WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 3-6-2014
Wilmington News Journal: Delaware’s dirty water a costly problem
The Wilmington News Journal reports thousands of miles of water run through Delaware, in creeks and streams and rivers and bays, and very little of it is considered healthy. Nearly all of the state's rivers and streams – 94 percent, the highest amount in the region – are so bad that fish can't thrive. In 85 percent of them, Delawareans can't swim. The problem is a product of dangerous toxins, unsanitary runoff and destructive deposits creeping in unseen. If left untouched, Delaware runs the risk of endangering its drinking water supplies, leaving fish caught in state waters too contaminated to eat and losing a multimillion dollar tourism industry built on a promise of clean, clear water.
Modesto Bee: New orchards may gulp 39 billion gallons of water
The Modesto Bee reports the cumulative impact of rapidly expanding almond orchards in California’s eastern Stanislaus County soon may create a massive drain on the region’s groundwater supply. An estimated 4 million newly planted trees are expected to start consuming as much water as 480,000 people. That’s roughly the population of Sacramento, and more than twice the population of Modesto. This city of thirsty trees has taken root virtually unregulated on what had been dry grazing land along the county’s far eastern and northeastern edge.
Cincinnati Enquirer: City tax breaks benefit well-off neighborhoods
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports about 5 percent of Cincinnati homeowners – many in the wealthiest neighborhoods – are paying less in taxes than the rest because their homes were built or renovated within the past decade. An exclusive Enquirer analysis found it’s costing Cincinnati Public Schools the equivalent of 104 teachers, the city the equivalent of 17 police officers, and Hamilton County the equivalent of 400 days of care for abused or abandoned children, among other costs. The reason is Cincinnati’s tax-abatement program, which was expanded citywide a dozen years ago to encourage residents to invest in aging homes and neighborhoods. The city is among many across Ohio and the United States that have used abatements to combat movement to the suburbs.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: State stalls for years on child porn tips
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that courts records reveal at least two cases in which the Wisconsin Department of Justice took years to act on detailed and credible tips about online child pornography that had been referred by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As a result, a 19-year-old Milwaukee man with a history of sexual assault arrests was left free to allegedly molest a 15-year-old schoolmate, while a Pewaukee man who worked as a juvenile drug and alcohol counselor walked away with a nine-month work-release sentence that didn't require him to register as a sex offender. Two special agents with the department's Division of Criminal Investigation were reassigned after Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters asked questions about the cases, and officials began a review to determine whether other tips were mishandled.
Star-Telegram: Texas seeks answers on rise in earthquakes
The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth reports the Texas Railroad Commission isn’t the only state energy regulator grappling with whether wastewater disposal wells used in natural gas drilling cause earthquakes. Agencies in Colorado, Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma and, most recently, Kansas have had to respond to seismic events that are new to them or have become far more frequent. And some states have concluded that there’s a direct link between the injection wells and the seismic activity. Ohio and Arkansas, meanwhile, moved relatively rapidly when faced with unexpected quakes near disposal wells. Arkansas permanently closed four injection wells after a swarm of quakes in 2011, and Ohio’s governor stepped in to order a well in Youngstown shut down after it was linked to quakes.
Denver Post: Project’s price takes off at Denver International Airport
The Denver Post reports the $544 million price tag for Denver International Airport's showcase hotel and train terminal construction project does not include at least $128 million in what airport management calls "additional related" costs, putting its real cost 34 percent over the $500 million budget proposed three years ago. As the cost of the project rose, airport officials have insisted it remains on or close to budget. But in order to do that, they have excluded related costs and apparently cut spending in other critical areas. During the past two years, DIA management slashed more than $200 million from the airport's runway-repair budget and other long-term maintenance projects, a Denver Post investigation found.
Arizona Daily Star: Lax record-keeping blurs impact of Arizona’s immigration law
The Arizona Daily Star reports its analysis of thousands of records from 13 Southern Arizona law-enforcement agencies reveals a patchwork of immigration-enforcement policies and data so incomplete there’s no way to determine how police are implementing the law, or whether they are committing the systemic civil-rights violations opponents feared. A provision of the law that took effect in September 2012 requires local law enforcement to try to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if they come to believe those suspects are in the country illegally. But police still don’t regularly keep records of those checks. The few agencies that do rarely have a system for analyzing the data for patterns. And oversight is almost nonexistent.
Albuquerque Journal: Child abuse victims often abused again in New Mexico
The Albuquerque Journal reports a two-month investigation found that while child abuse and neglect has surged in New Mexico, there is also a troubling trend of children being revictimized even after Children, Youth and Families Department involvement. Federal and state reports show that up to one-fourth of New Mexico’s 79 child abuse or neglect deaths since 2008 involved children whose families had previously been on CYFD’s radar. Since fiscal year 2008, New Mexico has consistently ranked among the states with the highest percentages of children who were revictimized within six months of a substantiation of abuse or neglect. The state ranked second in fiscal year 2011, after a hiring freeze imposed by the prior administration led to an acute increase in workloads of CYFD investigators.
The Arizona Republic: A conservative political force behind the scene
The Arizona Republic reports that Cathi Herrod, without winning a vote, has for two decades powered Arizona’s social-conservative movement, pushing her agenda in the halls of the Capitol, at the ballot box, and always away from the spotlight. That was until last week, when Arizonans outside the political realm took notice of the woman whom admirers and foes alike refer to as Arizona’s 31st senator. As president of the Center for Arizona Policy, Herrod leads the conservative Christian organization that wrote the bill that rained down criticism on the state as a place hostile to gays and lesbians and drew threats of an economic backlash from corporations, pro-sports leagues and conventions.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 2-27-2014
Columbus Dispatch: Residential streets see few snowplows
The Columbus Dispatch analyzed about 1.3 million GPS data points created by city snowplows during two recent storms. The data show that on Feb. 5-9, city trucks spent more time with their plows down on streets and highways outside their jurisdiction than on residential roads. By that Sunday, more than a foot of snow blanketed some streets. When asked about the GPS and sensor data last week, officials said some data from the $139,000 system are unreliable. Data from that week show that city trucks drove nearly 14,000 miles with plows down on arterial streets, the city’s first priority during a snowstorm. They plowed an additional 2,300 miles on collector streets that feed major arteries. Those are priorities, according to the city’s storm plans. But residential streets received the least attention — even less than streets that aren’t in the city.
Read more:http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/02/23/residential-streetssaw-few-plows-data-show.htmlAtlanta Journal Constitution: Lobbyists rush to donate before legislature opens
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports Georgia’s pharmacy lobby wanted legislation to make it easier for druggists to administer a host of vaccines without a prescription. They got policymakers’ attention the usual way. The week before the 2014 session, the pharmacists contributed $35,000 to the reelection campaigns of state officials and lawmakers, including Gov. Nathan Deal and more than 50 legislators. Pharmacy officials say the contributions weren’t deliberately timed to the start of the session, but such last-minute campaign donations are a legislative tradition. Dozens of lawmakers typically hold fundraisers in the early days of January because they legally can’t accept checks during the two-to three-month legislative session.
Read more (online subscribers only) :http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/special-interests-pour-13-million-into-capitol-tro/ndWSK/
Austin American-Statesman: Booking suspects costly for Austin
The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman reports the city of Austin has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — on top of millions that taxpayers were already spending — for its criminal suspects to be booked into the Travis County Jail over the past year, quietly siphoning money away from other projects. For more than a decade, the city has paid a negotiated fee to the county to fingerprint, take mug shots and to detain Austin police suspects until they are either released on bond or transferred to county custody. This year, the city’s fees for that service topped $6.5 million.
Read more (Subscribers only)http://www.statesman.com/news/news/crime-law/city-spending-more-in-booking-fees-to-county/ndYjx/Boston Globe: Massachusetts easing rules for some pollutants
The Boston Globe reports developers will be allowed to leave substantially more arsenic and lead in the soil deep below contaminated construction sites under new state rules, leading environmental advocates to accuse the Patrick administration of rolling back key public health protections. The regulations, slated to take effect this spring, would double the amount of lead and increase by 150 percent the amount of arsenic allowed to remain in dirt 15 feet or more below the surface. Pollutants at those depths rarely present a public safety hazard unless they are dug up during construction, and the state Department of Environmental Protection says the changes are supported by scientific studies. Critics worry the rules will spur developers to build on contaminated land, known as brownfields, potentially creating plumes of toxic dust and sludge that can get into waterways and the air.
Read more:http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2014/02/23/environmentalists-worry-about-raising-arsenic-and-lead-levels-allowed-under-building-sites/NAB8XrRBu69AmHu1jGtrVL/story.htmlFort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: Everglades drilling concerns deepen
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports energy exploration at the western edge of the Everglades is expanding into a potential oil boom, as companies prepare to use new drilling techniques to tap a vast deposit of crude oil in South Florida. A Texas company is planning to drill an exploratory well next to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge east of Naples. And other companies are seeking approval to conduct testing on tens of thousands of acres beneath the Big Cypress National Preserve. These plans could dramatically expand the state's oil production, boosting jobs and energy supplies. But some environmental activists fear that drilling in this delicate ecosystem not only threatens endangered wildlife but poses a hazard to drinking water in underground aquifers.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Drug sentences all over the map
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports state judges are routinely rejecting guidelines that are supposed to make drug sentencing uniform and equitable statewide, according to the newspaper’s analysis of more than 21,000 drug convictions in Minnesota from 2007 to 2012. The difference between getting prison or probation for the same drug crime often comes down to which county offenders live in, or which judge does the sentencing. In the 8th Judicial District in western Minnesota, offenders convicted of the most serious drug crimes face a 77 percent chance of getting the full prison sentence. In Hennepin County, only 27 percent get the toughest penalty, according to the Star Tribune analysis. Judges who frequently depart from the recommended prison sentences say those guidelines often punish low-level drug offenders too severely, filling up state prisons with addicts who would be better off receiving treatment.
Read more:http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/246715481.htmlOrange County Register: University of California loses millions in interest-rate deals
The Orange County Register reports the University of California has lost tens of millions of dollars, and is set to lose far more, after making risky bets on interest rates on the advice of Wall Street bankers. University officials agreed to the financial deals – complex contracts known as interest-rate swaps – because they believed they could save money in the midst of an aggressive building spree. But the deals are now costing the university an estimated $6 million a year, according to its financial statements. And university accountants estimate the 10-campus system will lose as much as $136 million over the next 34 years that it is locked into the deals. Those potential losses would be reduced only if interest rates start to rise.
Read more:http://www.ocregister.com/articles/university-602769-interest-rate.htmlThe Press-Enterprise: Concerns cloud popularity of electronic cigarettes
The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., reports the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes, introduced in the United States in 2007, has brought not only a fast proliferation of stores, but also alarm from school districts, health researchers and federal, state and local governments that are trying to size up how the handheld vaporizers fit in the universe of regulation. There are no government-agency standards or testing results for the devices or their components, or certification of the ingredients in the liquids — water, flavorings and either vegetable glycerine or propylene glycol (also used in ice cream, toothpaste and cosmetics). Nor are there any standards for the amounts of nicotine they contain. The American Lung Association has been critical of the absence of regulation, saying consumers, public health officials and physicians are being left in the dark about what the health effects might be.
Newark Star Ledger: Potential conflict for NY-NJ port authority chair
The Newark Star Ledger reports that David Samson, as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, voted to award millions of dollars in Port Authority contracts to a company whose owner is represented by Samson’s law firm in a hotly contested and lucrative legal fight. In the three years since Samson took over at the bistate agency, the Paterson-based Railroad Construction Company Inc. has received nearly $16 million in work on projects ranging from the World Trade Center to the Hackensack River Bridge, according to a Star-Ledger review of meeting minutes and contracts listed on the Port Authority’s website. The most recent contract was awarded last month, according to the website.
Read more:http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/02/david_samsons_business_interests_overlap_with_work_at_port_authority.htmlHouston Chronicle: Oil drilling boom leaves deadly legacy
The Houston Chronicle reports its investigation of injury claims, government data and public records of oil field accidents since the start of the oil drilling and fracking boom in 2007 shows federal government failure to implement safety standards and procedures for onshore oil and gas drilling. The analysis by the newspaper also shows a lack of government inspections and shoddy practices by many oil and gas companies. The newspaper says the result is a toll of badly injured or killed workers.
AP: More U.S. soldiers forced out for misconduct
The Associated Press reported the number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has soared in the past several years as the military emerges from a decade of war that put a greater focus on battle competence than on character. Data obtained by The Associated Press show that the number of officers who left the Army due to misconduct more than tripled in the past three years, from 119 in 2010 to 387 last year. The number of enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.
Los Angeles Times: GPS alerts overwhelm probation system
The Los Angeles Times reports that electronic monitoring was supposed to help Los Angeles County deal with the influx of thousands of felons moved out of California's prison system to ease overcrowding. Instead, agents are drowning in a flood of meaningless data, masking alarms that could signal real danger. County probation officers are inundated with alerts, and at times received as many as 1,000 a day. Most of the warnings mean little: a blocked signal or low battery. The messages are routinely ignored and at times have been deleted because there were so many, officers say.
