WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 7-1-15
AP-APME Infrastructure Project: Growing Gridlock
At 4:35 a.m. each weekday, Stan Paul drives out of his Southern California suburb with 10 passengers in a van, headed to his job as an undergraduate counselor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Some 80 miles and 90 minutes later, the vanpoolers finally arrive to start their workday.
On the return trip, Los Angeles' infamously snarled traffic often stretches their afternoon commute to three hours. Since Paul joined in 2001, he has spent roughly 1 1/2 years aboard the vanpool.
Transportation experts say Paul's long journey offers a warning for the future, when traffic rivaling a major holiday might someday be the norm for many more Americans. And it's not just the usual congestion spots.
Orange County Register: Disney works to stop gate tax
The Orange County Register says that the Walt Disney Co. recently showed how much it values keeping Anaheim out of its ticket-pricing business. The corporation announced it would commit to a $1 billion expansion at Disneyland Resort, provided the city forgoes taxing admission tickets for 30 years. Anaheim has never charged taxes on Disney tickets. But the 1996 deal that spelled out that policy expires next year. Disney’s effort to get ahead of the curve shows how much control it wants to maintain over its carefully calibrated prices. ...At the end of 2014, Disney’s parks and resorts were its second-biggest source of revenue, after its media networks, with operating revenue of $2.6 billion, a 20 percent jump from the previous year, according to financial filings. In Orange County, Disneyland Resort accounts for nearly a third of the $9.6 billion tourism market and generates $370 million in state and local tax revenues, according to a study commissioned by Disney. The city’s tax revenue from hotel stays, heavily tied to Disney parks, is projected to hit $133 million next year – nearly half of its total revenue.
Still, Anaheim faces a half-billion dollar unfunded pension obligation. And mayor Tom Tait opposes Disney’s proposal, saying he doesn’t want Anaheim to be handcuffed for another three decades.
Miami Herald: Money pipeline to Latin America
From a trailer just across from the Bal Harbour village hall, the police set up an elaborate undercover sting, the Miami Herald reports in a series. Posing as money launderers, they counted the $409,115 in drug cash that had just arrived. They bundled it. They took photos of it.
In the next few days, they delivered it: thousands of dollars to VA Cell, a company in an atrium office in Doral. Even more to GSM City, a popular computer store with a showroom just three miles away. Armed with one of the toughest money-laundering laws in the country, the police infiltrated the drug cartels five years ago and zeroed on their money-laundering hub — setting up what should have been a sweeping crackdown on businesses used by the drug traffickers to conceal their cash. But in the end, nothing happened. No company owners were arrested by the Tri-County Task Force, nor were they targeted with civil actions to seize their assets. To this day, most of the exporters are open, some still suspected by federal agents of laundering money for the drug organizations, a Miami Herald investigation found. … The lack of enforcement represents everything that went wrong with a task force that funneled millions into the storefront businesses — gathering crucial evidence against some of the owners — yet took no enforcement actions against them.
Read more: http://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/license-to-launder/doral.html#storylink=cpy
Idaho Statesman: Commercializing tech research hasn’t fulfilled promise
The Idaho Statesman says that the world should hope Boise State University professor Greg Hampikian strikes it big. Hampikian, who teaches biology and criminal justice, has developed three chemical compounds he says have shown promise in the laboratory to fight cancer. The drugs are not yet patented and have years of testing and trials before they might receive regulatory approval. If Boise State chose to pursue a patent for the drugs, and if they were to reach market, Hampikian could split millions in patent licensing agreements with a pharmaceutical company in equal parts with Boise State. … After spending thousands on initial filings, Boise State has chosen not to pursue patents on the drugs, though it has filed for patents for two other Hampikian inventions: a miniature pump for use in forensic DNA analysis and a transducer that can generate energy. So Hampikian plans to pay himself to file patents for the cancer drugs, though he will likely need investors to advance them. … Universities like Boise State, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, and federal installations like the Idaho National Laboratory, have embraced tech transfer by creating offices to license their work.
But in Idaho at least, tech transfer has so far produced mostly hopes, not business success.
The Courier-Journal: Dental ER visits rising
What started as a toothache from a lost filling became a raging infection that landed Christopher Smith in the University of Louisville Hospital emergency room, then in intensive care on a ventilator and feeding tube. "It came on so quickly and violently. I was terrified," said Smith, 41, who lacked dental insurance and hadn't been to a dentist for years before the problem arose this month. "I had no idea it could get this serious this quickly."
Smith is one of a growing number of patients seeking help in the ER for long-delayed dental care. An analysis of the most recent federal data by the American Dental Association shows dental ER visits doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012, or one visit every 15 seconds. ADA officials, as well as many dentists across the nation say the problem persists despite health reform. … Limited insurance coverage is a major culprit; all but 15 percent of dental ER visits are by the uninsured or people with government insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover dental services for children but not adults. Medicaid plans for adults vary by state, and offer only a short list of dental services in Kentucky. Medicare generally doesn't cover dental care.
Charlotte Observer: Broker sells insurance policies to homeless
Just outside the gate of Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, where the homeless often gather with people selling them something, Kim Huggins got a pitch from an acquaintance she knows only as Jeff, the Charlotte Observer reports. If she would give him her name and Social Security number, she would get free health insurance and he would earn $5. Huggins, who was sleeping on a friend’s floor, says she handed the man her Social Security and ID cards and he filled out a form. Her form, along with 600 others from across the Carolinas, went to Charlotte insurance agent Will Kennedy. Almost all the applications he submitted had an estimated annual income of $11,700, and many of the addresses were the Urban Ministry Center and other homeless help centers, according to a complaint filed with the N.C. Department of Insurance. Today Huggins is among dozens in Charlotte who are learning that their “free” coverage requires them to cover a $5,000 deductible and costs them eligibility for some of the free medical services they’ve relied on.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/health-care/article25671634.html#storylink=cpy
Seattle Times: Navy stealthily targets canal development
With little public outreach, the Navy has stealthily put thousands of acres of Puget Sound shoreline and upland off-limits to proposed and future development. Recently released documents reveal the Navy has marked a “sphere of influence” in the western Puget Sound that it can use to block developments — even after they’re well under way — by deeming them threats to national security. The Navy has clandestinely targeted projects, rating them according to perceived threat level. Meanwhile, area developers say they were unaware their work was being monitored. Last year, the Navy was so worried about a proposed pier bringing barges into Hood Canal that it managed to restrict a narrow, 70-mile strip of seafloor to stop it. The state hired two appraisers, who independently valued the strip, some 4,804 acres of public land, at $1.68 million. But to pay Washington state that amount, the Navy first needed approval from Congress. To get around the lawmakers, the Navy reappraised the lease in-house, valuing the seafloor acreage at $720,000, according to a Seattle Times review of hundreds of pages of Navy and state documents. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed to the new price despite state law that requires the agency to obtain fair-market value for this “restrictive easement.”
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 6-24-15
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Coffee roasting can release dangerous chemical
Tucked inside a burlap sack at room temperature, green coffee beans pose no known danger.
Funnel a 90-pound batch into a 430-degree roaster and things change, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. A chemical reaction between the beans' sugars and amino acids creates a toxic compound capable of crippling the lungs of anyone nearby. But few, if any, commercial coffee roasters know it. They stand close, smelling the beans periodically during the 14 minutes it takes to turn them into a ready-to-be-ground roast. As the beans spill from the roasting drums into the cooling rack, roasters again inhale the fumes — the aromas made delicious, in part, by the same molecular formula tied to hundreds of injuries and at least five deaths. Most coffee roasters have never heard of the chemical compound diacetyl. Those who have, associate it solely with its devastating effects on microwave popcorn workers and those in the flavoring industry. They don't suspect that it could be wreaking the same havoc on their own lungs.
Arizona Republic: The high cost of drones
The drone's radar spots the men first _ four red dots moving on Ajo Mountain, a half mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Arizona Republic reports. The radar operator sits more than an hour's flight away, with the rest of the drone's flight crew, in a trailer at the edge of the Fort Huachuca military base in southern Arizona. He taps at his keyboard. A powerful video camera mounted on a ball beneath the Customs and Border Protection Predator B zooms in. The image clearly shows four men, one in a white shirt, hiking calmly through the rugged desert, unaware they're being tracked from nearly nine miles away and 19,000 feet up. The drone's crew alerts the Border Patrol. In less than a minute, a helicopter heads there from one direction, agents in a truck from another. After a few minutes the four men, apparently hearing the chopper, break into a run, sprinting for the border fence. Impressive technology. But federal auditors and aerial-surveillance competitors repeatedly have questioned whether CBP's drone program is cost effective _ and whether other alternatives might do more for less money. … An Arizona Republic analysis suggests that manned aircraft or other, less expensive drones could provide broader coverage than the Predator Bs have delivered, at a significantly lower cost.
Miami Herald: To serve, protect and profit
The Miami Herald reports that after showing up for guard duty at Bal Harbour’s Sea View Hotel, Wilner Pierre surveyed the cluster of boisterous men lounging at the pool, drinks in hand. The 58-year-old security guard asked them to remove the glass from the pool area of the elegant, 1940s-era resort. When they refused, he threatened to call the police. Then came their response: We are the police. Bal Harbour’s Sea View Hotel emerged as a de facto base for task force members, who booked rooms at the elegant 1940s-era resort at least 75 times, holding meetings and often converging around the pool. … The Tri-County Task Force turned a money-laundering investigation into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, spending lavishly on travel and dining while picking up suitcases stuffed with drug cash from as far away as Los Angeles and San Juan.
