The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net Saturday, 13 July 2013 00:00
A new documentary on TWA’s ill-fated Flight 800 offers compelling evidence that almost everything the public thinks it knows about the plane’s demise isn’t so.
TWA Flight 800, a 90-minute film featuring interviews with a number of the now-retired investigators who examined the plane crash’s possible causes, as well as eyewitnesses to the events of that night, will be shown on Wednesday, July 17, at 8 p.m. on EPIX. It is a premium TV channel available to Verizon FiOS and DISH Network customers. The broadcast date and time is significant because TWA’s Flight 800, having left JFK Airport on its way to Paris, exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, near East Moriches, on July 17, 1996, around 8:30 p.m. Two-hundred and thirty people were killed; 212 passengers, and 18 crew members.
“The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] determines that the probable cause of the TWA Flight 800 accident was an explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT), resulting from ignition of the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank,” the NTSB reported in its final assessment of the case. “The source of ignition energy for the explosion could not be determined with certainty, but, of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the CWT that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel.”
That is far from a definitive statement about what occurred, and implicitly acknowledges a small army of professional investigators, after years of poring over the available evidence, could not conclusively explain why Flight 800 fell from the sky.
TWA Flight 800 starts slowly, with retired investigators from entities other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), complaining about how the FBI ran roughshod over other agencies following the plane’s crash. Bureaucratic in-fighting and turf battles occur every day, and achieving consensus on such a complicated matter was going to be a tall order, no matter what the FBI did. An aside: Garden City novelist Nelson DeMille’s terrific 2004 book, Night Fall, offers a vivid fictional account of the federal government’s Flight 800 investigation.
The documentary’s writer and director, Kristina Borjesson, and Tom Stalcup, a Ph.D. in physics who reports the story, gain traction when they take up the cause of the Long Islanders who saw what appeared to be a missile headed toward Flight 800 before it exploded in mid-air. Their voices were too often discounted or ignored as the NTSB conducted public hearings on the tragedy, the filmmakers effectively argue. Indeed, one of the documentary’s highlights is an NBC Nightly News report on a government-conducted April 2000 test related to Flight 800. The exercise was aimed at assessing whether the general public, when witnessing a missile-caused explosion on the horizon, could identify it as such. The answer was a resounding yes, although the NBC Nightly News story on the test left viewers with the opposite impression. The filmmakers make their point with a cogent critique of the NBC piece.
The thought of a surface-to-air missile shooting down a commercial airliner in mid-flight was considered, even before 9/11, and investigators pursued the possibility, albeit with little enthusiasm, the filmmakers contend. Historical context is important. One investigator mentions in passing that the U.S. was at the time preparing to host the 1996 Summer Olympics amid concerns a terrorist attack could disrupt the proceedings.
Sure enough, on July 27, 1996, only 10 days after TWA’s Flight 800 crashed, a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, causing the deaths of two people and injuring more than 100 others. The FBI’s first suspect, it is worth noting, was later exonerated.