Arizona Republic: Border Patrol fails to require use of less lethal weapons
The Arizona Republic reports an investigation finds that roughly one in every six incidents along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border in which agents used force against rock throwers in recent years occurred in Nogales, Ariz. Even though Border Patrol reports show that long-range less-lethal weapons, such as one that fires irritant “pepper balls,” are highly effective at dispersing rock throwers, Customs and Border Protection doesn’t require agents assigned to urban areas such as this one to carry such weapons. The Republic analyzed nearly 1,600 CBP use-of-force reports nationwide from 2010 to mid-2012, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. These reports, the most recent CBP has disclosed, showed the vast majority of the time agents responded to rockings with less-lethal weapons and easily dispersed rock throwers without injury to the agents, rock throwers or bystanders in the crowded areas on both sides of the border.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Non-emergencies burden 911 system
The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reports Lexington ambulances are often tied up with "sick cases" from coughs, nausea and sore throats to more bizarre calls, such as bad dreams, intoxicated behavior and someone who needs a Band-Aid, medical runs that would be better handled at doctors' offices or walk-in clinics than hospital emergency rooms. A Herald-Leader analysis of six years' worth of fire and ambulance data shows that the city's firefighters responded to 26 percent more sick cases and generic injuries than any other type of call in the past six years.
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot: Army volunteer for almost three years keeps city job
The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reports the head of Virginia Beach’s second-largest department hasn’t been to work in nearly three years and keeps volunteering for military service instead of returning to his $150,000-a-year job. Since deploying in June 2011 – days after a city auditor’s report recommended that he be fired – Public Works Director Jason Cosby has become vested in the city’s pension plan and still collects more than $35,000 a year in benefits, although his salary is on hold. Cosby’s mandatory service ended in 2012, but he took assignments around the world that kept him on active duty, according to military records and interviews with commanders.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Unlimited, big money flows into race for governor
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the flow of outsize checks to candidates for governor of Pennsylvania, disclosed in recent filings, shines a new spotlight on the state's wide-open campaign laws, with no limits on donations from individuals and political committees. Donations so far include $500,000 from someone who wants a seat on the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees, a $250,000 "thank you" from a philanthropist and $1 million from a York County businessman who says he just wants a good governor. Watchdog groups say big donors always want something and the flood of money at least brings access to public officials that regular voters can't match.
Palm Beach Post: Insurers offer discount to track your car
The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reports car insurers tout savings up to 30 or even 50 percent if drivers stick a gizmo in the car that tracks driving habits, but company disclosures show it can raise premiums in some cases, and an auto executive’s remarks have stirred unease about what companies monitor and what they do with the data. Whether the gadget becomes a new pal bragging about your exemplary driving, or a tiny turncoat dropping a digital dime on you, can depend on things many drivers don’t realize insurers watch, surveys show. Example: Driving after midnight if you work the night shift or try to beat the crowds at the 24-hour grocery. Or letting your speed creep up past 80 mph on the freeway, even if you never have an accident or get a ticket.
Read more (online subscribers only):http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/tracking-devices-pitch-driver-savings-but-bills-do/ndPpX/
Sacramento Bee: Meddling alleged in review of prison death
The Sacramento Bee reports that as California prison officials began looking into the September death of a breathing-impaired inmate who had been pepper-sprayed by a guard, they found themselves facing unusual interference and oversight from above, according to documents from an internal corrections investigation obtained by the newspaper. A corrections psychologist whose duties included a review of the Sept. 7 death of 35-year-old Joseph Duran complained she was told to delete information she had obtained about the death and, in one instance, to remove a reference to the use of pepper spray, according to transcripts of interviews conducted in recent weeks by internal affairs investigators with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 2-14-2014
Akron Beacon Journal: Taxpayers fund teaching "biblical truth”
The Akron Beacon Journal reports a Christian university in Ohio, whose president sits on the state school board overseeing school curriculum, is offering classes to public high school students at taxpayer expense and teaching courses from a conservative Christian perspective.
State law prohibits religious instruction as a part of the publicly funded Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program, but Ohio Christian University makes clear on its website that it teaches with a conservative Christian perspective. Students who enroll are eligible for high school and college credit. Many enroll online and some participate at the school’s Circleville campus.
Read more: http://www.ohio.com/news/break-news/ohio-school-board-member-s-private-college-teaches-biblical-truth-at-taxpayer-expense-1.465321
Arizona Republic: Mixed scorecard for evolving commerce agency
The Arizona Republic reports the Arizona Commerce Authority was created to enlist private-sector help to bring high-quality jobs to the state. Nearly three years into the effort, it has scored some big employment wins, suffered surprising setbacks and still faces lingering questions about its openness. As recently as last week, Arizona officials were getting rave reviews for a November deal bringing a key Apple Corp. supplier and 700 permanent jobs to an empty factory in Mesa. The deal, secured in part with a $10 million cash gift from taxpayers, serves as a defining triumph for the authority. Meanwhile, Intel Corp., another business eligible for millions in Arizona’s public support, is downsizing internationally and isn’t staffing a newly built factory in Chandler. Such is the fickle, fitful and often-complicated work of economic development in Arizona.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/business/arizonaeconomy/articles/20140126arizona-commerce-agency-scorecard-mixed.html
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Governor’s ethics complaint leads to panel upheaval
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports various goings on at Georgia’s ethic commission. The staff attorney is fired on suspicion that she was intoxicated on the job. The executive director is compelled to produce records by a federal grand jury. And it turns out the veteran lawyer brought in to right the ship was fired from his previous job for shoddy work and inappropriate behavior. That’s been the order of business lately at the ethics commission, the state agency charged with ensuring that politicians follow campaign finance laws. And at every twist and turn — occasionally at center stage, more often just a shade too close to completely avoid notice — is the state’s top elected official, Gov. Nathan Deal. What might have been a simple, soon-forgotten reprimand for behavior during his days in Congress has — in part because of his staff ’s subsequent actions — dogged Deal into his second run for governor.
Read more (for online subscribers only): www.myajc.com
Austin American-Statesman: Veterans group under scrutiny in Texas
The Austin American Statesman reports a veterans' organization banned in South Carolina and fined in Tennessee is drawing more scrutiny in Texas where it has been operating in several cities for years. The Austin American-Statesman reports that the employees of the Florida-based Veterans Support Organization in Austin resigned as a group in December, because the funds they collected for veterans were not staying in Texas. The Veterans Support Organization employs veterans and nonveterans to ask for money in front of businesses and at intersections. Critics say little of the collected money actually makes it to veterans.
Read more: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/veterans-support-organization-banned-or-fined-in-o/ndHyK/
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Army Corp’s costly fight against Asian carp
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports it might be back to the drawing board for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' sweeping proposal to spend billions of dollars and 25 years to block an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes. Buried within the Army Corps' 10,000-page study, and teased out in interviews with agency staff and legal experts, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that some controversial — if not inaccurate — interpretations of federal and state water laws are driving much of the project's astronomical costs and epic timeline.
Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/bulk-of-15-billion-plan-not-directly-tied-to-stopping-asian-carp-b99198589z1-244565881.html
The Oregonian: Oregon’s "atrocious” school attendance puts learning at risk
The Oregonian reports a massive but overlooked problem is jeopardizing the success of tens of thousands of Oregon students, leaving them at risk of never learning to read well or failing to graduate from high school. It’s not class size, curriculum or teacher training. It’s attendance. Last school year, nearly one in five Oregon students missed at least 10 percent of the school year, an investigation by The Oregonian shows. Those roughly 100,000 students were absent 3½ weeks of school or more – in most cases without raising alarms at their school. No other state has been shown to have a chronic absenteeism rate as bad as Oregon’s.
Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/absent/
The Post-Crescent: When financial interests and political actions collide
The Post Crescent reports Wisconsin Congressman Tom Petri has long been an enthusiastic booster in Washington for Oshkosh Corp., a defense contractor in his Wisconsin district, but he not only has a political stake in the company’s success, he has a personal one as well. To the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since 2006, he has purchased between $265,000 and $650,000 worth of shares in the company, which makes tactical vehicles for the military, a Gannett Washington Bureau review of financial disclosure reports found. During the same period, Petri has fired off letters to colleagues on the Hill and officials at the Pentagon advocating for millions of dollars worth of defense funding and a $3 billion truck-manufacturing contract for Oshkosh. In some cases, he told recipients about his stock.
Read more: http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20140208/APC0198/302080083/U-S-Rep-Tom-Petri-advocates-defense-contractor-which-he-owns-stock
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 2-6-2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Who’s responsible for deaths in detention?
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports at least 18 people have died in the custody of law enforcement agencies throughout Milwaukee County during the five-year period ending in 2012, not including suspects shot by police. At least 10 of them had medical or psychiatric conditions that were improperly monitored or left untreated by authorities, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found. None of the 18 custody deaths resulted in criminal charges against an officer. Discipline was handed down in just two cases — both under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Department — and the punishment of many of the officers was overturned. In the aftermath of in-custody deaths, pathologists, prosecutors and law enforcement rely on each other's conclusions — even when those conclusions are flawed — ensuring no one is held accountable when prisoners die, the Journal Sentinel investigation found.
Read more: http://m.jsonline.com/more/news/milwaukee/243112331.htm
New York Times: Plenty of exemptions to lobbying restrictions
The New York Times reported federal ethics rules are intended to limit lobbying by former senior officials within one year after they leave the government. Yet even after the ethics rules were revised in 2007 following a lobbying scandal, more than 1,650 congressional aides have registered to lobby within a year of leaving Capitol Hill, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from LegiStorm, an online database that tracks congressional staff members and lobbying. At least half of those departing aides, the analysis shows, faced no restrictions at all. The rules are particularly loose in the House of Representatives, where aides and lawmakers enjoy significant leeway in hopping from job to job — and from government pay to six- and seven-figure private sector salaries.
Read more: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/law-doesnt-end-revolving-door-on-capitol-hill/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
Houston Chronicle: Medicaid clogged in Texas
In the four months since the launch of the federal health insurance marketplace, more than 47,000 Texans have tried to enroll in Obamacare, only to be told their low incomes qualified them instead for Medicaid. Since then, just 110 people have been enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, state records show - .02 percent of those who were told they qualified. Federal officials say computer problems have prevented state Medicaid agencies, including Texas, from receiving referrals from the federal system. Tens of thousands of applications are stuck in the pipeline, said state Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman.
Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/health/article/Medicaid-confirmation-delayed-for-thousands-of-5197314.php
Newark Star-Ledger: NFL gets big tax break from New Jersey
The Newark Star-Ledger reports that when New Jersey landed this year’s Super Bowl, it gave the National Football League a major tax break. The state agreed to suspend the sales tax on all tickets and parking for the big game — a gift that will cost the state $8 million in lost revenues, officials said. All the security and police presence needed for the game — including the estimated 700 New Jersey state troopers patrolling in and around MetLife Stadium — will also not cost the NFL a dime. The state said it is covering all of its public safety expenses for the game, which is expected to include hundreds of hours in overtime.Officials say the cost of the game is worth it, pointing to the additional business and economic activity that will be generated by the game, including sales at local restaurants and bars, as well as increased hotel taxes.
Read more: http://www.nj.com/starledger/pdf/sunday.pdf
Washington Post: Hospice care need not mean end of life
The Washington Post reports hospice patients are expected to die and the treatment focuses on providing comfort to the terminally ill, not finding a cure. To enroll a patient, two doctors certify a life expectancy of six months or less. But over the past decade, the number of "hospice survivors” in the United States has risen dramatically, in part because hospice companies earn more by recruiting patients who aren’t actually dying, a Washington Post investigation has found. Healthier patients are more profitable because they require fewer visits and stay enrolled longer.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/medicare-rules-create-a-booming-business-in-hospice-care-for-people-who-arent-dying/2013/12/26/4ff75bbe-68c9-11e3-ae56-22de072140a2_story.html
Indianapolis Star: Who pays nuclear tab?
Who pays the bill when the cost of a nuclear power project goes wildly over budget? Thirty years ago — the last time this question came up in Indiana — the answer was clear: The utility would swallow the cost. And it did. Public Service Indiana nearly went bankrupt in 1984 when construction costs soared to $2.5 billion at its Marble Hill Nuclear Power Station in southern Indiana. The distressed company pulled the plug. The half-built plant was later dismantled and sold for parts. But that could change. Around the country, including in Indiana, a move is growing to shift up-front costs of potential nuclear power projects from utilities to ratepayers.In states from Florida to South Carolina, utilities can bill customers billions of dollars for engineering and construction costs — usually years before a single kilowatt hour of electricity is generated, and sometimes even if the plant is never built.
Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2014/02/01/nuclear-power-project-financing-option-sticks-ratepayers-with-tab-/5092887/
New York Times: Major donors rally behind GOP’s conservative rebels
The New York Times reports insurgent conservatives seeking to pull the Republican Party to the right raised more money last year than the groups controlled by the party establishment, whose bulging bank accounts and ties to major donors have been their most potent advantage in the running struggle over the party’s future, according to new campaign disclosures and interviews with officials. The shift in fortunes among the largest and most influential outside political groups, revealed in campaign filings, could have an enormous impact on the 2014 election cycle. The warring Republican factions are preparing to square off in a series of Senate and House primaries around the country as Republican leaders seek to rein in activists who they believe have fractured and endangered the party with policies that alienate independent-leaning voters.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/us/politics/rebel-conservatives-lead-way-in-gop-fund-raising.html
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT
IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-30-2014
Albuquerque Journal: City retirees collect millions in unused leave
The Albuquerque Journal reports
that retiring from City Hall often comes with something better than a fancy
watch. In Albuquerque, longtime employees walked away last year with tens of
thousands of dollars in cash – compensation for their unused vacation and sick
leave. In fact, seven of the city’s 10 highest-paid employees last year were
retirees who boosted their final checks by cashing out unused leave. It’s a
practice that costs the city about $6.7 million a year – all for vacation and
sick time never used by employees.The top earner at City Hall last year is
an example of the practice. James Breen, who retired as fire chief on Dec. 31
after 23 years, made nearly $160,000 in 2013, about $36,000 of which was a
payout for unused leave.
Arizona Daily Star: Receipts shed light on supervisors’ spending
The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson finds
that tax dollars paid for two county supervisors to buy Facebook "likes,” for
one supervisor to buy a $1,550 office chair and for a district staff meeting at
the Ritz-Carlton. Those expenses were among tens of thousands of dollars
supervisors spent last year on travel, lunches, digital cameras and
self-promotion. The paper reviewed 340 pages of receipts after filing a
public-records request for records for 2013 supervisor spending that generated
details on everything from a 97-cent get-well card for a county official to a
trip to Washington, D.C., that cost more than $3,800. Each Pima County
supervisor has the power to spend a $400,000-a-year operating budget at his or
her discretion, requiring almost no outside approval. Other county elected
officials, as well as thousands of county employees, have an ethics policy
governing meals and gifts.
Boston Globe: State
spent millions on secret settlements
The Boston Globe, in a major investigation of state
settlements, noted that in 2008, prosecutors accused Massachusetts Turnpike
workers of skimming thousands of dollars in tolls from passing motorists,
calling it "the very definition of a violation of the public trust.” Most of
them were convicted. But the cases against two of the workers, Paul Iacobacci
and Tony Pasuy, quietly fell apart. The state withdrew the charges, gave them
back their jobs, and paid them six months in back wages as part of a
confidential settlement. There was just one thing the Turnpike workers, like
some other state employees uncovered in a Globe investigation, did not get back
in the deal: Their reputations. The state never announced that Iacobacci and
Pasuy had been cleared or returned to their posts. It blacked out their names
on copies of settlement documents provided to the Globe, citing the workers’
right to privacy. And the two men were afraid to alert the news media
themselves, since they still worked for the Turnpike and feared retaliation,
one of them said. "It wasn’t my idea to keep this secret,” said Iacobacci, 54, who
was contacted by the Globe after a judge ordered the state to release his name.
"I would like people to know that I am innocent and did nothing wrong.” For
years, the state has used confidential settlement and severance deals to make
embarrassing problems go away, often requiring workers to promise to keep the
payments secret and avoid saying anything critical about the agencies.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Decline in federal grants is threat to state
The Minneapolis Star Tribune says
that the state’s half-billion-dollar pipeline of biomedical research grants
shrank again in 2013, as grants from the National Institutes of Health got
harder to come by. The state held its own compared to other states, according
to a Star Tribune analysis. But the decline has many Minnesota scientists
gnashing their teeth. "I see talented, well-trained and very promising young
investigators who are turning away from academia, or who are turning away from
research entirely because they’re having a very difficult time getting started
and they see their careers as being unsustainable,” said Dr. Paul Pentel,
president of the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation. "We’re losing a
generation of scientists and I think we’re going to feel the effects of this
for decades.” Nationally and in Minnesota, the National Cancer Institute, the
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Heart,
Lung and Blood Institute remain the top funding entities within the NIH. But
the National Institute on Aging is moving up the ladder because of heightened
concerns about Alzheimer’s and other disorders facing the baby boom generation.
Minnesota also gets considerable funding from the National Institute on
Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
New York Times: Accidents surge as oil industry takes the train
The New York Times reports that Kerry’s Kitchen is
where Casselton, N.D., residents gather for gossip and comfort food, especially
the caramel rolls baked fresh every morning. But a fiery rail accident last
month only a half mile down the tracks, which prompted residents to evacuate
the town, has shattered this calm, along with people’s confidence in the
crude-oil convoys that rumble past Kerry’s seven times a day. What was first
seen as a stopgap measure in the absence of pipelines has become a fixture in
the nation’s energy landscape — about 200 "virtual pipelines” that snake in
endless processions across the horizon daily. It can take more than five
minutes for a single oil train, made up of about 100 tank cars, to pass by
Kerry’s, giving this bedroom community 20 miles west of Fargo a front-row seat
to the growing practice of using trains to carry oil. … As domestic oil
production has increased rapidly in recent years, more and more of it is being
transported by rail because of the lack of pipeline capacity. The trains often
travel through populated areas, leading to concerns among residents over the
hazards they can pose, including spills and fires. … About 400,000
carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year to the nation’s refineries, up
from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. But a
series of recent accidents — including one in Quebec last July that killed 47
people and another in Alabama last November — have prompted many to question
these shipments and have increased the pressure on regulators to take an urgent
look at the safety of the oil shipments.
San Jose Mercury: College sex assault policy ‘unfair’
The San Jose Mercury News finds
that at the University of California Berkeley, student sex offenders go through
the same disciplinary process as those caught cheating on an exam, their
punishment -- sometimes as light as a warning and an essay -- decided in
informal talks with the university. Campus assault victims often turn to their
colleges for justice in addition to – or instead of – going to the police.
However, Cal held a formal hearing for just one of the 32 student sexual
misconduct cases it investigated from 2011 to 2013, according to information
obtained by this newspaper. It expelled none of the 23 students it found
responsible for actions ranging from sexual harassment to rape during that time
and suspended just six, while most of the others received warnings or probation.
The process – and some of the sanctions – are "completely insulting"
to victims of sexual violence, said Sofie Karasek, a Cal junior who has
campaigned for campus reforms since her assault and agreed to be named in this
story. "The person this happened to is going to be living with this for
the rest of their lives," she said. "It's grossly unfair."
In the past year, Karasek and
other students around the country – from Dartmouth, the University of North
Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Southern California, Occidental College
and Swarthmore College, among others – have pressed their colleges to treat
sexual assault more seriously.
The Modesto Bee:
Crime-solving rate high for state, but wait hurts victims
The Modesto Bee looked at crime solving in its area and
found that more than half the violent crimes in the Northern San Joaquin Valley go
unsolved. In many places, officers hardly ever figure out who is responsible
for property crimes. On one hand, Valley crime-clearance rates are better than
the California average. But the sting remains real for people hurt by crooks
who, in some cases, get away with murder. "It’s very frustrating, knowing this
person is still out there,” said Penny Crouch, whose 25-year-old daughter was
killed east of Riverbank more than three years ago. … Authorities say they’re
doing the best they can with what they’ve got, but what they’ve got is far less
than they had a few years ago. For example, the number of Stanislaus County
sheriff’s detectives has been slashed two-thirds since the recession, from 30
to 10, and Modesto police now have 20 detectives, down from 33. … An extensive
Modesto Bee review of crime-clearance rates for all agencies in this region
found that small cities tend to solve crimes at higher rates than big cities.
Small-agency chiefs say their jobs can be easier when folks in tight-knit
communities keep eyes open and trust local cops enough to share information.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-23-2014
AP: West Virginia spill latest case of coal tainting U.S. waters
The Associated Press says the chemical spill that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands in West Virginia was only the latest and most high-profile case of coal sullying the nation’s waters. For decades, chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies, spoiling private wells, shutting down fishing and rendering streams virtually lifeless, according to an AP analysis of federal environmental data. But because these contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a massive spill, such as the recent one in West Virginia.
The spill of a coal-cleaning chemical into a river in Charleston, W.Va., left 300,000 people without water. It exposed a potentially new and under-regulated risk to water from the coal industry when the federal government is still trying to close regulatory gaps that have contributed to coal’s legacy of water pollution. From coal mining to the waste created when coal is burned for electricity, pollutants associated with coal have contaminated waterways, wells and lakes with far more insidious and longer-lasting contaminants than the chemical that spilled out of a tank farm on the banks of the Elk River. Chief among them are discharges from coal-fired power plants that alone are responsible for 50 percent to 60 percent of all toxic pollution entering the nation’s water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Detroit Free Press: Gas tanks leak as fund flows elsewhere
The Detroit Free Press reports that contamination from more than 9,000 leaking underground petroleum storage tanks in Michigan has awaited cleanup for years, as a gasoline regulatory fee intended to fund such work was diverted by state lawmakers to plug general fund budget holes over the past decade. The fee, 7⁄8-cent on every gallon of gasoline imported into or sold in Michigan, was originally levied in 1988 to create the Michigan Underground Storage Tank Financial Assurance Fund, or MUSTFA. Its purpose was to assist gas station owners and operators with the high costs of removing a leaking underground storage tank and cleaning up related contamination. Overwhelmed by station owners needing help, the state halted the program in 1995. But it kept collecting the fee. Over the past nine years, Michigan has spent more than $850 million from the fund for purposes such as paying off environmental bonds, back-filling a variety of state Department of Environmental Quality programs, even helping fund the salaries of employees with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development who check the accuracy of scales and gasoline pumps.
Los Angeles Times: Tiny Westmont has L.A. County’s top homicide rate
A detective calls it "death alley.” A Los Angeles Times analysis of data finds that the two miles of South Vermont Avenue that stretch north from Imperial Highway are home to churches, liquor stores, mortuaries and one of the highest rates of homicide in L.A. County. Sixty people have been killed along this corridor since 2007, most shot to death.
Since 2007, nearly 60 people have been killed on a two-mile stretch on or near South Vermont Avenue between Manchester Avenue and Imperial Highway. The area is the border of the Westmont and Vermont Vista neighborhoods. … "There’s violence everywhere,” one resident said. "But it’s not like this.” In a county of 10 million people, Westmont is among the deadliest places to live. In the last seven years, 100 people — nearly all of them male — have been killed in the 1.8 square miles wedged between the city of Los Angeles and Inglewood. Times analysis of homicide data collected in that time found Westmont’s rate of killings to be the highest overall.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Red flags raised on green deal
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says that the city of Adams in central Wisconsin is making a big push into green energy, but questions are being raised about whether the gambit will heap too much risk on taxpayers. The controversy centers on charges of conflict of interest involving the mayor and details of the deal in which the city — with a population of just under 2,000 — gives big incentives to a company that says it will build a world headquarters and manufacturing plant in a local industrial park. Adams' mayor, JanAlyn Baumgartner, now works for the company, GEITS Corp., which has U.S. offices in Madison and lists other offices in Italy, Australia and Singapore. The city has also given GEITS office space in Adams City Hall. One critic of the project estimates the city's commitment will cost $22 million over the next 25 years. City officials dispute this. With a local economy that has struggled with high unemployment, they defended their incentive package, which includes giving away industrial land and making a $1 million investment in a plan to turn garbage into electricity.
New York Times: Patients’ costs skyrocket as specialists’ incomes soar
The New York Times says that Kim Little, a university professor, had not thought much about the tiny white spot on the side of her cheek until a physician’s assistant at her dermatologist’s office warned that it might be cancerous. He took a biopsy, returning 15 minutes later to confirm the diagnosis and schedule her for an outpatient procedure at the Arkansas Skin Cancer Center in Little Rock, 30 miles away. That was the prelude to a daylong medical odyssey several weeks later, through different private offices on the manicured campus at the Baptist Health Medical Center that involved a dermatologist, an anesthesiologist and an ophthalmologist who practices plastic surgery. It generated bills of more than $25,000. … Ms. Little’s seemingly minor medical problem — she had the least dangerous form of skin cancer — racked up big bills because it involved three doctors from specialties that are among the highest compensated in medicine, and it was done on the grounds of a hospital. Many specialists have become particularly adept at the business of medicine by becoming more entrepreneurial, protecting their turf through aggressive lobbying by their medical societies, and most of all, increasing revenues by offering new procedures — or doing more of lucrative ones.
Columbus Dispatch: Private cops have the authority to carry guns, but records secret
The Columbus Dispatch says that more than 800 privately employed police officers in Ohio are authorized by the state to carry handguns, use deadly force and detain, search and arrest people. Yet state law allows the officers and their private-sector employers to keep arrest and incident reports secret, even from those they arrest and crime victims. And the public is not permitted to check the officers’ background or conduct records, including their use-of-force and discipline histories. The private police work for 39 employers, largely private universities and hospitals, which are exempt from the public-records laws that allow Ohioans to monitor 32,808 public-sector police officers and their government agencies. Critics, including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, say it is past time to demand the same accountability and transparency from private-sector police by making them subject to the state’s public-records laws. "The public policy is clear, that the state is giving them the same power as (public) police departments. For all other purposes, we should be treating them the same insofar as openness and giving the public information,” DeWine said.
