How the latest Obamacare repeal bill would affect New York State

The legislation that Senate Republicans hope to pass next week in a last-ditch effort to dismantle Obamacare would strip away some of the federal funds sent to New York and other states for expanding Medicaid – and give them to the states that didn’t.

The conversion of Affordable Care Act funds into state block grants from 2020 to 2026 is one key part of the bill that Senate Republicans will bring up for a vote by the end of the month, before the expiration of special budget rules that allow passage by a simple majority.

How New York State would be affected

The bill would put the ACA’s financing for subsidized private health insurance and Medicaid expansion into a giant pot and redistribute it among states according to new formulas.

New York would lose $45 billion under the bill’s conversion of Affordable Care Act funds into state block grants from 2020 to 2026, the Avalere consulting firm said.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that favors the current health law, said New York State would lose $18.9 billion in 2026 alone.

Here’s a look at the 10 states that would lose the most in federal funding if the bill becomes law:


How New York leaders have responded

Supporters of the bill say governors and state legislatures would have broad leeway on how to spend the money, and could also seek federal waivers allowing them to modify insurance market safeguards for consumers. For example, states could let insurers charge higher premiums for older adults.

But with that flexibility also comes the challenge of fixing a broken health care system with less money, a task that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and at least 10 other governors have publicly rejected.

“I would not trade $19 billion for the flexibility. Because if they cut us $19 billion, if I was as flexible as a Gumby doll, we could not fund our healthcare system,” Cuomo said. “It also puts 2.7 million New Yorkers at risk of losing their health insurance.”

The bill also repeals requirements that individuals buy health insurance and employers offer it, ends subsidies to help people pay premiums, cuts off funding for Medicaid expansion, and makes significant cuts as its reshapes Medicaid.

“They are designed, these cuts, to hurt states that have expanded Medicaid,” Cuomo said. “To penalize us for doing a better job than other states is a gross unfairness.”

Residents of New York and California, which expanded Medicaid and set up insurance marketplaces, had fared better than people living in Texas and Florida, which opted out of both, according to a March 2017 study by the Commonwealth Fund, which studies health issues.

If the bill passes in the Senate, it faces a difficult path in the House, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who opposes the bill because of the funding cuts for New York.

To penalize us for doing a better job than other states is a gross unfairness.

– Gov.
Andrew Cuomo

How other states would be affected

The bill would lead to an overall $215 billion cut to states in federal funding for health insurance, through 2026. Reductions would grow over time.

A reduction in federal subsidies for health insurance likely would lead to more people being uninsured, said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere, which specializes in health industry research.

Thirty-four states would see cuts by 2026, while 16 would see increases. Among the losers are several states that were key for President Donald Trump’s election, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio.

California would lose $78 billion, while Texas and Georgia would gain $35 billion and $10 billion, respectively.

“If you’re in a state which has not expanded Medicaid, you’re going to do great,” said Cassidy. “If you’re a state which has expanded Medicaid, we do our best to hold you harmless.”

What else would the bill do?

Named for the bill’s sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the bill would repeal much of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and limit future federal funding for Medicaid. That federal-state health insurance program covers more than 70 million low-income people, ranging from newborns to elderly nursing home residents.

Independent analysts say the latest Senate Republican bill is likely to leave more people uninsured than the Affordable Care Act, and allow states to make changes that raise costs for people with health problems or pre-existing medical conditions.

The Congressional Budget Office has said it doesn’t have time to complete a full analysis of the impact on coverage before the deadline.

How would Medicaid spending be affected?

Compared to current projected levels, Medicaid spending would be reduced by more than $1 trillion, or 12 percent, from 2020-2036, a study by consulting firm Avalere found. Earlier independent congressional budget analysts said such Medicaid cuts could leave millions more uninsured.

Here’s how else the bill compares

Medicaid expansion

Current: States have the option to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, with the federal government picking up most of the cost.

Senate bill: Ends the federal match for Medicaid’s expansion; ends program’s status as an open-ended entitlement, replacing it with a per-person cap.

Health status-based rates

Current: People cannot be denied coverage due to pre-existing medical problems, nor can they be charged more because of poor health.

Senate bill: Prohibits denying coverage to those with pre-existing condition, but states can seek waivers to let insurers charge more based on health status in some cases.

Subsidies for insurance

Current: Provides income-based subsidies to help with premiums and out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and copayments; subsidy benchmark tied to mid-level “silver” plans.

Senate bill: Replaces income-based subsidies with block grants to states for health care programs; ends cost-sharing subsidies in 2020.

Standard health benefits

Current: Requires insurers to cover 10 broad “essential services” such as hospitalization, prescriptions, substance abuse treatment, preventive services, maternity and childbirth.

Senate bill: Allows states to seek waivers from the benefits requirement as part of the block grant program.

Coverage mandate

Current: Requires those deemed able to afford coverage to carry a policy or risk fines from the IRS; requires larger employers to offer coverage to full-time workers.

Senate bill: Repeals coverage mandate by removing tax penalty beginning with the 2016 tax year.