Read more: http://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/license-to-launder/spend.html#storylink=cpy
Chicago Tribune: Emanuel-backed effort to fight violence falters
As Chicago's youth violence made national headlines, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and business leaders in 2013 launched what they called a game-changing initiative to quell the bloodshed, the Chicago Tribune reports. With prominent executives at the helm and a goal of $50 million in corporate pledges, the new private foundation called Get IN Chicago presented itself as a departure from the usual practice of pumping tax dollars to community groups while paying little heed to the results. In addition to funding existing youth programs, Get IN would enlist top social scientists to conduct randomized, controlled trials and rigorously evaluate the programs' outcomes, its press releases said. For the first time, authorities would have data enabling them to scale up and replicate proven strategies. … But as of June 1, two years into Get IN's five-year plan, the foundation had disbursed only $3.7 million in grants to youth programs, while spending $900,000 per year on its own administrative salaries and overhead, according to the most recent available records.
Des Moines Register: Traffic-camera ticket appeals often successful
Got a citation from one of the dozens of traffic enforcement cameras scattered across Iowa?
It might be worth your while to appeal it. In Council Bluffs, 83 percent of the automated traffic enforcement citations that were appealed by motorists resulted in dismissals, a Des Moines Register review found. The success rate on appeals in three other cities with enforcement cameras ranged from 20 to 50 percent, the Register review showed. But only a tiny fraction of cited motorists bother appealing. In most cities, the appeals process requires taking time during a weekday to appear before a city official to haggle over a citation. Just 2.7 percent of motorists who received an enforcement camera citation from Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines or Sioux City chose to appeal, the review shows.
Portland Oregonian: Unpaid parking tickets pile up
Two years ago, Portland State University student Devin Witter had racked up so many parking tickets that the city towed his road-worn Hyundai Accent from a downtown street. When Witter went to pick up his car, the attendant told him he could get it back, but only if he paid off his citations. "The car wasn't even worth the amount I owed in parking fines," Witter said. "So I just left it there, figuring the city would sell the car, pay off the tickets and that would be that." That wasn't that. After late fees and collection costs, the state says Witter still owes $9,669 for 36 unpaid tickets, putting him on the short list of Portland's worst parking scofflaws. At the top: An Internet marketing manager who owes $12,565 and a Maserati owner with a $11,539 tab. But even if those debts were paid off tomorrow, they would barely make a dent in $32.4 million in unpaid tickets owed to a City Hall reluctant to get more aggressive with parking deadbeats.
Washington Post: Recycling is stalling
Tucked in the woods 30 miles north of Washington is a plant packed with energy-guzzling machines that can make even an environmentalist’s heart sing _ giant conveyor belts, sorters and crushers saving a thousand tons of paper, plastic and other recyclables from reaching landfills each day, The Washington Post reports. The 24-hour operation is a sign that after three decades of trying, a culture of curbside recycling has become ingrained in cities and counties across the country. Happy Valley, however, it is not. Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities in Elkridge, Maryland, but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around. … The problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Billion tends to secrecy
The Buffalo Billion program championed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a bold and costly experiment in economic development that is beset by secrecy and politics, and banking on a company with a history of losing money, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports. The program — hailed in Buffalo but resented across much of the rest of New York — has been promoted as both a catalyst for rejuvenating the western New York economy and a model for other upstate regions.
But the management of the Buffalo Billion by the Cuomo administration has raised eyebrows — and concerns — in some quarters.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM
AP: FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities
Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned.
The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.
For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans' privacy.
Los Angeles Times: Rise in accidental gunshots by deputies follows new firearm
The Los Angeles Times says that one sheriff's deputy shot himself in the leg while pulling out his gun to confront a suspect. Another accidentally fired a bullet in a restroom stall. A third deputy stumbled over a stroller in a closet as he was searching for a suspect, squeezing off a round that went through a wall and lodged in a piece of furniture in the next room. Accidental gunshots by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have more than doubled in two years, endangering bystanders and occasionally injuring deputies. The jump coincides with the department's move to a new handgun that lacks a safety lever and requires less pressure to pull the trigger. Sheriff's officials say that the increase in accidental discharges — from 12 in 2012 to 30 last year — occurred because deputies were adjusting to the new gun.
Washington Post: One in five women say they were violated
Twenty percent of young women who attended college during the past four years say they were sexually assaulted, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. But the circle of victims on the nation’s campuses is probably even larger. Many others endured attempted attacks, the poll found, or suspect that someone violated them while they were unable to consent. Some say they were coerced into sex through verbal threats or promises. About the project: The Washington Post and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation teamed up to poll more than 1,000 people nationwide who have attended college within the past four years about sexual assault and campus culture. Post reporters then interviewed more than 50 women and men who responded that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact — or attempted or suspected sexual contact — while they were students.
Sacramento Bee: California’s largest nursing home owner under fire
At the top of the chain: Shlomo Rechnitz, a 43-year-old Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist, the Sacramento Bee reports. Since 2006, Rechnitz and his primary company, Brius Healthcare Services, have acquired 81 nursing homes up and down the state, many of them through bankruptcy court. His chain has grown so quickly that he now controls about 1 in every 14 nursing home beds in California, giving him an outsized influence on quality of care in the state.
In the past year, multiple alarms have been raised about this relative newcomer to the industry and the care provided in some of his homes. His facilities have become the target of police scrutiny, lawsuits, stiff regulatory fines and state and federal investigations that have uncovered numerous alleged violations.
Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/nursing-homes/article24015475.html#storylink=cpy
Des Moines Register: Invest in Des Moines hotel, get a green card
The Des Moines Register reports that a $101 million convention hotel in downtown Des Moines promises to bring hundreds of jobs, thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the city. It also could provide green cards to 40 wealthy immigrants and their families. Developers aim to secure $20 million for the hotel project through a federal program known as EB-5. It allows foreign citizens to obtain permanent U.S. residency by investing $500,000, and in some cases $1 million, in a U.S. business that creates at least 10 jobs. Offering a rare path to U.S. residency — and ultimately citizenship — the program has exploded in popularity, driven largely by investors from China who want their children to grow up in American cities and attend American schools. Their money has helped fund projects like a posh casino on the Las Vegas strip, a Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan and an ethanol plant in North Dakota. But the EB-5 program has been a target of criticism. Several high-profile projects have flopped, and whistleblowers have raised questions about fraud, lack of investment in poor and rural areas, and loopholes that could allow foreign operatives and people with ties to terrorism to settle here.
Baltimore Sun: Arrests in Baltimore plummet, people frightened
Baltimore police arrested fewer people in May than in any month for at least three years, despite a surge in homicides and shootings across the city — triggering safety concerns among residents, the Baltimore Sun reports. Several neighborhoods saw declines of more than 90 percent from April to May, while arrests in the West Baltimore area where Freddie Gray was arrested dropped by more than half during the same period, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of police data. Citywide, arrests declined 43 percent from April to May. "I've noticed fewer police," said Steve Dixon, program director for the Penn North Recovery Center in West Baltimore. "We're having robberies at the playground in broad daylight. All these murders and shootings, we're having them in broad daylight." The dramatic citywide decline — which has sparked a debate about police pulling back on enforcement efforts — came in the aftermath of the death of Gray. Six officers have been charged in the death of the 25-year-old, who suffered spinal injuries while in police custody and died a week after his April 12 arrest.
Star-Ledger: Lawyers say two prisoners are innocent
The Star-Ledger in New Jersey recounts the murder of two people in 1995. A protest erupted. Police were put on high alert. The arrests came swiftly, amid public outcry. Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, then both 25, were convicted after a two-day trial in 1996. A single eyewitness, a woman who testified she was a habitual crack cocaine user out looking for another fix, placed them at the scene. Each was given two consecutive sentences of 30 years to life, meaning they'll be in their mid 80s before they get out of prison. But an examination by NJ Advance Media of hundreds of records, trial evidence and interviews with key players raises serious questions about whether the two are guilty. Lawyers from the Last Resort Exoneration Project — an initiative at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark that offers free legal and investigative services to those it believes to be innocent — say neither man pulled the trigger. "They were victims of a total breakdown of the criminal justice system at every point," said Michael Risinger, who runs the project with his wife and co-counsel, Lesley Risinger. The Risingers say the evidence they have gathered proves the two men innocent and points to something investigators missed all those years ago. The actual killer.
Democrat and Chronicle: Education reforms spur lobbying ‘arms race’
Education policy is big business for lobbyists in New York state, according to the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. Various education interests have spent at least $124 million trying to influence lawmakers, officials and the general public at the state and local level since the start of 2006, including a record of at least $16 million last year, according to a review of state records by Gannett's Albany Bureau. That's in addition to $45.3 million in lobbying expenses reported by the New York State United Teachers union and its New York City affiliate over the past nine years. They are tallied as labor organizations, not education groups, by the state's lobbying regulator. Add in political spending and the numbers are starker: Education interests and teachers unions have spent more than a quarter-billion dollars — $285.5 million — on lobbying, campaign contributions and independent political expenditures over the past decade, according to a report by Common Cause/NY, which the good-government group is set to release shortly.