The Oregonian: Plenty of warnings about problems with Cover Oregon’s launch
The Oregonian did dozens of interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of legislative reports, memos and emails to try to understand problems surrounding the launch of the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange. It says that amid the idealistic fervor of Oregon's effort to build a game-changing health insurance exchange, Ying Kwong did not believe the hype. In one of a series of revealing emails, the Cornell-educated technology analyst at Oregon's Department of Administrative Services wrote last May that Cover Oregon’s managers were being "intellectually dishonest" in claiming the project would be ready Oct. 1.
Kwong wasn't alone. His concerns about Oregon's exchange were echoed by the project's quality assurance contractor as well as the man Kwong was writing to, the Legislature's top IT oversight analyst. But repeated warnings to high-level state officials fell on deaf ears. When the $160 million exchange failed to launch, a chaotic manual backup plan took weeks to set up, creating stress and added costs for thousands of Oregonians seeking health coverage.
The Tennessean: State failing to care for some of its most vulnerable residents
The Tennessean looked at more than 1,000 pages of documents and did dozens of interviews for a series on how the state of Tennessee provides – an doesn’t provide – care for people with developmental disabilities. It reports that one mother, Elizabeth Gerlock, must bathe her son. She guides a razor across his prickled face, and she runs an electric toothbrush across his molars. She brushes his gray-flecked brown hair. At 78 years old, Elizabeth Gerlock is in good health. But there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when her ability to care for her middle-aged son with Down syndrome will diminish — as will his health. Her son, York, is one of more than 7,100 people waiting for Tennessee services for the intellectually disabled — and part of a specific group where family caregivers are beginning to age beyond their caregiving capacity. Advocacy agencies have launched an effort to get Medicaid money for this type of family, but over the past several years the state has cut the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ TennCare budget — not bolstered it. That leaves questions about where money for such services would be generated.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-16-2013
The Record: New Jersey Gov. Christie stuck in a jam over bridge lane closings
A cache of private messages linking New Jersey Governor Christie’s office to vindictive lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September plunged the administration into a deep crisis, threatening Christie’s national profile as a straight-talker and feeding criticism that his administration has used its power to bully political enemies. The explosive emails and text messages, obtained and first reported by The Record in North Jersey, sparked a political firestorm that extended far beyond New Jersey and Fort Lee — which was gridlocked for days as a result of the closures — and appeared destined to stretch into the foreseeable future. They also pushed Christie to expand on his previous claims that his office had no involvement in the closures and forced him to join the chorus of outraged officials at all levels of government condemning the messages exchanged between one of his deputy aides and his two executives at the Port Authority.
Christie said in a terse statement that he was "misled” by one of his staffers. He called the messages — which expressed delight over delayed school buses shuttling children to their first day of class and included taunts aimed at the Fort Lee mayor — "completely inappropriate” and "unacceptable.” He added, without any specifics, "people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/news/christie_kelly_bridge_lane_closures_emails.html
Sun Sentinel: Region leads in disability lawsuits
The Sun Sentinel newspaper says that South Florida has become the runaway national leader in federal disabled-access lawsuits that some say are accomplishing little more than providing quick cash to attorneys. More than one of every five such claims filed in the United States in 2013 originated in the Southern District of Florida, where cases often end in hasty settlements that ensure attorneys get paid and make the lawsuits disappear — but fail to correct the violations they are supposed to address. Local business owners say they are being extorted by a handful of serial-filing lawyers more concerned with turning profits than helping the disabled. "They don't care if you fix it or not," said Darcy L. Tyson, a Delray Beach code enforcement officer. The businesses "pay between $5,000 and $12,000 and it goes away ... People are taking complete advantage. It's a moneymaker. It has nothing to do with compliance." The suits, which allege violations ranging from wheelchair ramps that are too steep to paper-towel dispensers perched too high, now hit South Florida's federal courts more than twice a day and have swelled by 500 percent in the last five years. The rise in local cases has significantly outpaced the national average, which has seen cases nearly double during that time. Just five attorneys and a handful of plaintiffs brought almost two-thirds of the nearly 700 disabled-access suits in Florida's southern district in 2013. They say they are performing a public service by pressuring reluctant business owners to meet accommodation standards laid out in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.
Read more: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2014-01-11/news/fl-disability-lawsuits-strike-sf-20140112_1_plaintiffs-attorneys-lawsuits
Los Angeles Times: Solar power’s outlook not so sunny
The Los Angeles Time finds that five years after the Obama administration's renewable energy initiative touched off a building boom of large-scale solar power plants across the desert Southwest, the pace of development has slowed to a crawl, with a number of companies going out of business and major projects canceled for lack of financing. Of the 365 federal solar applications since 2009, just 20 plants are on track to be built. Only three large-scale solar facilities have gone online, two in California and one in Nevada. The first auction of public land for solar developers, an event once highly anticipated by federal planners, failed to draw a single bid last fall. Several factors are responsible, industry analysts say. The tight economy has made financing difficult to obtain, and the federal government has not said whether it will continue to offer tax credits of the size that brought a rush of interest in large-scale solar five years ago. … Another, somewhat unexpected issue is the difficulty solar developers are having negotiating agreements to sell their power to large utilities. The agreements reached to date guarantee solar providers higher rates than utilities pay for power from traditional energy sources. Utilities had been willing to pay more because many states, including California, require them to derive a significant percentage of their power from renewable energy sources. But now utilities in many states are on track to meet those requirements, giving them less incentive to buy higher-priced solar energy —especially as a steep decline in natural gas prices has cut the cost of power from gas-fired generators.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-adv-solar-slowdown-2-20140112,0,3755073.story#ixzz2qISGMWYZ
New York Times: National strategy funds state political monopolies
The New York Times reports that by his third year as chairman of the Alabama Republican organization, Mike Hubbard believed his party had just about everything it needed to win control of the State Legislature. He had a plan: an 88-page playbook for the 2010 campaign, with detailed, district-by-district budgets and precise voter turnout targets. He had candidates: doctors, lawyers and small-business owners, most of them political novices recruited with an eye toward the anti-establishment fervor roiling the country. What Mr. Hubbard did not have was enough money. Alabama law barred corporations, deep-pocketed natural allies for state Republicans, from giving more than $500 to candidates and parties — a limit that did not apply to the state’s unions. So began a nationwide quest for cash that would take Mr. Hubbard, plan in hand, to the Republican Parties in states like Florida and Ohio, to a wealthy Texan who was one of the country’s biggest Republican givers and to a Washington organization that would provide checks from dozens of out-of-state corporations, among them Exxon Mobil, Google, Facebook and Altria. Exploiting a loophole in the state law and a network of political action committees in Alabama and Washington, Mr. Hubbard shuffled hundreds of thousands of out-of-state dollars into the Republican organization in Alabama, vastly outraising the state Democratic Party. On Election Day, Republicans won majorities in both the State Senate and House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction — and Alabama joined the rapidly growing fraternity of states where government is controlled by a single political party, now the largest it has been in more than half a century.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/us/politics/a-national-strategy-funds-state-political-monopolies.html?_r=0
San Jose Mercury News: Academic faculty dominated by white teachers
The San Jose Mercury News reports that a high-profile bullying case involving a black student has thrust San Jose State under an intense spotlight to improve the college experience for its minority students and diversify its predominantly white faculty. But an analysis of demographic figures by this newspaper shows that a lack of racial diversity in academia runs wide and deep: The South Bay campus' faculty is more diverse than other major Bay Area universities and the state's two university systems. At San Jose State, 59 percent of the faculty are listed as white, although 10 percent of the professors didn't specify a race. The faculty at UC Berkeley, a campus that prides itself on its progressive identity, is 77 percent white. At Stanford, it's 74 percent. Across the state, 76 percent of the University of California's faculty and 68 percent of Cal State's are white. "That's shocking and definitely concerning," said Diana Crumedy, a San Jose State graduate student and campus activist who is African-American. "This is America. It's supposed to be a melting pot." Colleges nationwide are admitting an increasingly diverse set of students, but their faculties have been slower to catch up -- a dynamic that critics say both reflects and perpetuates racial inequality. Cal's famed political science department, an authority on matters of economic power and racial inequality, has yet to tenure an African-American professor in its 110-year history. That's not for a lack of trying, said department Chairman Eric Schickler, who said it has lost out to other universities on offers to African-American candidates but is trying again to recruit a prominent black scholar.
Read more: http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_24893406/white-professors-still-dominate-bay-area-colleges-student?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com
Columbus Dispatch: 17 charter schools fail in single year
The Columbus Dispatch looked at local and state data on charter schools. It reports that at the beginning of 2013, one long-struggling charter school closed. Over the summer, five more did. And in the fall, 11 more Columbus charters closed their doors, most of them brand new. That’s 17 charter schools in Columbus closed in one year, which records show is unprecedented. "It shows the power of a couple of players with standards that are not up to par really affecting an overall market,” said Chad Aldis, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which sponsors 10 charter schools in Ohio, some in Columbus. Nine of the 17 schools that closed in 2013 lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November. But while 2013 was unusual, closings are not rare. A Dispatch analysis of state data found that 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have shut, dating to 1997 when the publicly funded but often privately run schools became legal in Ohio. Nearly 400 currently are operating, about 75 of them in Columbus. It took 15 years for Ohio’s list of closed charters to reach 134; then that number grew by almost 13 percent last year from charters closing in Columbus alone.
Before 2013, only three had closed within half a year of opening, and the median life of a charter was more than four years.
Read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/01/12/charter-failure.html
Wilmington News Journal: Delaware investigators help bring down cartel kingpin
The Wilmington News Journal says that the downfall of a cocaine kingpin and one-time enforcer for a violent Mexican drug cartel began at the bottom of a Pike Creek trash can. That’s where Delaware investigators, checking up on two former drug felons, found a wrapper that tested positive for cocaine. The discovery led the men to give up their New Jersey supplier, who in turn led agents to Miguel A. Lavenant, 38, of San Diego, a one-time member of a notorious Tijuana drug cartel that disposed of its enemies by dissolving their bodies in acid. The road from that Pike Creek trash can to Lavenant’s palatial, mountaintop Southern California home and eventually his conviction on money laundering and drug conspiracy charges involved months of painstaking work, close calls and risky hunches by Wilmington and Newark police officers working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. The plot was worthy of a Hollywood thriller, complete with a pickup truck outfitted with secret drug compartments, a C-17 that flew the vehicle from New Castle Airport to California and a massive surveillance effort involving dozens of officers. Deputy Attorney General Brian Robertson, who formerly headed the New Castle County drug crimes unit, praised the bust. "It really does show that [the drug trade] is an international enterprise, that the stuff that ends up at 10th and Pine certainly doesn’t come from Delaware,” he said.
Read more: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20140112/NEWS01/301120061/How-Delaware-investigators-brought-down-violent-drug-cartel-kingpin
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-9-2013
AP IMPACT: The world braces for retirement crisis
The Associated Press reports that a global retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages. Spawned years before the Great Recession and the financial meltdown in 2008, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching. Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65 — to 70 or even longer. Living standards will fall, and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people's rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can't afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents. The problems are emerging as the generation born after World War II moves into retirement. "The first wave of under-prepared workers is going to try to go into retirement and will find they can't afford to do so," says Norman Dreger, a retirement specialist in Frankfurt, Germany, who works for Mercer, a global consulting firm.
Akron Beacon Journal: Heroin epidemic sweeps suburbs
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that a college football star unexpectedly died not long after being kicked off the team. There’s the young and fit Akron firefighter who collapsed in his kitchen and nearly died. And then there’s the suburban college dropout whose parents fear he will die. All three share a common bond. Each is a victim of the heroin epidemic sweeping America. Those in the trenches of the unrelenting war on drugs say this isn’t just some urban problem facing the downtrodden or hopeless. More and more, heroin addicts are young, educated suburbanites. These addicts are flooding detox centers, rehab facilities and jails. They’re also ending up in the morgue in record numbers. Take Summit County. In a seven-year span from 2002-08, 40 people died of heroin-related overdoses. That’s one fewer than the 41 who had died as of mid-December in 2013 and four fewer than the death toll of 2012. The final 2013 numbers were not yet available.
Boston Globe: Police shoot more often, cite a rise in threats
The Boston Globe reports that at least 23 people were shot by police in Massachusetts in 2013 — 11 of them fatally, according to figures provided by Boston and State Police, troubling authorities who say the numbers reflect the growing threats police face, and startling civil libertarians who worry about the prevalence of deadly force. From 2008 through 2013, the number of people shot by officers and state troopers has grown every year. Over that time period, there have been 86 shootings, 67 of which were determined to be justified. Two were classified as accidental, and two led to recommendations that the officers be retrained. The rest remain under investigation. Last year, Boston officials investigated six officer-involved shootings, compared with 1 in 2012. State Police investigated 17 in 2013 compared with 14 in 2012. Police cite two major causes for the uptick in violent confrontations: perpetrators, often mentally ill, who are quick to attack police, and the growing availability of illegal guns.