Planned Parenthood

Current: Planned Parenthood is eligible for Medicaid reimbursements, but federal money cannot fund abortions.

Senate bill: Planned Parenthood would face a one-year Medicaid funding freeze.

Sources: Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Family Foundation

WITH WASHINGTON POST

Cassini the Saturn Spacecraft’s Fond Farewell

A billion-dollar spacecraft named Cassini burned up as it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn today.

That’s the plan, exquisitely crafted. Cassini, the only spacecraft ever to orbit Saturn, spent the past five months exploring the uncharted territory between the gaseous planet and its dazzling rings. But now, it’s useful life is up.

Dreamed up when Ronald Reagan was president, and launched during the tenure of Bill Clinton, Cassini arrived at Saturn in the first term of George W. Bush. So it’s old, as space hardware goes.

It has fulfilled its mission goals and then some. It has sent back stunning images and troves of scientific data. It has discovered moons, and geysers spewing from the weird Saturn satellite Enceladus. It landed a probe on the moon Titan. It would have kept transmitting data to Earth to the very end, squeezing out the last drips of science as a valediction for one of NASA’s greatest missions.

It was also running out of gas, basically, though precisely how much fuel was left is unknown. Program manager Earl Maize says, “One of our lessons learned, and it’s a lesson learned by many missions, is to attach a gas gauge.”

Cassini’s final orbits have taken it, amazingly, inside the rings of Saturn, where the spacecraft practically skims the tops of the planet’s clouds. These orbits can plausibly be compared to Luke Skywalker flying into that narrow trench on the Death Star.

Today, there wasn’t much left to do other than let gravity handle everything, and watch the data come in, and clap, and maybe shed a few tears.

“We’re kind of going through the mourning cycle,” said Julie Webster, head of spacecraft operations.

Here’s a look at Cassini — a NASA mainstay for two decades that’s about to meet its demise.

History

Cassini closes out an era in NASA space science. This is hardly the end of solar system exploration, but it’s essentially the end of the first, heroic phase – the initial reconnaissance of the planets.



The colossal scale of Cassini is a legacy of the go-big mentality of the early days of space exploration. The United States put men on the moon with a jumbo rocket, and NASA for a long time skewed toward muscle-bound spacecraft even when humans weren’t along for the ride.

No single event changed everything, but what happened to a spacecraft called Mars Observer in 1993 certainly had an impact. It was large and fully adorned with instruments. And then, one day shortly before it was to go into Mars orbit, it simply went silent and was never heard from again. It probably blew up, Webster said.

Space is hard. Space will break your heart. “It’s like a loss of a family member,” Webster said.

By that point, Cassini had already been conceived, the instruments already coming online, and so it was essentially grandfathered in to the old-fashioned go-big protocol. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin wasn’t a fan. He had a name for Cassini: “Battlestar Galactica.”

Actually, it wasn’t simply the “Cassini” mission. It was the “Cassini-Huygens” mission. The Europeans designed the Huygens probe, a separate vehicle that detached from Cassini when it passed close to Titan.



Arrival and discovery

After Cassini, launched in 1997, arrived at Saturn in 2004, Huygens disengaged from the main spacecraft and dropped through Titan’s thick clouds. It sent back details of an alien world that possesses a stew of complex organic molecules, including liquid methane. Hydrocarbons rain from the sky. There are lakes and rivers.

It’s the only place in the solar system other than Earth known to have rain and open bodies of liquid on the surface.

Cassini also discovered something amazing about Saturn’s moon Enceladus: It has geysers spewing from its south pole. Almost certainly it has an interior ocean, sealed beneath ice, that contains great volumes of water and possibly hydrothermal vents.

Someday NASA or some other space agency is likely to send a probe to Enceladus to sample those geysers and test them for indications of life.

“The legacy for which Cassini will be remembered will be Enceladus,” said project scientist Linda J. Spilker.



The day the Earth smiled

For a moment four years ago, the Cassini watched Earth from 900 million miles away. The probe had ducked behind Saturn. There, shielded from the sun’s rays, the robot turned its delicate lenses toward home. On July 19, 2013, Earthlings in the know waved and smiled for the paparazzo in the sky. Everyone else went about their day. Cassini, a gracious photographer, caught the entire Earth on camera anyway.



Perhaps no other Cassini photograph carries the emotional heft of “The Day the Earth Smiled.”

Astronomer Carolyn Porco, the leader of the Cassini imaging team, and her colleagues organized a campaign to smile into the void at 21:27 Coordinated Universal Time (accounting, of course, for light’s 15-minute dash from Earth to Saturn). It would be only the third time that Earth had been photographed from such a distance, after an earlier Cassini image and the Voyager portrait. It also marked the first time that Earth inhabitants knew they were being photographed from the outer solar system, beyond the asteroid belt.

“This could be a day, I thought, when all the inhabitants of Earth, in unison, could issue a full-throated, cosmic shout-out and smile a big one for the cameras from far, far away,” Porco wrote in June 2013.

The picture of Earth wasn’t the only image taken that day. The Cassini team ultimately stitched together 141 photos into a sweeping view of Saturn, a mosaic 404,880 miles across. Shot from the back, Saturn is a black ball suspended in ink, enclosed in the coffee-colored circles of its rings.