The Oregonian: Tainted High
Dab Society Dutch Treat, a potent cannabis extract sold to medical marijuana patients, sailed through state-mandated pesticide testing, the Oregonian reports. The results were printed on the label, backed by an official report. Workers at a Southeast Portland dispensary were happy to share the lab certificate. All you had to do was ask. But, in fact, two laboratories commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive found pesticides in the same sample of Dutch Treat at levels above what the state allows. It wasn’t an isolated case. A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market, The Oregonian/OregonLive has found. Marijuana that fails a pesticide screen is not supposed to be sold to patients. But two other cannabis products in addition to Dutch Treat also tested above acceptable levels for pesticides.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM 6-10-15
Arizona Republic: Lack of water threatens future of farming
The Arizona Republic says that in the Willcox area, Jen Score watched her minister baptize her husband, Ralph, by submerging him in water last August. The pastor told him faith would carry the couple through life's trials. Jen wondered, what trials? She counted her blessings that they didn't have any. And then they got home. Ralph turned on the kitchen faucet. Not a drop came out. Their well had run dry. Nearby, Jim Graham grows grapes and pistachios. John Hart grows corn, alfalfa, pinto beans and other grains. They have seen their groundwater levels drop, and increasing pumping costs to chase them. "There will be a day when we'll run out of water if we don't act responsibly," Graham said, gazing down the rows of wine grape leaves before him. About 80 miles east of Tucson, the Southwest's 15-year drought has barged into living rooms, dinner tables, farm fields. After decades of unregulated groundwater pumping to support a growing agricultural demand, the Willcox area's only water source is shrinking quickly. On average, water levels observed in wells there have plummeted deeper than almost anywhere else in the state. The fallout jeopardizes an industry that grows nearly three-quarters of Arizona's wine grapes, raises tough questions about the future of farming in the desert and pits community members against each other.
Modesto Bee: One irrigation district ignores voting law
When population figures from the latest U.S. census rolled in a few years ago, most California agencies adjusted their voting districts to make them equally sized, as required by state law every 10 years, the Modesto Bee reports. Some had gotten out of whack over the preceding decade because of uneven growth, births and deaths. A turn-of-the-century housing surge in the Village I area of northeast Modesto, for example, boosted its corresponding voting district 13 percent higher than it should have been by 2010, just two years after districts were created. The City Council fixed the problem by moving voting boundaries by a few streets in certain areas. So did Stockton, Stanislaus County and scads of other agencies. Irrigation districts, subject to the same reapportionment law, also resized their voting districts. … Oakdale Irrigation District did not. OID leaders were fully aware of the law, meeting minutes show. They said they would resize if numbers indicated they should. But when wildly uneven numbers were brought before them in 2011, the OID board chose to do nothing. Four years later, remaining board members and OID General Manager Steve Knell have no explanation. Almost all said their memories are fuzzy; Al Bairos, who was board chairman at the time, could not be reached for this story.
Palm Beach Post: Gender, racial pay disparities persist
Even as it has hired a woman as its top employee, Palm Beach County still struggles with a glass ceiling, the Palm Beach Post reports. Verdenia Baker, the longtime deputy Palm Beach County Administrator who last month was tapped for the top job, now is in negotiations on her pay. She already was the third highest-paid of the county’s 6,408 employees, and the highest paid woman.
But of the 25 highest-paid employees, only eight are women, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of the county’s $372.7 million payroll. The analysis shows women represent 51.6 percent of the county population but only a third of county employees. Of those, women account for about a fourth of the 3,052 employees earning $50,000 or more and 14 percent of the 713 earning least $100,000.
Boston Globe: Rich financial realm runs with little scrutiny
The Boston Globe says that the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. frequently brags that it doesn’t react to the whims of Wall Street, it answers to the millions of policyholders who own the giant insurer. But when a handful of those owners showed up for MassMutual’s annual meeting this spring, they were treated more like security risks. After driving past the iron fence surrounding the company’s headquarters in Springfield, they had to get their photo taken at the security desk, submit to a search as a guard passed a metal-detecting wand over them, and wait for an escort. Once they got to the meeting, the annual business of the Fortune 100 company, with more than $250 billion in assets, was concluded in 15 minutes. That same day, Liberty Mutual Insurance convened its annual meeting at its headquarters in Boston. The nation’s second largest property and casualty insurer, it has $124 billion in assets, and 50,000 employees. And its executives closed out the meeting in six minutes. No presentations were made, no questions asked, and no outside board members attended. The speed with which the policyholders were shooed out the door is symbolic of the shadows in which MassMutual, Liberty Mutual, and others among the nation’s largest insurance companies, such as State Farm and Nationwide, operate.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Shooting at drivers is dangerous, costly
Dana Russell was driving up Roosevelt Boulevard on a freezing February afternoon in 2011 when he realized the car he just passed was his stolen Chevy Impala, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Ten days before, two men had hijacked the burgundy sedan from his wife. “They all got guns on them, I know that for sure,” Russell told the police dispatcher as he turned around and tailed his stolen car into North Philadelphia. The officer asked how he knew. “’Cause my wife was robbed at gunpoint.” At the wheel of the 2000 Impala sat Frederick Bell, 41, an ex-con with a long rap sheet. Next to him was Jamil Moses, 24, who two days before had escaped from a halfway house where he was serving the end of a four- to eight-year prison sentence for armed robbery. An epic chase was on — a pursuit that would last 10 minutes and reach high speeds through narrow, crowded streets, drawing officers from three districts and two task forces. It ended at 23d and Susquehanna, between the Anna B. Pratt Elementary School and the Raymond Rosen housing project, where the stolen Impala slammed into a squad car. Police cruisers surrounded the Chevy. There, six police officers fired 56 bullets into the car, leaving one man dead — and the other man wealthy. Neither suspect turned out to have a gun. It was what police call a bad shooting. The city would pay $2 million to the family of the slain passenger, Moses, who had three bullet wounds in the back of his head and neck, and $500,000 to the driver, Bell, who was gravely injured. … Since 2002, Philadelphia police officers have shot 43 people in vehicles, killing eight of them, an Inquirer review of confidential police investigations has found. That has cost the city $5.8 million.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State agency writes off millions
The Milwaukee Journal reports that Wisconsin’s top jobs agency has written off $7.6 million in taxpayer-funded loans since it was created by Gov. Scott Walker about four years ago. The write-offs include 28 different loans removed from the balance sheets of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., with some companies receiving multiple loans. The majority of those loans, which officials typically write off after determining the likelihood of collecting the debt is small, were awarded by the former state Department of Commerce, the predecessor to the WEDC. One of those loans, which was awarded by the WEDC to Building Committee Inc., set off a firestorm of criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed that some of Walker's top aides and a powerful lobbyist pushed for a $500,000 unsecured loan to the now-defunct company, which was owned by Walker campaign contributor William Minahan. That loan was written off by the WEDC last year. The $500,000 given to BCI amounts to about 7 percent of the loans — totaling $7,607,013 as of early June — that the agency has written off since it was created in 2011. Walker, a Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, said that problems with loans have decreased at WEDC compared to its predecessor.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 6-3-15
Washington Post: Fatal police shootings approaching 400 nationwide in 2015
The Washington Post reports at least 385 people were shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, and more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete. “These shootings are grossly underreported,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement. “We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”
To understand why and how often these shootings occur, The Washington Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting by police in 2015, as well as of every officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty. The Post looked exclusively at shootings, not killings by other means, such as stun guns and deaths in police custody.
Hartford Courant: Authorities lost track of now suspected serial killer
The Hartford Courant reports law enforcement agencies and Connecticut’s judicial system lost track of now-suspected serial killer William Devin Howell in early 2003, the year six victims disappeared, and again in 2004, when he was released early from an unrelated prison term even while police awaited DNA tests that tied him to one of the victims. A Hartford Courant examination of court and investigative records reveals that authorities couldn't find Howell for most of 2003, when police had multiple warrants for his arrest and knew where he was living in New Britain. By the time police arrested him, a half dozen people had disappeared between January and October of that year, their remains found in recent weeks and years behind a New Britain strip mall.
Idaho Statesman: Officers allege interference, retaliation in crash probe
The Idaho Statesman report three Idaho State Police crash investigators who say they refused to bend the truth about a fatal crash in 2011 claim that the agency’s leaders are retaliating against them. The daughter of the man killed in that crash says ISP’s manipulation of the investigation to protect a Payette County deputy could make it difficult for her to seek justice in her father’s death. ISP is now embroiled in three lawsuits stemming from the crash investigation, with possibly more to come. And the Gem County prosecutor who handled the case told ISP officials that he was shocked by the behavior of the trooper who led the investigation, that he could no longer trust the trooper and that the trooper secretly recorded their conversation about the case.
Portland Press Herald: Taxpayers lose as Maine jails indigents
The Portland Press Herald reports Conner Comeau’s crime was spraying graffiti on rail cars at a South Portland train yard in 2010. For that, he was sentenced to 48 hours in jail. But the far more serious punishment came in 2014, when Comeau, 25, missed two payments on the $1,300 in restitution the court ordered him to pay. He ended up in jail for 100 days, earning credit at a rate of $5 each day toward paying off his debt. Taxpayers in Maine are spending at least tens of thousands of dollars a year – and likely much more – to jail low-income defendants like Comeau who failed to pay the fines for what are often minor crimes, according to a study of Maine’s jails conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. In all of these cases, it costs taxpayers more to jail the defendants for unpaid fines or restitution than the inmates can earn in credit for each day they serve behind bars.
Detroit Free Press: Did DNA test lapse leave rapist free to strike again?
The Detroit Free Press reports it has learned a suspected serial rapist accused of kidnapping three women from a gas station in March and sexually assaulting them might have been behind bars at the time had local authorities followed state law and collected his DNA several years ago. Authorities say Michael Sykes, now 21, might have been linked to an unsolved sexual assault case from 2008 had his DNA been entered into a federal database after he was convicted in two Highland Park cases in 2009 when he was a teenager. But the agencies responsible for collecting his DNA — Highland Park Police and Wayne County's Department of Children and Family Services — failed to do so, officials say.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota’s medicaid enrollment soars past 1 million
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Minnesota’s Medicaid rolls have soared past the 1 million mark for the first time, driven by two years of explosive growth in government insurance programs in the wake of federal health reform. The enrollment surge — one of the largest in the country and the biggest for the state in 35 years — helped push Minnesota’s uninsured rate down to about 5 percent and has enabled more low-income families to receive regular medical care, doctors say. But it also means that Medicaid and its sister program, MinnesotaCare for the working poor, now rank among the state’s largest health insurers, which could place long-run strains on the state budget. Fully one in five Minnesotans now receive health insurance from public programs, up from one in 10 just five years ago.