Chicago Tribune: House speaker builds army one favor at a time
A Chicago Tribune investigation looks into the activities of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The paper notes that when Madigan accidentally triggered a patronage scandal at the Metra commuter rail agency, it was the result of two extraordinary events. First his request to boost the Metra salary of a longtime political worker was refused. Then it became public. The ensuing uproar has cost taxpayers a fortune, prompted a shake-up at Metra and spawned ongoing investigations into political favoritism, insider dealing and a lack of transparency. Yet none of those inquiries is likely to illuminate the extent of Madigan's far-reaching patronage operation or his efforts to sustain his legion of loyalists. A Tribune investigation sought to do just that, documenting employees at every level of state and local government who work elections for Madigan, donate regularly to his campaign funds, register voters for him or circulate candidate petitions on his behalf. By that conservative measure, the newspaper found more than 400 current or retired government employees with strong political ties to Madigan. It also found repeated instances in which Madigan took personal action to get them jobs, promotions or raises, just as he did for the Metra employee.
Kansas City Star: The no-limit legislature
The Kansas City Star says it’s in the only state without a cap on donations and freebies. The result is what it calls the No-Limit General Assembly. Campaign contributions? No limits.Gifts to lawmakers? No limits. Free meals? Free travel? Free World Series tickets from those whose fortunes often hinge on legislative outcomes? Absolutely no limits. No wonder, then, that lobbyists are popular in Missouri’s Capitol. They’ve got money to burn, goodies to share and bills to pass (or kill). And they gained clout by the barge-load after Missouri voters implemented term limits in the early 1990s. Elected legislators, by comparison, are new to the game. They must increasingly turn to lobbyists to finance their re-elections, to provide them with expertise on the virtually countless issues they encounter and to perhaps hire them when term limits ultimately cast them into the private labor market. Legislators return to the Capitol on Wednesday, 12 years after term limits kicked in and six since contribution limits officially evaporated. The combination of those two factors, critics argue, has tipped the legislative scale, with all the experience — and the money — to the lobbying side. … Interviews with dozens of lawmakers, lobbyists and political observers reveal a legislative business — and it has become a business — where outright corruption is rare, but money talks.
Miami Herald:Commutations highlight disparity of U.S. drug war
The Miami Herald reports that at just 25 years old, Ricky Eugene Patterson’s future seemed finished when he was imprisoned for life in 1995 for planning to peddle a handful of crack-cocaine rocks. Last month, just days before Christmas, President Barack Obama gave the Fort Pierce man a new, long-awaited chance to make good on his remaining years. Obama commuted his life term — along with similarly lengthy or life sentences for seven other crack cocaine convicts nationwide, including two more in Florida. Clemency for the fortunate few addressed only a tiny fraction of the roughly 9,000 federal inmates serving what critics have long called draconian prison terms for crack cocaine convictions. Yet the president’s action focused new attention on a controversial U.S. sentencing policy adopted at the height of the nation’s war on drugs a generation ago — legislation that created a sharp racial divide in how the criminal justice system dealt with cocaine cases. Crack cocaine offenses, more prevalent in poor black communities, carried much harsher punishment than those for powder cocaine, more common in affluent white communities. … The president’s commutations, though modest, signaled his administration’s goal to reduce severe sentences in many drug cases. Critics say crack cocaine laws in particular were starkly unfair, citing a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses: For example, a person possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine was subject to the same mandatory prison sentence as someone convicted of possessing just 5 grams of crack.
Orange County Register: Where agency salaries flow
The Orange County register analyzed data from the 30 special districts in Orange County to determine compensation levels. The paper says that while journalists are oft considered jaded types, when we discovered that the average total compensation for an employee at the Orange County Fire Authority was nearly$148,000, there were just a few murmurs in the newsroom. Everyone knows that public safety types put lives on the line and are paid well in California. But when we found that the next-highest total comp went to workers at the Orange County Sanitation District – averaging more than $126,000 – there were gasps. One colleague noted that journalists and sewer workers both stir the – how shall we say –muck – but that sewer workers get paid a lot more. The Watchdog's analysis of data from the 30 special districts in O.C. reporting paid wages to the state controller showed that six had average total compensation exceeding$100,000; 10 had average total comp exceeding $90,000; 13 had average total comp exceeding $80,000; and 18 had average total comp exceeding $70,000.
The Press-Enterprise: Bus crashes spur concern
The Press-Enterprise finds that every day in Southern California, thousands of people board tour buses for a day at the region’s casinos. But those buses are under scrutiny, for good reason:
-- Most of the buses do not have seatbelts, vastly increasing the likelihood of injuries and deaths in an accident.
-- Tour bus drivers are not required by law to have any special training, although driver error often is blamed when the buses crash.
-- One-fifth of tour buses serving a group of casinos failed surprise inspections and were taken out of service on the spot because of safety concerns, according to a veteran California Highway Patrol inspector.
Concerns over tour bus safety have come to the forefront in the wake of at least five crashes of motor coaches bound for Southern California casinos since August, killing two people and injuring 120 others. Robert Berkstresser, an expert on commercial buses in Escondido and transportation chief for a San Diego-area high school district, said the recent accidents argue strongly for mandatory and comprehensive formal training for drivers.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK, 12-18-13
AP: American missing in Iran was on unapproved mission
In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business. But that was just a cover story.
An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts -- with no authority to run spy operations -- paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.
The CIA was slow to respond to Levinson's disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.
Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA paid Levinson's family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged. Details of the unusual disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.
The AP first confirmed Levinson's CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.
Akron Beacon Journal: Safety is unequal in area schools
The Akron Beacon Journal looked at school security in Ohio as the nation marked the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, recalling the heartache of learning that 20 children and six adults were gunned down by an armed intruder in Newtown, Conn. It was a particularly painful moment for parents who also had to wonder: "If these children were not safe, are mine?” Those parents will not be comforted to know that a Beacon Journal survey of more than 70 public districts and charter and private schools discovered that security measures at area schools are disturbingly unequal. When asked whether they have secure vestibules that protect classrooms from people entering the school building, five districts simply responded that they require visitors to press a buzzer. One district’s administrator just said the doors are locked. Two of the 47 responding districts said they do not have video security cameras. All districts said they have their security plans on file with the state, but some said they could only assume those records were passed on to police, an indication of a lack of collaboration with local law enforcement.
Arizona Republic: Wall of silence surrounds killings by border agents
An Arizona Republic investigation says that a ghost is haunting Nogales. His face stares out from shop windows. It is plastered on handbills and painted on walls under the shadow of the U.S.-Mexican border fence here. Candles and doves are stenciled onto steel posts of the fence itself in his memory, each a promise not to forget the night, 14 months ago, when teenager Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot 10 times in the back and head by one or more Border Patrol agents firing through the fence into Mexico. Similar specters haunt other border towns in Arizona, Texas and California, with the families of the dead charging that Border Patrol agents time and again have killed Mexicans and U.S. citizens with impunity. An Arizona Republic investigation has found Border Patrol agents who use deadly force face few, if any, public repercussions, even in cases in which the justification for the shooting seems dubious. Since 2005, on-duty Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have killed at least 42 people, including at least 13 Americans. These deaths, all but four of which occurred along or near the southwest border, vary from strongly justifiable to highly questionable. CBP officials say agents who use excessive force are disciplined. But they won’t say who, when, or what discipline, with the exception of a short administrative leave. In none of the 42 deaths is any agent or officer publicly known to have faced consequences _ not from the Border Patrol, not from Customs and Border Protection or Homeland Security, not from the Department of Justice, and not, ultimately, from criminal or civil courts.
Boston Globe: The fall of the House of Tsarnaev
A five-month Boston Globe investigation offers new details and insights into the two young men accused in the greatest act of terrorism in Boston history and the deeply dysfunctional family that produced them. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the eldest, started hearing the voice as a young man. It disturbed him. It frightened him, as the voice inside grew more insistent. It may in the end have directed him. Dzhokhar, the youngest, was the child full of promise. But almost from the moment he left home, trouble and failure seemed to mark him, and risk to allure him. He was anything but a passive figure in the history the brothers would soon make. Federal investigators have suspected that Tamerlan, the 26-year-old boxer from southern Russia who is believed, along with his brother, to have set off the deadly Boston Marathon bombs in April, was motivated, if not deliberately directed, by real life jihadist revolutionaries on the other side of the globe. But an investigation by the Boston Globe suggests that Tamerlan was in the perilous grip of someone far more menacing: himself. The Globe corroborated with several people who knew him just how plagued Tamerlan felt by the inner voices. Some family acquaintances feared for his mental health, among them a doctor concerned it could be schizophrenia. The Globe’s five-month investigation involved reporting in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, and the United States.
Chicago Tribune: Cook County fails to track hundreds of convicts
An investigation by the Chicago Tribune has found that the Cook County probation department has lost track of hundreds of convicts, overlooked new crimes committed by offenders and failed to rein in those who violated curfew or used illegal drugs -- some who went on to rape or kill. At a time when county officials have argued for more people to be redirected from jail cells to programs such as probation, the Tribune has found a dysfunctional department that has fallen short of its mission of instilling responsibility in offenders and creating safer neighborhoods. Perhaps no case is more emblematic of the problems in the probation department than that of Micheail Ward, who is accused of killing a 15-year-old girl on Jan. 29, a week after she performed with her high school band during President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Florida Sun Sentinel: Bus drivers crash, but keep jobs
The Sun Sentinel in South Florida reports that a16-ton bus careens across the median into oncoming traffic, with no one behind the wheel. The driver? In the stairwell, where he landed after diving from his seat to catch his lunchbox as it slid across the dashboard. The bus crashed into three cars. The bus driver was fired. Within months, he was back on the job. It was the second time Broward County Transit fired, then rehired, him. And he isn’t the only one. The state’s second-largest bus system has repeatedly allowed drivers with histories of accidents and violations to remain on Broward roads, a Sun Sentinel investigation has found. In some cases, such drivers are fired — and then rehired, only to cause more problems. In the past five years, not one driver has permanently lost a job for poor driving.
New York Times: The selling of attention deficit disorder
After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keith Conners could be celebrating. Severely hyperactive and impulsive children, once shunned as bad seeds, are now recognized as having a real neurological problem. Doctors and parents have largely accepted drugs like Adderall and Concerta to temper the traits of classic A.D.H.D., helping youngsters succeed in school and beyond. But Dr. Conners did not feel triumphant this fall as he addressed a group of fellow A.D.H.D. specialists in Washington. He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them "a national disaster of dangerous proportions.” "The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. "This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.
Democrat and Chronicle: Wrong way traffic deaths raise concerns
The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y., looked at crash reports to try to gauge the extent of wrong-way driving deaths. In one case, it reports, around a quarter-to-three on a dark Sunday morning, Giovanni Romano spotted headlights coming straight at him as he drove westbound in the center lane of Interstate 490 near Mt. Read Boulevard. He flashed his headlights and the oncoming driver shifted lanes, heading left to hug the highway divider. Romano's wife called 911. "The vehicle didn't slow down or nothing as it passed me," Romano told police, according to court documents filed in late November when police charged Robert B. Rector of Fairport with a slew of criminal charges related to the fatal wrong-way crash on Nov. 23 that killed a 19-year-old Gates woman. State agencies say they don't keep statistics specific to wrong-way drivers, but a Democrat and Chronicle review of local crash reports on interstates 90, 390, 490 and 590 as well as routes 104 and the Inner Loop show there have been at least 39 notable instances of wrong-way driving here since 1992.