“On the one hand, it is a beautiful image that will serve as a reminder of all the great data Cassini obtained,” said Matthew Hedman, a physicist at the University of Idaho who was involved with the project. “And on the other, it contains a lot of information about the properties of the rings that we will be trying to understand for many years to come.”

Winding down

Cassini slowed down slightly in its final few orbits as it passed through the outermost layers of Saturn’s atmosphere. The drag on the spacecraft hastened the final plunge slightly.

At about 4:37 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today, the spacecraft was expected to roll into position to enable one of its instruments to sample Saturn’s atmosphere as it gets closer and closer to the planet. It would stream data back to the Deep Space Network.

In the final minute of its life, Cassini will have fired its thrusters in an attempt to keep its high-gain antenna pointing to Earth. But that is a battle Cassini was destined to lose.



Around 8 a.m. Friday, the final images taken by Cassini were streaming back to scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

But Cassini is already gone. It will have been destroyed 83 minutes earlier. That’s how long it takes at the speed of light for news to travel from Saturn to Pasadena.

Cassini did’t exactly “crash” into Saturn, because it’s a gaseous planet and there’s no surface to hit. In the last moments, the spacecraft will have gone into a tumble and lost contact with Earth. Then it burned up as it plunged through Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrated.

And then nothing was left.

A 9/11 symbol grows up: The journey of Long Island’s Patricia Smith

A mom and a hero

Smith is counted among 3,000 children who lost a parent when the Twin Towers were struck in 2001. She was in diapers at the time and as she grew older, she faced a challenge: How could she get to know a mother she couldn’t remember?

Moira Smith was born and raised in Brooklyn. She joined the NYPD in 1988 and quickly became a decorated officer, rescuing people from a 1991 subway crash that earned her a Distinguished Duty Medal.

She was outgoing and she liked taking road trips. She loved being a mother to Patricia, who was born in 1999.

“Thanksgiving is huge and St. Patrick’s Day is huge in my family,” Patricia said. “We’d be sitting at the table and people would be telling stories and my mom was always in them. She was always at the center, she was the life of the party.”

Then comes the part that’s taken Patricia years to accept. NYPD Officer Moira Smith gathered a group of her fellow officers and raced to the Twin Towers. She was last seen pulling victims from the towers before they collapsed. She was 38.

“When I was younger, it was always this happened to me and happened to my family. Why?” Patricia said. “But this didn’t just happen, that’s who my mom was. She wasn’t going to turn a blind eye.”


Early memories

It was Patricia’s red velvet dress that captured the attention. On Dec. 4, 2001, she accompanied her father to Carnegie Hall for an NYPD medal ceremony, where Mayor Rudy Giuliani presented her with her mother’s gold medal.

The photo was one of the first published of Patricia and one of her favorites.

She has fuzzy memories of getting ready, of having her hair curled and done up with a big red bow to match her dress. She and her father were supposed to walk out in front of the crowd. It was a serious event, but one she didn’t understand at the time.

“We were waiting at the stage entrance and I ripped the bow out of my hair, my nice hair, and handed it to my dad,” she said.

James didn’t have anywhere to put it. Seconds before the ceremony began, he wrapped it around his fingers as he held Patricia’s hand. The photo now hangs on the wall in her father’s home.

'They had our back'

The Smith family held a memorial service for Moira Smith at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in February 2002, the month before her body was recovered.

It was on Valentine’s Day, Moira’s favorite holiday and birthday, and the turnout was enormous. The size of the church also dwarfed little Patricia.

She remembers being struck by the enormity of the crowd, the hundreds of police officers dressed in blue.

“It was shocking. I didn’t understand at that point why they were all there,” she said.

As an adult, the memory means more to her now, she said.
“I came to realize that was her family, and it’s our family too,” she said. “They had our back the whole time.”

A family portrait

For Patricia, losing a parent at a young age has meant that family photos mean more.

Nearly a year after the attacks, Patricia and her father attended a memorial service for officers killed in the line of duty. On Sept. 9, 2002, officials added the names of the 23 NYPD officers who died to a memorial wall.

“It’s weird, this one kind of makes me happy because I don’t have too many full family photos of me, my mom and my dad,” Patricia said.

James Smith let a 3-year-old Patricia hold onto a replica of her mother’s badge in a wooden box during the ceremony.

“Holding the badge, that was her, she was there with us,” Patricia said.

“It might not be a full family photo, but it has that feel. It’s definitely a picture that’s pretty special.”

'There were lots of tears'

As Patricia grew to be a young child, she started to recognize that other families didn’t look like hers. Losing her mother stung in a way it hadn’t before. The attention and crowds had become an overwhelming reminder of Moira Smith’s absence.

Patricia clung to her father’s side when she needed comfort. But that wasn’t an option on Sept. 11, 2006, when he spoke at a five-year memorial service at Ground Zero, she said.

Patricia, then 7, remembers worrying about having to sit alone when he got up to speak. She was allowed to follow James on stage, but couldn’t hold his hand during the speech.