While unprecedented, the spurt was not unexpected after the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton made an ambitious push to cover more of Minnesota’s uninsured population.
Bergen County Record: Out-of-network medical bills a sickening shock
The Bergen County Record reports on three cases of how out-of-network medical bills can come as a shock. If the patients had been savvy enough to follow their insurers’ rules and choose in-network hospitals, they could have maximized their coverage and minimized their out-of-pocket costs. But one or more of the physicians who took care of them — and over whom they had no choice — did not participate in their insurance network. A newborn’s mother received a bill for $24,000 from the out-of-network neonatologists at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood; she persuaded her insurer to pay some of it, but her portion was still sent to a collections agency, and she paid $5,000 herself. The family of a skier needing shoulder reconstruction was billed $73,000 by the orthopedic surgeon on call that winter night at Hackensack University Medical Center; the family is still hoping to resolve it for less. And a heart-attack survivor is paying $500 a month to settle his out-of-network bill — reduced from $12,420, to $3,985, as a “courtesy” by Valley’s Cardiothoracic Anesthesia Group.
Columbus Dispatch: Lax enforcement of aging, unsafe dams puts public at risk
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reports hundreds of aging earthen dams in Ohio are in disrepair and many are unsafe. Thousands of people downstream could be in the path of floodwater if those dams fail. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is responsible for dam safety and knows the dangers. But it rarely enforces the law to ensure that dams are fixed, putting lives at risk, according to interviews with experts and a Dispatch review of state documents obtained through public-records requests. When the need to fix dangerous dams clashes with residents’ desire to live and play on the water, the department tends to bend. Its own records show that it allows dams to remain unsafe for years — even those the agency owns.
Oregonian: Lead-tainted armories open to public despite dangers
The Oregonian reports the Oregon Military Department is allowing public events to be held in National Guard armories across the state despite tests showing unsafe levels of lead dust. The agency has yet to halt public use of four contaminated armories. The agency just nine days ago received test results showing unhealthy concentrations of lead at armories in Bend, Ashland and Pendleton. Inspectors encountered a group playing basketball as they took samples at the Ashland armory earlier this month. They recorded lead contamination nearby that was 41 times higher than is considered safe. Still, those armories remain open. Inspections have found widespread contamination in seven Oregon armories, according to records obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a public records request.
Philadelphia Inquirer: State targets nursing homes, law firm to benefit
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office dropped subpoenas last year on dozens of nursing homes statewide, demanding facts about their staffing - an opening salvo in a probe that could force the homes to pay big fines. The office says the process will improve conditions and pay off for the state's elderly. Someone else could benefit, too - the Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll law firm. The Washington firm stands to pocket up to $21 million of the first $100 million of any fines extracted by state prosecutors.
In fact, it was Cohen Milstein that dreamed up the initiative and sold it to the Attorney General's Office to obtain a no-bid contract. Amid growing controversy, the firm and others like it have been shopping similar cases to attorneys general nationwide.
Dallas Morning News: Public agencies help private profits
The Dallas Morning News reports that from their headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., Teddy Lichtschein and Eliezer Scheiner operate some of the most poorly rated nursing homes in Texas. Their small empire has amassed more than $800,000 in federal fines over the past three years. Regulators reported numerous problems. Despite this record, Lichtschein and Scheiner have new partners in the nursing home trade: seven public agencies, which could position the Brooklyn duo for a taxpayer-funded windfall. A special state program to attract additional federal Medicaid money will bring an extra $69 million to Texas nursing homes this year, with more to come next year. It was supposed to be for government-owned homes. Much of it, however, will go to a multitude of private operators — such as Lichtschein and Scheiner — who were savvy enough to craft unusual licensing arrangements with governmental bodies.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 5-28-15
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Doctor burnout a rising problem
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports physician burnout is on the rise in Minnesota and across the country, as the traditional strains of a medical practice — long hours and draining cases — are compounded by new challenges, such as computerized records and payment reforms that judge doctors by their patients’ health. A series of influential studies by Minnesota researchers suggest that burnout could aggravate the state’s shortage of primary care doctors by driving some into early retirement and undermine the quality of patient care by eroding doctors’ compassion and attention to detail. “There is an epidemic going on with respect to stressed and burned-out physicians,” said Mitchell Best, executive director of Vital WorkLife, a St. Louis Park-based employee assistance program. In a national survey released this month, it found the share of physicians reporting severe stress increased from 38 percent in 2011 to 46 percent last year.
New York Times: Public sector jobs vanish, hitting blacks hard
The New York Times reports that for millions of black families, working for the government has long provided a dependable pathway to the middle class and a measure of security harder to find in the private sector, particularly for those without college degrees. Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. During the Great Recession, though, as tax revenues plunged, federal, state and local governments began shedding jobs. Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. The Labor Department counts half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the recession in 2007. Because blacks hold a disproportionate share of the jobs, relative to their share of the population, the cutbacks naturally hit them harder.
Southern Illinoisan: Despite overcrowding, little support to reopen closed prison
The Southern Illinoisan reports that despite overcrowding within Illinois’ sprawling prison system, there appears to be little support for reopening the now-empty, super-maximum security prison in Tamms. The prison, built to house up to 500 of the state's most violent inmates, has sat empty since January 2013 after then-Gov. Pat Quinn ordered the closure of dozens of state facilities as a way to cut the state budget. An adjacent 200-bed minimum security unit work camp was also idled. Freshman state Rep. Terri Bryant, a Murphysboro Republican, has been pushing lawmakers to join her in urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to reopen the facility, at the southern tip of Illinois. The state's prison population hovers near 48,000 inmates. They reside in prisons that were built to house 32,000 inmates.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Nuclear plant shutdown deal concocted in secret
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports all the key parties in the room for the only public hearing on the $4.7 billion settlement agreement for shutdown costs at the failed San Onofre nuclear plant knew that the pact had its origins at a secret meeting in Poland. Nevertheless, when California Public Utilities Commission members went to approve the agreement last November, assigning 70 percent of costs to utility customers, they did so by approving a document that repeatedly asserted there was no collusion baked into the deal. A trove of emails and corporate correspondence released in the past two months, however, shows the extent to which the parties knew about the encounter between top regulators and a Southern California Edison executive during a study trip to Poland in March 2013.
Miami Herald: The perpetual campaign of Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott
The Miami Herald reports Gov. Rick Scott can’t run for governor again, but he’s still collecting six-figure campaign donations from special interests that have a direct stake in legislation he will sign or veto. The money buys TV ads featuring Scott, still looking and sounding like a candidate, walking across a big green cutout of Florida, “where dreams come true.” Scott travels near and far, chasing jobs, and by his side is videographer Nathan Edwards, capturing it all on tape to be played for audiences at upcoming Cabinet meetings. Scott is Florida’s first governor with a videographer on the public payroll to produce campaign-style videos, such as his recent visit to a new Wawa convenience store in Fort Myers. The strategy that helped him win two elections is the essence of his approach to governing: Repeat a simple message over and over, raise lots of money and use TV to talk directly to people in 30-second commercials, avoiding the filter of the news media.
Chicago Tribune: School districts fatten pensions, pay millions in penalties
The Chicago Tribune reports a 2005 pension law was intended to rein in big salary spikes that boost retiree benefits and pension costs statewide, imposing cash penalties on districts that gave raises larger than 6 percent to outgoing educators. But over the last decade, hundreds of school districts paid the so-called penalties and doled out steeper raises anyway, state data show, pushing some administrator salaries higher than $300,000, and, in one case, $400,000.
In a double whammy, local taxpayers had to foot the bill for those salary spikes, as well as the special penalty payments required to cover higher pensions from the raises. Those payments ran as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars in some districts, and the penalty price tag statewide rose to $38 million by 2014 — money that could have been used for student instruction or to cover deficits as schools struggled in a tough economy.
Indianapolis Sunday Star: Are politics to blame in BMV mess?
The Indianapolis Sunday Star reports the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles' chief financial officer, a man who oversees a $110 million budget, lacks one of the most basic qualifications typical of CFOs. Harold Day has no college degree. Day does have something else valued in state government — political connections. He is a longtime GOP ward boss whose wife was an Indianapolis councilwoman. He got his job with a recommendation from former Republican Perry Township Trustee Jack Sandlin. BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said political patronage played no role in Day's hiring, or in the events that led BMV officials to overcharge Hoosier motorists more than $60 million for driver's licenses and registration fees over the course of several years.
Wichita Eagle: Pressed by activists, agri-business alters care of livestock
The Wichita Eagle reports even the biggest players in the livestock agriculture industry are easing away from some of the more controversial livestock management practices. As animal welfare activists have stigmatized such practices – such as cages for egg-laying hens or the use of antibiotics to speed growth – people, the restaurants they eat at and the companies that supply them are seeking what they call more humane practices. Even as companies such as Wichita-based Cargill Meat Solutions tweak their livestock practices, small producers – such as Prairie Fresh Poultry – trumpet their practices as superior. And it’s not just chickens and eggs. More producers are using unconventional methods to raise pigs, beef cattle and dairy cows, as well as all kinds of crops and even bees. Unconventional livestock production comes in variety of flavors: free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed, locally grown, organic, genetically modified organism-free, no-added hormones, antibiotic free, chemical free and so on.
