Timelines 2.19.15

State oversight for East Ramapo expected in mid-2015

An oversight bill for the East Ramapo School District is expected to pass the State Legislature in May or June of 2015, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, who spoke last Friday at Pascack Community Center in Nanuet to outline his 2015 goals, said he expected the bill to be presented sometime between the state budget deadline on April 1 and the body’s June recess. According to the governor, a widely-publicized report by fiscal monitor Hank Greenberg which called for a state fiscal monitor with veto power over the board, will be used as the basis for the legislation.

A bill is currently being developed by Rockland legislators to address criticisms leveled by Greenberg. The monitor’s scathing report blamed the school board for the district’s continued dysfunction and the growing division between public school parents and the Orthodox community, whose members hold a majority on the school board and overwhelmingly send their children to private schools.

A similar resolution which would have allowed state intervention in under-performing school districts was co-sponsored by Rockland Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee. However, it stalled in the Assembly and failed to pass.

 

Little League champions stripped of title

The winners of the 2014 U.S. Little League Championship were stripped of their title and their coaches were penalized for falsifying geographic information to build what amounted to a super-team.

The team, which represented Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West school, had wins from its regional and national championships removed when it was revealed team officials collaborated with other local teams and officials to preset a falsified district boundary map and draw talented youngsters from neighboring areas.

Consequently, the team’s manager Darold Butler has been suspended from Little League activity and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly was forced out of his position. The championship was subsequently awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas.

Little League International emphasized the move was regrettable but necessary. According to Little League International President and CEO Stephen D. Kenner, the penalty was not a reflection on the children who appeared to have no knowledge of the misdeeds, but rather the adults they trusted to build their team.

 

Chestnut Ridge fire response hindered by cold

A fire on Manis Avenue in Chestnut Ridge was complicated by freezing temperatures on Monday morning when firefighters had to contend with near-zero temperatures and frozen water.

Fire personnel with the South Spring Valley, Pearl River, Hillcrest, Spring Valley, Monsey, Orangeburg and Tallman fire fepartments responded to the 8 a.m. call reporting a refridgerator fire, only to find an otherwise accessible hydrant frozen out front.

As police closed roads, fire personnel worked in rotation, struggling with freezing water and single-digit temperatures. The fire was eventually brought under control and nobody was injured.

Fire hydrants are designed to drain below the frost line, meaning the failure of the one at the scene could be the result of some malfunction. United Water stated the hydrant’s valve was last inspected on January 15.

Bill introduced to allow concealed carry over state lines

A bill proposed in the U.S. Senate would allow the concealed carry of weapons across state lines, provided the owner has the proper permits in their home state.

The bill, dubbed the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). If passed, it would allow legal gun-owners from one concealed carry state to bring their weapon across state lines to any other with concealed carry without fear of weapons charges.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow concealed carry, though each one has different standards. According to Cornyn, the bill is meant to smooth out discrepancies and prevent enforcement against law-abiding gun owners caught on technicalities.
Critics, however, have argued loose laws in some states could allow gun-owners to flout comparatively strict laws in states like New York. The Act has already spurred strong opposition from Everytown for Gun Safety-a group with the financial backing of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg-and Sen. Charles Schumer, who called it “a menace to New York.”

The bill was first introduced by Cornyn in 2014, but failed by a slim margin. Though a presidential veto is a strong possibility, its chances of passage are slightly higher with the new Republican Senate majority.

Security firm: Hackers stole up to $1 billion from 100 banks

A hacking ring had stolen a combined $1 billion from over 100 banks in 30 countries since 2013 in one of the biggest financial security breaches in history, Cybersecurity experts with the Russian-based Kaspersky Lab reported on Monday.

The hackers bypassed system security before they lingered in bank systems for months at a time to analyze bank security procedures. Once they knew security protocols, they used methods such as pre-programmed ATM deposits and fake accounts to withdraw money without raising suspicion, limiting thefts to a few million per bank before moving on to another.

One of the more unusual aspects of the breach is that customer information was not sought. Unlike other bank thefts where attempts were made to access personal data, the hacking ring in this case targeted the banks’ money directly.

Though the hackers mainly targeted Russian banks, a large number of targeted banks were located in the U.S., China, Germany and Ukraine. It is believed the hackers have begun to expand operations, targeting more locations in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

ISIS beheads Egyptian hostages, Egypt retaliates

The Islamic State further stoked regional anger on Sunday when it released a video showing members beheading captive Egyptian Christians, an atrocity which provoked a strong reaction from Egypt.

The video showed an ISIS member with a North American accent stating the massacre was retaliation for the killing of Osama Bin Laden by American forces. The Egyptians were decapitated along a beach to mirror the dumping of Bin Laden’s body at sea following his death in Pakistan.

In retaliation, Egypt launched military action against ISIS compounds in Libya, bombing training camps and weapons caches just across the border. The attack is the first foreign military action taken by the nation in over two decades.

The nation does not appear poised to stop, either. As a response to the dangers posed by an ISIS presence in Libya, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has called for a United Nations mandate for an international coalition to support the official Libyan government and combat the presence of extremists in the neighboring nation.

 

Details emerge on Copenhagen shooter, two accomplices arrested

Two suspected accomplices to Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, the Danish Muslim who killed two people and wounded five police on Sunday before he was gunned down himself, were arrested by authorities.