“He was my security blanket,” she said. “I was too afraid to look out, so that’s why I’m looking down and holding the flower.”

The somber photo of Patricia standing alone graced front pages, transforming her once again into a symbol of 9/11’s losses. But the image is significant to Patricia for an additional reason: “This was the first picture I remember being sad.”

Patricia said her childhood was marked by being part of a family in mourning, even five years after her mother’s death.

“Everything was really raw and people were still trying to come to terms with it. There was a lot of tears,” she said.

After each memorial event, Patricia and her family would all head to a restaurant for a big meal, a way to celebrate Moira and end the day on a happier note.

A turning point

As a young preteen, Patricia retreated from the spotlight for some time. The ceremonies year after year blended together.

“I went through a period where I didn’t want to talk to anybody, not newspapers or shows or anything like that,” she said. “I was just tired of repeating the story and having to rehash the emotions that came with it.”

Something changed after she turned 12, she said. She was offered the chance to speak at a 10th anniversary memorial service in 2011, and she agreed. It proved to be a turning point.

“I don’t know if it was a specific point that things changed, but this moment I think I fully realized it,” she said. “I was standing there and I was looking at a huge crowd of people and I was proud to be there.”

She doesn’t remember what she said, but she felt a sense of peace after her speech ended.

“I remember coming off the stage and I took a deep breath,” she said. “I knew we were representing my mom and the sacrifice she made. I felt we were standing up for something she would have wanted.”

Remembering her mom

Patricia and her father were the subject of a Newsday article in 2012.

It’s not easy to see photos of herself during her more awkward preteen years, Patricia said. She was 13 when a photographer snapped a photo of her in her East Hampton bedroom.

The shining star of the photo is her mother, she said. When the Smiths think of Moira, they picture her like this: smiling and in pearls. The photo of Moira is a universal favorite among their family members, Patricia said.

The Newsday story was the first time Patricia was given the opportunity to talk just about her mother. Not Moira the police officer or Moira the victim, just Moira the mom, who loved to laugh and doted on her daughter.

“This was more about talking about my mom as a person and not just a police officer. She is that but she’s much more than that too,” she said. “The smile captures who she was.”

Seeking justice

Once she felt a sense of duty to share her mother’s story, Patricia knew it was important to share her family’s fight for justice for 9/11 victims, too.

In May 2017, she and her father flew to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the start of pretrial hearings of five detainees U.S. officials said were involved in planning 9/11.

She’d been offered the chance to go once before, but was on a service trip in Cambodia at the time. When the opportunity arrived again in 2017, Patricia said yes.

“At that point, going to Guantánamo, that was more for me and my family,” she said.

She rehearsed how she’d respond to seeing the five men. She tried to shake her jitters.

“I was handing my passport over to security going on the plane and I was shaking,” she said.

She was only there to observe the proceedings but it was a powerful moment, she said.

“I didn’t cry, I didn’t have a reaction because I didn’t want to give them a reaction,” she said.

A new journey

In August, Patricia moved to Alabama to start college, and she’s settled into her dorm.

Among cheerful pillows and elephant tapestries, she brought memories of Moira with her: photos of her mother holding Patricia as a baby, a necklace with Moira’s name.

Each Sept. 11 is a solemn one, but Monday’s will be different, a new marker on Patricia’s personal timeline. She’s had some experience reflecting alone on the anniversary of the attacks, but this time, she won’t be in New York.

“I’ve never been in a different state by myself on Sept. 11,” she said.
Alabama is different from New York, she said. People don’t talk about 9/11 the same way they do on Long Island.

“I haven’t heard anything about it yet here,” she said. “I know New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, we have strong connections to 9/11. I just figured people would be more reactive here.”

She will share her mother’s legacy through a few media interviews that day, and she plans to spend the evening with her new friends.

“My dad and family are big believers in celebrating my mom’s life,” she said. “We always ended the day on a positive note.”

Why Has This Been Such An Active Hurricane Season?

They just keep coming – Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and now Maria. A bumper crop of hurricanes so far this year, with four of them at this point deemed major.

Harvey devastated Texas; Irma — deemed one of the most powerful storms ever in the Atlantic — left a path of destruction through much of the Caribbean and Florida; and Maria was roaring along in the northeastern Caribbean as a Category 5, weakened to a Category 4 just as it made landfall on Puerto Rico Wednesday.

With more than two months of the Atlantic hurricane season still ahead, already 13 named storms, seven of them hurricanes – have developed as of Sept. 20. Compare that to the average for an entire season, from June 1 through November 30, which is 12 named storms with six of them developing into hurricanes.

These numbers are proving forecasters’ earlier calls to be on track. Back in May, their outlook was for above-average activity for the 2017 season, and that call was strengthened in early August, indicating that above-average was likely with “the potential to be extremely active.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, here’s what was predicted, what’s average and what’s happened so far:

Named storms

were predicted in this year’s forecast

is the average expected each year

is how many we’ve seen as of Sept. 20

Classified hurricanes

were predicted in this year’s forecast

is the average expected each year

is how many we’ve seen as of Sept. 20

Major storms

were predicted in this year’s forecast

is the average expected each year

is how many we’ve seen as of Sept. 20

A major storm is one which is Category 3 or higher, based on maximum sustained wind speed.