Maine Sunday Telegram: Other towns are relying on Portland shelters
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports a growing number of destitute people from other Maine towns are seeking refuge in Portland – the only city in the state to run its own homeless shelter and one of the few to provide low-barrier shelter to anyone in need. Those characteristics may be turning Portland into a dumping ground for homeless people who can’t get shelter or services elsewhere. A Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of six years’ worth of shelter data shows that 35 percent of people who have stayed at the shelter since 2009 came from a Maine community other than Portland. During that period, the percentage grew from 32 percent in 2010 to 37 percent last year. What draws the needy to Portland is the subject of intense debate. Welfare critics claim people come to the city for an easy handout, while advocates argue that people simply need a hand up.
Detroit Free Press: Failed county jail still costs taxpayers $1 million a month
The Detroit Free Press reports that two years after construction was halted because of ballooning expenses, the failed Wayne County jail project is still costing taxpayers more than $1 million a month. The county broke ground on what was supposed to be a $300-million state-of-the-art jail in downtown Detroit four years ago. But today the site is still a pile of steel and concrete — fenced and guarded — with construction costs of $151 million. And the tab for taxpayers only grows, with no end in sight. The jail project costs Wayne County an average of $1.2 million every month. That's quite a burden for a county struggling to corral a financial crisis that has prompted speculation about eventual state oversight or bankruptcy, a county that is struggling to correct a $52-million structural deficit and a pension system funded at only 44%.
Buffalo News: Opiate addictions hit infants at high rate
The Buffalo News reports the epidemic of opiate addictions that has cost hundreds of lives is taking another toll, newborn babies. The rate of babies born addicted to opiates in Western New York is the highest in the state. In Erie County alone, as many as 554 babies were born addicted to opiates in a recent three-year period, with the numbers rising in each of those years. For every 10,000 births in Erie County, 189 newborns test positive for drugs in their systems, according to the state Health Department. In Niagara County, the rate of newborn addiction was even higher: 217. And in Chautauqua County, it was 223 per 10,000 births.
The suffering of newborns exposed to opiates while fetuses is a direct result of the opiate epidemic, said Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein.
Oregonian: Oregon agrees to privatize part of coastal state park for golf course
The Oregonian reports Oregon’s Bandon State Natural Area wasn't for sale when Mike Keiser first came knocking, but approached with an increasingly appealing offer from the Chicago-based developer, and pressure from Oregon's former governor John Kitzhaber, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to privatize 280 acres of the state's public coast so Keiser can turn it into a golf course. Such a move is unprecedented in Oregon, where coastal land is so beloved the state Legislature voted in 1967 to keep the shoreline public, and then bought additional acreage all along its 363 miles. The result is a network of more than 80 properties so popular they include seven of Oregon's 10 most-visited parks. Initially, Oregon's parks commissioners were unenthusiastic. But over more than five years of negotiations, Keiser continually sweetened his offer and worked connections to get the governor and his staff involved – an unusual presence in Oregon State Parks land deals.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 5-20-15
AP: Health insurers pass tax along to states
The Associated Press reports there's more than a touch of absurdity in the way an industry fee in President Barack Obama's healthcare law is being passed along to state taxpayers. As Alice in Wonderland might say, a curious tax just got curiouser. The burden to states could mount to $13 billion in less than a decade. The Health Insurance Providers Fee was aimed at insurance companies. The thinking went: Because insurers would gain a windfall of customers, they ought to help pay for the expansion of coverage. Insurers say they have raised prices for individuals and small businesses to cover the new tax. As it turns out, they are raising their prices to state Medicaid programs, too.
Tucson Star: Most local high school grads need remedial help
The Tucson Star reports almost every local high school graduate entering Pima Community College is deficient in reading, writing or math, a Pima study has found. The Star was provided a copy of the report, which the college presented to area school superintendents but never publicly released. Those students are far less likely than their higher-performing peers to earn an associate’s degree, the study says, and they face a higher chance of unemployment and lower wages. PCC’s 2014 analysis found that 87 percent of recent high school graduates coming through the door needed remedial help in one academic area — 82 percent in math, 40 percent in reading and 36 percent in writing.
Contra Costa Times: City managers highly paid regardless of city size
The Contra Costa Times wonders whether readers are you paying through the nose for their city manager -- or getting a relative bargain -- and has published the dollar amounts available in a database of hundreds of thousands of public employees' compensation costs at www.mercurynews.com/salaries. Its examination of managers' pay and benefits, using data collected from 104 cities and towns in the greater Bay Area, indicates that compensation doesn't depend on the factors you might imagine -- such as the population of a city, the size of its workforce, or, seemingly, the challenges of running it. Just about every city manager has convinced their city councils that they're worth more than the governor. Of the 104 cities analyzed, all but five -- Rio Vista, Dixon, Gonzales, Escalon and Sebastopol -- compensated their manager or administrator more than the $213,000 that Gov. Jerry Brown received in cash and benefits to run the Golden State last year.
Denver Post: Domestic violence habitual offender law languishes in Colorado
The Denver Post reports there are 57 people on a list the Longmont Police Department created to keep track of repeat domestic violence offenders in the city. But most of Colorado's habitual domestic violence offenders, haven’t been convicted under a state statute designed to ratchet up the consequences for serial abusers undeterred by misdemeanor charges. The state law passed in 2000 allowed prosecutors to charge people facing their fourth domestic-violence-related misdemeanor as felons, with a mandatory term of imprisonment of up to three years. But the statute is rarely used: There have been just 155 convictions of domestic violence habitual offenders on felony charges in Colorado in the past 15 years, according to a Denver Post review of state court records. Colorado's habitual domestic violence offender law has languished — entirely rejected in some jurisdictions or used only sparingly by prosecutors skeptical of whether it's worth the trouble and wary of its legal vulnerability.
Daytona Beach News-Journal: End is near for drug treatment agency
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports Windward Behavioral Care's board of directors is probably going to dissolve the agency that has been a life preserver for people drowning in addictions and mental health struggles since the 1970s, a sudden and drastic move that just two months ago was unthinkable. Board members see it as a necessary and merciful euthanasia for a nonprofit that since March has stopped running all three of its treatment facilities, lopped off 77 of its 96 employees and lost $500,000 in expected state government funding after investigations and audits uncovered serious problems. A state government inspection this spring of seven female patient charts alone found 129 problems with everything from missing records of lab tests, diagnostic services and medical history to failure to assign a primary counselor to a client, according to state Department of Children and Families records obtained by the News-Journal.
Chicago Tribune: Food safety inspectors overlook hundreds of day cares
The Chicago Tribune reports city health inspectors failed to visit hundreds of day cares that prepare and serve food to young children last year, an oversight city officials attributed to "human error." State health rules say day cares must be inspected twice a year if they handle potentially hazardous ingredients, which under city rules can mean something as simple as storing and serving milk. But about 300 day cares — more than 40 percent of the city's total — did not get a single inspection in 2014, a Tribune analysis of city records found. A handful went close to two years without an inspection, including Lincoln Park's Park West Cooperative Nursery School. In March, an inspector found that the day care's dishwasher didn't have hot enough water — a serious concern since experts say a lukewarm wash is unlikely to kill disease-causing bacteria. The nursery school had not been inspected since April 2013.
Maine Sunday Telegram: Data show dangerous levels of unvaccinated children
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports dangerously high numbers of unvaccinated children attend classes at dozens of elementary schools across Maine, with immunization opt-out rates reaching levels where an outbreak of infectious diseases could sicken many children, according to public health experts who reviewed statewide data obtained by the Maine Sunday Telegram. In the schools most at risk, children who haven’t been immunized account for more than 10 percent of the kindergarten or first-grade students, threatening the “herd immunity” that prevents diseases like measles, mumps, polio and pertussis from spreading. In some schools, more than 20 percent are unvaccinated, according to data compiled for the Telegram by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The reason: Parents refusing vaccines for their children, mostly opting out of required immunizations on philosophical grounds.
Baltimore Sun: Baltimore police rarely charged in deaths
The Baltimore Sun reports that before Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six officers in the death of Freddie Gray, just five city officers during the past three decades have faced criminal prosecution for on-duty actions that resulted in death, according to interviews with experts, news reports, government data and court records. One was found guilty; that verdict was overturned on appeal. While officials acknowledge that there is no comprehensive historical data on police-involved deaths, the period since 2006 provides a telling sample. Sixty-seven people died in encounters with officers over that period, according to the Baltimore Police Department, and two officers faced criminal charges in those incidents. That illustrates the high bar Mosby faces as she seeks to turn her charges into convictions. Four officers in the Gray case face charges that range from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree-murder; the two others face lesser charges.
The Record: 3 New Jersey colleges boost prestige with inflated application pool
The Record reports that some of New Jersey’s public colleges and universities are making themselves appear more selective — and more attractive to prospective students — by skirting national standards when reporting data to the federal government and ratings organizations. The Record found Ramapo College and Kean and Rowan universities include both complete and incomplete applications in the numbers they report, bloating the stated applicant pool by hundreds. Inflating the numbers to include students who leave out essential items like test scores or grades allows these schools to appear to be rejecting a substantially higher percentage of students. A lower acceptance rate provides a reputation boost in the prestige-fueled world of college admissions.
Toledo Blade: State representative’s spending trumps others in area
The Toledo Blade reports State Rep. Michael Ashford (D.-Toledo) regularly uses his campaign finance account to pay for meals at fancy area restaurants to meet with constituents, a review of the lawmaker’s campaign finance report shows. Such spending is permitted with campaign finance accounts as long as the spending is to carry out the duties of his office or to campaign for his office. With more than $13,000 in restaurant meals, Mr. Ashford had the most spending on restaurant dining among 21 representatives and senators who served northwest Ohio during 2013 and 2014, according to The Blade’s analysis of campaign finance reports on file with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Ranking second after Mr. Ashford’s total was state Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), with $4,799.