The Sacramento Bee: Mental patients bused -- and crime follows
The Sacramento Bee says that six months after he was discharged to a Greyhound bus and shipped out of Las Vegas, one former patient of Nevada’s primary hospital for mentally ill people stabbed a man to death in Iowa. Another former patient, responding to voices in his head, set off explosions in a grocery store and a doughnut shop in Tennessee just a month after Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas gave him a one-way ticket to Knoxville in July 2012. Nevada bused yet another Rawson-Neal patient, a convicted child molester, to San Diego in 2011, even as he faced criminal charges in Las Vegas for failing to register as a sex offender. He also failed to register in San Diego, where he disappeared into the streets and soon became the target of a citywide manhunt. Yet another former Rawson-Neal patient was found dead, his body floating in the American River near a homeless camp, seven months after he received a Greyhound ticket to Sacramento courtesy of the state of Nevada. Even as Nevada’s embattled state mental hospital works to revamp operations, the fallout from its aggressive busing policies continues to resonate from California to Florida. A Sacramento Bee investigation into the fates of hundreds of mentally ill men and women whom the Nevada hospital shipped out of Las Vegas via Greyhound bus in recent years has found that crime and tragedy often followed. The Bee recently obtained Greyhound bus receipts listing the names of more than 1,000 people who, after arriving at Rawson-Neal, were issued one-way tickets to cities across the country over the past three years. More than 325 of them boarded buses to California.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Health CEOs top nonprofit pay listing
The San Diego Union-Tribune says an organization founded to help lower costs in the health-care industry topped its first regional survey of compensation for nonprofit CEOs. The head of West Health Institute in La Jolla was paid $1.7 million in 2011, according to a review of the most recent tax filings from the top charities in the county by revenue. That included $1 million in salary and $540,000 of bonus for Donald Casey Jr., who left the institute in March 2012. The U-T has long done an annual survey of executive compensation at publicly traded companies, using disclosures to shareholders, and has done several roundups of pay at government agencies. This year, U-T Watchdog embarked on its first such accounting for nonprofits, which disclose financial information in exchange for the public support and tax exemptions afforded to them. Casey’s salary was a stand-out, although the survey found at least 70 organizations in the region that pay their CEOs more than $200,000 a year. Those groups ranged from United Way of San Diego County, whose CEO was paid just over $200,000, to Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder, whose base salary topped Casey’s and whose total compensation came in second place at $1.6 million. Scripps also came in with the lowest CEO compensation as a percentage of revenue, given that Van Gorder heads a $2.5 billion operation with more than 14,500 employees. Clustered near the top were hospitals and scientific and medical research groups, along with a credit union and a university.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 12-11-13
AP: The ‘new rich’ may foil income equality
The Associated Press finds that there’s more than the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent. Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality. The growing numbers of the U.S. poor have been well documented, but survey data provided to the AP detail the flip side of the record income gap -- the rise of the "new rich." Made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, the new rich are those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2 percent of earners. Even outside periods of unusual wealth, members of this group generally hover in the $100,000-plus income range, keeping them in the top 20 percent of earners. Political parties are taking a renewed look at the up-for-grabs group, once solidly Republican. They're not the traditional rich. In a country where poverty is at a record high, today's new rich are notable for their sense of economic fragility. They've reached the top 2 percent, only to fall below it, in many cases. That makes them much more fiscally conservative than other Americans, polling suggests, and less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged.
Read more: http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/235005441.html
Arizona Daily Star: Cuts in safety-net programs send more kids to foster care
The Arizona Daily Star, in a report on the crisis in Arizona’s foster care system, finds that father Pat Hatley wants to keep his small family together but, as a homeless dad, he worries every day that he might lose custody of his 10-year-old boy. The single father and his son Trent can stay two more months at a Primavera Foundation shelter for families, but after that he doesn’t know what’s next. He says he’s struggled to get benefits _ including welfare and Section 8 housing _ after years of heavy lifting ruined his back and limited his work options. He relies on odd jobs and food stamps to get by, but often that’s not enough. "There are people not trying to abuse the system that just need help,” says Hatley, who has had sole custody of his son for seven years. His biggest fear is that, if he can’t find a more stable way of life, Child Protective Services will take Trent away. More than 15,300 Arizona kids are in foster care _ an all-time high _ and the fraying safety net for poor families is a key reason for the spike, child welfare advocates say. Cuts to child-care subsidies, welfare, family support programs, and substance abuse and mental-health services have pushed more families to the edge, they say. The state’s surge in foster care comes as other states see significant declines. Nationally, the number of children in out-of-home care fell 18 percent between 2007 and 2012. Forty-one states saw a decrease.But in Arizona, which made deep cuts to services that help children and families, the number of kids in out-of-home care soared by 48 percent.
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/special-section/fostercare/arizona-sees-spike-in-kids-placed-in-foster-care/article_0eae4322-23eb-5c3f-a7a2-d9faa71d50e3.html
Arizona Republic: Building into forests raises fire risks
The Arizona Republic says that the Granite Mountain Hotshots were in a perilous position even before the winds shifted that late-June afternoon. On one side, the 19 wildland firefighters confronted a lightning-caused blaze in dry, overgrown chaparral that was 10 feet tall in places and so thick it was impassable. On the other side was a man-made threat. Set among the scrub oak and manzanita were the central Arizona communities of Yarnell, Glen Ilah and Peeples Valley, primed to burn after years of building into highly flammable brush without adequately addressing the risks. Firefighters surveying the towns the night before the blaze erupted declared them "indefensible,” according to an Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health report on the fire. Yet they defended them. Apparent in the aftermath of the deadly blaze is that Yarnell and other communities near overgrown wilderness areas have altered the wildfire equation, magnifying the dangers and multiplying the costs. An Arizona Republic analysis found that despite warnings from fire and forestry experts, and nature itself, the state’s wildlands are dangerously overgrown. Arizonans, meanwhile, have since 1990 built more than 230,000 homes and other structures in wildfire-prone areas, creating risks for themselves and the firefighters called upon to protect them.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/wildfires/yarnell/arizona-wildfires-homes-forests-risk/
The Record: Port Authority paid for excesses of executive, even in retirement
The Record in northern New Jersey says that back in 1975, when New York City was broke and crumbling _ with its budget and crime rate out of control, the Bronx burning, and thousands of police officers and teachers being laid off _ a high-ranking executive of the Port Authority was on a junket in Zaire. The Port Authority picked up Guy Tozzoli's tab even after he left the agency. On the itinerary was a $320-per-person safari that would cost $1,400 per person today, guided sightseeing tours and lunchtime cocktails. Guy Tozzoli, director of world trade for the Port Authority, brought his wife and an agency employee responsible for handling travel arrangements and dispensing petty cash. The Port Authority paid. Tozzoli frequently traveled the world to spread the gospel of building more world trade centers … The Port Authority paid. And in 1986, as Tozzoli was set to retire, the Port Authority was even more generous, selling the World Trade Center name to a private non-profit Tozzoli founded. The price was $10, less than the tolls the agency charges today to cross one of its bridges. Tozzoli’s organization has turned the trademark into a bonanza by licensing the iconic name for use around the world. … A review of thousands of archived Port Authority records _ internal memos, invoices, travel itineraries and other documents _ shows the $10 sale was just the beginning when it came to Tozzoli and his World Trade Centers Association. Time and time again, both while Tozzoli was at the agency and after he left, the Port Authority paid. There’s no telling exactly how much.
Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/news/bergen/Prince_of_the_Port_Exec_behind_10_sale_of_World_Trade_Center_name_embodied_Port_Authoritys_power_excesses.html#sthash.G4Q9RJAi.dpuf
Indianapolis Star: police move to capture phone data raises issues
The Indianapolis Star says that the Indiana State Police paid $373,995 this year for a device that law enforcement personnel have described as a powerful tool in the fight against crime and terrorism. It could allow investigators in a surveillance vehicle to park in a crowded area and track the movements of anyone nearby with a cellphone and capture the numbers of people's incoming and outgoing calls and text messages. All of which concerns civil liberties and open-government groups. They worry that the technology could be used to violate innocent Hoosiers' constitutionally protected rights to privacy if proper checks and balances aren't in place. But officials at Indiana's largest police agency aren't saying what they do with the technology; they're mum on whose data they've collected so far; and they're not talking about what steps they take to safeguard the data.
Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2013/12/08/indiana-state-police-tracking-cellphones-but-wont-say-how-or-why/3908333/
Los Angeles Times: CIA fails with program of spies posing as business executives
The Los Angeles Times says that several years ago, a senior officer in the CIA clandestine service attended a closed-door conference for overseas operatives. Speakers included case officers who were working in the manner Hollywood usually portrays spies — out on their own.Most CIA officers abroad pose as U.S. diplomats. But those given what's called non-official cover are known as NOCs, pronounced "knocks," and they typically pose as business executives. At the forum, the NOCs spoke of their cover jobs, their false identities and measures taken to protect them. Few said much about gathering intelligence. A colleague passed a caustic note to the senior officer. "Lots of business," it read. "Little espionage." Twelve years after the CIA began a major push to get its operatives out of embassy cubicles and into foreign universities, businesses and other local perches to collect intelligence on terrorists and rogue nations, the effort has been a disappointment, current and former U.S. officials say. Along with other parts of the CIA, the budget of the so-called Global Deployment Initiative, which covers the NOC program, is now being cut. "It was a colossal flop," a former senior CIA official said in sentiments echoed by a dozen former colleagues, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified program.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-cia-spies-20131208,0,3603017.story#ixzz2n07oVRog
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Rogue tactics in ATF stings nationwide
A review of records by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that failures in an ATF sting in Wisconsin had echoes in other cities. The paper reports on a case involving Aaron Key, who remembers that he wasn't sure he wanted a tattoo on his neck. Especially one of a giant squid smoking a joint. But the guys running Squid's Smoke Shop in Portland, Ore., convinced him: It would be a perfect way to promote their store. They would even pay him and a friend $150 apiece if they agreed to turn their bodies into walking billboards. Key, who is mentally disabled, was swayed. He and his friend, Marquis Glover, liked Squid's. It was their hangout. The 19-year-olds spent many afternoons there playing Xbox and chatting with the owner, "Squid," and the store clerks. So they took the money and got the ink etched on their necks, tentacles creeping down to their collarbones. It would be months before the young men learned the whole thing was a setup. The guys running Squid's were actually undercover ATF agents conducting a sting to get guns away from criminals and drugs off the street. The tattoos had been sponsored by the U.S. government; advertisements for a fake storefront. The teens found out as they were arrested and booked into jail. Earlier this year when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed a botched ATF sting in Milwaukee — that included agents hiring a brain-damaged man to promote an undercover storefront and then arresting him for his work — ATF officials told Congress the failed Milwaukee operation was an isolated case of inadequate supervision. It wasn't. The Journal Sentinel reviewed thousands of pages of court records, police reports and other documents and interviewed dozens of people involved in six ATF operations nationwide that were publicly praised by the ATF in recent years for nabbing violent criminals and making cities safer.
Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/atf-uses-rogue-tactics-in-storefront-stings-across-the-nation-b99146765z1-234916641.html
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Fired nurses still able to find new jobs
The Minneapolis Star Tribune found that nurses forced to leave jobs for alleged misconduct often had no trouble finding new work. Nurse Kathryn Idovich, for example, found six jobs in 12 years. By the time the Minnesota Board of Nursing suspended Idovich’s license last December, Idovich’s employment history included a patient injury under her watch, medication errors, unauthorized lookups of patient records and reporting to work after drinking, records show.A Star Tribune review of Nursing Board disciplinary actions since 2010 found that at least 173 caregivers lost jobs after allegations of misconduct and managed to find new nursing positions. That includes nurses who have been found responsible for maltreating children and vulnerable adults, stolen drugs from their workplaces, practiced while impaired, or whose care has to led to harm of their patients. Neither the Nursing Board nor Idovich’s former employers would discuss how she was able to lead such a long career, despite events — four firings, five drunken-driving convictions and failing state sobriety monitoring — that were cited as justification for her license suspension last year. "There were a number of instances, and such a long pattern,” said Deb Holtz, the state’s ombudsman for long-term care. Holtz reviewed Idovich’s records for the Star Tribune. "There didn’t seem to be any critical point in
Read more: http://www.startribune.com/local/234913181.html
Philadelphia Inquirer: Suits allege police still give prisoners bruising rides
The Philadelphia Inquirer quotes the city’s police talking about James McKenna's conduct: He was drunk and belligerent - and broke his neck banging his head against cell bars. McKenna has a different account of what happened that June night in 2011. He says police arrested him outside a Center City bar and tossed him unrestrained into the back of a police wagon that sped along, then stopped abruptly again and again until he fell and broke his neck. "I went down two or three times," McKenna said. The fourth time he fell, he said, he couldn't get up. "I couldn't muster the strength." The next sudden stop, he said, threw him into a slide toward the front of the van. According to McKenna, his skid was halted when he crashed against the barrier separating the driver's seat from the rear compartment. In hospital records obtained by The Inquirer, McKenna's story has some corroboration. "While being transported, pt. hit his own head against divider as reported by arriving officers," reads one notation in McKenna's hospital chart. Another hospital note says he "hit [his] head on police car door." McKenna alleges police subjected him to a form of abuse _ a jolting and dangerous ride in a police wagon _ that has a long, dishonorable history in Philadelphia. The practice was entrenched before the department vowed to end it a dozen years ago after an Inquirer investigative series. The articles detailed crippling injuries, including paralysis, suffered by people placed unrestrained in the vans. In recent years, at least four lawsuits or complaints have been brought alleging that people were injured during police transports. The three most recent complaints are detailed in this article.
Read more: http://articles.philly.com/2013-12-08/news/44946906_1_philadelphia-police-police-misconduct-police-officials
Reno Gazette-Journal: Authorities use of cell phone data raises concerns
As advances in smartphone technology and revelations about the National Security Administration’s surveillance activities have heightened the public’s privacy concerns, a Reno Gazette-Journal investigation found that local law enforcement agencies are also using cell phones to track Nevadans. Reno police and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office have paid almost $4,000 to telecommunications companies since last year for cell phone information ranging from details about the phone’s owner, calls in and out, voice mail, texts and, most important, the owner’s movements, the RGJ found. Law enforcement says it needs this information to catch drug dealers, robbers and murderers. But courts have split on whether using cell phone data without a warrant violates a person’s constitutional right to privacy. Clark County Deputy Public Defender Dan Silverstein said owning a cell phone shouldn’t quash those rights. "The idea that we don’t have privacy anymore just because we bought these phones is ludicrous,” he said. "This is such an important issue — it really touches on democracy itself. This is what the Fourth Amendment is for.”