Harvey and Irma will be going into the hurricane history books, described as “catastrophic,” “life threatening” — and in Irma’s case, one of the most powerful storms ever in the Atlantic. As for Maria,
the second Category 5 storm of the year, it’s too early to tell its ultimate level of damage, but it is being described as “potentially catastrophic.”


Here’s how experts explain it

Some key conditions are easing the way for tropical systems to form and intensify, forecasters say.

First, a lack of vertical wind shear

Vertical wind shear, which involves rapid shifts in speed and/or direction, can interfere with the formation of tropical systems and weaken or destroy those that have already developed, NOAA says.

Wind shear is a factor associated with El Nino, a climate pattern that starts in the tropical Pacific, which forecasters had earlier thought could develop this year. 

By early August, those chances “dropped significantly,” the NOAA hurricane outlook said. At that point computer models were indicating a thumbs-down for the formation of a hurricane-supressing El Nino – and a thumbs-up for above-average activity.

Warm water = fuel

Hurricanes need water that’s at least 79 degrees. That’s why peak hurricane season doesn’t begin until mid-August.

Early last month researchers at Colorado State University said that “the tropical Atlantic has been much warmer than normal for the past several months, and is likely to remain so, therefore providing more fuel for developing tropical cyclones.”

Other atmospheric factors

Weaker trade winds, a strong upper-level ridge, the disposition of high-level winds coming off Africa and a stronger West African monsoon all play a part.

Along with that weak wind shear, these conditions allow “for stronger African easterly [atmospheric] waves, from which tropical storms and hurricanes can more easily develop,” NOAA says.

For example, Irma — a classic Cape Verde storm, that began near the islands off the west coast of Africa — gained strength because high-altitude winds, which can fight or even decapitate storms, were not strong.



Are back-to-back storms normal?

Major storms can and do form back-to-back and did so last year with Matthew and Nicole, but having more than one hit the United States in a season is strange. If Irma hits Florida as a Category 4 or 5 storm, it will be the first time in historical record that the United States was hit by two Category 4 or 5 storms in one year, said Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach.

To what degree is climate change in the picture?

As the earth and atmosphere warm, oceans also absorb heat.

Still, those warmer waters in the tropical Atlantic are primarily associated with natural temperature variability, Klotzbach said.

And while there “may be a slight human component,” it’s hard to tie climate change to tropical systems, as there’s such variability from year to year in their numbers and intensity, he said.

As for making a case for a particular storm, Jason Samenow, weather editor and chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, says he takes the middle ground when it comes to Hurricane Harvey.

“Climate change probably made Harvey worse, but I wouldn’t say profoundly worse. This is a storm that, irrespective of climate change, was going to be terrible.”

Finally – hurricane season lasts how much longer???

Close to three months remain in the season that officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

For Long Island, the peak month for activity has historically been September, said Jay Engle, National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton.

With The Associated Press

Here’s what Amtrak did at Penn Station during the ‘Summer of Hell’

As roughly 300,000 daily LIRR commuters navigated new and different routes during the 53 days of what became known as the “Summer of Hell,” 360 Amtrak workers were working around the clock on a $30 million project to rebuild the infrastructure of one of Penn Station’s most troubled areas.

With construction having ended on Thursday, and with LIRR schedules back to normal this week, here’s a look at what took place during that time at Penn Station’s A-interlocking and on Track 10 — the epicenters of the construction projects that necessitated the summer service changes.

The project

A-interlocking is the area of tracks and switches that helps route trains arriving at Penn Station from the Hudson River Tunnels and LIRR’s West Side Yard.



Once they pass through A-interlocking, the trains are routed to the various platforms within Penn Station itself, including Tracks 13 through 21, where LIRR commuters typically arrive and depart.



Officials say aging infrastructure, along with the sheer volume of people using the hub, led to the recent spate of service disruptions at Penn Station. Rather than continue to patch problematic infrastructure, the decision was made to move forward with the summer plans to replace the equipment at A-interlocking completely, and at the same time to rebuild Penn’s Track 10.

In early July, as LIRR commuters left for work extra early for Day 1 of the “Summer of Hell,” Amtrak crews got to work.

A-interlocking

The first stage of the project required complete demolition and removal of old track and switches. Workers began by dismantling old equipment.



Heavy-duty cranes (that can lift up to 125 tons) were brought in to remove the old tracks and switches.



Many of the new pieces of track were built off-site and transported from outside locations in New York and New Jersey. Here, a new 69B switching package is loaded in Elizabeth, New Jersey …



… and brought into Penn Station.



The crane would then put the new equipment into place.



With the big pieces in position, workers used equipment such as abrasive rail cutting saws to make sure the new setup met design specifications.



Once the new tracks and switches were placed, teams wired in new air-controlled switch machines.



The final step of the work at A-interlocking was the installation of new connection rails …



… and the new setup was ready to go.