Austin American-Statesman: Fraud case loss may cost Texas taxpayers
The Austin American-Statesman reports Texas regulators entered a courtroom late last year claiming they should be able to keep more than $300,000 confiscated from a Corpus Christi dentist they claimed defrauded the state through a Medicaid billing scheme. But a panel of judges has ruled that prosecutors not only can’t keep the money — they blew the case so badly it could end up costing taxpayers an additional $400,000. In a judicial scolding that attorneys and law experts said was unlike anything they’d seen, a panel of Texas judges ruled this month that the Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General’s Medicaid fraud case against Cheryl Rhoden was so weak that, as punishment, the state agency must pay every dollar Rhoden spent defending herself over the past two years — about $380,000.
Read more (online subscribers only): http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/states-decisive-legal-loss-could-cost-taxpayers-hu/nmHw6/
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 5-13-15
AP: Sea rise threatens Florida coast, but no statewide plan
America's oldest city, St. Augustine, is slowly drowning. Its centuries-old Spanish fortress and other national landmarks sit feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city's narrow, brick-paved streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise for a city that has long relied on tourism. St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida's 1,200-mile coastline, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They're afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. But the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination to address what local officials across Florida's coast see as a slow-moving emergency. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is skeptical of man-made climate change and has put aside the task of preparing for sea level rise, an Associated Press review of thousands of emails and documents pertaining to the state's preparations for rising seas found.
AP: Gov. Christie billed state $85K on VIP boxes; GOP reimbursed it
The Associated Press reports New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent $85,000 in public money to entertain in luxury boxes at sports venues between 2010 and early 2012, when state Republicans started to pay for the expenses and reimbursed the state for those already incurred. The money came from an account, worth $95,000 a year, that Christie can use to pay for official entertainment or other expenses associated with his job. The details of spending from that account were obtained by The Associated Press via the state's open records law. The documents obtained by the AP do not list at which events, including those at the sports venues, the governor was entertaining and who was present.
San Antonio Express- News: Some universities use private firms to raise money
The San Antonio Express-News reports Texas universities are relying heavily on private marketing firms to raise tens of millions of dollars from corporate sponsors for their athletic programs. But in some cases, the sponsorship agreements aren't available to the public — and not even school officials are privy to the details. The newspaper reports Learfield Sports is a company based in Plano that handles every aspect of the sponsorship process for nearly 100 schools across the United States — including Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at San Antonio. When the Express-News asked major universities for copies of their sponsorship contracts, school officials at A&M and UTSA replied that Learfield keeps the only copies and won't release them.
Arizona Republic: Arizona Lawmakers enjoy prime health-care benefits
The Arizona Republic reports the Arizona Legislature takes a hard line when it comes to spending taxpayer money on health care. During its recent session, it passed measures seeking to limit lifetime Medicaid eligibility and to prohibit Arizona from establishing a state-based marketplace where residents could buy health insurance subsidized by the federal government. Some lawmakers have signed onto a lawsuit seeking to overturn Arizona's Medicaid expansion. But those cost-conscious measures don't apply to the lawmakers' own government-subsidized health care. Arizona lawmakers serve the public in a part-time role, but the vast majority of these elected officials take year-round health-insurance plans that are among the most generous state-funded benefits in the nation.
Hartford Courant: Blacks, Hispanics more likely to be ticketed after traffic stops
Hartford Courant reports the most comprehensive survey ever conducted of police stops in Connecticut continues to show that black and Hispanic motorists who commit moving violations are more likely to be ticketed than are white drivers pulled over for the same offense. A Courant analysis of data collected as part of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project shows that for the most common moving violations — speeding, traffic-light violations and stop-sign violations — black and Hispanic offenders statewide are 11 to 41 percent more likely to end up with a ticket than are white offenders stopped for the same offense. Among more than 150,000 speeders, for example, 51 percent of white motorists stopped by police received a ticket, compared with 63 percent of black drivers and 66 percent of Hispanic drivers. For drivers caught running a stop sign, 29 percent of white drivers were given a ticket for the offense, compared with 34 percent for blacks and 41 percent for Hispanics.
Chicago Tribune: Police sobriety checks target black, Latino neighborhoods
A Chicago Tribune investigation found that in Chicago, 84 percent of the roadside sobriety checks were scheduled in areas populated mostly by minorities while roadways in areas with more DUI-related crashes that are predominantly white are checked less often, or not at all. Federal guidelines suggest, however, that when choosing where to set up checkpoints, agencies should use objective criteria, such as a high incidence of alcohol-related crashes.
Of Chicago's 22 police districts, nine are majority-black, five white, four Latino and four have no racial majority. From February 2010 through June 2014, the most recent period with complete data available, Chicago police scheduled 152 roadside sobriety checks. Of those, 127 were in black or Latino police districts. Only six roadside checks were in the majority-white police districts.
New York Times: Manicurists are routinely underpaid, exploited and abused
The New York Times reports that manicures, once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, have become a grooming staple for American women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012. But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.
Columbus Dispatch: Consumers face difficulties filing complaints against utilities
The Columbus Dispatch reports if you are an Ohio consumer filing a complaint against a utility company, get ready for a long battle, and be prepared to lose. This is the advice of Daniel George of Hardin County, one of the 869 people or groups who made formal complaints with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio since 2005. He filed last year after a power surge did thousands of dollars worth of damage to his home appliances. “Not a red cent was given to me,” he said. The PUCO has ruled in favor of consumers just four times in that 10-year period, which is 6 percent of cases that ended in a decision on the merits, and less than 1 percent of all cases, according to a Dispatch review. The most common outcome is a settlement, which happened in 535 cases.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Philadelphia’s campaign finance reforms working
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the third mayoral race in a row, Philadelphia's attempt at campaign-finance reform seems to have done much of what it was intended to do: dampen big money's power to buy the city's next chief executive. Yes, the 2015 Democratic mayoral campaign is awash in millions of dollars being put up by labor unions and Main Line financial traders - $9 million in all, according to spending reports filed Friday. But that type of outside spending is there, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, and is beyond any local control. Consider only Philadelphia's own hard-fought rules, instituted first in 2003 and tinkered with off and on since. The latest campaign-finance reports, filed Friday, show they have evened the playing field among direct donors to the candidates and have not necessarily so hampered fund-raising that candidates can't pay for a campaign.
Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/mayor/20150510_Phila__s_finance_reform_working.html#ZIQBwmvFp8asCoKR.99
Houston Chronicle: In recycling, economics trump good intentions
The Houston Chronicle reports that when Waste Management bought the recycling facility in southwest Houston in 2010 and converted it to handle single-bin recycling, commodity prices were high, the city was on board and Houstonians were eager to recycle. As the company introduced single-bin recycling, residents became ever more vigilant about keeping bottles, cans and newspapers out of local landfills. But they also started throwing in nonrecyclables, which gum up machines and drive up costs. It's a national problem that Waste Management, based in Houston and one of the largest trash and recycling companies in the country, and its competitors have been grappling with the past few years. Recently, it's gotten worse. Back when commodity prices were peaking in 2011, companies could absorb higher costs of weeding out trash. But prices have dived since, and Waste Management is finding it can cost more to sort and process material than what it can get for selling it.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 5-6-15
Denver Post: Surging gang violence in northeast Denver
The Denver Post reports makeshift memorials to men gunned down are constant reminders these days of the gang war enveloping northeast Denver. Gunfire echoing in the night has become just another one of the neighborhood's expected sounds, like barking dogs and wailing sirens. One man who lives in the Cole area says when he hears shots, he goes inside and ducks. A woman in northeast Park Hill said she has thrown herself to the floor. Since November, when rapper Kevie Durham was fatally shot at a bar near Sports Authority Field at Mile High, gang violence in Denver has left 15 dead — three times more than in the six months before — as a war plays out between rival factions of the Bloods, Sureños and Crips.
Washington Post: The terrible price of aging in prison
The Washington Post reports tens of thousands of inmates convicted in the “war on drugs” of the 1980s and 1990s remain behind bars thanks to harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, which continue to have lasting consequences for inmates and the nation’s prison system. Today, prisoners 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their ranks having swelled by 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013. The aging of the prison population is driving health-care costs being borne by American taxpayers. The Bureau of Prisons saw health-care expenses for inmates increase 55 percent from 2006 to 2013, when it spent more than $1 billion.
Miami Herald: Where’s Gov. Rick Scott amid budget crisis?
The Miami Herald reports that as the 2015 legislative session stumbled to a close last week, Gov. Rick Scott’s agenda lay in shambles, another victim of the Capitol’s worst political breakdown in decades. Fellow Republicans who control the Legislature failed to pass a state budget, so Scott’s call for more money for schools remains unfulfilled. He did not get $673 million in tax cuts he wanted, a freeze on graduate school tuition, repeal of the sales tax on college textbooks or a permanent end to the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Scott’s goals weren’t grandiose. But every one became a casualty of the dysfunctional Capitol and what lawmakers describe as a disengaged style that has alienated Scott from many in his own party. At a time when legislative leaders desperately needed intervention to break a budget deadlock, Scott was far from the action — attending political fund-raisers, casting for jobs in California and dedicating a new amusement park ride in Orlando.
