cuomo announced on Wednesday that a legislative agreement had been reached creating a Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments. Reforms to the arbitration process to better help municipalities to address their financial needs have also been agreed upon. The legislation will establish a 10-member Financial Restructuring Board which will be tasked with assisting fiscally-eligible municipalities. The board will review municipalities and make recommendations on improving fiscal stability and managing public services. The Board may also offer awards of up to $5 million through the state’s Local Government Efficiency Program for eligible municipalities. The legislation will also establish “ability to pay” standards for binding arbitration, giving more weight to a municipality’s ability to pay for services by requiring the arbitration panel to give 70 percent of their decision’s weight to ability to pay. As an optional feature pending agreement by both the union and the municipality, local police, fire, or deputy sheriff’s unions can also use the Board as an alternative arbitration panel.

Attempt to cut back on EBT abuse or federal dollars will be lost
A local news channel in the town of Troy, New York has shown just how easy it is to pull one over on the state system of giving cash assistance through the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Tens of thousands of dollars in state cash has been taken out of ATMs in liquor stores, at race tracks, and in bars using these cards. The Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, which handles the issuing of these cards, has done nothing to monitor where recipients of the card are using the state’s money. Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, of Melrose, is co-sponsoring a bill that hopes to overcome the abuses of EBT cards. The bill is titled the Public Assistance Integrity Act and would prevent those with EBT cards from withdrawing cash at ATMs inside liquor stores, adult entertainment places, and casinos. Still, there will be no record of where the money is being spent. New York has received a mandate from the federal government to cut down on abuses of EBT cards, or the state will lose $120 million in federal funding. The state has one year to implement a policy before reporting back to the federal government. McLaughlin hopes this bill will reach the state legislature by Spring.

Lowey’s proposed small business legislation
It is the 50th annual National Small Business Week and Congresswoman Nita Lowey has announced that she will soon be putting forth a bill which would help protect small business owners from unfair or deceptive practices used by credit card companies. The Small Business Credit Card Act would take the same protection already given to individual consumers and extend it to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Under the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which became law in 2010, individuals are protected from schemes used by credit card companies to raise fees; small businesses have not been offered the same kind of protection until now. Lowey’s proposed legislation would require credit card companies to inform small businesses prior to raising interest rates, disallow interest rate increases in the first year of the account, discontinue unnecessary fees and interest charged on debt that is paid on time, end things such as extra fees when paying online or over the phone, weekend deadlines, and changing due dates, and apply payments to the balance with higher interest.

Legislation Needed to Get State Aid for Clarkstown School District
Legislative action became necessary when the State Education Department was unable to assist Clarkstown Central School District after it fell short of the 180-day class requirement following Superstorm Sandy. The district was in danger of losing $110,000 in foundation aid, which would have put programs and staff allocation in danger. They were only able to complete 179 school days, having lost eight days both to Hurricane Sandy and the snowstorm that followed in March. Seven of those days were accounted for, using five scheduled snow days and postponing two Superintendent’s Conference days. It was March 29th – Holy Thursday – when the district was informed of the budget, and they were unable to schedule an additional make-up day due to the holiday season. Senator David Carlucci’s legislation, which will restore the necessary funding to the district, is to go to the State Assembly for consideration before the end of the legislative session. It passed the New York State Senate on Monday.