Track 10

Though not used by the LIRR, the other main component of the “Summer of Hell” was a full replacement of Track 10. Work began with the full demolition of all rails, cables and signals, plus 100 yards of concrete roadbed.



After an elaborate removal process, new timber was placed, leveled and installed.



Once the formwork and new track ties were ready, concrete was brought in by the truckload by way of Penn’s “Empire Tunnel” on 10th Avenue.



The concrete was then poured …



… and workers leveled it for the new track. By the fifth week of the “Summer of Hell,” 1,100 feet of concrete had been installed at Penn Station.



By Aug. 24 – a week before the construction deadline – the new Track 10 was ready to go.



WITH REPORTING FROM ALFONSO A. CASTILLO

Inside the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force



The nondescript office building in Melville could easily pass for an insurance company.

It’s the command center for the federal task force leading Long Island’s fight against street gangs, most notably MS-13, the criminal organization accused of dozens of vicious killings in Suffolk and Nassau.

Geraldine Hart, the 21-year FBI veteran who leads the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, said when it comes to MS-13 the bureau’s chief target is the 200 hard-core members of the gang at large on Long Island. But the task force also focuses on other violent street gangs operating on the Island, such as the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings.

“We deal with the worst of the worst,” said Hart, who also is the chief FBI supervisor on the Island. The task force focuses on made — or, as they are known within MS-13, “jumped in” — members of the gang, not “kids [who] can make gang signs,” she said.

We deal with the worst of the worst.

FBI Senior Supervisory Special Agent Geraldine Hart. Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr.



President Donald Trump, who has linked gang violence with illegal immigration, visited Brentwood in July and spoke about needing to “liberate” towns on Long Island from the scourge of the gang. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to Long Island and pledged “to demolish” MS-13.

Sources say there have been at one time or another at least 11 different MS-13 chapters active on Long Island. Most of its members hail from El Salvador and other Central American countries.

And there is new information that MS-13’s leadership in El Salvador is now once again attempting to centralize its control over all the Long Island chapters, the sources said.

Inside the Melville offices there are 33 investigators and crime analysts who make up the task force — equally divided between FBI agents and crime analysts and their counterparts in 10 other law enforcement organizations, including Nassau and Suffolk county police.



Hart, bureau officials and agents, including Michael McGarrity, the head of the FBI’s overall criminal division for the New York area, agreed to talk about the work of the gang task force in general terms. They declined to talk about current cases or investigations, such as the recent arrest of the MS-13 members in the killings of the two Brentwood teenage girls or four young men in Central Islip.

Since 2010, there have been charges filed against defendants in 40 gang-related homicides in Suffolk and Nassau as a result of the work of the task force, according to FBI figures. And of the 17 MS-13-related homicides in Suffolk since 2016, nine of them so far were solved by task force investigators, the FBI says.

Since its establishment in 2003, the task force has made 1,190 arrests, including 280 members of MS-13, of whom 30 were top leaders of chapters, according to FBI statistics. Most arrests have resulted in successful prosecutions on charges including murder, attempted murder and assault in federal court in Central Islip. Prosecutors in the office of Acting Eastern District U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde work closely with the task force in developing cases, officials say.


The task force also gets regular input from other investigators not stationed at the Melville office, and other police departments on Long Island that could help them identify a pattern — such as the arrest of a suspected gang member at a particular location — that might lead to other arrests or a better understanding of an MS-13 chapter or hierarchy.

McGarrity and Hart say that the task force uses the same “enterprise theory” in dealing with gangs that the FBI has used on traditional organized crime: Each chapter is a single organization or enterprise, all of whose members are involved and which should be completely eliminated, member by member.

Hart is more than familiar with the enterprise theory; she led the FBI’s New York squads investigating the Genovese, Bonnano and Colombo organized crime families.

Working in collaboration with local police and others that may have gang information but not the resources or the time to deal with gang activity, the FBI can bring its greater resources to bear on all the members of a chapter, McGarrity said.

Those resources include a network of FBI agents in other MS-13 hot spots such as the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Boston, and Los Angeles, as well as about a half-dozen FBI agents permanently stationed in El Salvador working with Salvadorean law enforcement officials on the gang and sharing information with the task force on Long Island.

Further bolstering the work of the task force are federal criminal laws such as Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that provides for more penalties and allow prosecutors to charge criminal elements with a broader range of crimes.

“The latest surge in MS-13 criminal activity is being met head-on and has resulted in significant racketeering charges, due in large part to the collective experience our office and task force members have developed,” Rohde said.

And the FBI has deep financial resources allowing for significant payments for informants, as well as for overtime pay for local law enforcement officers.


A key element in the gang fight is the ability to place cooperators in the federal witness protection program.

For example, in the case of the MS-13 members who in 2010 murdered 2-year-old Diego Torres and his mother, Vanessa Argueta — because she showed disrespect to the gang — a key informant and gang associate, Carla Santos, was placed in the witness program. She testified in 2013 in federal court against one of the killers and was guarded by federal marshals from the program, according to court records. The defendant was convicted of murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison plus 35.