Read more: http://www.rgj.com/article/20131208/NEWS/312080025/RGJ-investigates-Who-s-watching-you
The Buffalo News: When psych centers close, prisons fill in
The Buffalo (N.Y.) News looked at why more mentally ill people reside in jail and prison cells than in psychiatric hospitals. It points to the story of a man found walking in winter with a toy wagon through a field and along a line of power poles. Rattling in his wagon were random items: a can of spray paint, a sleeve of golf balls, a gas can, a chainsaw. An Orchard Park patrolman saw him step out of some woods and didn’t buy his story that he was out hunting for firewood and returnable bottles – not in 10-degree weather at 4 a.m. But seeing no crime and knowing something about the man’s past, the officer got him to a hospital for a mental check-up. Ten days later, a wind storm toppled three of Orchard Park’s wooden power poles. The National Grid crew that restored electrical service to 6,300 customers discovered the poles had been cut three-quarters of the way through with a chainsaw and left to snap. Detectives zeroed in on the fellow with the Radio Flyer Wagon, Gregory J. Seifert. … James and Carol Seifert could not convince their oldest son that he was sick. Nor could they place him long-term in a state psychiatric center, even after multiple evaluations. … Eventually, Orchard Park police formally accused Seifert of sawing into the power poles and booked him into the Erie County Holding Center. It was Jan. 23, 2012. Gregory Seifert was finally in an institution. But it was the wrong one for someone seriously mentally ill. Decades after the country began closing mental institutions en masse, jails and prisons have become America’s de facto psychiatric centers. Psychiatrists say that about a third of the severely ill people who, 50 years ago, would have been placed in a psychiatric center still need a structured setting. But today’s structured setting is often a jail or prison. As the new century approached, the number of mentally ill inmates in New York’s prisons was exploding. During a 13-year period – from 1991 through 2004 –the volume of inmates receiving treatment grew by 71 percent, three times faster than the general population, according to the Correctional Association of New York, an independent prison watchdog for almost 170 years.
Read more: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/being-mentally-ill-and-imprisoned-talk-about-cruel-and-inhumane-20131208
The Commercial Appeal: Debate over medical ethics sparked by Steve Jobs transplant
The Commercial Appeal looked at how Steve Jobs’ 2009 liver transplant in Memphis gave the tech icon two more years of life _ and set off a divisive debate over medical ethics. It reports that it was nearly 4 a.m. when Steve Jobs' gleaming private jet finally touched down. The lights at Memphis International Airport cast a halo of fluorescent gold around the $40 million, 15-seat Gulfstream as it completed its 1,800-mile journey from California, an overnight Hail Mary across three time zones. Waiting in a car on the tarmac that crisp March 2009 morning, Dr. James D. Eason greeted his famous patient, the reclusive tech icon known worldwide for the iPhone and decades of innovation. As head of transplant surgery at Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute, Eason would perform a rare type of liver transplant on 54-year-old Jobs in the hours that followed, extending his life by 2½ years and giving new life, too, to a bedeviling question of medical ethics. Simply put, did Jobs, the iconic billionaire CEO of Apple Inc., the most visible organ transplant patient in the world, cut in line in Memphis? It's a simple question that frames an intensely complicated raging national debate over how money influences access to the best doctors and hospitals, or in this case, a precious transplanted organ. "Transplants are a microcosm of the larger health care system," said Gordon Bonnyman, a Nashville lawyer who, as the executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, has led a series of often-unsatisfying skirmishes seeking better health care for the poor. "In my experience, (the poor) are grateful for what they get, whatever that is. They are not very good at asserting themselves. They do not expect, like Steve Jobs, to be pushing ahead to the head of the queue. "If you don't have the 'do-re-mi,' you're not going to get quality care."
Read more: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2013/dec/05/steve-jobs-liver-transplant-memphis/?CID=happeningnow
Washington Post: Expensive drug costs Medicare billions
The two drugs have been declared equivalently miraculous. Tested side by side in six major trials, both prevent blindness in a common old-age affliction. Biologically, they are cousins. They’re even made by the same company. But one holds a clear price advantage. Avastin costs about $50 per injection. Lucentis costs about $2,000 per injection. Doctors choose the more expensive drug more than half a million times every year, a choice that costs the Medicare program, the largest single customer, an extra $1 billion or more annually. Spending that much may make little sense for a country burdened by ever-rising health bills, but as is often the case in American health care, there is a certain economic logic: Doctors and drugmakers profit when more-costly treatments are adopted. Genentech, a division of the Roche Group, makes both products but reaps far more profit when it sells the more expensive drug. Although Lucentis is about 40 times as expensive as Avastin to buy, the cost of producing the two drugs is similar, according to scientists familiar with the drugs and the industry. Doctors, meanwhile, may benefit when they choose the more expensive drug. Under Medicare repayment rules for drugs given by physicians, they are reimbursed for the average price of the drug plus 6 percent. That means a drug with a higher price may be easier to sell to doctors than a cheaper one. In addition, Genentech offers rebates to doctors who use large volumes of the more expensive drug.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/an-effective-eye-drug-is-available-for-50-but-many-doctors-choose-a-2000-alternative/2013/12/07/1a96628e-55e7-11e3-8304-caf30787c0a9_story.html
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 12-5-2013
Anchorage Daily News: Targeting Barrow bootleg
The Anchorage Daily News says that in a small house in the middle of the oil-rich whaling town of Barrow, Alaska, there lives a former bootlegger and drug dealer. He stopped selling illegal booze sometime last summer, yet hopeful buyers still knock at the door all night looking for a jug. "I could have sold 10 bottles last night. People kept coming by," the man said on a recent Saturday. A woman playing "Call of Duty" nodded in agreement as zombies exploded on a widescreen TV. The bootlegger, speaking on condition of anonymity, leaned against a coffee table and made a mental calculation: A case of Budweiser, a bottle of Rich & Rare Canadian whiskey and a box of Franzia wine each sell for $100 here. For $500 you could order your weight in alcohol and triple your money by selling it to friends and neighbors. Outside the man's door, a ceaseless wind cleared the streets. It's quiet now, but the black market liquor trade in this northernmost U.S. city is about to get very, very busy, he said. Beginning this week, more than $30 million in cash deposits and checks will flood this North Slope community of 4,300. Demand for illegal booze, and drugs, runs high all-year-round in Barrow. The nearest liquor store is 300 miles away. … But bootleggers and drug dealers prepare for this week in particular, when many Barrow residents will receive an average of $10,000 in dividends as shareholders of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. The storm of cash presents a test for the 40-officer North Slope Borough Police Department, which has quietly spent the past two years ramping up its anti-bootlegging efforts in one of the most remote corners of Alaska.
Read more: http://www.adn.com/2013/11/30/3206475/with-30-million-about-to-hit-the.html#storylink=cpy
Chicago Tribune: 95 percent of Illinois tollway drivers are speeding
According to data analyzed by The Chicago Tribune, there’s truth to what area drivers may have long suspected: Hardly anyone obeys the speed limit on the Tollway. Just one driver in 20 follows the law in 55 mph zones, while most tend to cruise at least 11 mph over the limit, according to the studies. In some stretches around metro Chicago, one in seven motorists speed at least 20 mph over the limit, according to the data. As Illinois gets ready to allow speed limits to rise to 70 mph, the research stirs debate about just what the speed limit should be on the Tollway. Some say it would be safer to let most drivers go as fast as they’re comfortable with, while others fear high limits would foster more dangerous crashes. The findings also raise questions about how human psychology plays a role in determining how fast motorists choose to drive.
Read more: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-11-30/news/ct-speed-psychology-promo-20131201_1_70-mph-speed-limits-tollway
Houston Chronicle: Synthetic pot opens new drug war front
The Houston Chronicle looked at the rise in use of synthetic drugs in the city. It found that more than 1 million packets of a dangerous, unpredictable new breed of drug were seized in the Houston area by the DEA in the past two years, yet criminal charges are rare for those who make, sell or use them. The packets, sold as potpourri or incense, are among the more popular brands of so-called synthetic marijuana taking center stage in a new front in the war on drugs.On a recent afternoon, glossy packets of strawberry-flavored "Kush" lay side by side in a lighted glass display case, just past the bongs and pipes, at a Houston-area shop. The mixture inside looks like dried, finely crushed green leaves. It is smoked like pot but packs a far different punch - and is fueling the never-ending search for ways to get high. "This is a new frontier for drugs and drug traffickers," said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "I want to shout it from the roof tops: This is nasty stuff." Despite pressure from law enforcement, users still don't have to go to underground dealers to score. Instead, they just visit smoke shops and convenience stores that sell the products. Houston has a key role in the popularity of the drugs. It is not only a large marketplace for them, but they are covertly made here and shipped to other regions, according to court documents.
Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Houston-gains-key-role-in-synthetic-marijuana-5024607.php#/0
Los Angeles Times: Misconduct didn’t stop sheriff hires
An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had committed serious misconduct on or off duty. The department made the hires in 2010 after taking over patrols of parks and government buildings from a little-known L.A. County police force. Officers from that agency were given first shot at new jobs with the Sheriff's Department. Investigators gave them lie detector tests and delved into their employment records and personal lives. The Times reviewed the officers' internal hiring files, which also contained recorded interviews of the applicants by sheriff's investigators. Ultimately, about 280 county officers were given jobs, including applicants who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes, the records show.
Read more: http://graphics.latimes.com/behind-the-badge/
The Virginian-Pilot: Service members fight Pentagon for money
The Virginian-Pilot looked at military pay records, government reports and other documents to find out the difficulties returning service members were having and found plenty. The paper says, for example, that U.S. Army medic Shawn Aiken was locked in desperate battle with a formidable foe in late 2011. Not insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. This time, he was up against the U.S. Defense Department. Aiken, then 30, was in his second month of physical and psychological reconstruction at Fort Bliss in El Paso after two tours of combat duty. His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder, abnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain and a hip injury. But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. Aiken had no money. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. It had started that October, when he received $2,337.56 instead of his normal monthly take-home of about $3,300. He quickly raised the issue with staff. It only got worse. For all of December, his pay came to $117.99. … The money the military took from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep. The Pentagon agency involved is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS. This agency, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind., has roughly 12,000 employees and, after cuts under federal sequestration, a $1.36 billion budget. It is responsible for accurately paying America's 2.7 million active-duty and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It often fails at that task. Reviews of individuals' military pay records, government reports and other documents, along with interviews with dozens of current and former soldiers and other military personnel, confirm Aiken's case is hardly isolated. And as Aiken and many other soldiers have found, once mistakes are detected, getting them corrected - or explained - can test even the most persistent soldiers.
Read more: http://hamptonroads.com/2013/11/military-payroll-system-plagued-errors-obsolete-gear
Portland (Me.) Press Herald: Mideast unrest powers influx of newcomers
The Portland (Me.) Press Herald says that unrest in the Middle East is prompting more families to immigrate to Maine. Among the immigrants is Ali Farid, an Iraqi, who was 18 when he signed up to be a combat interpreter for the U.S. military. He helped the military get critical information and supported its efforts to win the hearts and minds of locals. He found himself crammed into a Humvee while soldiers waged gun battles and cleared roadways of bombs. But when U.S. troops withdrew, it became unsafe for Farid to stay in Iraq. "People over there tend to ask questions. It’s not difficult to figure out you worked with the U.S. Army,” Farid said in an interview over Turkish coffee and Iraqi pastries at his Westbrook apartment. "(Insurgents) follow you. They know where you live. The next day – you’re gone.” Farid, now 25, is one of the increasing number of refugees – Iraqis in particular – who are finding refuge in Maine. More refugees have resettled in Maine in the last year than at any time over the past decade. The spike comes at a time when housing and jobs are hard to find, especially in Portland, where the vast majority are resettled.
Read more: http://www.pressherald.com/news/Mideast_unrest_powers_influx_of_newcomers.html?searchterm=mideast+unrest+newcomers
San Antonio Express-News: GI sex-assault victims fact battle for disability benefits
According to the San Antonio Express-News, months have passed since sexual-assault victim Virginia Messick left the Air Force and sought disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. She says she cannot work and wants the Veterans Affairs Department to grant her a 100 percent disability rating for PTSD due to military sexual trauma or MST. She's likely to have a long wait. "When I talked with my claims advocate, I asked her why it's taking so long because it's coming up on a year and I haven't even gotten a ratings appointment yet,” said Messick, who was assaulted by an Air Force instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. "And she said, 'Unfortunately, with MST right now, it can take up to 18 months to even get a ratings appointment.'” After leaving the military, sexual-assault victims can receive medical care through Veterans Affairs without proving their cases. However, they must meet a tougher standard to qualify for the disability checks that can be a lifeline for veterans who struggle to support themselves. Lawmakers and advocates say that, because troops and veterans often hide sexual assaults, the VA standard for these victims isn't fair. Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), along with the ACLU and Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, found VA disability claims for PTSD due to sexual trauma were granted at a much lower rate from 2008-2012 than for post-traumatic stress due to other causes, such as being in a combat zone. Disability approvals for sexual-trauma cases lagged behind approvals for other PTSD cases by between 17 and 30 percentage points every year, according to VA records, which the organizations obtained in a lawsuit after the VA refused to release the records through a Freedom of Information request.