Chicago Tribune: Lead paint poisons poor Chicagoans
A Chicago Tribune investigation has found alarming levels of brain-damaging lead are poisoning more than a fifth of the children tested from some of the poorest parts of Chicago, even as the hazard has been largely eliminated in more prosperous neighborhoods. The toxic legacy of lead — added to paint and gasoline for nearly a century — once threatened kids throughout the nation's third largest city. As Chicago's overall rate of lead poisoning steadily dropped during the past two decades, the disparities between rich and poor grew wider. Some census tracts, smaller geographic areas within neighborhoods, haven't seen a case of lead poisoning in years. But children ages 5 and younger continue to be harmed at rates up to six times the city average in corners of predominantly African-American neighborhoods ravaged by extreme poverty, chronic violence and struggling schools, according to a Tribune analysis of city records.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Doctors’ financial interests, potential conflicts, now public
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports thousands of financial relationships between doctors and health care companies are coming to light through a new federal database that enables the public to see if a physician is profiting by using a certain product. Federal regulators have long been critical of these kinds of arrangements, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he co-authored the bill to create the database partly so the public could scrutinize them. The new Open Payments data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) cover many types of financial relationships besides investments, such as consulting deals, free travel for conferences and straight gifts. The disclosure program was created as part of the Affordable Care Act to shed light on hidden financial relationships in medicine — a topic of national urgency as health care consumes a growing share of government, business and household budgets.
New York Times: Chair says Federal Election Commission is paralysed
The New York Times reports the leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending. “The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.” Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate. Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.
Dallas Morning News: Agencies have little to show after sending $1 billion
The Dallas Morning News reports counties, including Grayson and Smith, set up regional mobility authorities to use bonds to build transportation projects and pay them off with tolls. The theory is that the tolls stay home, boosting area economies. A regional mobility authority is a locally based transportation agency that can’t levy taxes and isn’t run by elected officials.
But nearly 15 years after the Texas Legislature changed state law so the agencies could be created, most of the nine RMAs have struggled to live up to their ambitions while burning through at least $1 billion in tax dollars, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News has found. The RMAs have spent at least $220 million on overhead costs, and not all RMAs have been audited, according to The News’ analysis.
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Cigarette trafficking thrives in Richmond area
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that of every five cigarettes sold in Virginia, at least one is illegally trafficked for resale in another state — more than 10 million cartons a year worth hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. Recent criminal charges, cigarette sales figures and the Facebook postings of some defendants offer a glimpse into the lucrative, evolving racket that has a strong presence in the Richmond area, where many traffickers conduct business. Sales compilations obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch suggest that five of Virginia’s 10 largest cigarette buyers are in the Richmond area. Two claim addresses in self-storage facilities (one lists a unit number as its “suite”); two have wrong or outdated addresses; and the fifth purports to be in a South Richmond apartment. Together they bought more than 322,000 cartons — worth $15 million to $17 million — of cigarettes in Virginia in the 13 weeks that ended Feb. 28, according to the reported figures that were made available to The Times-Dispatch from a government source and that do not include all sales in the state.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 4-29-15
Boston Globe: Old educational battle lines drawn anew in Kansas
The Boston Globe reports the scene at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., might hearten those who once fought for equal education in America. The school is almost evenly divided into thirds of whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans, and students said they take pride in the ease with which they mix. But amid the melting pot that is Highland Park, trouble has come once again to Topeka, once again focusing on equality, once again shining a harsh light on the state’s governing class. This time, the fight is not about the color of students’ skin but about the quantity of money schools receive from the state, pitting poorer Kansans against the rest and roiling politics far beyond state lines.
Sunday News Journal: Dramatic rise seen in Delaware pardons
The Sunday News Journal reports Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has signed 1,569 pardons during his six-plus years in office, more than any other Delaware governor. The vast majority were awarded to people with minor offenses, although some went to criminals with serious felonies. Markell and state officials say pardons are an important tool to ensure people with criminal records aren't stigmatized forever and help deserving people secure jobs and move on with their lives after incarceration. However, an analysis by The News Journal shows the state doesn't track the progress of those who have received pardons. The information is public record, but the governor's office and Board of Pardons has no system to follow whether a person who receives a pardon commits another crime.In fact, no state officials could answer questions about how many of the 1,569 re-offended.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Extent of rail’s influence a mystery
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports hundreds — possibly thousands — of subcontractors are profiting from work on Oahu's rail transit project and many donate significant campaign dollars to leaders championing the project, but rail officials aren't required to track most of those firms or how much they're spending. A Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of the rail project's 145 known subcontractors, using a list compiled mostly through voluntary reporting, found that employees or principals from that group donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the past five years to Mayor Kirk Caldwell, arguably rail's strongest and most outspoken political advocate.
Read more (Online subscribers only) :
Sun Sentinel: 27,232 killed at “no kill” shelter
The Sun Sentinel reports that since officials voted to have Broward County become a “no kill” community that rarely resorts to euthanasia, 27,232 dogs and cats have met their deaths at the county shelter. The April 2012 County Commission vote encouraged cat and dog lovers, but it was only “aspirational,” county officials said. Since then, records show, more than half -- 52 percent -- of the dogs and the cats at the shelter have been put down. Meanwhile, clinic that would offer mass spay-and-neuter services to reduce Broward’s unwanted animal population is still just in the discussion stages. Cats face the toughest odds at the shelter, with more than half of them -- 55 percent-- dying there over the past year. Almost a third of shelter dogs -- 31 percent -- met that fate.
Read more (Online subscribers only):
Miami Herald: Politicians turn Florida into for-profit-college paradise
The Miami Herald reports that for-profit colleges across the United States have been the target of dozens of government lawsuits and investigations aimed at curbing abuses. The typical complaint is that students — generally “adult learners” — get manipulated by schools that market aggressively and offer the illusory promise of a well-paying new career. The newspaper reports that while other states have attempted to rein in the schools, Florida lawmakers have given the colleges their enthusiastic support. As a result, for-profit colleges have grabbed nearly 18 percent of the Florida market — about 300,000 students — compared to 12 percent nationwide.The Miami Herald took a year-long look at the industry’s Florida foothold. Among the investigation’s findings was that as other states adopted laws cracking down on colleges and their excesses, Florida legislators passed at least 15 laws that fueled the schools’ growth — while pulling in more than $1 million in campaign contributions from those same institutions.
Read more: http://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/higher-ed-hustle/students.html#storylink=cpy
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Tainted drinking water is costing taxpayers millions
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports exceedingly high nitrate levels have turned up in one of Randall’s two municipal wells, and all 637 people in the north-central Minnesota community have received boldface notices that infants are at risk of a potentially fatal blood condition. Randall’s water emergency is the latest sign of an environmental problem in Minnesota. Nitrogen fertilizer is leaching into groundwater from farm fields, contaminating wells and costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Sixteen communities have violated the state health limit for nitrates, and half have installed expensive nitrate-removal systems at a cost per household of $3,300 or more. Communities are spending even more money to keep local nitrate levels in check.
Kansas City Star: Ignoring the terror within: U.S. extremist movements
The Kansas City Star reports that 20 years ago, after the shocking wake-up call of the Oklahoma City bombing, authorities began cracking down on a subculture of extremist groups, many arming themselves in preparation for a showdown with what they saw as an oppressive federal government. The numbers of such groups sharply declined. But today, at a time when much of law enforcement’s focus has shifted from domestic to foreign terrorism, a network of extremism is again spreading throughout the land. “We’re just a penny dropping away from one or more McVeighs,” said J.J. MacNab, an author who for two decades has been tracking anti-government extremists, referring to the Oklahoma City bomber.
And this time, extremists are harder to track.
Austin American-Statesman: Flawed numbers mask scope of drug abuse
The Austin American-Statesman reports fatalities from prescription drug abuse are widely undercounted in Texas and in many other states, obscuring the scope of one of the nation’s leading causes of preventable death. Overdose deaths from all drugs have skyrocketed nationwide, outpacing even motor vehicle accident fatalities. Prescription drug overdoses exceed cocaine and heroin deaths combined and are the main reason death rates have risen among white women between the ages 18 and 54. Those fatalities have become five times more common than in 1999, according to a recent Urban Institute report.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Texas cities join forces to protect military bases
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Fort Worth and other Texas cities with military bases are intensifying efforts to secure millions of dollars in state funding to shore up the installations as a pre-emptive strike against another round of closures or cutbacks. Naval Air Station Fort Worth, which opened on the west side in 1994 after the closure of Carswell Air Force Base, is the third-largest employer in North Central Texas and contributes more than $9 billion to the state economy, according to the state comptroller’s office. Although another round of closures hasn’t been scheduled, state and local officials fear that one is on the way — possibly by 2017 — after years of deep military cuts precipitated largely by the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. The federal government, through Base Realignment and Closure, has shuttered more than 350 installations in five rounds from 1989 to 2005.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 4-22-15
Arizona Republic: Apartment complexes that pay university get ‘good neighbors’ label
On Aug. 3, 2011, Arizona State University wrote to Tempe that it had "serious concerns" about student behavior at the Vue, an off-campus housing complex whose owners were seeking to build another high-rise apartment for students, according to the Arizona Republic. Since the Vue opened in 2009, it had been the site of multiple alcohol-related arrests, noise complaints, a raucous pool fight and eggs tossed at police from a seventh-floor balcony. Yet at the same time ASU sent the letter, the university was accepting thousands of dollars from the Vue so the complex could participate in the school's Be A Good Neighbor Program. Off-campus rental properties listed as Good Neighbors receive exclusive access twice a year at campus housing fairs, a spot on the university's website and direct-mail advertising sent by ASU to students. The more the complexes pay, the more marketing benefits they receive.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/longform/news/arizona/investigations/2015/04/19/arizona-state-housing-good-neighbor/25849209/
Los Angeles Times: Veil of secrecy shields hospitals
The Los Angeles Times reports that a cardiac surgeon had unknowingly spread a staph infection from the rash on his hand to the hearts of at least five patients by the time Los Angeles County health investigators learned of the outbreak. The doctor had operated on more than 60 others in recent months, and county officials feared those patients could be struck with the same dangerous infection. Investigators didn't ultimately tie any deaths to the 2012 outbreak, but four patients needed additional surgery because of the infection. The only public mention of the case came a year later in a little-noticed appendix to the health department's 350-page annual report. It referred only to "Hospital A." Even now, the name of the hospital remains secret. … Los Angeles County health officials investigate and confirm an infection outbreak inside one of the county's hospitals once or twice a month. The public rarely finds out which hospital is involved, how many patients were stricken or whether any died.
Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hospital-outbreaks-secrecy-20150419-story.html#page=1
Denver Post: Informant tips not always what they seem
The Denver Post says police thought the tip they were getting was as good as they come. A confidential informant told police that a probation officer was selling heroin and meth out of a tiny courthouse in southern Colorado. The woman said she had bought drugs from the officer three times. Trinidad detectives arrested Danika Gonzales, a seven-year employee of the probation department, and charged her with four felony drug counts.
Gonzales, then 38, lost her job. The informant pocketed $3,085 from her work with detectives.
The tip, it turned out, was too good to be true. Information from that informant and another created the basis of 40 drug cases that later proved to be little more than lies. Gonzales, who was once the informant's probation officer, saw her charges dropped, as did other defendants. But the informant was not charged for lying to police, and the detectives faced no sanctions for failing to verify her information. ...A Denver Post review of Denver Police Department data on confidential informants found that only about 40 percent of those used in fiscal 2014 had proven themselves reliable in previous cases.
Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/informants/ci_27937446/special-report-police-reliance-informants-colorado-brings-risks
Miami Herald: 850,000 Floridians stuck in health care limbo
The Miami Herald reports that on days when she feels good, Isabel Betancourt may skip the regimen of injections and pills that stop her immune system from destroying the cartilage and bone in her joints. Rationing her medication makes a one-month supply last two months or longer. With prescriptions that can cost more than $5,000 a month without insurance, she has learned to get by. “You find loopholes,’’ said Betancourt, 31, diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease with no cure, when she was in eighth grade. Betancourt, now a part-time Florida International University employee and full-time student, is one of about 850,000 Floridians and nearly 5 million Americans caught in the gap, a no-man’s-land carved out by a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article18717474.html#storylink=cpy
Courier-Journal: Obamacare gets mixed reviews in Appalachia
The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, finds that Obamacare flooded into these remote Appalachian hills last year like the War on Poverty had a half-century earlier — another government program promising to save some of America's most vulnerable citizens. And since then, it has given many of the poor and sick a key to long-neglected health care. But it's also brought skepticism and fear, with some business owners arguing it's stunting growth in a region that can't afford another economic blow.
One year after USA Today and The Courier-Journal examined the Affordable Care Act's arrival in Floyd County, Kentucky, health reform has taken root in ways both surprising and expected, good and bad.
Read more: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2015/04/16/obamacare-gets-mixed-reviews-appalachia/25905859/
Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Payday at the mill
Sometime this year, the state of Maine will cut two checks worth a total of $2.8 million and mail them to out-of-state investors, according to the Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine. Next year, it will send two more checks, worth $3.2 million, to the same recipients. It will repeat that process for the next three years until roughly $16 million of taxpayer money has been withdrawn from Maine’s General Fund. This payout of taxpayer dollars through 2019 will make whole a commitment the state made in December 2012 to encourage what was – on paper – touted as a $40 million investment in the resurgence of the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.
But the resurgence failed. A year after the investment was received, the mill’s owner, private equity firm Cate Street Capital of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shuttered the mill and laid off more than 200 people. Great Northern filed for bankruptcy a few months later with more than $20 million in unpaid bills owed to local businesses, leaving many to wonder what happened to that $40 million investment that was supposed to save the mill. The reality is most of that $40 million was a mirage.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Youth exodus spells trouble ahead for labor force
The Minneapolis Star Tribune says that Casey Sperzel is Minnesotan through and through. She grew up in Maple Grove, went to college at the University of Minnesota, and lived in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. But when the 27-year-old met with a job recruiter last year, she was set on the Pacific Northwest. “I don’t think I’ll be back,” said Sperzel, now with a Seattle ad agency.
States are scrambling for young professionals like Sperzel to help offset the wave of baby boomer retirements. Minnesota is falling behind in that competition. The state has lost residents every year since 2002, with young adults most eager to leave. About 9,300 18- to 24-year-olds move out annually, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. That — combined with a declining birthrate and an aging population — has demographers and civic leaders sounding alarms.
New York Times: Sale of U.S. arms fuels the wars of Arab states
The New York Times reports that to wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood. As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.
Charlotte Observer: Death highlights danger in quarries
The Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that Chris Melton, a production supervisor at a sand mine in Jefferson, South Carolina, made a fatal mistake last summer: He used a torch to heat a part on a broken pump. Moments later, the pump exploded, sending shards of metal into the 41-year-old’s leg. He bled to death within minutes, according to an investigation by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Melton’s death about 50 miles southeast of Charlotte illustrates a trend that has alarmed federal regulators: a rise in fatal accidents in quarries and other non-coal mines that produce stone, sand, gravel and other minerals. Last year, 28 miners in this segment died, the most since 2007 when there were 33, leading officials to step up education and enforcement efforts.
Columbus Dispatch: Prisons hold more of the mentally ill than psychiatric hospitals
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the largest provider of mental-health services in Ohio is easy to find: Look no farther than the nearest state prison. More than 10,500 people in Ohio prisons, more than 1 in 5, have a diagnosed mental illness. And 1 in 12 has a serious and persistent condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. There are 10 times as many mentally ill inmates as there are patients in Ohio’s six psychiatric hospitals. The numbers are higher for females: 41 percent of 2,510 inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville are on the mental-health caseload.
Providence Journal: One gun’s deadly path
The Providence Journal finds that a single gun was involved in the deaths of four people and critical injuries to a fifth in Rhode Island. During a span of at least five months in 2012, this 9mm Glock 17, with an attached red laser, was in the hands of teenage boys and young men who passed it around and used it to wreak havoc throughout Providence. Forensic tests at the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory confirmed links to the various crimes. … The Glock was one of 130 firearms that Providence police seized in crimes in 2012 — a high number, but not the most the police have seized in a year. It was purchased legally in December 2006 by a 57-year-old veteran living in Warwick. When police eventually traced the gun back to him, he told them it was taken from his house in 2007 or 2008 and he never reported it stolen.
The gun ended up on the street. It's not known how many people used the gun before it was seized. What made this particular gun so dangerous was that it was a “community gun,” shared by a loose group of people. As the police arrested one suspected shooter after another, the gun remained accessible to others.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM 4-16-15
AP: Philly airport had 25 perimeter breaches over 11 years
The Associated Press reports the security fences and gates that protect Philadelphia International Airport were breached 25 times from January 2004 through January 2015, according to an investigation conducted by the news cooperative. Few of the breaches have been publicly reported before, with one notable exception: a 2012 incident in which a man sped down a runway at 100 mph, grounding dozens of planes and forcing other to circle.
Philadelphia's breaches were among at least 268 that AP found at 31 major U.S. airports. Incidents ranged from fence jumpers taking shortcuts and intoxicated drivers crashing through barriers to mentally ill intruders looking to hop flights. None was terrorism-related.
AP: Baltimore police often surveil cellphones amid US secrecy
The Associated Press reports the Baltimore Police Department has an agreement with the U.S. government to withhold certain information about secretive cellphone surveillance technology from the public and even the courts, according to a confidential agreement obtained by The Associated Press. On Wednesday, April 7, the department disclosed it has used the technology thousands of times since 2007. The agreement between the police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also encourages the authorities and local prosecutors to sometimes dismiss cases instead of divulging details about the equipment. That arrangement, which was agreed to several years ago, has led police to believe that they can withhold evidence in criminal trials or ignore subpoenas in cases in which the devices are used.
Kansas City Star: Kansas to require no permit or training to carry concealed guns
The Kansas City Star reports that as of July 1 no training will be required for someone choosing to holster a hidden gun or shove one into a purse or backpack. After that date, concealed-gun permits will be strictly voluntary in Kansas. And no resident of the state wanting to carry a concealed weapon in Kansas will be subject to a state criminal background check so that law enforcement could determine whether they are even eligible to possess a firearm. (Although federal laws will still apply, requiring background checks for some gun purchases but not all.) Some see that as a dangerous mistake that could lead to lost lives, either due to trigger-happy vigilantes or cops who find themselves shooting law-abiding citizens who accidentally point a gun at them. But supporters of the changes think such concerns are unfounded.
Modesto Bee: More primary care doctors needed in Stanislaus county
The Modesto Bee reports a shortage of primary care physicians created a painful symptom when Emanuel Medical Center said last week it will close its family practice clinics in Turlock and Patterson next month. Citing a national shortage of primary care doctors, Emanuel said it was unable to replace physicians who have left, and the last remaining doctor is leaving to work in the Bay Area. Clinic doors need to open, not close, for tens of thousands of Stanislaus County residents who have joined the Medi-Cal program through the Affordable Care Act. As of December, the county had 160,400 residents in the federal and state health program for single adults, families and children, an increase of almost 64,000 since the federal law raised the income eligibility in October 2013.
Read more: http://www.modbee.com/news/local/article18301076.html
Washington Post: Thousands dead at hands of police, few prosecuted
The Washington Post reports that among the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police since 2005, only 54 officers have been charged according to an analysis by the newspaper and and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time. In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that. When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.