And another of the killers convicted in the case, Argueta’s former boyfriend, Juan Garcia, was captured in 2014 in Central America, a day after he was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and a $100,000 reward was offered for his arrest.

But McGarrity and Hart stressed that the unstinting cooperation between the FBI and the local Long Island police forces and other agencies is vital to the task force’s work.



Raid breaks up meeting

Soon after its establishment in 2003, the task force had a big win. At dusk on Oct. 10, 2004, as an FBI surveillance plane circled overhead, 50 heavily armed agents stormed a three-story building at 25 Montague Place in Brooklyn, hurling six flash-bang grenades to break up a planned secret meeting of the heads and other members of the Long Island chapters of the MS-13 street gang called by the leadership in El Salvador.

An infrared film of the event recorded from the plane shows gang members tossing guns out windows and unsuccessfully attempting to evade capture by fleeing from the building’s roof to adjoining rooftops. In all, 16 members of the gang, were arrested without incident at the building and in follow-up raids in the following days. The raid resulted in convictions in several murders as well as other violent crimes, according to officials and court records.



The raid also resulted in quashing — to this day — the effort by the gang’s central leadership in El Salvador to coordinate the activities of its Long Island chapters, say sources familiar with the results of the raid.

Three of those arrested had been in direct contact with the leadership in El Salvador, which ordered the LI chapters to unite and follow the Central American leadership, the sources said. A more centralized, Central-American-based control of MS-13’s cliques in an area is more typical of the gang structure in Los Angeles, the Washington suburbs, and the Boston area, the sources said.

Most recently the task force’s work in the face of the latest surge in violence by MS-13 has resulted in the arrests of gang members accused in: the killings of two teenage girls who attended Brentwood High School and the slayings of four young men in a Central Islip park.

In March, six months after the September killings of the Brentwood teenage girls — Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15 — the task force’s work resulted in the arrests of a half-dozen members of MS-13 in the slayings. Gang members believed Cuevas had disrespected them, while Mickens had been assaulted while walking down a street with her friend, officials said. More than a half-dozen members of the MS-13 street gang “whose primary mission is murder” were indicted in the killings, officials said.

In July, four months after the April slayings in a Central Islip park of four young men, the task force arrested and charged about a dozen defendants the in the slayings of Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas at the time, officials have said. MS-13 members believe some of the four had disrespected the gang and were believed to be members of a rival gang, authorities have said.

Specific skills are key

While many investigators on the task might be involved in providing information on a case, a four-member team — two FBI agents and two other investigators — is typically responsible for investigating one particular case, Hart says.

The FBI supervisor in the task force’s early days, Robert Hart — no relation to Geraldine Hart — who is now an assistant Nassau County Police Commissioner, said the FBI selected for the task force agents who speak Spanish, have the ability to get along with people with a special sensitivity, and those with an understanding of the Salvadorean culture and MS-13 structure and habits.

It was not unusual, for example, for an agent to help getting a suspect to cooperate by buying a suspect pupusas, the corn tortilla filled with cheese or beans or pork that is a staple of El Salvadorean cuisine, according to a source.

Also helping drive the work of the task force is what investigators see as the unrestrained brutality of MS-13.

FBI agent Ed Heslin, a Spanish-speaking former immigration lawyer, said that even after serving as an investigator with the bureau in Afghanistan, “I was shocked” by the close-up violence of MS-13 members on Long Island.

In Afghanistan, the killing was at a distance: “Not personal” involving “somebody with an IED,” Heslin said.

But to the MS-13, “It’s close up and personal,” where victims are attacked face-to-face with machetes and knives and bats.

Hart found it “shocking to me” that the gang would murder a 2-year-old.
As someone who was raised on Long Island, Hart said she finds it “very satisfying … to have some input in diminishing these gangs.”

Hart says that there is “an ebb and flow” to MS-13’s notoriety and visible presence on Long Island. The task force would typically arrest and prosecutors convict the major MS-13 members on Long Island, but several years later the gang’s cliques would resurface with newer members from Central America.

Experts who study MS-13 say this ebb and flow reflects both downturns in El Salvador economy, making the United State an attractive place for people to seek work, as well as the waxing and waning of the violent wars between criminal gangs and the military and police in El Salvador.

Ron Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division, and now head of the Law Enforcement Criminal Defense Fund, said law enforcement alone cannot permanently stamp out MS-13; they will persist until the financial and immigration issues involving El Salvador are solved.

But whatever the overall solution, Hart says, when it comes to stopping MS-13 violence and arresting those who commit the gang’s brutal crimes.: “We don’t go away … We are never going to stop. We always have and will always be doing cases.”

Solar Eclipse 2017: Live Updates From LI and Beyond

For years, astronomers and other sky watchers have been ticking off the days in anticipation of the celestial event that is now behind us.

A partial solar eclipse was visible on Long Island between roughly 1:25 p.m. and 4 p.m. In other parts of the United States, crowds were awed by totality — a period of minutes when the moon completely blocked the sun — but Long Islanders saw just 70 percent coverage. Throngs of people gathered at beaches, museums and other outdoor spaces, passing around eclipse glasses, taking photos and looking skyward.