The two men were slapped with 10-days of pretrial detention for sheltering Hussein after the attacks, which killed a Danish filmmaker attending a speech by a Danish artist who had caricatured the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The suspects also allegedly helped the suspect to dispose of a weapon.

Meanwhile, criminal records painted a picture of Hussein as a violent repeat offender who might have been radicalized in prison. Hussein reportedly became involved in a street gang at a young age and had been in-and-out of prison since 2011 for assault and weapons charges, including a random 2013 stabbing attack on a train passenger.

While it is not believed Hussein had any links to known terror groups, authorities are leaving open the possibility that he was radicalized in prison. According to the Danish Newspaper Berlingske, he spoke freely of his desire to join ISIS fighters in Syria and was placed on a watch list by prison administrators.

 

“Morality clause” could prove pivotal to Brian Williams’ career

An obscure “morality clause” buried in former MSNBC Anchor Brian Williams’ contract could determine the fate of the disgraced newsman.

As Williams and his network continue to reel from the fallout of the anchor’s false recollection of an attack on his helicopter while reporting in Iraq, sources indicated to the New York Post that a clause in the anchor’s $10 million contract precluding broad offenses to public morals might impact a long-term decision by MSNBC. The morality clause allows the network to fire Williams if he acts in a way that produces “public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which justifiably shocks, insults or offends a significant portion of the community.”

Williams was placed on a six-month unpaid leave last week after repeatedly lying about his proximity to a rocket attack on an American helicopter in Iraq in 2003. The decision will cost Williams $5 million, though it is not yet known if he will return to the network.

 

Proposed legislation would force lenders to buy “zombie properties”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced this week that a new legislative proposal from his office would require banks and other lenders to maintain properties if they fall into disrepair during foreclosure.

So-called “zombie properties” are frequently vacated by their residents, who often do not know they have the right to stay on the property during foreclosure proceedings. As a result, banks frequently take control of the property, but fail to perform routine maintenance, leading to decrepit, unsightly properties which impact the entire neighborhood.

The new bill, dubbed the “Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act” would fine lenders who elect not to manage such properties, require them to inform homeowners of their rights under foreclosure and create a state registry of such properties.

New York has one of the highest incidences of such zombie properties in the nation, coming third behind Florida and New Jersey with 16,700 cases in 2014. The number of properties neglected in foreclosure has been rising as well, increasing by fifty percent in 2014 as compared to 2013.

Obama vows to contest federal court’s immigration ruling

The Obama Administration has promised to challenge a ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen which allowed 26 states to temporarily block the president’s executive order on immigration.

The states filed suit against the president’s order, which expands deportation protections against young immigrants, permanent, long-term residents and parents of U.S. citizens. Hanen approved a preliminary injunction against the order on Monday, arguing the effects of the order would be so profound that they would irreversibly affect the plaintiff states before a resolution had even been reached.

“The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle,” Hanen wrote in his decision.

In response, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated the Obama Administration plans to appeal. The president is supported by another coalition of 12 states, which filed a motion with Hanen supporting the order.

State Department Spokesperson calls for economic aid to ISIS-affected Middle East

State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf raised the ire of foreign policy commentators on Monday’s Hardball when she suggested expanding economic opportunities to Middle Eastern youths as a method of controlling the spread of ISIS-related terror.

Harf argued military intervention alone was not the solution to the current crisis in Syria and Iraq and argued instead that economic opportunities were crucial.

“We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them, but we cannot win this war by killing them,” Harf said. “We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether its lack of opportunity for jobs, whether we can help them build their economy so they can have job opportunities for these people.”

Harf doubled down on her comments on Morning Joe by stating that military commanders, politicians and counterterrorism experts all agree that military force should be used in conjunction with economic and political solutions rather than as a substitute.

 

New York tops list of states for most smuggled cigarettes

The Empire State earned the dubious honor of being the number one state in the nation for cigarette smuggling, according to figures released this week by the Tax Foundation.

The Foundation found that inbound cigarettes constituted 58 percent of all consumed smokes since 2006, beating Arizona by more than eight percentage points. At the same time, smuggling activities have grown by leaps and bounds, increasing by 62 percent within the same time period.

The report explained the rise is largely a consequence of massive punitive taxes on cigarettes, another area in which New York is number one in the nation. The state’s cigarette tax is $4.35 per pack, with an additional $1.50 levied in New York City, a 190 percent increase over the time span examined by the Foundation.

Cigarette smuggling has become so common and lucrative that even major mail carriers have been used to support the illegal operations. A federal suit filed by New York this week seeks $180 million in damages and penalties from UPS for shipping more than 136 million cigarettes throughout the state. A similar $70 million suit is also pending against FedEx.

 

Witness testimony continues in Spears trial

Two individuals who were with Lacey Spears recounted the woman’s reaction to her 5-year-old son’s illness during her murder trial on Tuesday, painting a somewhat mixed picture of unusual responses to the tragic event.

Danielle Grossenbacher, a friend of Spears, explained that in Garnett’s last few hours in Nyack Hospital before an emergency airlift to Westchester Medical Center, Spears seemed withdrawn and scared. However, Grossenbacher stated she did not see Spears cry until later when told that Garnett would not survive.

The testimony was partly corroborated by Dr. Sarika Sunku, one of Garnett’s pediatricians, who stated that Spears merely smiled when told the child’s sodium levels had surged.

Spears stands accused of introducing salt into Garnett’s feeding tube, actions which led to a fatal bout of sodium poisoning.