Read more: http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/military/article/GI-sex-assault-victims-face-battle-for-disability-5024382.php#/0
Charlotte Observer: Department can’t justify contracts
The Charlotte Observer says that in most major departments in North Carolina’s government, officials must explain in writing when they want to hire an individual with a contract for services. But at the Department of Health and Human Services, where Secretary Aldona Wos has awarded at least seven such deals, those rules are not being followed in most cases. Wos, an appointee of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, has awarded a number of high-dollar contracts, including one worth $312,000 a year to former State Auditor Les Merritt and another worth $310,000 to a vice president from the company owned by Wos’ husband. But in both of those cases, and in at least four others, the department says it can’t locate any memos written to justify the contracts. Department policy requires a justification memo for sole-source and personal-services contracts. Under state law, the documents would be public records."No justification memorandum was located by agency personnel,” DHHS attorney Kevin Howell wrote in response to a public records request. Howell was asked several times if anyone at the department had completed the justification memos. He repeatedly gave the same reply: "No justification memorandum was located by agency personnel.” Howell said the department’s policy did not apply to the secretary. "The intent of the justification memorandum is for the divisions within DHHS to justify the need for personal services contracts to the Office of the Secretary,” Howell wrote. "Since these personal service contracts were for the Office of the Secretary, no such justification was needed.” Howell failed to respond when asked to provide the policy or regulation that exempted the secretary from complying with her departmental contracting policy. The agency’s purchasing manual does not provide an exception for the Office of the Secretary. Wos declined to be interviewed.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/12/01/4509184/scant-justification-for-flurry.html#.UpzWqMSsjTo#storylink=cpy
Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent: Some schools leave out the details
The Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent reports that a sample of a dozen school districts from central through eastern Wisconsin showed half didn’t meet a Department of Public Instruction recommendation for reporting detailed information about the number of students who are secluded or restrained. Under a state law passed in 2012, school districts must track how often students are removed from their classrooms or physically restrained, report each case to parents within one business day and give a report to school boards every year. Those reports were delivered to school boards for the first time this fall. Gannett Wisconsin Media’s Investigative Team used the state’s Public Records Law to obtain and analyze the reports on seclusion and physical restraint of students at a dozen schools within its coverage area.Six of the districts provided detailed information broken down by school building and explained how staff members responded when a student could have harmed him or herself or others. The other six districts didn’t provide information by school building — contrary to the DPI recommendation.
Read more: http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20131130/APC0198/311300208/Some-schools-leave-out-details-reports-seclusion-restraint-students
Newark Star-Ledger: Criminals get out of jail on a payment plan
The Newark Star-Ledger finds that accused thieves, drug dealers, gun-toting criminals, even suspected killers are being freed from New Jersey lockups before trial, thanks to the growing popularity of the criminal justice system’s version of the installment plan. Their get-out-of-jail-almost-free cards are being bankrolled by a new breed of bail bondsmen, willing to take big risks on individuals who’ve proved over and over that they’re high risks, a Star-Ledger review of court documents shows, along with interviews with law enforcement officials, judges and victims of the new bail schemes. Some are being set free on $75-a-week payment plans, an offer too good to pass up for criminal defendants who otherwise would be spending the months leading up to trial locked away in a spartan county jail. "$0 down payment," reads the sign in the window of Aaron Bail Bonds, beckoning inmates housed across the street at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack. A company next door promises "Instant O% approval," and another, ASAP Bail Bonds, offers the "Best Deals on the Strip." It’s all shorthand for the shadow deals criminal defendants are negotiating with bail bondsmen — a practice that, though not illegal, has attracted the attention of the state Commission of Investigation. The commission has opened a "broad-based" probe into the bail bond industry that will include a closer look at these deals, a law enforcement source said.
Read more: http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2013/12/nj_defendants_being_set_free_on_bail_payment_plans_without_judges_prosecutors_knowing.html
SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 11-21-2013
AP: New heart and
stroke guidelines draw flak
The Associated Press reported that heart experts who wrote
new guidelines for preventing heart attacks and strokes are defending a formula
that some doctors say overestimates risk for certain groups. Doctors who
drafted the new advice for the American Heart Association and the American
College of Cardiology say that any flaws in the formula are small and should
not delay the implementation of the guidelines, which expand how many people
should consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor
or their generic forms. The guidelines, announced last week, are a sea change
in heart care. Instead of having people aim for a specific cholesterol number
as has been done for decades, the new advice relies on a formula using factors
such as age and high blood pressure to estimate a patient's risk. Under the new
advice, one-third of U.S. adults ages 40 to 75 would meet the threshold to
consider taking a statin. Under the current guidelines, statins are recommended
for only about 15 percent of this group. The Heart Association held a news
briefing at its annual conference in Dallas after a New York Times story
featured criticism by several prominent cardiologists. Dr. Paul Ridker and Dr.
Nancy Cook of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston describe in an opinion
piece in the British journal Lancet how they tried the formula on patients in
three large, observational clinical trials and found it was way off for the
number of heart attacks and strokes those patients actually had. "The
predicted risk is roughly twice as high as the observed risk," Ridker
Constitution: Despite limits, lobbying still in full swing
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Georgia
lawmakers set the first-ever limits on individual gifts given by lobbyists to
public officials this spring, but they preserved the tradition of large,
general-invitation banquets and parties. Two of the largest lobbying interests
in the state — Georgia Power and the University of Georgia — showed their
gratitude in October, spending a combined $35,000 for events for lawmakers.
That’s more than all the rest of the reported lobbyist spending for the month
combined. "We did have a really good turnout,” UGA lobbyist Tricia Chastain
said about Legislative Appreciation Day. "It’s not just the members of the
Legislature that come. We have all our deans of our 16 colleges and schools
invited (and some) alums. We have a big crowd.” Reported lobbyist spending in October
clocked in at $65,345, compared to just $30,355 for the same month last year.
It is only the second month this year that spending increased year over year.
UGA led the increase, spending $18,743 on Oct. 12 to attract lawmakers to the
appreciation event. That day the Bulldogs lost a crucial SEC contest to
Missouri 41-26, but legislators couldn’t complain about the food. The
university spent $14,223 on the banquet. The money came from the university’s
foundation and not from taxpayers, Chastain said. House Bill 142, the ethics
reform passed earlier this year, puts a $75 cap on individual gifts to public
officials. But the bill has a number of loopholes, including allowances for
large annual events as long as invitations go out to entire groups of lawmakers.
Read more (online subscribers only):
Statesman: VA malpractice tab hits $845 million over 10 years
The Austin American-Statesman reports the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs paid out roughly $845 million in malpractice cases during the
past 10 years — a period that has seen the agency face scrutiny for giving
bonuses to medical professionals who provided or oversaw substandard care. An
investigation by reporters from Cox Media Group, parent company of the
American-Statesman, found that taxpayers have paid 4,426 veterans and their
family members who brought malpractice claims against the VA medical system
since 2003. The payouts reached a high point in 2012 at $98.3 million in
awards. "It’s very apparent because of
the spike in payouts that have been happening over a number of years that
they’re woefully falling behind on a curve that they never should be behind in
the first place,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House
Committee on Veterans Affairs. The claims included a 20-year Marine Corps
veteran who went in for a tooth extraction and is now paralyzed and unable to
Read more (Online subscribers only)
New York Times: U.S.
investigates currency trades by major banks
The New York Times reports traders at some of the world’s
biggest banks exchanged a series of instant messages that earned them the
nickname "the cartel” and, much like companies that rigged the price of
vitamins and animal feed, the traders were competitors that hatched alliances
for their own profits, federal investigators suspect. If those suspicions are
correct, the group of traders shared a mission to alter the price of foreign
currencies, the largest and yet least regulated market in the financial world.
And ultimately, they flooded the market with trades that potentially raised the
cost of currency for clients but aided the banks’ own investments. Now the
instant messages, along with similar activity among other traders, are at the
center of an international investigation into banks like Barclays,
the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citigroup,
according to recent public disclosures by the banks and interviews with
investigators who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The investigators
secured the cooperation of at least one trader, a development that has not been
Although the investigation is at an early stage, authorities
are already signaling the likelihood of a legal crackdown. "The manipulation
we’ve seen so far may just be the tip of the iceberg,” the United States
Attorney General, Eric
H. Holder Jr., said in a rare interview discussing an active investigation.
"We’ve recognized that this is potentially an extremely consequential
investigation.” The banks all declined to comment. No one has been accused of
wrongdoing, and any improper actions probably would have involved only a corner
of the overall market.
Switching perks to salary boosts pensions
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reports how Gordon Burns paid
close attention three years ago as state lawmakers considered legislation to
lift a cap on the salaries of community college presidents. Burns, the longtime
president of Wilkes Community College, was nearing retirement and, with a
salary and longevity pay of $208,000, had bumped up against that salary cap.
But he was also receiving roughly $80,000 in local money for housing, an
annuity and travel each year that could not be factored in to boost his
pension. The bill passed with little opposition. Shortly after, the Wilkes
board of trustees converted Burns’ additional pay – along with what they spent
on two insurance policies, his cellphone and his Rotary Club dues – into
salary. Those changes, plus an annual longevity payment, boosted Burns’
compensation to just more than $300,000, a 44 percent increase. If Burns, 66,
retires next year as he planned, his annual pension would be just under
$200,000, about $52,000 higher as a result of the pay conversion. Pensions are
calculated on the average of an employees’ highest four consecutive years of
salary. Community college pay records show that at least three other presidents
who have either retired or are nearing the end of their careers got a similar
deal from their boards, providing them a way to boost their annual pensions by
$19,000 or more. Trustees converted housing allowances, annuities and car
allowances paid from county or college foundation funds to salaries when the
cap went away.
Ohio’s $1.2 million propped up failing charter
The Columbus Dispatch reported that after resigning this
year as superintendent of a financially troubled Internet charter school amid
allegations of nepotism, James McCord had a new plan, and it again involved a
charter school employing him and his family. This summer, McCord opened eight
Olympus charter schools, including four in Columbus. They would be managed by a
for-profit corporation formed by McCord called Education Innovations
International, or EII, which would get most of the state money each month, own
all the schools’ property and employ all the workers. His wife, brother, children
and an in-law all had jobs with the company, former employees said. And again,
it all collapsed. The school’s sponsor suspended it last month. Olympus’
sponsor was a Cincinnati orphanage, St. Aloysius, which also sponsors 45 other
charter schools. But St. Aloysius has little to do with overseeing them.
Instead, the orphanage contracts out the oversight to a Pickerington company,
Charter School Specialists.
That company also worked for McCord as his schools’
treasurer. In other words, McCord hired the same firm that acted as his
watchdog. Charter School Specialists was required to report to itself by email
each month on the operation’s finances. In a way, McCord’s venture was no
different from many start-up companies that don’t make it, except for one thing:
Ohio taxpayers helped fund this business failure. The state paid Olympus
schools about $1.2 million, most of it for students it couldn’t confirm
received schooling, the state Department of Education said.
Newark Star Ledger:
New Jersey lags in using less lethal Tasers
The Newark Star Ledger reports Dante Cespedes was in the
living room of his cramped Belleville apartment when police officers arrived in
July to resolve an argument with his wife that turned violent. Police say the
40-year-old chef lunged at them with a pair of knives. He was shot 24 times,
and died at the scene. Abdul Kamal was standing outside his estranged wife’s
Irvington home last week after a domestic dispute, shouting at police with a
hand stuffed in his pocket, prosecutors said. He threatened the officers and
claimed to have a weapon, police said. Officers shot him 10 times, killing him.
Prosecutors later determined Kamal was unarmed, and his family says he was
intoxicated and struggled with mental-health issues.
The recent deaths have caused some to ask why most police
officers in New Jersey don’t carry stun guns, even as the devices have become
common in police departments elsewhere in the country. For years, New Jersey
has lagged in adopting the use of the devices, also known as Tasers because of
the popular manufacturer, becoming the last state in the nation to authorize
their use in 2009.Advocates say the devices are a necessary policing tool and
provide a less lethal choice for officers, especially when dealing with an
individual who may be mentally impaired. Police leaders in New Jersey say they
would love to add stun guns to their arsenals, but the devices come with a
$2,500 price tag, and many departments, already struggling to hire after years
of municipal belt-tightening, can’t foot that bill.