Here’s how the event played out on social media from Long Island and beyond:

The following times are in Eastern Standard Time.


4:10 p.m. Reflecting at Jones Beach

3:55 p.m. South Carolina

3:40 p.m. Washington, D.C.


The scene in New York City


On Long Island

As the partial eclipse gets underway here, Long Islanders armed with the proper eyewear are looking to the sky.


1:30 p.m. Partial eclipse underway on Long Island

On Long Island, the eclipse began at about 1:25 p.m. It will peak at about 2:45 p.m.

1:30 p.m. Totality nearing in Idaho


1:20 p.m. Totality in Oregon


1:10 p.m. Getting ready on Long Island


1:00 p.m. Oregon

12:30 p.m. Oregon

12:10 p.m. Eclipse begins in Oregon

5 Ways to Send Tips to Newsday


Do you have information that might lead Newsday to an important story, or an investigation? A document that starts us on the trail?

Tips sent from the public are often the spark for stories in Newsday, like when someone called alerting us that drugs had been found in the prison cell of ex-Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke.

Even the smallest tips can lead to a big story, such as when a reader told Newsday about traffic backups at Oyster Bay Town’s Hicksville parking garage. This led to a story about how the $65 million, 6-year-old garage project started leaking as soon as it opened, damaging commuters’ cars.

Another tip led to a story explaining how three union pension funds based on Long Island, and dozens nationwide, were in danger of running out of money to pay retiree benefits because they have too few workers supporting too many retirees.

Below are five ways for you to send our journalists tips, documents and data with a range of security options. While every tip is important, we will not respond unless we need more information. And please note that if you are attempting to protect your anonymity, certain methods identified below can help, but no communication system is completely secure. Make sure to review any app or system’s terms and instructions for use as well.

For a general story idea, press release, feedback, or a letter to the editor, please take a look at this list of Newsday contacts.

WhatsApp

Use Newsday’s tips-only WhatsApp number to quickly send a message with end-to-end encryption, a system that conceals messages with a lock and only the recipient has the key to unlock and read. WhatsApp is a free messaging app owned by Facebook. It allows users to send and receive texts, photos, videos, documents and calls. It can be downloaded for free in iTunes or the Google Play store.

This is a two-way exchange, so we may reply to your message.

Make sure to read the WhatsApp terms and instructions carefully and the security information before downloading or using any software. For example, you should know that WhatsApp keeps a record of phone numbers used in any exchange and the user’s metadata, which includes the time of the call. If WhatsApp was compelled by legal process to release this information, it could provide enough data to draw a conclusion about who a person is chatting with and how often.

Newsday’s WhatsApp tip number: 631-327-4409

SecureDrop

Newsday has set up a SecureDrop encrypted submission system using Tor anonymity software for those who seek to provide information anonymously. SecureDrop is what many major news organizations use to receive information including tips and documents from anonymous sources.

It can be complicated to use, but the software protects your identity, location and the information you send. We won’t ask for any identifiable information and we won’t track or log information sent through this system. We strongly recommend that you use a public Wi-Fi network, and that your computer is completely free of malware. Instructions on how to set up and use SecureDrop can be found here.

Before downloading and installing software from from Tor network, make sure to read through the terms and instructions carefully.

Address: http://lgzh2v2gmnawz5qu.onion

Email

Email is also a good way to send Newsday tips, but keep in mind there isn’t any built-in security. If you have a general story idea, press release, feedback, or a letter to the editor use Newsday’s list of departments, topics and contacts to get your email to the right person. But, if the tip you have is sensitive or specific to a particular story, such as sending us documents or data, use the email below.

You can email us here: editor@newsday.com

Phone

You can always call the Newsday newsroom using the number below if you have tips. Our newsroom staff will direct your information to the necessary editor or reporter. You can choose to leave a call-back number or not.

Call us at this number: 631-843-2700

Mail

You can send confidential tips or documents through the U.S. Postal Service. If you want to protect your identity and to keep from getting tracked, do not include your name or a return address and use a public mailbox that’s not near your home or office. To go a step further, we recommend that you check for surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the mailbox. We’ll take care of the rest on our end.

Address:
Newsday tips
235 Pinelawn Rd.
Melville, NY 11747

40 years later: “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz captured

By Rachel Uda | Published August 9, 2017

Forty years ago, the capture of David Berkowitz — better known as Son of Sam — put an end to a series of killings that left six people dead and terrified New York City for more than a year.

His seemingly random attacks on young women and couples meeting in the city’s lovers’ lanes prompted people to stay indoors and women with long hair — reputedly the killer’s prime targets — to cut their hair short.

The hunt for Berkowitz, first dubbed by the media as the “.44-caliber killer” due to his weapon of choice, was at the time the most dramatic in the city’s history and the largest in scope.

In an article about Berkowitz’s Aug. 10 capture, Newsday wrote: “In the year’s time that Sam terrorized the city, New Yorkers lived with fear and a feeling of helplessness generated by a man who killed people he did not know for reasons normal persons could not understand.”

Here’s a look back at the case: